Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bike Share, safety, and Muni

City Hall is beginning a PR blitz for its bike share program that's supposed to begin in August. The initial investment: $7 million for 700 bikes, which is $10,000 per bike! Portland's bike share project did better, paying a mere $6,267 per bike to start its program.
The campaign to publicize the bike share project begins today with an "open house" at City Hall.
Bad timing for the campaign, since the company that's managing the program---Alta Bicycle Share---has recently been accused of unfair labor practices, something that even a bike-obsessed City Hall has to take seriously in this pro-labor city. Present and past workers at Alta have a petition addressed to Mia Birk, president of the company, for benefits and past wages.
And then there are the safety issues about encouraging a lot more people to ride bikes in the city. Nicole Gelinas---who supports bike share---in New York's Streetsblog got a ration of shit from anti-car writer Charles Komanoff when she worried that New York isn't preparing novice cyclists about the dangers of riding a bike in the city:
Komanoff characterizes my pointing out that “Three people died in Paris’ first year of bike share” and that “New York should heed Paris’s lesson” as a “ghoulish lede.” Ghost stories are ghoulish. My facts are simply facts. Three people indeed did die during the first year of Paris bike-share. This is a simple stated fact, a fact I haven’t seen reported elsewhere in the New York press.
Pro-bike, anti-car folks hate it when anyone---even someone as pro-bike as Gelinas---worries about the dangers of riding a bike. They think that it gives the impression that it can be dangerous, an obvious truth they prefer to gloss over so that more people will be encouraged to engage in what is obviously an inherently risky activity. That's also why they dislike the debate about wearing a helmet, since it involves a realistic discussion of the dangers of riding a bike.
More from Gelinas:
There’s another reason why we should pay particular attention to Paris’ deaths. First, statistically speaking, bike-share in Paris doubled bicyclists’ deaths. During the three years before bike share, the average number of people who died annually on a bike in Paris was 2.67. During the three years after bikeshare, the average number killed annually rose to 5.67. All of this increase was due to bikeshare.
Gelinas wants New York to learn from the Paris bike share experience:
We can also learn qualitative information from these deaths that can save lives in New York. For example, the first three people killed in Paris bike-share were all women. This fits with the theory that novice bikers, statistically women and older people, are at risk. Second, all were killed by a large truck or bus (two trucks, one bus). Indeed, virtually all of the eight bike-share deaths in Paris over nearly six years (the latest death last October) have involved a large truck making a turn. The majority of the victims have been women, or older people, or both, neither category of which fits the statistical profile of the middle-aged, male expert biker. It is reasonable to assume that inexperienced cyclists have made up the preponderance of victims.
Yes, the more experience you have on a bike the safer you are, though no one on a bike can control what motorists do. A motorist is drunk, runs a stoplight, or just doesn't see you, and it's the cyclist who's injured, not the motorist. And Gelinas is only talking about fatalities, not about accidents, which of course are much more numerous.
The reality: most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that don't involve another vehicle, and, by their reckless, unsafe behavior, cyclists cause half of their own injury accidents, which is what the city's own Collision Report (page 25)tells us.
Riding a bike in San Francisco is simply unsafe, and it's irresponsible for City Hall to encourage a lot more people to do it. City Hall and the MTA see getting more people on bikes as a way to deal with traffic congestion on city streets, but they are seemingly oblivious to the danger that means for thousands of would-be cyclists.
At a time when the Controller is telling us that Muni's dysfunctional system is costing the city $50 million a year, it's also irresponsible of City Hall to be spending money on bicycles based on the illusion that cycling will ever be a significant part of the city's transportation system.
Muni is the only real alternative to driving a car in the city for the overwhelming majority of city residents.
It would be helpful if City Hall started acting like that's the reality we all face on the streets of the city. Its constant push and investment in the bicycle fantasy doesn't change that reality.

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