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ABC 7′s “I-Team” #DidntLook at the Real Dangers for Pedestrians in SF

ABC 7′s “I-Team,” lead by reporter Dan Noyes, had a major opportunity to give viewers an accurate picture of what’s causing pedestrian deaths,” as the headline of its latest segment suggests. But Noyes didn’t let the facts get in the way of producing a pedestrian-shaming piece, at the end of which he asked viewers to tweet about self-endangering pedestrians with the hashtag #DidntLook.

Image: ABC 7

ABC did put some of those pesky facts in the segment, like the SFPD statistics that two-thirds of pedestrian crashes are primarily the fault of the driver. (Noyes, however, made no mention of the fact that driver error accounts for the top five most common violations.) But why should the I-Team’s “investigation” allow rigorous data to spoil the slant of the segment — which was mainly focused on shaming people crossing the street against lights and outside of crosswalks?

As it happens, #DidntLook backfired. Search the hashtag on Twitter, and you’ll find across-the-board criticism of the segment. Noyes tried to counter some of the jabs himself, arguing that it’s just pedestrians’ turn for an I-Team segment, since they’ve done pieces on drivers and bicycle riders. Because that’s how journalism is supposed to work — everybody gets a turn. Next up for the I-Team: a hard-hitting look at the menace of babies in strollers.

By the way, Noyes is capable of better stuff. His most recent bicycle-related segment, “I-Team gets street view from cyclists,” wasn’t as egregious, telling stories through footage submitted by cyclists.

Here are some prime cuts from the #DidntLook discussion:

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The Chron Still a Podium for Willie Brown’s Anti-Bike, Pro-Freeway Garbage

Willie Brown’s successors don’t look so bad when reading the former mayor’s windshield perspective drivel in his latest Chronicle column.

Willie Brown. Image: ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?id=9242261##ABC 7##

Willie Brown. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine San Franciscans once again electing a mayor who responds to a spate of pedestrian injuries by lambasting everything but the primary cause: reckless driving. But according to yesterday’s column from the increasingly out-of-touch Brown, San Francisco wouldn’t be plagued by “increasingly unsafe streets” if only we had more freeways and fewer people walking and biking:

We have only ourselves to blame for San Francisco’s increasingly unsafe streets.

We tore down the Central and Embarcadero freeways and in the process dumped thousands of additional cars onto the already crowded streets, many driving at nearly the same speed they did on the freeways.

We encouraged more people to ride bicycles, then all but exempted them from following traffic rules.

We brought thousands of pedestrians into downtown, then allowed them to jaywalk at will, often with their heads buried in their latest mobile devices.

We tell the cops to write more tickets, then when they do, some supervisor accuses them of racial profiling or picking on the poor.

And now, in the name of tech, we’re allowing hundreds of ride-share gypsy cabs onto the streets without commercial driver’s licenses.

Ten years after Brown left office, even the SFPD is re-shaping its policies around what its data shows — that the vast majority of pedestrian injuries are caused by reckless driving. Not that we should expect data to be relevant to a man who seems to base his transportation and street safety views on no data or empirical evidence whatsoever.

Apparently, little has changed since September 1996, in Brown’s first year as mayor, when his limo driver hit Karen Alexander in a crosswalk. Hold on to your jaw as you read the Chronicle’s report of Brown’s casual dismissal of the incident:

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Chuck Nevius: People Who Don’t Walk in Fear Are Part of a “Militant Cult”

When KQED asked Jason Henderson in a recent interview whether distracted pedestrians are contributing to a rise in traffic injuries and fatalities, he countered the nonsense. “Well, let’s think of it this way,” said Henderson, the author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco. “A pedestrian talking on the phone that bumps into another pedestrian is probably not going to result in a fatality.”

The Chronicle’s Chuck Nevius begs to differ in his column today. Nevius apparently has nothing but scorn for people who “step confidently into the crosswalk” — “even when they’re right” — saying they’re part of a “militant cult.”

For Nevius, ranting from behind the windshield is old hat, so his latest drivel is not exactly a big surprise. Still, it’s kind of astounding that the Chronicle thinks it’s okay to publish a column ranting about seniors who enter the crosswalk near the end of a countdown signal. Nevius is taken aback, for instance, by a “little old lady, carrying a cane, who stepped blithely off the curb with one tick left on the crossing clock. She tottered across three lanes of traffic with cars waiting, but I can’t say she was oblivious. She held her free hand up in a ‘stop’ gesture.”

Nevius apparently feels that San Franciscans need to be reminded that they should expect to get run over when they walk. “The pedestrians in San Francisco are freaking nuts,” Nevius wrote. Yet he admits he, too, crosses the street — gasp — and dabbles in the cult’s “nutty” way of life:

We have lots of jaywalkers near The Chronicle building. Which is understandable — long blocks, people downtown in a hurry. I’ve jaywalked and I am likely to do so again. But I also think I’d better watch it. I’m in the middle of the street, no crosswalk, and cars may not stop.

At least Nevius starts off his column with “the necessary stipulation” that “granted, drivers in San Francisco are a menace… and generally scare the bejeebers out of all of us. Bad, drivers, bad.” Then comes the follow-up: “having fulfilled our politically correct responsibilities, we can get back to the real topic.”

To Nevius, the “real topic” is not the drivers piloting multi-ton motor vehicles through the streets, who can maim or kill a human being when they mess up. The focus must be on the behavior of those pesky, unarmored human beings. (“He might as well tell us that he has lots of friends who are pedestrians too,” one Streetsblog commenter remarked.)

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Fox Business Tries and Fails to Capture the Dorothy Rabinowitz Magic

Might the talking heads at Fox Business turn their gaze to the Plaza Hotel’s lawsuit against a nearby Citi Bike station and sneer at the frivolous litigation tying up our courts? Of course not.

Watch Dorothy Rabinowitz wannabes Melissa Francis and Fred Tecce spend four and half minutes in faux-libertarian outrage over the installation of bike-share stations on public streets. The gall!

So, yes, Streetsblog is taking the bait and embedding their clip, but when it comes to pageviews, I don’t think this one will come close to matching Rabinowitz, creator of the original and best crazy Citi Bike screed. A few reasons:

  • The catchphrases stink. Dorothy Rabinowitz gave us “the bike-lobby is an all-powerful enterprise,” the alliterative “blazing blue Citi Bank bikes,” and “do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians.” When she said the word “begrimed,” you were transfixed. After watching Francis and Tecce, I came away with some vague images of snails, frogs, and pigs, but nothing really stuck in my head.
  • It’s too canned. The Rabinowitz video was a genuine cri de coeur. She was saying all these insane things, and she really meant them. The Francis and Tecce bit is full of mugging and hamming it up for the camera. It’s got theatrical sighs and forced laughter, but no soul.
  • Reality intrudes. Rabinowitz maintained a consistent internal hallucination from start to finish. In her world, she just had to speak for the silent, bike-share-hating majority. In this Fox Business segment, when Francis acknowledges that she must be in the minority, reality manages to puncture the fantasy.
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The Sloppy Reporting Behind KTVU’s Eulogy for Re-Purposed Parking Spaces

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect much from KTVU these days in the way of fact-checking — Bay Area viewers should be used to the exceptional sloppiness seen in reports like the attempted hit on bike-share, the self-documented harassment of bicycle riders who don’t wear helmets, and, of course, the infamous fake names of pilots involved in the Asiana plane crash at SFO.

But a new segment from David Stevenson — KTVU’s helmetless heathen hunter himself — quickly descends into incoherence, arguing that parking spaces in San Francisco are being eliminated at a drastic rate because of parklets, bike lanes, housing, and other things that are certainly less important than car storage.

Amidst the breathless barrage of shoddy reporting, this is probably the most disingenuous part:

KTVU's David Stevenson is on the scene of a parking lane to bring you some false statistics.

As far back as 2006, the city used a formula to estimate 603,000 public and private parking spaces on the streets, in lots and garages.

But that number was downsized to 448,000 in 2012 after a sweeping citywide parking space survey.

To the uninitiated, this probably seems like the city has lost a quarter of its parking, but of course it only indicates that the city has recently started to measure its parking supply more rigorously. The 2006 estimate was basically just a guess, while the latest number was based on an actual citywide count of parking spaces done in 2010 (the first of its kind in the country), then updated in August 2011 with a survey of 54 percent of SF’s streets [PDF].

What Stevenson doesn’t mention at all is that the formula and the count didn’t even measure the same thing: The 2006 estimate included all parking, private and public, while the more recent counts have only measured publicly accessible spaces. As Matthew Roth noted in his Streetsblog article on the SFMTA’s massive 2010 public parking count, the city’s private parking supply hasn’t been comprehensively measured yet, but experts estimate it could bring the citywide supply as high as 800,000 (nearly one parking space per San Franciscan).

A full accounting of the city’s changing parking supply would also factor in the continuing construction of off-street parking. Parking is constantly being added in the course of development — just yesterday, the Planning Commission approved a grocery store and 136-unit development in Hayes Valley with 275 parking spots. The net change in parking spaces that results from those developments depends on how much parking those buildings replace and how much is being constructed.

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Watch: “People Behaving Badly” Consults Streetsblog on Bike Lane Safety

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Stanley Roberts asked me to come out yesterday for one of his “People Behaving Badly” segments and help explain how drivers should legally make a right-turn, since CBS 5 didn’t get it quite right. Roberts still didn’t touch on the point that CBS got wrong — drivers can’t just jump in front of people on bikes because they got to the intersection first — but it’s good to see him devote attention to the issue.

Hopefully, I’ll have fewer jitters the next time I’m in front of a camera.

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Streetsblog on the Air: KGO’s “Monty Show” Devolves Into Anti-Bike Rants

KGO 810′s “The Monty Show” was kind enough to invite me to speak this weekend as host Tim Montemayor took on the topic of bike/car relations in light of the recent truck crash that killed cyclist Amelie Le Moullac, the sentencing of Chris Bucchere, and confusion about right-of-way laws in bike lanes.

Radio show host Tim Montemayor. Photo: KGO

You can listen to the hour-long segment here — my interview goes from about 30:00 to 38:30. I touch on the lack of accountability for drivers who kill, the dangerous design of city streets, and the perception of people who bike as a monolithic group. Montemayor sets up the interview by quoting from my article covering Le Moullac’s crash.

The show got off to a decent enough start, as Montemayor seemed to be genuinely ready to probe matters of street safety as he discussed Le Moullac’s crash. “I’m not sure how you fix this problem,” he said. “I’m not sure how we, as a society, go about figuring out how to work together as motorists and cyclists, but it’s something we need to figure out because again, we had a horrific incident right in the city of San Francisco.”

But the tone of the show took a dark turn, especially after I got off the air, as Montemayor cheered on anti-bike rants from listeners who called in and let loose with misinformation about the Bucchere case and bicycling.

A couple of basic facts in need of checking: Montemayor spent a good amount of time repeating the claim that Bucchere rode a fixed-gear bike without brakes, which was false. He also egged on a ranting caller who claimed bicycle riders don’t pay for bike lanes. Not true — city streets are mostly paid for with general taxes, so drivers are subsidized by non-drivers.

There was also a stark difference between Montemayor’s assessment of the truck driver who killed Le Moullac — saying it doesn’t feel right to put him in jail, but doesn’t feel right to do nothing — and his judgment of Bucchere. “Cyclists have a massive sense of entitlement,” he said. “This guy Chris Bucchere is a perfect example… Nothing will change until you put a guy like Bucchere in prison — not in jail, in prison.” While Montemayor gave a knowing laugh later on when I pointed out that no one would judge everyone who drives based on the behavior of one motorist, he resumed the sneering about people who bike as the show reached its conclusion.

Take a listen through the call-in segment toward the end to hear Montemayor let the turn the show into, basically, a bike-hate fest bemoaning everything from the “capital offense” of removing car parking for safety improvements, to the lack of mandatory registration for bicycles (yes, this awful idea still comes up), to the baseless perception that police never ticket people on bikes.

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CBS 5 Exacerbates Deadly Confusion About Bike Lane Right-of-Way

Linda Yee's report didn't exactly help with confusion for people driving and biking. Image: CBS 5

A clear understanding of California’s right-of-way laws is crucial if drivers are to avoid colliding with people using San Francisco’s bike lanes. As we saw this week, a “right-hook,” in which a driver turns right into the path of a bike rider, can be fatal.

But when CBS 5 reporter Linda Yee sought to clarify those laws for the public, well, she failed. The news segment aimed at clarifying confusion erroneously stated that drivers can enter a bike lane, in front of bicycle traffic, as long as the driver is in front of the bike rider.

CBS showed a common scene on Howard at New Montgomery Street, in which a driver appears ready to turn into a bike rider's path in the bike lane.

Yee spent a good amount of time explaining the fact that there is much danger and confusion in SF’s bike lanes, but didn’t actually cite the California Vehicle Code (see that below), only sourcing an SFPD officer who explained that a bicycle rider can only pass a right-turning driver stopped in the bike lane when it’s safe to do so.

“I would say it is flat out wrong,” said Robert Prinz, education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

In their classes, the EBBC and the SF Bicycle Coalition teach bicycle riders and motorists that when it comes to right turns, “a bike lane is a travel lane, just like any other one on the roadway,” as Prinz put it. “So if a car driver is making a right turn without merging into it then they are always in the wrong by not turning right from the rightmost lane, even if they arrived at the intersection first.”

“Would a car driver be expected to yield to another driver turning right across their path from one of the middle lanes? The same situation applies for bikes.”

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Chronicle Op-Ed: Make Polk Street More Like Paris, Less Like Detroit

Spotted in today's Chronicle. Photo courtesy of Bryan Goebel

We’ve gotta spotlight this op-ed that appeared in today’s edition of the SF Chronicle calling upon the SFMTA and city leaders to make Polk Street more like “a Paris street, where people saunter and stay for hours, not just one errand.”

“For that to happen, it has to be engineered away from the Detroit model — maximum vehicle parking, maximum travel lanes — to a human model – maximum pedestrian and bike safety,” wrote Kurt Wallace Martin, author of the Bay Bikers blog on SFGate.com.

The article actually appeared on Bay Bikers last week, but the Chronicle editorial staff apparently saw fit to give it space in its print edition. The paper deserves recognition for publishing such a progressive vision for Polk Street — a political battleground in the movement to change the cars-first status quo on San Francisco streets.

Martin continues:

Having lived in both Paris and Detroit, I’d say Polk is more a Detroit-style street, designed and built for motorized convenience. People not protected by their vehicles are scared on Polk. They wait at intersections, looking both ways more than once before hurrying across. (The dangers are real: Polk averages one pedestrian and one bicycle accident per month.) Polk is perfectly placed on the map to be an engaging landing spot between Market Street and San Francisco Bay. It’s a street not crazed with traffic like Van Ness, and not hilly like Larkin – a street that should tie the neighborhood together. But Polk feels more like Van Ness than it should…

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On Bay Area News Stands: The Lack of Accountability for Drivers Who Kill

Photo: Bryan Goebel

Featured on the front page of today’s San Francisco Chronicle and ABC 7 is an epic exposé on the lack of legal accountability for drivers who kill pedestrians in the Bay Area. The piece is by Zusha Elinson, a journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Streetsblog readers are all too familiar with the fact that drivers rarely face charges for killing pedestrians if they were sober and stayed on the scene. It’s promising to see so much press attention on a big story that’s remained under the radar of the mainstream media for too long.

Elinson analyzed years of police records from five Bay Area counties, explored the legal and cultural hurdles of penalizing those responsible for pedestrian fatalities, shared personal stories from family members of crash victims, and even delved into the history of motorization in the 1920s:

Pedestrian deaths made up more than a quarter of traffic fatalities over the past decade in the two major metropolitan areas in the Bay Area, according to a 2011 report by national transit advocacy group Transportation for America – outpaced only by New York and Los Angeles. An in-depth Center for Investigative Reporting review of the 434 pedestrians killed from 2007 through 2011 in the five largest Bay Area counties found that, like Joe Molinaro, one-third were walking in a crosswalk when they were struck – three times the national average, according to the group’s report. And in 2011, local fatalities increased almost 40 percent from the previous year.

Yet, more often than not, the drivers responsible faced no serious consequences.

Sixty percent of the 238 motorists found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges during the five-year period, CIR found in its analysis of thousands of pages of police and court records from Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

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