Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Andre Iguodala gets ready for tonight's game

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The Examiner "doubles down" on falsehoods about bikes in San Francisco

Dustin White, MTA transportation planner

Yesterday's story in the Examiner (SF prepares to double-down investment on bike safety and improvement projects) is an excellent example of how the city's media simply passes on City Hall's party line on the "improvements" now being implemented on city streets. The reporter only talked to the MTA's Ed Reiskin and the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum. That's the San Francisco media's version of balanced reporting.

The first sentence in the story retails a pseudo-fact: "When bicycling increases, be it in a U.S. city or some foreign land, statistics show that streets become safer." What "statistics"? Anyone who's interested in transportation issues has seen this claim made many times in many stories. Maybe someday a reporter will ask Reiskin or Shahum for some evidence supporting the claim:

San Francisco’s network of bike routes remains fragmented, and while some streets are “safe and comfortable for your grandma,” others require “armor and a will of steel to get by,” according to Reiskin. Indeed, bicycling advocates say they would like a greater financial commitment toward the fast-growing transit method.

If some streets require "armor and a will of steel to get by" for cyclists, why is Reiskin encouraging children to ride bikes on those streets? And "bicycling advocates" want a "greater financial commitment" for their cause? No shit! That's what every special interest group in the country wants---public money invested in their particular interest.

The reporter of course assumes erroneously that riding bikes in the city is a "fast-growing transit method."

Words of wisdom from comments to a story on Paul Ryan's phony initiative on poverty:

There's a Pulitzer Prize for the reporter who reveals that the great gap in American politics divides those who believe in arithmetic from those who do not...The key thing to remember is that journalists are morons. Numbers are not just confusing, they get in the way of the story.

This is by way of introduction to the story's next paragraph:

The City, according to advocates, needs to boost its bicycle investments for the sake of safety. If it doesn’t, they say, the SFMTA will never meet its goal of increasing bicycling’s share of all trips taken in San Francisco...The agency has a goal of increasing the percentage of all San Francisco trips taken by bike from 3.4 percent currently to 10 percent by 2018. Tripling the percentage of bicycle trips over four years may seem like a tall order, but bicycling has doubled in the past six years, according to estimates, and that’s good news for the SFMTA.

The reporter typically doesn't understand the difference between the percentage of bike trips overall (3.4% on page 5 of this report) and the percentage of those commuting to work on bikes (3.3% on page 3 of this report), which I've discussed in some detail over the years (see this for a discussion of the problem with these numbers). The MTA and the Bicycle Coalition like to fuzz up this distinction, and reporters in San Francisco are too lazy to do any of their own research or analysis.

And of course readers of this blog understand that cycling has not in fact "doubled in recent years." That claim is apparently a reference to numbers in the city's annual Bicycle Count, which only counts commuting cyclists once a year, not all trips by bike in the city.

Let's do the not-so-difficult arithmetic to see how likely it is to achieve 10% of all trips in the city by bike by 2018. If trips by bike in 2011 were 3.4% of all trips in the city, cycling will have to increase an average of .94% a year for seven years to get to 10%.

Commuting by bike in the city has only increased from 2.1% in 2000 to 3.3% in 2011 (see page 3 of the Transportation Fact Sheet), an average annual increase of only .11% a year. 10% is not going to happen, and Reiskin and Shahum know it. They also know they can throw out numbers that city reporters are too lazy to analyze (see a previous post on this issue here).

Reiskin and Shahum could count on the local media ignoring  that UC study that found that cycling accidents have been seriously under-counted in San Francisco between 2000 and 2009.

The Examiner reporter provides some misinformation about cycling accidents: "...there were four bicyclist fatalities last year. And a civil grand jury report found collisions increased from 531 in 2009 to 630 in 2011." Nope. Those numbers are from page 22 of the city's annual Collision Report, not the Grand Jury.

But the UC study linked above calls all the city's accident numbers into question, which is why the city hasn't released a Collisions Report since August, 2012. Reiskin says the city is working on the numbers.

I wrote about that lame Grand Jury report last year here.

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