Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The San Francisco Modal Equity Study

Where are the bikes?

Streetsblog's Aaron Bialick on the recent anti-car study from academia:

Any doubts that most of San Francisco’s public space is consumed by private automobiles, whether moving or stored, could probably be put to rest with a quick glance at the city’s car-dominated streets. But a new study pulls together some eye-opening numbers about just how unbalanced SF’s priorities have been in allocating street space, prioritizing cars over people, and in charging drivers little relative to the costs they incur.

Of course Bialick likes the study, which is essentially an anti-car polemic written in academese. Bialick's prose, on the other hand, is clotted with BikeThink jargon. "Private automobiles"? Are there public automobiles? (He's not referring to cars issued by public agencies to their employees.) 

The implication is that public space---parking, you understand, is "storage" for cars---is being "consumed" by dubious private interests, as if, whether you drive or not, designing city streets and regulating traffic doesn't benefit the public in general.

And "prioritizing cars over people" is a standard trope of the anti-car movement, as if people don't drive all those cars. The implication: those who rely on motor vehicles won't be fully human until they start riding bikes. (When I see this cars-over-people usage, I think of that Dennis Weaver movie wherein he's terrorized by a malevolent, seemingly driverless truck, which seems to be how Bialick and his bike-obsessed comrades view motor vehicles.)

The city is supposedly "charging drivers little relative to the costs they incur"? The opposite is the reality. The numbers from the city itself show that City Hall is already bringing in $247,349,190 a year from parking tickets, traffic tickets, red light cameras, gas taxes, vehicle license fees, parking meters, and 20 city-owned parking lots. And there's the $84 million a year in sales taxes that the SFCTA rakes in to maintain city streets. It will never be enough for City Hall, since it has a growing bureaucracy to maintain, including more than 5,000 people working at the MTA.

The study figures that it takes San Francisco $50 million a year (page 15) to maintain city streets, an amount that's covered many times over from what City Hall extracts every year from motorists.

But the study provides this insight about which transportation "modes" cause the most damage to city streets: "A search of the comprehensive TRID[Transport Research International Documentation] database revealed no credible research indicating that bicycles or pedestrians make a significant contribution to pavement deterioration." 

No shit! They had to consult a "database" to figure that out? But almost all of those pedestrians and cyclists also drive, ride public transportation and taxis. All city goods are delivered by trucks, and of course ambulances and fire trucks use city streets to serve them too.

"Parking lanes in San Francisco constitute 15 percent of the paved roadway area, equal to real estate valued between $8 and $35 billion."
Okay, but what about Golden Gate Park? Imagine the value of that one-and-a-half square miles if it wasn't being wasted on people using it for their private recreation pleasure!

"Street parking in San Francisco totals 902 miles in length, six times longer than the 143 miles of bike lanes."
According to the city's Mode Share Survey this study is in part based on, only 3.4% of all trips made in the city are by bicycle, which suggests that cyclists are already taking up too much room on city streets.

"Bicycling constitutes four percent of trips, but only 1.4 percent of roadway space is dedicated to bicycle lanes."
This is deceptive, since that's not how street space can possibly be allocated. All traffic "modes"---bikes, buses, cars, trucks, etc.---must now share the same limited space on city streets. Since bike lanes have to be four or five feet wide, when bike lanes separated from traffic are made, either a traffic lane or street parking has to be eliminated. (To make the separated bike lanes on Masonic Avenue, the city will remove 167 scarce parking spaces on Masonic.)

The study pretends to be "an objective look at the allocation of one of the City's most important and scarce resources---public roadway space." But it tips its hand in the first paragraph of the introduction, claiming that the study "presents a literature review of work by others that documents the external costs that dependence on the automobile causes to society."

On the "external costs of vehicle collisions," the study (24, 25) cites a 2005 SPUR study on insurance premiums---of course these folks have a SPUR connection---and a Cambridge Systematics study on the cost of traffic accidents in the San Francisco metropolitan area. But, unsurprisingly, the study doesn't cite that UC study on cycling accidents that was published way back in December, 2012, which even has a discussion of what it costs the city to treat cycling accidents.

The Modal Equity study is published by Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities Research and Policy Institute. By exploring their website, you discover some of their deep thoughts like this, comparing cars to junk food:

"Leveling the Playing Field for Sustainable Transportation" began by framing bad transportation choices to those of unhealthy food choices. If your refrigerator and cupboards are only full of junk food, your family does not have any healthy food options and has no choice but to eat junk food. Similarly if the major streets in a community only accommodate automobiles, then citizens have no healthy transportation choices and are forced to drive (or in the case of children and the elderly, be driven).

From the institute's Mission Statement:

Transportation Choices also partners and collaborates with academics and advocates as well as city planners, engineers, architects, public health planners, and allied professions to illuminate the central role that sustainable transportation plays in the vibrancy of communities.

Last year Jack Bog warned us about the use of "vibrant" in this context:

Whenever you read "vibrant," you know the writer is either a smug urban "planning" overlord or a reporter who doesn't know that he or she is being taken in by one.

Or a smug, anti-car academic. (More on "vibrancy" here and here.)

Of course these folks were at that anti-car Pittsburgh convention I blogged about earlier here and here:

Michelle DeRobertis’ proposal for a session at the ProWalk/ProBike/ProPlace conference in Pittsburgh PA in September has been accepted. The session is entitled: “Transportation Studies in the 21st Century” and continues on the theme of her recently published article in the ITE Journal “Changing The Paradigm Of Traffic Impact Studies: How Typical Traffic Studies Inhibit Sustainable Transportation.” 

Michelle is very pleased to have three excellent speakers from three progressive cities on the panel to describe their city’s traffic study methodologies as well as the challenges these cities faced in incorporating the needs of sustainable modes into the Traffic Impact Studies and land development process: Peter Albert with the City of San Francisco CA, David Thompson with the City of Boulder CO and Patrick Lynch of Transpo group, describing Bellingham WA’s innovative person-trip methodology. Michelle’s talk will address the best practices she has uncovered through research with the ITE Transit and Traffic Impact Studies committee that she is chairing.

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At 3:29 PM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Nothing like some good ol' fact skewing to prove a point. I had made a comment on that same page saying many of the same things you are saying here.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Good that someone's doing it, since I've been banned from SF Streetsblog. But we're wasting our time arguing with those people. It's like trying to talk a Moslem fanatic out of his goofball belief system. All ideologues have some kind of a fundamental cognitive disorder.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Nevertheless, it should be done, and I don't want to discourage anyone from doing it.

Note that the MTA's Peter Albert was also in Pittsburgh for the anti-car convention. Funny that there was no press release or publicity about this junket for ten MTA employees. It's almost as if they didn't want any publicity for this tax-payer financed circle-jerk.


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