Friday, July 07, 2017

Bike News Roundup #6

Since I'm the only consistent critic in the city of the anti-car bike movement, I post these occasional roundups to deal with the ongoing flood of media stories about bikes that get little skeptical analysis. Only the gun fetishists harbor greater delusions about the significance of their beloved object than hardcore cyclists have about theirs.

My view is that bikes continue to be oversold to a largely unwary public. Liberals who want to do the right thing for the environment are encouraged by City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition to take up cycling with no realistic sense of the dangers involved. San Francisco is even redesigning our streets to make riding a bike seem safe---even for  the city's children!

The video above is from a story in Curbed. Hoodline also has a story on the situation. 

Instead of activists handing out tents to the homeless, why not give them bikes? If the homeless had cargo bikes, they could pack up their stuff and ride to other city neighborhoods, like Pacific Heights and the Marina.

From Shifter: The future of transportation is already here, but everybody is missing it:

If you were to teleport to today a citizen of a decade ago into a city of today, and asked them to identify the differences in transportation, I’m willing to bet they would not mention technology, or autonomous vehicles, or smartphone apps, or even car sharing. It would be bikes. This New Yorker said as much. The most profound change to the streets of many cities over the past decade is the prevalence of people on bikes as a practical form of transportation.

I don't know about New York, but "a decade ago"---aka, "10 years"---here in San Francisco little more than 2% of city commuters rode bikes, and in 2014 4% rode bikes (See page 2 in the 2015 Transportation Fact Sheet). Not exactly "prevalence," and it took 14 years to get to 4% in spite of years of anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition. 

Last month when I blogged about a UC Medical Center story on bicycle accidents, I was puzzled by a quotation from Thomas Gaither, one of the authors of the study:

“In the past, many bicycle accidents stemmed from non-street incidents. But now, street crashes with motor vehicles represent a greater proportion of the total costs. These crashes, which primarily occur with motor vehicles, increase the velocity of the crash impact and, as a result, the severity of the injury.”

I sent this message to Gaither:

In a story on the UCSF website about cycling accidents, you refer to "non-street incidents" as a category of cycling accidents. It's not clear from the context what that means. Are you referring to "cyclist-only" accidents or "solo falls" that don't involve a motor vehicle?

Gaither responded:

thanks for your interest in our paper! Street incidents refer to accidents that occur specifically on a road where cars have access (i.e. there are both cyclists and motor vehicles). Non-street incidents are crashes that occur where cyclists have access but cars do not. Some examples would be bike paths or trails.

My response that went unanswered:

Thanks for the response and the clarification.

I'm not aware of studies showing that "many" bicycle accidents are due to "non-street incidents," but I am aware of a study by your colleagues at UCSF about the cost and seriousness of cycling accidents that don't involve motor vehicles:

"No study to date has compared CO[cyclist-only] injuries to AVB[auto-versus-bicycle] injuries with regard to their health outcomes and direct medical costs in the United States. The overall goal of this study is to better identify CO injuries and understand the severity and cost of bicycle injuries in San Francisco. We hypothesized that CO injuries carry an equal or greater burden of injury per patient and greater overall cost when compared with AVB injuries."

That UC study showed riding a bike in San Francisco is a lot more dangerous than we were told by City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition. Long before the UC study was conducted and the NY Times wrote about it, I questioned the city's methodology of counting accidents way back in 2008: Bike documents: An analysis.

Bikelash in Baltimore? In the Baltimore Sun: Advocates fear a rollback of bike infrastructure in Baltimore. There were complaints about the loss of parking and from the fire department, which worried about having space to maneuver fire trucks, an issue also raised in San Francisco. Apparently the folks in Baltimore are working on a compromise. 

Susan King talked about being traumatized by a "bikelash" several years go, but it was purely imaginary, since that never happened in San Francisco.

A recent story in Bicycle Network, Cyclists are not a separate species, takes offense all the way from Australia:

I discourage people from using the words ‘cyclist’ or ‘motorist’. Using ‘people riding bikes’ and ‘people driving cars’ helps transform our streets from the domain of warring tribes, competing for space, to a place where everyday people simply go about their business.

It’s strange when people talk about cyclists like we’re a separate species. Four million Australians ride a bike every week and we don’t all fit into one little box. Bike riders can’t be categorised neatly because we’re many types of person. We walk, ride, drive and hop on public transport---often all within one day.

I’m worried that there’s a growing swell of people using ‘cyclist’ as an insult. It seems too easy to hate cyclists, because it’s not like hating a real person. It’s hating a strange coffee-sipping species that shaves its legs, wears lycra and gets up before the crack of dawn...

Okay, point taken, though critics like me don't hate cyclists; we just mock the BikeThink ideology and object to the relentless attempt here in San Francisco to redesign city streets on behalf of this often obnoxious minority.

Besides, there's some video evidence that cyclists are a separate species:

But cyclists---particularly the political cyclists---often demonize motorists, as I've pointed out on this blog:

And "prioritizing cars over people" is a standard trope of the anti-car movement, as if people don't drive all those cars. The implication: those who rely on motor vehicles won't be fully human until they start riding bikes. (When I see this cars-over-people usage, I think of that Dennis Weaver movie wherein he's terrorized by a malevolent, seemingly driverless truck, which seems to be how Bialick and his bike-obsessed comrades view motor vehicles.)

Former SF Streetsblog editor Bryan Goebel has even created a blog, Human Streets, that is based on the concept of the malevolent, disembodied motor vehicle: "Our streets are designed for cars." When driverless motor vehicles begin appearing on our streets, this nightmare may come true!

Steve Jones, former editor of the Bay Guardian, labeled motor vehicles "death monsters," as if those machines had no human operators.

Now here's a cyclist, Peter Flax, who clearly recognizes the dangers involved, but he still insists on riding a bike in LA. He understands the dangers so well that he's written his own obituary in anticipation of his own death on his bike: A Cyclist Writes His Own Obituary.

Yet as Flax knew from riding city streets on dark nights, it can feel less reassuring out on the pavement. Hundreds of cyclists are getting killed; last year at least 32 cyclists were lost to fatal crashes in Los Angeles County alone. There are more bikes on the road and more drivers fiddling with mobile phones, a disconcerting combination. And thanks to social and digital media, it’s nearly impossible to sidestep some scary issues—the victim blaming, the number of fatal hit and runs, the disregard many drivers have for cyclists and pedestrians.

Flax understood the dangers. Whenever he thought about death, he thought there was a very real chance it would happen on the bike. That sad truth never made him want to stop riding his bicycle. Bikes were part of the fabric of his life...He made a calculated gamble to keep riding because it gave him joy. He believed that safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians are a civil right, something that is worth fighting for...He believed that the bicycle is magical. He spun circles and carved turns and coasted and suffered and laughed and made friends and found things within himself. He did all that on a bike and he would like that to be remembered...

If you think there's "a real chance" you could die while riding your bike, why do it? Because he thinks the joy and magic of cycling was worth the risk. This kind of candor is unusual, since many cyclists---and of course City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition---insist that riding a bike is a safe, sensible way to get around and don't mention the childlike fun involved. Mountain bikers are more honest about their hobby than city cyclists are about their transportation "mode," since the former admit that it's primarily a "speed and thrill"-based activity.

Of course the appeal opposing the 13th Street bike project was rejected by the board of supervisors (a detailed critique of the project). Appeals are always rejected. Here, however, the city was clearly violating CEQA by, in the first place, implementing the project before the appeal deadline, which made it a done-deal before the appeal could even be heard. 

The city also violated CEQA by not doing an environmental review of the project, instead giving it a "general rule" exemption from CEQA review, which is supposed to only be for projects that can't possibly have an impact on the environment. When you take away street parking and traffic lanes to make a bike lane, of course it will have an impact on the environment.

I watched the appeal hearing on TV, and the way the supervisors behaved was a lot like 2005, when then-board president Aaron Peskin and his colleagues unanimously rejected our appeal on the implementation of the Bicycle Plan, which led to our successful litigation that forced the city to do the clearly required environmental review of the 500-page plan.

Few supervisors bothered to comment during the 13th Street project hearing, though both Supervisor Ronen and Supervisor Kim made some uninformed comments. Ronen claimed that she had read the appeal documents, but if so she clearly didn't understand what she read. She solicited some reassuring bullshit that was duly provided by the MTA officials in attendance, which was enough for her.

Why would Peskin, a future candidate for mayor, comment on the appeal and risk antagonizing the Bicycle Coalition? Not that he has any doubts about the city's pro-bike, anti-car policies. Recall that during the last campaign he provided his constituents in Polk Gulch no help in resisting the disruptive bike project in that neighborhood.

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At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More ridiculous fantasies from the bike nuts. I'd be in favor of giving the homeless a voucher to buy a decent used car that they could use to commute to an engineering job in Silicon Valley.

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually a subsidy for a van would be better since it would solve the housing problem.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

These comments are from one of my regular trollers. He apparently thinks he's clever, and of course he's anonymous like so many here in Progressive Land where people like to fantasize about speaking truth to power.

But the "buying a decent used car" comment is actually not a bad idea for poor and working people looking for a job.

In fact, several years ago the Urban Institute did a study that suggested that very thing.


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