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Phil Matier Needs to Do His Homework on Transit and Bike Policy

Phil Matier, a pundit for KCBS and the SF Chronicle, has been betraying a rather stunning lack of policy knowledge recently, painting transit in the Bay Area as a boondoggle and wagging his finger at “bicycle lobbyists” for opposing a statewide mandatory helmet law.

Phil Matier. Photo: KCBS

In a KCBS radio segment this week, Matier did seem to understand the case against the mandatory helmet law proposed by State Senator Carol Liu:

[Bicycle lobbyists] feel that the requirement of helmets for adults would be another barrier to more people getting on bicycles and that it would be a disincentive. Safe or not, they seem to think it’s more important to get more people to ride their bikes.

The concept that Matier was apparently trying to convey is called “safety in numbers” — the well-documented phenomenon that biking is safer the more people are on bikes. As CA Bicycle Coalition has argued, helmet laws have been shown to only discourage bicycling, countering the safety in numbers effect. Focusing on helmets distracts from the implementation of changes that actually make streets safer and prevent crashes in the first place.

But then Matier went on to ignore that point and paint bike advocates as a constituency that just wants something for nothing:

San Francisco has already started to spend $3 million on bicycle awareness and will continue to do so for the next few years. This will include safety campaigns and improvements to bike lane infrastructure. The city has also called to increased citations to motorists by 50 percent in the next two years in an effort to cut down on injuries.

But when you turn it around on the bicycle groups, they don’t want to adhere to things like mandatory helmet wearing or even chipping in money on the new bike lanes. This is making state lawmakers and politicians wonder if this is a one-way street.

There’s a lot to unpack here. For one thing, the SFMTA has barely increased its bike spending in recent years, and $3 million remains only about 2 percent of the agency’s total budget.

Matier is also dead wrong when he claims that people who bike don’t “chip in on new bike lanes.” The vast majority of funding for local street infrastructure, including bike lanes, comes from general taxes paid by everyone. People who bike instead of drive also impose much less in the way of maintenance costs on the street system.

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SFPD Traffic Commander’s Strategy for Safer Streets: Finger-Wagging

For SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali, the reason so many people are getting killed by drivers on SF’s streets apparently has nothing to do with the fact that every station but one is failing miserably to adhere to the department’s “Focus on the Five” enforcement strategy.

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=9386826##Photo: ABC 7##

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. Photo: ABC 7

Nor is it because SF’s streets are overwhelmingly designed to put motor vehicle movement first, rather than the safety of people walking on them. That’s according Ali’s comments in yesterday’s column from the SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight, who didn’t seem to question Ali’s take.

Apparently, Ali’s strategy for making streets safer is to keep wagging fingers at the victims who “took major risks” and died. “The hope is that the public will change their behavior voluntarily,” he told Knight. Ali said he’s “been accused of blaming the victim,” then proceeded to blame last year’s victims.

“A lot of it is just really, really bad behavior,” Ali told Knight. “If we play this kind of sterile, numbers-only game, people surmise that it’s fairly innocuous behavior that’s causing these fatalities when in fact it’s very clear what the behaviors are.”

It’s “clear” indeed for those who do pay attention to numbers and statistics. SFPD’s data shows that the five most common causes of pedestrian injuries are all driver violations: speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in a crosswalk, and failing to yield while turning. A year ago, SFPD’s top brass promised that officers would devote at least 50 percent of traffic citations to those violations under its “Focus on the Five” campaign.

But Ali, who has previously told media that confused Asian immigrants are to blame for many crashes, shirked those responsibilities in yesterday’s column. He also showed that he’s missed the point of Vision Zero. Crossing the street wouldn’t be such a “major risk” if city agencies implemented design and enforcement measures to slow driving speeds and minimize the chance of crashes, even when people make errors.

“It’s really troubling that the San Francisco Police Department sees this only as an individual behavior problem, considering that six percent of streets account for 60 percent of severe and fatal injuries,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Until they actually meet [their Focus on the Five] goals, I really don’t think it’s important appropriate for them to call on individuals to change their behavior.”

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Leave it to KTVU to Sensationalize One Car-Share Parking Space

KTVU reporter David Stevenson is at it again, with a new report about reserving one on-street parking spot for car-share vehicles. With Stevenson’s history of muckraking about lawfully helmet-less bicyclists, and a handful of re-purposed parking spaces, this sort of scandalous scoop is right up his alley.

Somerville and Stevenson bring you the latest parking scandal. Image: KTVU

Stevenson glosses over the fact that car-share vehicles open up more parking spaces, since each can replace nine to 13 privately-owned cars. He knows that, if you find enough uninformed people on the street to quote, the real story will come out: “Drivers and businesses in the neighborhood tell us they’re bracing for the impact,” he says.

That’s right. A single parking space, at Clement Street and 24th Avenue in the Richmond, is poised to be used more efficiently. So naturally, “Some people are saying changing just one parking place can disrupt an entire street,” as KTVU anchor Frank Somerville said to introduce the story.

There will indeed be an “impact,” and it may even “disrupt” the street, in the positive, tech-culture sense of the word. More residents can either sell their cars, or forego buying one, since they’ll have more convenient access to car-share. A nationwide study from UC Berkeley confirmed this.

But it’s probably a safe bet Stevenson didn’t explain that to people on the street, since otherwise he might not have elicited the sort of soundbites that fit his narrative: “a waste of a parking spot,” one man says. “I think it’s ridiculous,” one woman says.

“Everybody kills each other for parking out here, so it’s going to have a huge impact,” says a grocery store owner.

Let’s hope it does.

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Mayor-Funded BeyondChron Attacks Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

BeyondChron editor Randy Shaw, who gets funding from the Mayor Ed Lee’s office for projects like the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, penned a predictable defense of Lee’s recent attack on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s transit funding ballot measure today. Shaw backed Lee’s decision to drop support for the vehicle license fee increase, and argued that Muni’s share of the city’s general fund has increased enough in recent years, compared to other city services.

Screenshot from BeyondChron

Much like Shaw’s January article lauding the mayor’s call for free Sunday parking – which ignored the SFMTA’s report on its impacts – his latest piece just mimics Lee’s position. Mayor Lee said on Monday that Wiener’s measure is “disturbing,” that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget, and that he “has to hold the supervisors [that voted for it] accountable.”

Shaw argued that, by mandating a set-aside for Muni and safer streets, Wiener’s ballot measure would “reduce the ability of elected officials to set budget priorities” such as the Children’s Fund and increased wages for non-profit worker contracts. Shaw targeted his arguments towards Wiener, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (one of the five other supervisors who supported the measure), and Streetsblog:

Wiener, Chiu and many transit advocates like to depict Mayor Lee as Scrooge when it comes to transit funding. They continually point to the mayor’s “abandoning” the Vehicular License Fee for the November ballot, despite this being “recommended by his own task force.”

Mayor Lee only “abandoned” the VLF for this November because polls showed voters strongly opposed it. As the SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported on May 7, “a poll of 500 likely San Francisco voters – conducted for Lee by EMC Research from March 21-27 – found just 24 percent supported the fee increase. That is far short of the simple majority required for passage. Sixty-nine percent were opposed, and the remaining 7 percent were undecided.

Curiously, Aaron Bialick of StreetsblogSF cited the Matier & Ross story in reporting that the poll found 44% approval for the VLF. Bialick has repeatedly bashed Lee for not moving forward on the VLF, yet even with his misreading of the poll results—and 24% v 44% is a big difference—you can’t go forward with ballot measure when your support is under 50% before the opposition campaign kicks in.

The cherry-picking there is blatant. The Matier and Ross article Shaw refers to says, “When pollsters told survey respondents about the improvements the money would provide for Muni, road repairs and the like, support climbed to 44 percent — still below the majority threshold.” It would raise $1 billion over 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements and vehicle purchases, and road re-paving — just by restoring the VLF to the rate that it was at statewide for over 50 years.

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Watch: ABC 7 Talks With Officials, Advocates Supporting Vision Zero

ABC 7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings talked to some of San Francisco’s key city officials and advocates about Vision Zero, the campaign to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024, on her show “Beyond the Headlines” Sunday.

ABC's Cheryl Jennings speaks with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Image: ABC 7

ABC’s Cheryl Jennings speaks with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Image: ABC 7

Pedestrian and bike safety was the theme of the half-hour show, during which Jennings interviewed SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin; the family of Dylan Mitchell, who was killed on his bike by a truck driver in the Mission; SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali; and Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors. Jennings also spoke with Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn, who addressed the issue of deaths at railroad crossings.

The show begins with a segment featuring Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who explains why streets like Van Ness Avenue are so dangerous. It’s a great overview of street safety in SF, especially for folks just getting introduced to the issues.

“If we don’t do something different,” Reiskin said, people will continue to die while getting around on SF’s streets. “We’re absolutely committed to doing something different, to redesigning our streets.”

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Dance Performance Celebrates Temporarily Car-Free Lombard Street

Last week, cars once again took over SF’s crooked block of Lombard Street, following the last of a series of weekend trials that banned most cars from the street and opened it up to people instead. The Bay Area Flash Mob celebrated the last car-free day with a choreographed dance all the way down the winding road, set to the tune of Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Deland Chan, one of the initiators of the dance, said the group wanted to “create a moment of joy” on the street that would become impossible once it’s re-opened to cars.

“Some of the tourists actually jumped in and started dancing. The street is a lot steeper than we thought it would be, so it was an intense workout,” said Chan, who lives four blocks away and is an urban studies lecturer at Stanford University. She recently held a workshop in Chinatown on “public spaces and how different communities play,” and previously worked as a senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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Car-Free Lombard Street, Filled With People, is KPIX’s Vision of “Chaos”

KPIX reporter Brian Webb, live at ground zero, with car-free mayhem in the background. Image: CBS-KPIX

Last weekend, San Francisco’s world-famous crooked block of Lombard Street saw most of its car traffic disappear as part of a month-long trial, opening the street up for people. The SFMTA’s goal is to eliminate the gridlock caused by tourist drivers who queue up for blocks to cruise down the street.

To KPIX, SF’s CBS affiliate, however, this scene was nothing but “chaos,” a move that clearly “backfired” by filling the street with people:

Tourists found a way around Lombard Street’s first weekend closure by walking straight through it. Lombard’s been turned into a pedestrian path. Closing the crookedest street in the world to tourists was supposed to give residents a break, and some privacy. Instead, they got chaos.

Thank the heavens we have reporter Brian Webb to expose the atrocity of tourists walking down the middle of Lombard, without fear of cars. To hear it from Webb, these folks are all out-of-control mavericks exploiting a loophole. A really big loophole.

Whether this sort of asinine reporting can be attributed to Webb’s inability to understand the purpose of the project, or a newsroom desperate to concoct a controversial narrative to drive ratings, we may never know.

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Chron’s Math: Re-Purposing 0.01 Percent of Parking = “Devouring” Parking

The SF Chronicle published its take on the SFMTA’s proposed network of permitted stops for private shuttles. These proposed stops would re-purpose 0.01 percent of the city’s on-street parking supply as white zones. According to the Chronicle, that equates to Google buses “devouring parking,” as its headline puts it.

Devoting 0.01 percent of SF’s street parking so that shuttles can load out of Muni’s way is an atrocity, according to the Chronicle. Image: ABC 7

This is seriously the narrative the Chronicle has construed, even though the article acknowledges that the amount of parking spaces is, “Well, not a huge amount — unless, of course, it’s a space you often use.”

Unfortunately, it is true that every last parking space, no matter how remote, can find its own pocket of constituents. The Chronicle reported that the “Alamo Square Neighborhood Association… is fighting the proposed location of two shared stops at Hayes and Steiner streets because they would result in the part-time loss of parking.” Note to Chronicle: right now, that same neighborhood is in the process of creating a long-needed residential parking permit zone to better manage its parking supply.

As the SFMTA told the Chronicle, three parking spaces in the entire shuttle pilot would be taken full-time to accommodate private transit boardings without getting in the way of Muni. These would serve far more than three bus and shuttle riders, of course, helping to reduce parking demand. Three spaces citywide, to make streets work more efficiently, evidently constitute an outrage for the Chronicle.

Just a reminder: San Francisco has more than enough street parking to line California’s coastline.

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ABC 7: Our Drivers Won’t Follow CA’s 3-Ft Bike Passing Law, So Why Bother?

ABC 7 is back with another blurry watercolor painting of street safety issues — this time, setting sights on California’s new 3-foot bicycle passing law. ABC reporter Dan Noyes went to great lengths to film real-world examples of the issue, setting up a camera to film passing bike commuters and drivers on Market Street, and drawing out chalk lines to measure how much room drivers are giving. Bizarrely, Noyes and crew even rigged a camera to their vehicle to film themselves violating the law.

The use of Market’s wide geometry to demonstrate the difficulty of passing is pretty perplexing in itself: the street has a second traffic lane on each side in which drivers can pass, so Market is irrelevant to Noyes’ illogical attempt to demonstrate the “difficulty” of enforcing of a three-foot passing law on narrow city streets.

The segment shows drivers, including ABC 7′s, unsafely passing bike commuters in a traffic lane that is too narrow to share, instead of passing safely in a left lane that offers ample room. If nothing else, it demonstrates Noyes’ fundamental misunderstanding of how to follow the law and drive safely. The crew seems to have no clue how not to endanger people on bikes, and uses their cluelessness to make their case.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a San Francisco broadcast reporter has filmed himself harassing people on bikes from behind the windshield.

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SF Chronicle Regurgitates Misinformation From the Free Parking Crowd

Does this parking lot in the Fillmore reflect a more “balanced” SF in the eyes of op-ed writer Bill Bowen? Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Chronicle printed an op-ed this weekend, written by the Republican-backed group that aims to “restore balance” on San Francisco’s streets. And by “balance,” they mean enshrining a status quo where cars, not people, get the lion’s share of the public streets, in the form of more pavement and more traffic.

Unfortunately, the Chronicle didn’t seem to have a problem reprinting the misinformation that plagues the column, which was written by right-wing author Bill Bowen. Given that the Chronicle failed to challenge, or even “balance,” Bowen’s unfounded claims and factual errors, we thought we’d clear some things up.

Transportation policy has been set by the agency’s governing board, whose members are appointed by the mayor. By law, a majority must be regular riders of Muni.

The loudest voices? The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and those who envision a “car-free” city, despite the fact that 79 percent of households have a motor vehicle and nearly half of those commuting to work do so by car.

This is a misleading and hyperbolic way to misrepresent policies aimed at giving San Franciscans better alternatives to owning cars. Another way to look at car ownership stats: 37.1 percent of households own only one car, so 58 percent of households own one or zero cars. Despite having a solid car-light majority, San Francisco already devotes most of its street space to moving and parking cars — mostly for free — and furthermore has long mandated off-street parking with every new building even while demonstrable shortages exist of many other land uses (notably housing). Meanwhile, most of those cars stand still most of the time: only 36.6 percent of San Franciscans drive alone to work, with most accomplishing their daily tasks by foot, transit, or bike.

The assertion that the SF Bicycle Coalition is responsible for the SFMTA’s shift away from car-centric policies might be flattering to the organization, but SFBC doesn’t call for a “car-free city.” Instead, they sensibly advocate safer streets, to make bicycling a safe and comfortable option for more residents and more trips.

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