Monday, March 10, 2014

Journalism by press release: "Fundamental shift" to public transportation?

The story was in both this morning's Chronicle (Public transit ridership at record highs) and the New York Times, apparently based on a press release from the American Public Transportation Association, which of course lobbies for public transportation.

The head of that organization sings for his supper:

"People are making a fundamental shift to having options" aside from a car in how they get around, said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the public transportation association. "This is a long-term trend. This isn't just a blip...People want to work and live along transit lines," Melaniphy said. "Businesses, universities and housing are all moving along those corridors."

He would say that, wouldn't he? Just like the Bicycle Coalition claims there's some kind of fundamental shift to bikes in San Francisco. Special interest groups tend to inflate the significance of the role they play in society because, well, that's what they do.

Take a look at the graphics below by Wendell Cox at New Geography:

No "fundamental shift" detectable here. Cities like New York and San Francisco have always had more people using public transportation:

Graphic by DPAUL BROWN

What about commuting by bicycle nationwide? Not very impressive:

In most areas, cyclists accounted for only a small share of all commuters. Last year, they made up an estimated 0.56 percent of U.S. working adults, a rate that has remained relatively stable in recent years. Cyclists accounted for 0.53 percent of commuters in 2010 and 0.55 percent in 2009, according to the survey.

But what about an increase in commuting by bike in San Francisco? Not very impressive, either: the Transportation Fact Sheet (page 3) tells us that 2.1% of city residents commuted by bike in 2000, and 3.6% did so in 2012, a gain of 1.5% in twelve years, not exactly a "fundamental shift." The Bicycle Coalition would call that a 71% increase, but anyone looking at the actual numbers won't be impressed.

What about the population shift from the suburbs to cities that the new urbanists are touting? Nope. The opposite seems to be the reality. The death of the suburbs has been exaggerated by the new urbanists, because they live in cities.

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