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Streetsblog NYC 18 Comments

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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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.

StreetFilms 9 Comments

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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