Supervisors Want More Bicycling Classes in Their Districts at Less Expense

An SFBC Family Biking class on the John F. Kennedy Drive parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Several supervisors say they’d like to see city-funded bike education classes distibuted more equally among their districts, and to attract more participants to reduce the per-person cost of the program.

Locations of bicycling classes in SF. Image: Google Maps via SFBC

At a recent committee meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of supervisors, members raised their concerns when they approved a nine-month extension of their contract with the SF Bicycle Coalition and the YMCA YBike program, which taught bicycling skills to over 1,800 kids and adults last year.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Norman Yee said their districts appear “underserved” among the several dozen class locations. “We have a ton of bicyclists in District 2,” said Farrell, including kids and tourists on rental bikes. “We have bicycle shops all over the place, we have people cycling down the waterfront, through the Preisidio… It’s really challenging to look at this and say this is a great thing when I look at two locations in the district.”

Matt Lasky of the SFMTA said the locations are chosen based on neighborhood density, but that they will look into re-distribution.

SFBC Program Manager Eric Tuvel said some locations host different types of classes at different frequencies than others. Most sites host classes for people who want to improve their urban bicycling skills, while only one site hosts “learn to ride” classes for adults. Children are also taught to ride through programs at schools and during Sunday Streets events.

Tuvel said classes are also located along popular bike routes that draw people from outside the neighborhood, often on their way home. As to the questions about ethnic and gender equity, Tuvel said that at many of the classes, most attendees are women, many of them Asian-American.

“People are coming from all over the city,” said Tuvel. “We’re capturing a lot of different communities.”

Board of Supervisors President London Breed claimed the program costs $200 per participant, and said she wants the SFMTA and SFBC to increase attendance to reduce the per-person cost. “I want them to be effective, but I want them to also be cost-effective, because this an expensive program to implement.” Tuvel noted that the SFBC does distribute pamphlets in English, Chinese, and Spanish languages.

But Breed’s $200 figure is incorrect, though no one mentioned it at the hearing. The bike education program contract cost $377,000 for three years and nine months, but Breed appeared to divide that number by the count of 1,800 participants last year to reach her figure of $200 per person.

According to an SFCTA document [PDF], “The SFMTA expects that, over the course of an amended 45-month contract term, approximately 5,655 participants will attend these classes.” That puts the actual cost at $66 per person.

Supervisor Katy Tang also said she’d like to see more follow-up surveys to demonstrate how much participants continue to ride after the classes.

“​It’s been super liberating to learn how to ride a bike,” said resident Christopher Abreu, who attended the SFBC’s “Adult Learn to Ride” class and the follow-up traffic skills classes, according to a committee report [PDF]. “Not only is it great to accomplish something you didn’t think you could, it makes me think about what other activities I could take up that I never thought possible before. Working my way up to biking on busier roads, is something I didn’t think I would ever do.”

  • gneiss

    Aaron, do you know where Supervisor Breed gets the $200/participant number? Looking through the committee report, I see that the SFBC educated a total of 1,847 people (Attachment 4, page 2) in 2014. SFMTA only has $72,000 budgeted for the next fiscal year, which works out to $39/person. DId the SFMTA really spend $370,000 last year on bicycle education but are only asking for $72,000 this year?

  • $377,000 is the “Total Cost for Requested Phase,” while $72,000 is the cost of a nine-month extension of the contract. But upon closer examination (thanks to you), it looks like Breed’s calculation is flawed, though no one called that out at the hearing.

    The contract phase ($377,000) is three years long, making the actual annual cost $125,600 (she apparently divided the 3-year cost against the number of annual participants). That means the cost is actually $70 per person. I’ll make the correction, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • Prinzrob

    As the director of a bike education program in Alameda County with similar funding but in a much larger and significantly less dense area, I am slightly jealous of SFBC’s participation numbers and cost per attendee (the corrected one, not Sup Breed’s version). That being said, though, sheer attendance numbers is not always the best way to look at the effectiveness of these programs.

    Both SFBC and my organization offer several different types of classes, some which are longer than others and provide different types of training. By focusing just on attendance a shorter and less expensive class will always look better than a longer and more expensive one, which basically becomes a race to the bottom in terms of content and effectiveness. A better metric to use is “instruction hours”, with the measurement being “cost per student per instruction hour”.

    Example: A class costing $300 with 30 attendees, each getting 1/2 an hour of instruction, would equal 15 instruction hours or $20 per instruction hour. Whereas a $500 class with only 15 attendees, each getting 2 hours of instruction, would equal 30 instruction hours or ~$17 per instruction hour. In this case the lower attendance class is actually the better value.

    Beyond that, I am also trying to include more qualitative metrics to help measure the success of our programs, such as participants’ self-rated confidence levels regarding biking before and after class. Actual reported rates of attendees making more bike trips is a pretty powerful measurement as well.

  • SFnative74

    To build on this, the SFPD should have a “diversion program” for people who get tickets while riding. Rather than pay the full price of a moving violation ticket, you get the choice to pay for a bicycle education class and have your ticket price lowered. It’s like traffic school for people riding, which makes perfect sense since some people riding claim that they didn’t know they have to stop at stop signs if they are riding bikes (??). It can also improve attendance at the classes described in this article and reduce those costs…a big easy “win-win.” There’s really no reason why we shouldn’t have this. Marin County has a great program that we can easily emulate.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    I took the 4 houd SFBC class with Bert Hill about 5 years ago when I first decided to get back into riding a bicycle, and am glad I did. I recommend it to anyone who asks me about riding in the City as the number one best thing to do.

    I learned how to both safely navigate our city streets and also how to not ride like a crazy jerk. The more people who take this class, the better.

  • Prinzrob

    The Marin program is unfortunately not easily replicable in other areas, as I have found out trying to implement it locally in the East Bay. As such I am working with CalBike to make a very small amendment to the vehicle code this year which will officially enable “bike traffic school” programs like you mentioned, 100% in compliance with the law. SF has already expressed interest in operating such a program once the ordinance is adopted. Expect some news on this proposed legislation very shortly.

    More info at https://www.change.org/p/california-state-legislature-amend-the-california-vehicle-code-to-allow-for-bicyclist-ticket-diversion-programs

  • sebra leaves

    I watched the meeting and I think Nicasio’s comments are closer to the concerns raised by Chistensen and Breed. Money was not their primary concern. The Bike Coalition presented as more of the same without any data about who attends and followup. They want to know who attends the classes and if they address the risky behaviors that citizens are complaining about.

  • sebra leaves

    Maybe you should pitch your program to the SF Supervisors. You sound like you have a more developed program.

  • Prinzrob

    Thanks, but I’ve got my hands full in the East Bay. The SFBC’s programs are really great, and I hope to follow their lead with the taxi and bus driver trainings they have been operating successfully for a while.

  • cwalkster

    L Breed might be concerned that SFMTA claims they never have money. But on the other hand are very generous to the Bicycle Coalition.

    SFCTA gives Prop. K money to SFMTA who then pays for the Bicycle Safety Education classes. Not sure if that qualifies as “city funded”.
    The Bicycle Coalition has a flat rate for each bicycle safety course they teach.
    When the number of attendees goes down, the average cost per person goes up.

    For ex. the Adult Learn To Ride class is billed at $2177. When 8 people show up the average is $272 per person. When 14 show up the average is $155 per person.

    The Traffic Skills on Road class is billed at $3075. When 5 people show up the average is $615 per person. When 14 people show up the average is $220 per person.

    The Bicycle Coalition billed SFMTA $3075 for a Traffic Skills on Road class
    that was cancelled. And SFMTA paid the bill!

    When you forget to cancel your dentist appt on time, you get charged $75-$100. But a dentist will not bill you for work on a filling, crown they did not perform that day. With SFMTA its the opposite. The Bicycle Coalition didn’t hold class, doesn’t matter. They still get paid in full.

    Everyone would like that kind of Sugar Daddy.

  • gneiss

    Citation, please? These numbers do not jibe with the $66/person rate that the overall program costs. Not to mention that 1,847 people were educated in the classes last year.

  • cwalkster

    Sources are SFBC invoices submitted to SFMTA.

    Some safety courses are held in classrooms, where there is a low per person rate. The courses I listed are hands-on and more expensive. If few people show up SFBC does not lower the price.

    SFCTA’s March 2015 report linked above shows the average per person cost for the expensive courses is about $150.

    Watering down the average per person cost to $66 might be more acceptable than using the SFCTA average of $150 per person.

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