Thursday, January 29, 2015

Safety lie to justify Polk Street bike project

Like on the Masonic Avenue bike project, the city is deploying the safety lie to justify the Polk Street bike project. 

C.W. Nevius has a typically lazy column on the issue this morning:

What the city is proposing is a wide-ranging plan to target the busiest and most dangerous intersections along Polk Street and try to fix them. Among the ideas are pedestrian bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions — to make sure people are seen before crossing the street, painted bike lanes, and extensive landscaping. The board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is to consider the plan in the next few weeks.

As I've pointed out many times before, the city is lying about the claim that Polk Street is "dangerous." Of course Nevius, who hates it when any important City Hall project is delayed, doesn't challenge "what the city is proposing" because he assumes it's reasonable and justified. He instead poses as a neutral observer between the merchants of Polk Street and the Bicycle Coalition. 

After the Polk Gulch neighborhood vociferously rejected an earlier version of this plan in a well-attended public meeting almost two years ago (as reported by Matier & Ross at the time), the city scrambled to fabricate a "safety" problem to justify the project---who can object to safety?---which was first presented in this memo several months after that meeting:

On average, one person walking and one person biking are hit by a car each month on Polk Street (122 in a five year period). The lower portion of Polk Street has been designated by the city as a High Priority Corridor for pedestrian improvements, due to its inclusion on the citywide list of the seven percent of streets that account for more than 50 percent of pedestrian collisions citywide.

Where did those accident numbers come from? If Polk Street is so dangerous, why hasn't that been noted in any of the city's annual Collisions Reports? Every year those reports provide a list of the city intersections with the most traffic accidents, with an analysis of what the city is doing to make them safer. 

I read those reports every year and write about them here, but I don't recall ever seeing any Polk Street intersections on that list. In the last Collisions Report, the Polk/Ellis intersection is listed on page 25 as having seven (7) cyclist/auto accidents in a three-year period. But it's not on the unsafe intersection list on page 8, since to qualify for that list an intersection has to have had 16 injury accidents of all kinds. 

There's no analysis of the Polk/Ellis intersection showing that it's any different than many others in the city. Or who was responsible for those accidents, though it's safe to conclude that cyclists were probably responsible for half of them, as the report tells us on page 25: "Fault for collisions seems to be evenly split among bicycle riders and motorists according to the SFPD collision reports." That would leave us with one accident a year at a busy city intersection, which, like almost all such accidents, is a matter of unsafe behavior by cyclists and motorists. And of course even a protected bike lane, like the Polk Street project, can't prevent intersection accidents.

Nevius talks to Leah Shahum: 

“Polk Street has been designated as one of the least safe streets in the city,” Shahum said. “The Department of Public Health designated it as a high-injury corridor years ago.” 

Funny, but I've never heard of that report, and I've been following the bike issue in the city for more than ten years. Did Nevius ask her for a copy or a link to the report? Apparently not, but then he never seems to read any of the city's reports, since that would require some actual reporting.

Shahum also refers to the Polk Street Survey to justify taking away all that parking to make protected bike lanes:

Meanwhile, Shahum and her group want physically protected bike lanes. And if that means taking out parking spots, that’s just the way it goes. She produces data that show shopping revenue is higher coming from those who walk, bike or take public transit than from those who drive.

Naturally Nevius doesn't press Shahum---a long-time lobbyist for a special interest group---about the actual contents of that survey and apparently has never read it himself. What the survey found:

Polk Street primarily serves local residents. 88% of the people surveyed on Polk Street live in San Francisco and 56% live in the direct vicinity of Polk Street. The vast majority of people (68%) typically walk or take transit to Polk Street. People that walk report spending more money on Polk Street on a weekly basis than any other transportation mode. Respondents that drive to Polk Street report spending the most per trip in comparison to respondents using other modes of transportation, but they typically visit the area once a week or less, and people who drive to Polk likely spend less cumulatively than other visitors.

And only 5% of the people interviewed got to Polk Street by bicycle.

But what happened to Noah Budnick? I thought he was taking over the Bicycle Coalition from Shahum, who was supposedly going to Europe to find out what all them smart foreigners do to make their streets safer than streets here in the vulgar USA.

Leah, as per the old Dan Hicks song, how can we miss you if you won't go away?

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At 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't remember if I read it here or elsewhere, but didn't Leah Shahum get some type of funding grant to go to Europe and "study" biking and that is why she was "stepping down"? What happened?

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, they are trying to mess up 13th st, you need to get down there this morning;

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Deane Hartley said...

Good point about the intersection dangers, Rob. Most of the bike lanes I ride in here actually increase the intersection danger to cyclists - by misguiding motorists into right-hook turns.

When the MTA adds "bulb-outs" the right-hook incidence increases.

Buried in Ms. Shahum's commercial surveys are the customers of hardware stores, dry cleaners and wine shops whose purchases are too heavy for human-powered transportation. Maybe the coffee shops and hairdressers won't be hurt when the street parking disappears but these businesses I've cited are doomed.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Polk Street now has a significant restaurant industry, which will also be hurt by removing all that parking.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

If you go looking at studies on pedestrian safety, you will find no evidence I am aware of that bulb outs reduce pedestrian accidents. They are a waste of money and a hazard to cyclists who can hit them in the dark or get squeezed into traffic by them. Pedestrians are significantly responsible for their own accidents by being under the influence, distracted by their cell phones, not looking both ways, and wearing dark clothing poorly visible to others. Effective accident reducers are raised medians, better lighting, and strobing pedestrian activated crosswalk signal lights. The rest are a waste of money for taxpayers, though promoted by the road (re)design and construction industry. Without new roads getting designed and built, designers make money from redesigning perfectly good roads, driving the whole multi-mode walkable, bikeable etc. streets movement with their donations to the groups promoting it! Its pretty seedy AstroTurf business with naive idealists on the front line funded by profiteers on the back end.

At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the bike lanes I ride in here actually increase the intersection danger to cyclists - by misguiding motorists into right-hook turns.

So you're saying motorists are idiots who can't follow directions.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Polk Street now has a significant restaurant industry, which will also be hurt by removing all that parking."

Apparently you've never heard of Uber, but I'm pretty sure you know what a cab is.

Perhaps you know who Nils Linke is? He was killed by Josh Calder - in large part because Josh was able to drive to and park at a restaurant and then drove drunk.

Restaurants make the majority of their earning from alcohol sales. Drivers have not proven that they are capable of abstaining from having one too many when going out to eat after driving to a restaurant. Removal of parking spots? Means they'll smarten up and take a fucking cab.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe. Linke was killed by a drunk driver, hit from behind in the intersection of Turk and Masonic. He wasn't wearing a helmet, and he died of blunt-force trauma to the head. I think riding a bike any time is dangerous, but the least cyclists should do is wear a helmet, especially when they're riding at night.

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see. Linke is dead because of no helmet, not because Josh Calder was driving drunk.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Seems like you have a reading problem, Anon. Clearly Linke was killed by a drunk driver, but he might have survived if he had been wearing a helmet. Got it?

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

By the way, you have nothing to say about the actual topic of this post, the Polk Street bike project?

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When women get raped, it's the rapist's fault, but if they hadn't dressed like sluts, they might be unraped today. Got it, anon?

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Let's try this one more time, morons: Linke was killed by a drunk driver, but he might have survived the accident if he'd been wearing a helmet. Nothing in that formulation absolves the drunk driver from any responsibility for Linke's death.

We have to remember that even wearing a helmet while riding a bike is controversial here in Progressive Land, though the evidence is clear that doing so can prevent injury and death.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly Linke was killed by a drunk driver, but he might have survived if he had been wearing a helmet. Got it?

How exactly does a helmet stop internal bleeding of vital organs in the trunk of one's body? That would be some helmet.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

If you're going to engage in this kind of dispute, the least you should do is inform yourself about the facts of the accident:

"On the night of Aug. 13, Nils Yannick Linke was riding a borrowed bicycle to go to a party at Divisadero and McAllister streets when he was struck from behind. He crashed and died from blunt-force injuries to his head, according to the recently released autopsy. Linke was not wearing a helmet."

He died of head injuries, not injury to his vital organs in this "trunk."

At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Deane Hartley said...

"So you're saying motorists are idiots who can't follow directions."

What's idiotic is painting directions on the street that are confusing and misleading to motorists when unambiguous alternatives are available.

In my experience they seem to follow directions just fine when there's a dedicated right-turn lane for them with the bike lane dog-legged to its left.

The intersection at Folsom and Sixth, where a woman was right-hooked to death in 2013, was re-painted this way and the right-hooks stopped.

The MTA's and the Coalition's obsession with segregated bike lanes seems to be blinding them to simple, inexpensive streetscape treatments that actually work in the places where the danger is highest: intersections.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger s1conrad said...

Blame the victim. It's a joke that Calder got 1 year for mowing down the German tourist on Masonic, then fled the scene! Helmet or no helmet, maybe Nils Linke would be alive today if Calder acted like a responsible citizen.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No one is really blaming Linke for his death. Calder is in fact morally and legally responsible. All I'm saying is that Linke might have survived the accident if he'd been wearing a helmet.


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