Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A cyclist writes to C.W. Nevius

Dear Mr. Nevius,

Thank you for your latest article in today’s Chronicle about bike riding on Polk Street (S.F. cyclists deserve better, but solutions aren't easy). I especially appreciate your acknowledgement of the price that would be paid by Polk Street businesses if the city were to alter the street to the Bicycle Coalition’s liking.

At the same time I am disappointed by your article’s serving as a tribune for Ms. Shahum’s astonishing statement that, “The No. 1 way that people get hurt riding in the city is getting ‘doored.’” This quote appeared without any editorial correction, skepticism or qualification. It is most deserving of all these.

I would challenge Ms. Shahum to disclose her credible source of data from which she derived the conclusion that she shared with you. I doubt very much that she can provide the facts to support her statement. But I can direct you to an important academic study that credibly refutes it.

The study to which I refer was published in 2012 by UCSF trauma surgeon, Dr. Rochelle Dicker, who studied hospital and police records of more than 2,500 bicyclists who had been treated at San Francisco General Hospital, our city’s primary trauma center. The study has been publicized by the New York Times but has so far been ignored by the mainstream media here in San Francisco, including the Chronicle. Among its relevant findings:

1) The number of cyclist injury accidents is much higher than has been reported by the MTA, which is relying solely upon police reports and disregarding emergency room data.

2) More than 40% of cyclist injury accidents are SOLO CRASHES involving no other vehicle. These accidents are no less severe in their consequences than inter-vehicle accidents and result in 4 times as many inpatient admissions as inter-vehicle accidents.

The second finding above is what calls Ms. Shahum’s statement into question. In order for her statement to be true in the context of these SF General statistics, 72% of bike-car injuries (and more than 42% of all bike injuries) would have to be caused by “dooring.” Not very likely at all.

The NYT article in which the UC study was referred to.

Here's the abstract of the study.

For what it’s worth, I ride bicycles more than 8,000 miles every year on public roads, including my daily 12-mile commute here in San Francisco. I also walk a lot, ride transit and drive my own private automobile which I park in my neighborhood. My experience and that of my cycling friends has taught me how dangerous cycling is in comparison with other popular transit modes and indeed in comparison to most every regular activity engaged in by ordinary urban Americans.

As an experienced cyclist I am troubled by my city’s and the Bicycle Coalition’s active misinformation campaign designed to mislead potential cyclists as to the dangers they will face, half of which, according to the UC and other studies, are solo crashes that cannot be mitigated or prevented by segregated bike lanes. Of course adults like me must be free to make our own choices of risk and reward and by all means it is reasonable for the streetscape to accommodate cyclists in proportion to our numbers and mode share.

But it is irresponsible to promote the undeniable economic, time-efficient and cardiovascular benefits of utility cycling while actively denying, disregarding and misstating the equally undeniable likelihood (I would go so far as to say eventual certainty) of personal injury. The local media are complicit in this propaganda campaign, and I can think of no better journalist to correct this than you, Mr. Nevius.

Best wishes,

Mr. Deane Hartley
Longtime Chronicle Subscriber
San Francisco

P.S. When Ms. Shahum was guiding you through the South Polk district, I’ll wager she was careful to ensure that you were not exposed to how the new south-Polk “contra” lane, while making life easier for a trickle of cyclists on Polk, has resulted in a huge increase in danger to the hundreds of cyclists who ride eastbound on Grove between Van Ness and Polk every day.

Cars used to get their own right-turn lane from eastbound Grove onto Polk, avoiding the dreaded “right hook” of eastbound cyclists by first merging rightward across the bike lane into the right-turn lane. Now, motor traffic is backed up on Grove Street between Van Ness and Polk (due to the newly-created traffic bottleneck on south Polk); the dedicated right-turn lane has been removed. Cyclists in the Grove bike lane are now trapped between parked cars to their right, backed-up cars to their left, and right-hooking (usually gridlocked) cars straight ahead.

No question about it, the MTA and the Coalition have made bike commuting in San Francisco MORE dangerous than it was. Doubt me? I hereby invite you and Ms. Shahum on a survey ride on Grove Street any morning of the business day between 8:00 and 10am. Meet me in front of Davies Hall. We can all practice dog-legging our bikes between the stopped cars on Grove to get past Polk Street to freedom.

Rob's comment:
Nevius is another local journalist who relies on press releases from the MTA. In the story referred to above: "A San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency survey found that since 2006 cycling in the city is up 96 percent."

Nevius is referring to the city's annual bicycle count that only counts commuting cyclists once a year, not all "cycling in the city." According to the city's Mode Share Survey, only 3.4% of all daily trips in the city are by bike. The city doesn't like to refer to that number in its press releases because it shows how insignificant cycling is in city traffic overall.

Nevius finishes the story with another obvious falsehood: "As Shahum says, several streets are already on tap for bike improvements. Second Street is already funded and Masonic is already improved."

Of course Masonic Avenue hasn't yet been "improved"---that is, it hasn't been screwed up yet for everyone but cyclists, which City Hall plans to do in spite of significant neighborhood opposition.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,