plus/minus epsilon

Why San Francisco should Ban Bikes

2 Feb 2022

During my time in San Francisco, I've witnessed multiple bicycle accidents and had my own near-misses. I've also had a lot of fun facetiously claiming that the city should ban bicycles and trying to start arguments with people about it. While doing that, I might have accidentally convinced myself that it actually makes sense. Here's why,

Bicycles are a convenience, not a necessity. Bicycle advocates promote the use of bikes instead of cars for everyday travel, despite the fact that bikes are often not realistic travel options even in major metro areas. Unlike cars, they aren't designed to travel long distances or be operated safely at high speeds. They're generally not as suitable for people with disabilities as a car would be (either driving or riding in). They don't carry cargo or passengers. The audience for biking is typically younger, able-bodied individuals traveling short distances alone. These are people that are often already well-served by public transit, taxi services, and driving themselves, but want an even more convenient option at the expense of public safety and taxpayers.

The popularity of cycling reflects a poor view of public transit, not cars. Statistically, frequent cyclists are more likely to choose cycling over public transit than they are to choose cycling over driving. The narrative that bikes are in competition with cars isn't true: people tend to choose cycling because they believe public transit isn't sufficient for their needs. This is despite the fact that San Francisco is consistently considered to have one of the best public transit networks in the country after New York City.

Cycling is significantly more dangerous than walking, driving, or public transit. The cause for this lies equally with the nature of riding a bicycle, and with cyclists themselves. Bikes just don't have adequate safety protections relative to the speed they can go and relative to other traffic. When accidents inevitably happen, they're very likely to cause significant injury to the cyclist.

In addition, cyclists regularly disregard traffic laws by going against the flow of traffic, rolling through intersections, and switching between the street and sidewalk. When they do this, they create an immediate danger to themselves and others.

Cyclists aren't accountable for the damage they cause. Just because something is dangerous, or some people don't follow the rules, isn't a reason to ban it. But cyclists are generally unlicensed and uninsured, meaning that many cyclists go out on the road having never formally learned how to be safe and follow the rules of the road, and they're unlikely to be able to pay to repair the damage they cause to other vehicles by behaving dangerously.

People often claim that bikes don't need insurance because they're not capable of causing enough damage to warrant it, but that's not true. Bike accidents can cause substantial damage to the body of vehicles, they can knock off side mirrors, and they can shatter windows. The truth is that vehicle operators are often unable or choose not to hold cyclists accountable for these damages.

More and more public investment in biking infrastructure is unlikely to make bicycles much safer. When bikes share they road with cars, they create a hazard by not going a safe speed. (Any car going the speed that a bike goes would be pulled over and cited for impeding traffic!) Bike lanes try to solve this by generally separating car and bike traffic, but can create an even greater hazard:

The expectation is that drivers should yield to bicycles in these situations like they would yield to pedestrians, but in practice drivers often have an obstructed view and bikers aren't visible until they're too late to avoid. That's why pedestrians do in fact yield to cars exiting garages and wait until they're signaled to cross at intersections -- bikes don't do either of these things.

Focus on public transit. Bikes are fundamentally a recreational method of transportation that have been allowed on public streets for the convenience of young, able-bodied individuals at the expense of their own safety and the safety of others on the road. Those that use them are often already well-served by other much safer transportation options, like public transit in particular. The city's budget and general public safety would benefit from prohibiting bikes from public streets and reallocating the funds for building bike infrastructure to improving public transit.