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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