By Geoff Page
In September 2021, OB Rag published an article titled “The Politics of Fear: Bicycling Deaths, Crosswalks and Dog Bites”, by this writer. The article contained a review of 13 cycling crashes and prompted an angry howl from cycling advocates.
The anger was directed at anyone with the temerity to question the public agenda of those promoting cycling. The use of these 13 accidents to advance the cause of cyclists was shown in the article to be dishonest.
The reaction to the piece was so strong that a cycling madman from Los Angeles, Peter Flax, descended on The Rag and this writer and did everything he could to discredit both.
Flax was found to be bashing this writer on Twitter. Having had a Twitter account for several years, but never having used it, I hired Flax on this forum. But, he quickly backed out of a difficult conversation and blocked this writer from his account.
During these exchanges, another case of local cyclist, Paul Jameson, jumped into the fray criticizing The Rag and this writer. He also briefly engaged on Twitter and also very quickly blocked this writer rather than answering difficult questions.
Because of all of this, more attention was paid to other information that cycling groups were spreading. For example, today’s Twitter feed from the San Diego County Bike Coalition is leading with the story of a cyclist killed in San Marcos. But, according to the news, it was completely the rider’s fault. The Bike Coalition didn’t say that, of course.
The Bike Coalition also sends information as San Diego Crash Alerts@SDCrashBot. He describes himself as:
“Bot tracking every bike/pedestal accident in San Diego. Each is a political failure. Run by @sdbikecoalition with program from @streetsforall and data from @citizenapp”
This collision alert program created by the cycling coalition notifies subscribers of every reported or actual accident involving a vehicle and a pedestrian or bicycle.
When you click on @citizenapp, you get a dark map from a site called “citizen.com”. The map shows where the incident occurred and the three reports that arrived, as follows, starting from the bottom.
“The woman reportedly suffered minor injuries.
March 6 7:38:13 PM PST
The police on the spot block the area.
March 6 7:32:34 PM PST
Police are responding to an unconfirmed report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle.
March 6 7:32:33 PM PST
Incident reported to Fort Stockton Dr & Falcon St.”
That was all the information available. According to the cycling coalition, “Everyone is a political failure”. In the case of this example, it is a completely unfounded and therefore dishonest assertion. The pedestrian could have been at fault, in which case no policy failed.
They tweet every incident essentially using information in a misleading way to promote their claim that the streets are unsafe due to poor cars and infrastructure. There is no way to determine who was responsible for the incidents. But who verifies these reports?
People who think the cycling coalition is wonderful willingly accept this information to mean what it is supposed to mean, that all pedestrians and cyclists were beyond reproach. That if we just changed our policies to do what people like the bike coalition think we should do, none of this would happen. By saying this is all a political failure, the cycling coalition has shot its credibility in its own foot.
Then there’s the new bike computer.
During this new Twitter foray, it was learned that the city had installed a bike counter on 30th Street to see how many people were using the new dedicated bike lanes. These statistics are also trumpeted to show the “success” of what cycling policies have done for 30th Street.
Having lived in the city for decades, this writer remembers when 30th and the university, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, were depressed and unattractive. Starting around 2001, I visited the area, including Laurel Street, two blocks west of 30 on Switzer Canyon, on a semi-regular basis. This writer has driven this hallway consistently for years and seen it transform. The transformation has been the work of many small businesses.
30th became the vibrant place it is today with restaurants, cafes, brasseries and bars all the way south to Upas Street. People now come from all over town to the 30th, or used to.
Recently I took a trip to see the new bike paths that had been built in the last two years. It was dreadful. The whole road north and south of the University was a red curb, hardly any parking left. Both sides of the road. Anything to create bike lanes on a major, busy street, when quiet streets parallel 30th on the east and west.
There appears to be no accommodation for the delivery trucks and several were seen parked precariously on the street. There is a driveway, but a 15 foot wide driveway is not the optimal location for large, wide and tall trucks. Some of the lots with multiple businesses don’t seem to physically allow easy access from the alley.
This writer must have wondered how parents with small children and all their stuff would manage to patronize businesses. Then there’s the older class who don’t move well, maybe use a walker. How far will they have to drive?
What 30 looks like now is a place for unencumbered, healthy young adults and some older, healthy, unencumbered adults. For all the others, it’s a mess and will discourage some people from coming there, the too old, the infirm, the children, the handicapped. Maybe it’s by design.
Why these runners could not have been satisfied using the quiet parallel streets is the question that is never answered when asked. One day there will be reliable information about what this has done for or for 30th Street.
Back to the counter. The city placed a bicycle counter on 30th Street about 30 feet south of University Avenue on both sides of the street. It consists of wiring embedded in the roadway in much the same way that traffic loops are placed. Diamond patterns are found in new bike lanes.
A large electronic cabinet stands in the corner showing the number of rides for the day and the total since the device was placed in January of this year. The numbers can be seen here. https://data.eco-counter.com/public2/?id=300022074#
There is a chart that shows the bike and scooter trips during the day. It can be changed to display by day, week or month. It can also be made to show counts in each direction, north and south. It does not provide time during the day.
An email was sent to Everett Hauser, a program manager in the Department of Transportation, who took care of this installation. Among the questions he was asked was one about how the device had two different modes of travel.
Hauser’s response, with a link, was: “The Eco Counter has software algorithms that differentiate between bikes and scooters based on wheelbase.”
The problem was that the link was to the Eco Counter webpage which only had information on pedestrian and bicycle counting.
The Eco Counter is manufactured by a French company named Eco Compteur. I emailed the company on February 24 and the first response was that the counter that could count scooters would not be available until this spring.
Hauser was asked about this and responded with a previously viewed link, one that shows the actual numbers. https://data.eco-counter.com/public2/?id=300022074
Hauser again received an email asking if he could explain what he and the city were saying about the device and what the metering device manufacturer had said. Hauser sent another link, https://www.eco-counter.com/blog/counting-bikes-e-scooters-with-zelt-evo-counter/. This went to the Blog section of the eco counter company website and it was about scooters.
There was a button in the article titled “Learn more about our bike/scooter counting program”. Clicking the button opens a new page on a bike counter, with no mention of scooters.
Other than this blog post that mentioned scooters, there was nothing on the site about scooters. There was nothing in the Products drop-down menu.
In a follow-up exchange with the device’s manufacturer, the commenter had no idea how San Diego counts scooters. The link to the blog provided by Hauser was sent and here is the response that came back:
“Indeed, the City of San Diego is one of the few that have been able to get these meters. Also, they use the version of the meter that has to be hardwired. The version we’re launching this spring is the low-power option that operates on batteries.
They are indeed able to tell the difference between bicycles and scooters then.
Still nothing on the company’s website regarding the counting of scooters. If anything, San Diego may have gotten a beta because the product is clearly not on the market today. How reliable is this equipment?
The location of the counter, and there is only one, could be questioned. He was placed right at 30th and University. Asked about the location, Hauser said: “The site was chosen for its [sic] visibility in the heart of North Park. Near the North Park sign there should be a lot of traffic, both bike/scooter, but also people viewing the accounts.”
Naturally, for those responsible for the 30th Street bike paths, the higher the number, the better in order to counter the many criticisms of this project. What might a meter read halfway or at the north or south ends? Is a counter enough?
It would be good to know more about the cyclists, like what counts would be timing and what the path is for. It would be useful to know how many cyclists are commuting and how many are going out for fun.
If you look at the figures for inbound and outbound travel, the numbers are very close. It is possible that many of the cyclists surveyed are using the new trail to get around and not to solicit businesses along 30th. The question would again be why not use the roads parallel to 30th on the east or west side if the daily commute is all they do?
Now there is a big effort to do the same on Park Blvd. Another stretch of businesses that will be harmed if all available street parking is removed. And, looking at a map, there are clearly streets parallel to the park that could serve as bike paths. Just as there are roads parallel to 30th that could be used.
The point of all of this is that statistics can be misleading, especially if presented in a dishonest way.
Many of those who defend bike paths use deceptive tactics to influence the public. These tactics are doomed to failure. It doesn’t matter who tries it, but when people see dishonesty even once, trust disappears.
Add to that those groups getting into bed with developers promoting density and removing the 30ft height limit and their credibility is shredded.