Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Joel Engardio: Man in a bubble

Westside resident Dennis Seaman, 60, bridges the divide between bicyclists and motorists. (Courtesy Joel Engardio)
Dennis Seaman

There's a lot of foolishness in Examiner columnist Joel Engardio's recent column (Time to mandate bicycle licensesand his reaction to all the negative feedback he got (Reactions and Response to My Bike Column)

Apparently his column advocating licensing cyclists was inspired by conversations he had with a neighbor, Dennis Seaman.

“The critical mass bike ride every month is cool, but it pisses off motorists,” he[Seaman] said. “The bike movement has to do more than just demand more bike lanes and take away parking. Cyclists need to give motorists a reason to respect them. Bike licenses and insurance is a no-brainer. It puts everyone on the same playing field.” Seaman recently hit a car door that had opened into a bike lane he was riding in. His injury required 34 sessions of physical therapy. His bike had substantial damage. Yet his auto and home insurance didn’t cover his bike accident (not all policies do). He was on the hook for thousands of dollars in expenses.

Seaman was so shocked by this he apparently convinced Engardio that the moral of story is mandatory insurance for cyclists. There are so many objections to that idea even I, Mr. Anti-Bike, think it's a non-starter.

A reality-based moral of Seaman's story: riding a bike is dangerous. Don't do it. 

You would think that someone injured so badly he had 34 physical therapy sessions to recover would understand that reality. On the other hand, a 60-year-old man who thinks Critical Mass is "cool" clearly has cognitive issues.

From Engardio's feedback piece:

One message from a woman on the westside who drives and rides a bike was especially convincing: “Forcing people on bicycles to pay for a license and have insurance does not make the streets safer, but dramatically discourages people from using alternative transportation such as bicycles.” The woman, who is a mother of young children, made another important point: “I have more insurance than you can shake a stick at, and I still find that truly what makes the streets of San Francisco unsafe for vulnerable users of the road…is vehicle speeding.”

Yes, "vehicle speeding" and reckless driving by motorists is a serious safety problem, but there are many other hazards for cyclists, including the fact that most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that don't involve motor vehicles (see The myth of cycling "collisions"). 

Potholes and street conditions in general are a hazard, along with rail tracks. And there's the biggest hazard of all, the mindset of cyclists themselves. 

Cyclist and author Robert Hurst:

The most important lesson to be learned here is a bitter pill to swallow: There is no greater danger to the cyclist than the cyclist’s own incompetence. As a whole, it turns out, cyclists are not an entirely smooth and skillful lot. The majority of cycling accidents are embarrassing solo incidents, with the cyclist sliding out on turns, stacking it up after ramming potholes, curbs, and other obstacles, or just generally losing control (The Art of Cycling, page 161, emphasis in original).

The last edition of the MTA's Collisions Report (page 24) found that cyclists were responsible for more than half of their own injury accidents in San Francisco.


As I mentioned in the column, bikes are the future. We can’t deny that. We should be doing more to plan for it. I’ve been a strong advocate in previous columns for more public transportation infrastructure and investing in the subway tunnels we regret not building decades ago...My aim with this column was to acknowledge two realities: the number of bicyclists is only increasing and we still have lots of motorists (especially seniors) who rely on driving and parking. With one set of roads, this can cause tension.

Engardio evidently lives in an information bubble. According to the last Bicycle Count Report, commuting by bike in San Francisco has decreased by 7%. Since he clearly didn't read that report---or my blog on the issue---where would he have heard that news? Neither the Chronicle nor Streetsblog even had a story on the report, and the Examiner's story was clearly based on the MTA's press release, not on the report itself.

I wrote about Engardio and SF moderates a couple of years ago, including his delusional idea that a tunnel under Geary Blvd. is reality-based.

And the idea that it's mostly "seniors" who drive motor vehicles in San Francisco is based on nothing but Engardio's prejudice. I don't know of any data that confirms that notion. 

There are in fact more motor vehicles registered in a gentrifying San Francisco every year.

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At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Yo Rob, I'm a bit surprised to see you giving lip service to "vehicle speeding" as a cause of traffic casualties in San Francisco. I notice that this sound bite being broadcast a lot in our town over the past 6 weeks, including a long Nevius column. My question: based on what data has this been concluded? My personal experience pedaling 3,500 miles/yr in San Francisco is that exceeding the speed limits here is rarely possible during daylight hours due to traffic lights and congestion. I have also noticed over the years that some people will view speeding as a root cause of ANY collision because, well, because the collision wouldn't have happened if somebody had been travelling at zero MPH instead of at a higher speed than zero.

I average at least 4 close-calls per day on my bike commute here in town and I can't even remember one in which the other party was exceeding 25 mph.

I am suspicious that "vehicle speeding" is just the latest in a line of uninformed canards repeated thoughtlessly and fact-lessly by anti-car zealots as agitprop. That being said, if you have seen some credible traffic statistics that support excessive speeds as a factor in SF traffic mayhem I am all eyes to see it.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There's this from the Department of Transportation. The faster you're traveling, whether by a bike or car, seems like the margin for error must be smaller. I don't know about percentages, but surely speeding is a cause of many traffic accidents and deaths.

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but surely speeding is a cause of many traffic accidents and deaths."

wrong - you need to read Randall O'Toole on safety - so called "traffic calming" which is really anti-car reduction in mobility, causes fatalities by forcing emergency vehicles to slow down. That is why SFFD has been strongly against two-way streets and "traffic calming".

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Those DOT statistics you cite show a constant percentage of speeding-related fatalities over a decade, 31% give or take a bit. On a nationwide level, at least, excessive speed is not a bigger factor now than in the past. Your statistics say nothing about trends in San Francisco. You rightly criticize the anti-car cabal for its un- and misinformed propaganda about "high-accident" corridors (such as Masonic Ave.). Please don't abet their conjuring of a new bete noir, the "speeding epidemic". You know that City Hall will eventually treated it as some kind of self-evident truth which will justify speeding cameras which will contribute more for the MTA's already-bloated budget than they will to danger reduction.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Speeding has always been a safety issue and always will be, whether on a bike or driving a car.

"I average at least 4 close-calls per day on my bike commute here in town and I can't even remember one in which the other party was exceeding 25 mph."

This is Reality sending you a message, Gregski. Riding a bike is dangerous. Don't do it. Sooner or later, as even C.W. Nevius realized, "Sooner or later I was going DOWN."

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Rob, you and I both know I have gone down before and I will go down again if I ride long enough and far enough. My personal history richly supports what you have learned (and tried to pass on) about bicycle danger. Except that in my case 85% of my casualties are solo falls, not 50%. Wet streetcar tracks, baby!

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gregski - sounds like you need to give it up and get a car, since clearly you don't know how to ride a bike.


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