Nevius Does a Great Job Blaming the Victim and Distorting Data

C.W. Nevius’s column in the Chronicle today ("S.F. a dangerous city for careless pedestrians") is a great example of blaming the victim, ignoring data, and misrepresenting the experts you quote. But it wouldn’t be Nevius otherwise, would it?

Here’s the gist: Nevius says that high pedestrian collision numbers in San Francisco are the fault of careless pedestrians. How does he know this? Because a man who witnessed a pedestrian fatality on Van Ness last Friday said the woman walked in front of a car that had a green light.  Never mind that an MTA collision report for 2007 (PDF)
found that pedestrians are only involved in 26 percent of all injury collisions on San Francisco streets and are only the cause of one third of those collisions, which means drivers are at fault two thirds of the time.

But who has time for rigorous data, when I’m just trying to prove a point in my column, facts be damned?

Nevius also misrepresents Ana Validzic, pedestrian and traffic safety coordinator for the Department of Public Health, who confirms that awareness is hugely important in avoiding collisions. The problem is, he quotes Validzic immediately after a sentence about how pedestrians not paying attention are likely to end up "bouncing off the windshield." He’s undoubtedly right about that, but his placement of Validzic’s quote implies that she’s blaming pedestrians for most crashes.

In fact, she told Streetsblog today, she meant all users of the street need to pay more attention.

"He had heard a previous opinion saying that pedestrians don’t pay any attention, and it sounded like it was only the pedestrians’ fault," said Validzic. "I was really trying to balance that opinion out by saying, no, I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s true of all users, that there are times where drivers aren’t paying attention, where pedestrians aren’t paying attention, where anybody else is not paying attention, and then there’s a collision because of that, or even a near miss."

While Nevius notes that the city’s "narrow, quirky streets" – he’s not
referring to Van Ness Avenue, presumably – slow cars down, keeping
pedestrian fatality figures from being even higher, he baffles a bit with his conflicting statements about how engineering can improve the situation.

"Designs by engineers cannot force us to pay attention," Nevius asserts. But shortly after he seems fascinated by "naked streets,"
shared road spaces stripped of most street signs, which he notes can
lead to drastic decreases in collisions by forcing everyone to navigate
the space carefully and be more aware. Sounds promising. 

In the end, though, he decides naked streets won’t work here because "traffic engineers say the city’s traffic grid doesn’t work well for roundabouts."

As WalkSF’s Manish Champsee points out in a response he wrote to Nevius, there’s more hope for naked streets in San Francisco than traffic engineers evidently told Nevius:

While "roundabouts" might not work in much of San Francisco, there is a smaller version of these known as "traffic circles" that are appropriate for neighborhood streets. Berkeley and Seattle have used traffic circles with great success, Seattle seeing many intersections go to 0 crashes. We attempted these in 2004 on Page St., however, they were a failure because the circles weren’t large enough as per best practices in other cities.

Regardless of how genuinely interested in traffic calming solutions Nevius is, he never acknowledges that motorists in multi-ton metal vehicles share that burden as much or more than those on foot. He then makes it pretty clear how lopsided his bias is against pedestrians with the accolades he gives the deplorable video above when he linked it on his blog.

Though he concludes that "we will probably just stick with what we have – whizzing traffic, overconfident pedestrians and the blind faith that the two will not collide" fortunately for the people who live in San Francisco, pedestrian advocates aren’t ready to admit defeat so quickly.

  • Nick

    He’s not relevant. I’d be more concerned that we have a Mayor that doesn’t walk the streets or take MUNI or live in a bad neighborhood. Why is the leadership of this city so disconnected from the everyday problems the rest of us have to face?

  • SFResident

    Remember folks, Nevius lives in the suburban East Bay. He writes for a dying, conservative paper with a primarily suburban audience.

    He’s not invested in building functional urban spaces, he doesn’t care about maintaining the vibrant diversity of the city, and he has nothing but contempt for the “kinds of people” who actually live within the city limits.

    His agenda is to make San Francisco a sterile place for suburban commuters and weekenders. His dream city is a slightly denser version of Walnut Creek. Except with more off-Broadway plays and overpriced tapas restaurants.

  • Thank you Matthew. I sent a nasty, immature email to Up-Chuck Nevius this morning in a fit of frustration and disbelief. This is much more constructive. We have to keep the pressure on these guys, otherwise they get away with looking like legitimate columnists.

    – J

  • Surprise! The Chronicle is a dying shithole.

    I remember once he interviewed me about parking tickets. Most of what I was said never made it into the paper, and he even emailed me to “apologize” because they had just gone through a round of cuts and that editing of the paper was compromised when the article ran.

    How does one euthanize a dying corporate beast?

  • It is so weird that the Chron has someone covering San Francisco who does not actually know what it is like to live here.

  • zsolt

    I agree that Chuck is pretty much irrelevant by now, but I think it’s kind of Streetsblog’s job to go on the record calling him out. He is still much more mainstream and “credible” than Rob Anderson, say. So thank you for this.

  • Troy

    Nevus lives in the ‘burbs? Is that for real? which one? It does explain his clueless columns.

  • zsolt

    He lives in Walnut Creek, IIRC.

  • Fran Taylor

    More important than Devious Nevius is the attitude of the SFPD. In 2003, a traffic cop addressed the Southeast Mission Pedestrian Safety Working Group. He boldly stated that most pedestrian fatalities were largely the pedestrian’s fault and handed out a table to support this assertion. Sure enough, “Pedestrian fault” was at the top of the list. Reading down, however, one found that “Speeding,” “Failure to Yield,” “Red-light Running,” etc., were all listed separately, so no one of those categories would total more than “Pedestrian Fault,” even though all fell under “Driver Fault” and together totaled twice the number of “Pedestrian Fault.” And this was the cop who went out to lecture schoolkids on traffic safety!

  • When I think comedy, I think people getting hit by buses and trains. When I think urban commentary, I think C.W. Posting this video on his blog is a perfect marriage of asshole-ness and ignorance.

  • friscolex

    I had to turn the video off after “I feel bad for people raised in SF whose parents didn’t love them enough to teach them to look both ways”. I’m all about sarcasm, but the parents who raised me in SF taught me to be street-savvy on the bus (MUNI commuter starting in middle school, oh! when I think of all the emissions saved from my mom not driving me everyday across town…!) and walking around all kinds of neighborhoods.

  • EL

    Matthew,

    See page 5 of the 2007 MTA Report, which states that 330 collisions are caused by the motorist violating the pedestrian right-of-way, while 238 collisions are caused by a pedestrian violation. So peds are at fault 42% of the time, and drivers are at fault 58% of the time (not 1/3, 2/3).

  • Fran Taylor

    Those numbers don’t add up to the total of 690 car/ped collisions, and the report doesn’t tell us what caused the remaining 122, but perhaps they were the result of unsafe speed (589 total) or signal/sign (472) violations. Since no other category of fault mentions pedestrians, it’s a good bet that driver fault was responsible in most of those unaccounted-for 122 collisions, so the percentages cited earlier are likely accurate.

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