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Intrepid KTVU Reporters Expose the Shocking Story of Bike-Share!

Frank Somerville puts on his skeptical anchor man face to introduce KTVU’s electrifying exposé about “government bikes.”

KTVU sure blew away viewers yesterday with its latest muckraking segment on the government scandal that is bike-share.

My mind, for one, was blown by the audacity of KTVU’s comically disingenous attempt to paint bike-share as nothing more than an “obscure government agency’s latest spending spree,” as anchor Frank Somerville introduced it.

“Even its strongest supporters concede there’s no actual scientific data showing the multi-million dollar plan will improve our air quality,” he said.

Well, KTVU reporter Mike Mibach didn’t really seem interested in actually answering whether bike-share has helped reduce driving in any of the 500 cities that have launched it — not even DC’s Capital Bike-Share (yes, that’s the label on the sample bike shown in his segment). In DC, bike-share shattered expectations in its first year with 18,000 registered members logging over a million trips — double the projections. According to survey data, the system led to an overall increase in transit and bicycling use, and an average savings of $891 per year in transport costs for users.

But according to KTVU, it’s all just a waste and the SF region shouldn’t try to get results like that. Nope, we should just sit back and watch as NYC launches a 330-station system (which got 4,000 people to sign up within the first 24 hours of membership sales).

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Why Matier & Ross Got It Wrong in Their Jab at East Bay BRT

Cross-posted from Vibrant Bay Area, a new collaborative blog from urbanist writers around the Bay Area.

AC Transit’s proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line got a cheap kick in the gut yesterday from the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross. The duo took aim at the cost of BRT, a “jaw-dropping $18.7 million per mile,” but didn’t take a minute to compare the project to anything else in the Bay Area. BRT is a steal compared to other planned expansions, like BART to San Jose, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Chronicle.

Image: AC Transit via Oakland Local

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a bus route separated from traffic using transit-only lanes with specialized boarding platforms. Where BRT is fully implemented, it functions like BART. Fares are paid before boarding and bus entrances are level with the platform. When a BRT line runs along city streets, they turn lights green as they approach intersections. Each of these measures speeds the bus service, making it more reliable and faster than regular, mixed-traffic buses.

AC Transit’s BRT line will cost about $178 million to run 9.5 miles along International Avenue in Oakland and San Leandro. Though the improvements won’t be as robust as what you’d find even in poorer countries like Colombia, there is still plenty of work to do. Planning, stations, new buses, signal infrastructure, medians, and other infrastructure will dramatically improve service along the corridor. In 20 years, it’s expected to attract 40,000 riders per day, 24,500 of whom will be new. For the number of riders AC Transit will attract, this is a long way from “jaw-droppingly” expensive.

The Greenbrae Interchange Project in Marin will cost $143 million and add capacity for 825 more car trips per day, or $173,000 each. BART’s extension to San Jose will cost at least $7 billion and serve, at most, 78,000 trips per day, or $90,000 each (though Eric at Transbay Blog thinks this is absurdly optimistic). At only $7,265 per new trip, East Bay BRT is far and away a cheaper, more cost-effective undertaking than nearly anything else under way in the region.

It’s a double shame, then, that businesses along the corridor have sought to dumb-down the project and strip it of features and length that will attract more riders. They fear a loss of parking and worse traffic, but by reducing the scope of the line they’ve cut off a vital link to customers. It has been shown again and again – San Francisco on Polk Street and Columbus Avenue; Utrecht [PDF]; Melbourne [PDF]; New York; Toronto [PDF]; and elsewhere - that the best customer base a business can have are those who walk, bike, or take transit.

The Chronicle would better serve the community by trying to inform rather than smear. The facts show that AC Transit’s plan is a coup for cost-effective transportation and will bring transit to a corridor that desperately needs better service. One would hope that a journalist (or two) would be interested in such things.

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The Refreshing Pedestrian Scenes of “Silver Linings Playbook”

I finally got around to seeing the Oscar-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook,” and it’s a charming film. It certainly deserves to be right up there with the top pictures of 2012. And as the film unspooled, I got a pleasant surprise: Neither of the main characters owns (or drives) a car.

Except for the opening scenes where Pat (Bradley Cooper) is driven home to a Philadelphia suburb after eight months in a mental health facility, Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) spend nearly the entire movie getting to know each other while on foot. Whether it’s on a date, walking home from a friend’s dinner party, going out for a run, walking to eat cereal at the local diner, or just arguing in the street, this film shows them moving as pedestrians and it’s very refreshing. You really sense that the characters need to be in this alfresco mode, and that talking while walking is therapeutic and healthy.

Of course, one could argue their carlessness plays up their mental health problems and that they are not fully integrated with “normal” society. So do the filmmakers want us to think that since both of them are going through emotionally tough times, they’re not stable enough to drive? Possibly.

But it also just might be that their constitutionals and interactions give these characters more depth and let us get closer to them. Unburdened by the automobile, they have time to sort things out, to communicate, and to let their minds breathe.

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Some Tips to Help SF Weekly Get Over the Free Parking Obsession

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The folks at SF Weekly seem really upset about the end of free car parking on Sundays. The shock is apparently severe enough that Erin Sherbert put up a post yesterday directing readers to sign the petition demanding an absolute end to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s expansion of parking meters, launched by the Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF). (Just a reminder: ENUF’s spokesperson won a Streetsie Award this year for “most absurd argument against SFPark meters.”)

Many San Franciscans tired of the free parking mess on commercial streets actually aren't "pissed off about paying for parking on Sunday." Photo: Judy Watt/Flickr

Signing on the to ENUF petition, Sherbert wrote, is car owners’ last stand against “the new oppressive parking rules.”

Apparently SF Weekly is little behind the curve when it comes to the basic nuts and bolts of parking policy. But in a sign that you don’t need a parking PhD to get why meters make streets work better for everyone, SF Weekly’s readership seemed to welcome the end of free parking on Sundays.

None of the readers commenting on the SF Weekly post were actually “pissed off” about Sunday parking. To the contrary, there were a few comments supporting Sunday meters, like “bulk2,” who wrote, “Sorry, but free parking on Sunday is a legacy from an era when shops were closed Sundays… I’m sick of my taxpayer dollars going to fund everyone’s private car parking on public streets. Muni still costs $2 on Sundays last I checked.” Reader ”ChachitoSF” simply asked, “Is this a joke? Know your readership or rename yourselves ‘Walnut Creek Weekly.’”

The reaction on Twitter was similar. Transbay Blog’s Eric C. pointed out that SF Weekly isn’t in the habit of telling readers what they can do “if we’re pissed about paying for Muni on Sunday.” And @LightExposures suggested that anyone “pissed about paying for parking on Sunday” should “ride a bike, and calm the hell down.”

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Like Wind in Your Hair: A Chronicle Columnist’s Refreshing Bicycling Decree

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Move over, Nevius: The San Francisco Chronicle’s latest bicycle-friendly declaration from columnist Caille Millner is a breath of fresh air, giving voice to the need for safer streets and setting the record straight when it comes to anti-bike rants.

For readers weary of the Chronicle’s regular bicycling coverage — a space mainly filled by a victim-blaming former sports writer with an irrational fear of bike lanes – take a break and enjoy watching Millner hit the nail on the head:

My heart sings every time I see a new bicyclist in San Francisco.

The more, the better, I say. I want to see 10-year-olds riding to school. I want to see middle-aged women on wheels, wearing long coats and pedaling slowly so as not to disturb their full baskets on the way home from the market. I want to see old men, even if they’re a little wobbly, heading out to the senior center on old two-wheelers.

You should want this, too – it means a better city for all of us.

In writing this, I can close my eyes and picture the avalanche of hostile e-mail that will pour in. Nothing gets people around here more worked up than bicyclists, and they love to screech out their reasons for why the rise of bicycles in San Francisco represents a crumbling of civilization.

They write letters that are full of righteous indignation, presuming that bicyclists are the only uncouth people on our streets – as if they’ve never rolled through a stop sign (if they’re drivers) or (if they’re pedestrians) never waded into the street without looking, expecting the flow of traffic to magically cease in their presence.

There’s something unseemly about these letters, about the affront their writers feel at having to share the road with bicyclists. How dare they claim space that used to belong to me is the undertone of all of this sentiment. How dare they slow me down or force me to pay attention when I’m trying to get through traffic.

It’s tiresome, it’s whiny, and it’s wrong.

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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.)

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To the Chron: Streets Work Better for All When Parking Laws Are Enforced

A truck parked in a crosswalk at 10th Ave. and Irving Street. (Really?) Photo: Aaron Bialick

As you may have heard, there’s a proposal on the table to increase parking enforcement and fines as the SFMTA grapples with a $14 million budget hole. Like clockwork, the San Francisco Chronicle came out with another windshield-perspective editorial bemoaning the city’s determination to uphold parking laws.

As Streetsblog readers occasionally note, the SFMTA’s budgeting process often leads the press to characterize parking enforcement as a revenue raiser, not good urban policy. And today’s piece in the Chron is a good case in point: The paper glosses over the fact that enforcing parking laws maintains safe movement on our streets, instead deploying a batch of arbitrary numbers to plead, in essence, “Come on, can’t illegal parkers keep getting a break?”

[San Francisco's Transit-First Policy] comes with a price, no secret to anyone who’s walked back to a vehicle after running an errand that took a little too long. Tickets slapped on windshields cost more than ever – and the citations are going up.

To meet a projected $19.8 million shortfall over the next two years in the city’s transportation budget, the governing agency wants another $6.5 million in ticket revenue. The city collected $86.3 million in fines in 2011.

Higher traffic tickets are sold as a way to ease traffic, keep Muni moving on crowded streets and create more curbside slots as wary drivers flee a flotilla of ticket-writing officers in scooters. But it’s clearly something else: a traffic-enforcement tool that’s being diverted to pay for the city’s costly transit system.

Really? Let’s start with the basic fact that illegal parking has very real negative impacts. Double parking slows Muni and endangers bicycle riders. Parking on the sidewalk and in crosswalks endangers pedestrians (particularly the elderly, disabled, and families with strollers) and degrades the walking environment. The lack of turnover at metered parking hurts businesses and forces more drivers to cruise for a spot, increasing air pollution, congestion, wear on our poorly-maintained roads, and — full-circle — double parking.

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In SF, Victims of Traffic Violence Don’t Have Equal Protection

A pedestrian injured by two drivers at 19th and Valencia Streets last month, one of the more than 800 hit every year in San Francisco -- the vast majority by drivers. Photo: Mission Local

SF District Attorney George Gascón is set to bring felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Chris Bucchere later today for biking into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Castro and Market Streets, killing him. Any traffic death on our streets deserves a thorough investigation with appropriate charges filed against the responsible party. But this high-profile case raises the question of why so few other perpetrators of traffic violence face similar repercussions.

So far, six other pedestrians are known to have been killed in San Francisco this year. SFPD and the DA have not drawn nearly the same level of public scrutiny to those cases as they have to the Bucchere/Hui case. The media, meanwhile, is captivated. The most visible difference setting Bucchere’s case apart, of course, is that he was riding a bike when he killed Hui, while the people who killed the six other victims were driving motor vehicles.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr (right) and SF District Attorney George Gascón. Photo: ABC News

All pedestrians who are injured on SF streets (876 in 2011) and the survivors of those who are killed (17 victims last year) deserve thorough investigations and appropriate actions from law enforcement agencies to deter dangerous behavior, regardless of the mode of travel of the perpetrator. But the DA and SFPD don’t display the same zeal for prosecuting drivers who kill (save those who are drunk or flee the scene) as they have for Bucchere.

Gascón and the SFPD have improved their record in recent months by charging a few such drivers in 2011 cases — but with misdemeanors, not felonies. Spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman argues that the DA’s office has given fair attention to cases that the SFPD has brought before it.

However, the SFPD apparently doesn’t treat all traffic fatalities equally, even in cases where police investigators determine the driver to be at fault. So far, there has been no action against the drivers responsible for the deaths of 47-year-old Sena Putra and 22-year-old Robert Yegge — both of whom were killed within the last month by truck drivers whom the SFPD says failed to yield. The evidence that the drivers who killed Putra and Yegge violated the law seems comparable, if not stronger, than the evidence in the Bucchere case, yet there is no word that the department will seek charges. (Streetsblog has requested a list of pedestrian fatalities presented by the SFPD to the DA’s office for investigation this year. DA staff said it is compiling the list, but we have not received it as we go to press.)

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SF Media’s Double Standard on Traffic Crashes Rears Its Head Again

Standing on the corner of Castro and Market yesterday afternoon, CBS 5 reporter Ken Bastida relayed to the camera a sad tale of the dangers of walking in San Francisco.

Ken Bastida, newfound pedestrian safety advocate. Image via CBS 5

“We’re about to do something here that really could be taking your life into your hands,” Bastida said before entering a crosswalk.

He’s not kidding: Two or three people are injured on the city’s streets every day, statistically speaking. And Bastida, being the hands-on newscaster he is, was in the field to get to the root of this “growing problem for pedestrians,” as CBS 5 put it.

“We talked to a lot of the people who live in the neighborhood. It’s not just this neighborhood,” Bastida said before cutting to an interview with a man on the street. I was glad to hear him acknowledge this — a pedestrian was injured around the corner from my home in the Inner Sunset that evening.

This issue needs more scrutiny from the media. After all, 800 pedestrian injures are reportedly hit every year, and 13 people were killed last year — the vast majority by cars.

Except Bastida wasn’t there to talk about cars. CBS sent the journo-turned-pedestrian-advocate out there to talk about bikes.

That’s because a bicycle rider hit an elderly man at that intersection yesterday morning, and both were hospitalized. “Witnesses say a bicyclist came barreling down the street, right down Castro, through the red light, and struck him,” Bastida said. Fortunately, both parties seem to be making a recovery today.

There’s no excuse for colliding with a pedestrian in a crosswalk, no matter what your mode of travel. But there’s also no excusing the double standard apparent in the media’s obsession with bike crashes, while traffic injuries caused by motorists go vastly under-reported.

Like Bastida, many local media outlets took up the cause of pedestrian safety after yesterday’s crash. The story even held one of SFGate‘s three photo-feature slots for hours on its front page.

Yet, despite the abundance of pedestrian injuries caused by drivers, reporters like Bastida don’t seem as quick to cover them.

As I wrote earlier this week, the media generally tends to jump all over relatively rare pedestrian crashes with bicyclists and Muni drivers while overlooking the far bigger risk posed by private motorists. (There was one very welcome exception in the Chronicle yesterday: Columnist and former pedestrian-victim-blamer C.W. Nevius conceded that when you look at the numbers for pedestrian injuries, “It is pretty hard to escape the conclusion – it’s the drivers’ fault.”)

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Media Coverage of Pedestrian Deaths Misses the Big Story

Two men were killed by drivers in San Francisco yesterday, but only one of those fatalities made national headlines.

The media often doesn't give due attention to the most frequent cause of traffic injury on SF streets: pedestrian victims hit by car drivers. Photo: Matt Smith, SF Weekly

The crashes were strikingly similar: Both victims were males in their 40s who were reportedly crossing mid-block, and both drivers were apparently sober and stayed at the scene.

But while the death of 45-year-old Thomas Ferguson — hit by a private auto driver on Lombard Street near Van Ness Avenue — only appeared in a handful of local media outlets, the death of the unidentified man hit by a Muni bus driver at Hayes and Fillmore Streets was picked up by the Associated Press. The wire report broadcast the news of a transit vehicle driver killing a pedestrian in publications across the country. So far, in the SF press, the Muni collision has generated about twice as many stories as the Ferguson case.

Yet the statistics show that relatively few pedestrians in San Francisco are killed by Muni drivers — far and away, most are killed by drivers of private cars. Of the 13 pedestrians killed in 2011, two were hit by buses, according to SFPD data, and all but one of the others by auto drivers. About three pedestrians are injured in San Francisco traffic every single day – the vast majority by cars.

All pedestrian deaths are preventable, and in order to save lives we have to understand what causes car-pedestrian fatalities, then take steps to prevent them. Yet the media seldom seeks out and publishes the details of these cases.

Given past coverage of similar cases, we probably won’t see follow-up reports about what caused Ferguson’s death. A vague description from Bay City News labeled Ferguson a jaywalker “apparently walking outside of the crosswalk” when he was ”struck by a passing vehicle.” There was no mention of the driver’s speed. (The driver was only mentioned to note that he or she was “very cooperative.”)

It was last July when a media firestorm followed the case of Randolph Ang, the first bicyclist to kill a pedestrian in the Bay Area in at least five years. Just two weeks ago, Ang’s sentencing received an inordinate amount of coverage compared to the more than a dozen car-ped deaths each year. Seldom do San Franciscans learn what sentence, if any, a fatally reckless driver receives. And while the Ang case was followed by calls in the local press for a crackdown on bicycle riders, it’s hard to imagine that Ferguson’s death or the other pedestrian deaths caused by drivers this year will result in calls for a crackdown on drivers.

Whether it’s simply because rare news grabs headlines, or because most editors and reporters are immersed in a car-centric culture that won’t face up to the greatest dangers on our streets, our local media is failing to convey vital information about the dangers faced by people walking in San Francisco.