Thursday, March 13, 2008

KQED Forum on bicycle safety - show notes

Update: See the transcript here. It has pictures! The stuff in this article below is boring and dull.

KQED is the local public broadcasting station in San Francisco. The topic for the 9 A.M. "Forum" show was on bicycle safety.

Guests were
  • Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
  • Sean Co, bicycle and pedestrian planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
  • Sean Comey, spokesman for the AAA of Northern California.
  • Rob Anderson, the blogger who filed suit holding up implementation of the San Francisco bicycle plan.

When I tuned in, AAA spokesman Comey (who says he rides a bike), instructed cyclists to be more careful and "cyclists need to act as ambassadors. You need to follow the rules of the road. Motorists are protected by a ton of steel and latest in engineering and technology, but cyclists are out in the open," he reminds us. "You are very vulnerable. When I ride, I expect motorists to not see me and I watch for the unexpected. I watch for doors and people pulling out." Comey gave some good advice, but it's rich that this spokesmen for motorists tells cyclists to be ambassadors, when he should be doing the same thing on behalf of motorists. There's at least as much bad behavior from motorists as there is from cyclists.

Shahum reminds Comey of this when she reminds Comey and KQED listeners that "drivers of large vehicles have a grave responsibility to take care" in their driving.

Host Michael Krasny asked if road conditions are a factor in safety. MTA planner Co responded that "90% of collisions are due to human factors. If you throw money into improving roads and other engineering, you can only get so much in return. The most important thing is changing behavior."

Rob Anderson joined the show for a short time. Anderson cites the figure from the 2000 Census showing that only 2% of commutes in SF are by cyclists and he said, "I don't see any increased number of bicycles in The City." Anderson doesn't believe that money and space should be given to a mode of transportation that's used by only a tiny minority of the population.

Shahum, though, retorts that "According to Anderson we shouldn't have sidewalks, we shouldn't have transit. That's a very archaic way of thinking." Because of issues with climate change, air pollution, and much higher energy prices, "We have to think about other ways to get around." Shahum also cites figures from a November 2007 study and traffic count showing that "16% of San Francisco adults -- that's 120,000 people -- bicycle in The City for transportation at least once a week." She also makes the comparison that "if you look at one person in a car versus one person on a bike versus 30 people on a bus, motorists take a disproportionate amount of space."

Host Krasny then spoke with Nick Carr of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, asking him about the progress of the city bicycle plan. Carr said, "we're completing the environmental analysis" and that "I've seen very noticeable growth in cycling in San Francisco." He then plugged MTA's work with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in Bike Ed to "teach folks what they need to know so they're not operating a bike in ignorance. Bike Ed is like a driver training class for cyclists. Also Bike To Work Day is coming up so we're starting to promote that." When asked about Critical Mass, "Critical Mass is still out there. We don't hear too many complaints like used we used to. One thing San Francisco has going for them is the exposure of cyclists on the streets, which makes it safer for them."

Krasny started taking some calls at this point.
  • Call John from San Bruno is a cyclist who bikes into the city. "Cyclists really need to obey the traffic laws" and "they need to be more visible." He pushes Robert Hurst's (excellent) Art of Cycling book. Leah's response: "It's the scofflaws you notice, whether its cyclists or motorists or walkers. It's not a bicycle issue, it's a human nature issue and it's applicable to any mode of transportation." In city counts at 30 intersections, Shahum said they count violations as well as just absolute counts, and during these counts the violators are not the majority. 600 people in the Bay Area are killed by motorists every year, so its clear that the main problem is not scofflaw cyclists but scofflaw motorists.

  • Caller Helen complains about cyclists on Cesar Chavez in San Francisco, because the road is there for motorists to get on the freeway. Leah Shahum gets animated, responding that "those lanes are not designated motorists only -- they are for all traffic, including cyclists." Shahum explains the concept of "taking the lane" -- where cyclists ride in the middle of the lane to increase their visibility and protect themselves -- and exhorts Helen to "hang back and give them room."

  • Another caller complains about bike lanes on Guerrero St, how replacing traffic lanes with bike lanes backs traffic up and he ends up taking side streets instead of main boulevards. He advocates instead for bike boulevards (like in Berkeley and Palo Alto) where side streets have traffic calming features that limit motor traffic but allow for easy bicycle access. Shahum notes that in the case of Guerrero Street that it was the local residents who wanted traffic calming engineering, with a median added and a traffic lane removed to discourage traffic on that street.

  • Krasny brought up comments from emails received during the show, of cyclists who blow through stop signs and don't signals, of motorists who do the same, etc.

  • Caller Randall said cyclists should have a different set of laws. "Many laws are created for the convenience of motorists, not for the safety of bicycles," he said.

  • Derek Liecty of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition called in to encourage listeners in the East Bay to attend one of the many bicycle safety classes that teaches people to "ride a bicycle like a car to reduce accidents." He also said every cyclist should read John Forester's Effective Cycling book.

  • Michael is a cabbie in San Francisco and a frequent caller to Krasny's show. He talked about his recent trip to China, where people of all ages and types ride to get around. He compared it to California where, "there are so many pickup trucks and one person SUVs that it's just embarrassing." In 30 years of driving a taxi in The City, "I've never been in an accident with a bicycle. I always watch for cyclists and I always give the right of way. I try to be courteous but even then I still sometimes get the middle finger from some cyclists."
As the hour closed, Shahum mentioned a study from the Netherlands showing that twice as many motorists as cyclists are killed per mile of travel and that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risk of accidental death 20 to 1.

Finally, Krasny asked about helmets, and Comey (the AAA guy) brought up the completely discredited and ridiculous "helmets reduce serious injury and death by 85%" figure, which isn't even used by the helmet lobby anymore.


  1. Looks like they'll probably have a podcast up tomorrow - normally takes a day or so to get it on the site. Link:

  2. =v= Leah only touched on this briefly, but the 2000 Census figures were skewed. Intermodal bike journeys were counted as train (BART and Caltrain) or bus (Golden Gate Transit) commutes. People who bike commuted less than 3 days a week were not counted at all, nor were those who made non-commute journeys.

    This has been explained to Mr. Anderson in as few syllables as possible, but he clearly has no interest in accuracy.

  3. I have to say I frequently give cabbies the finger. It doesn't matter if they did anything wrong this time- they certainly have before. Cabbies are scummier than musicians! Sorry Michael!

    Why would they even have this Rob Anderson idiot on? He has nothing to do with bicycle safety, other than wanting all bikes off the street so his car won't get scratched!

  4. ...seems to be a certain amount of give & take amongst the participants w/ the exception of anderson, who is a clown w/ an agenda...
    ...unfortunately, he's a dangerous clown because he has learned just enough to interrupt the system but not enough to realize how many lives he is actually disrupting w/ his limited viewpoint...

  5. the 2000 census figures are skewed in a different way. the question is something like ~in the past week, did you bicycle to work~. The question is asked in march, not as popular to cycle in many regions of the US (snow, ice, and darkness are not good for the popularity of this transit mode). Tucson and San Francisco, both tending to have fair march weather have the highest census numbers in the nation.

    Also Rob Anderson has said before - he does not own a car. He's a ped and rides muni.

    He's committed to fighting cyclists.
    Worse he claims that he's actually helping them because cycling is SO DANGEROUS that crash rates actually decline when there's a higher population of cyclists.