C.W. Nevius’ Fact-Free “Concerns” About Bike Lanes

A green bike lane on Market Street. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius took another shot at stoking some bicycle controversy today with his latest fact-free piece sharing his “concerns” that bike lanes “may be on [a] crash course” with cars.

“Bikes and automobiles are still crashing into each other,” as Chuck breaks it to us. ”Part of the problem is simply sharing the street. But there’s also a concern that the green bike lanes may actually be encouraging collisions,” he wrote.

Since Nevius doesn’t actually provide any evidence for this “concern,” we can’t really be sure why he’s publishing another article on the matter of bicycle safety. But taking even a surface-level look into his baseless claims only seems to reveal yet another attempt to ruffle some feathers around bike lanes.

While the bike lane examples Nevius chooses seem largely arbitrary, he does point to the intersection of Market Street and Octavia Boulevard, which had the highest number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries in 2011, with a total of ten (Nevius probably would’ve done well to actually cite the numbers). But the vast majority of bicycle crashes there are caused by drivers making illegal right turns onto the freeway.

State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has pushed for a change in state law to allow camera enforcement, and the SF Bicycle Coalition said violations have dropped since a concrete island and other improvements were installed there. Still, Nevius somehow names the bike lane as the problem. (Quick fact correction for his piece: The SFBC confirmed that Nevius misquoted Executive Director Leah Shahum as saying they were illegal left turns. Also, this section of bike lane isn’t painted green.)

Nevius goes on to name two other “trouble” spots, without evidence of bike crashes. There’s the eastbound Market Street “slalom” approaching Tenth Street, where the green bike lane merges to the left of the right-turn lane for drivers. While not an 8-to-80 solution, the intersection sees lots of bike traffic and few bike crashes. According to police data, the only two known bike/car crashes near there in 2011 were caused by a driver who ran a red light and a driver making an illegal U-turn. Two others were solo bike crashes, possibly caused by wheels getting caught in trolley tracks. (If anything, the major problem at Tenth is the regular violations by drivers who use the transit lane to ignore the required right turn.)

And, of course, Nevius revisits his apparent uneasiness with the parking-protected bike lanes on John F. Kennedy Drive (also not painted green). Nevius claims that “pedestrians say they run the risk of being run over by bikes when they cross the lane to their car, and cyclists worry that someone getting out of a car will open the door without looking and knock them off their bike.”

Nevermind the fact that the bike lanes are designed with buffer zones which provide pedestrians a space to wait in before crossing the bike lane and eliminate the danger of dooring (assuming drivers park within the lines). The “mixing zones” at intersections also make bicyclists very visible to right-turning drivers. As an everyday user of those lanes, I still don’t know of any crashes on that stretch of JFK since the redesign (save one unusual crash that didn’t involve the bike lane), and the street has only seemed to thrive throughout the tourist season this summer.

If Nevius wants to be a street safety watchdog, good for him — there are plenty of problem spots to choose from. For starters, try Oak and Franklin Streets, where USF student Robert Yegge was killed on his bike by a truck driver in June. But by throwing out unfounded claims about some of SF’s newest bike infrastructure — the kind that has been proven in other cities for decades to increase safety and raise bicycling rates — his column comes off as no more than a bid to boost readership by reviving heated rhetoric around creating bike-friendly streets.