Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 8, 2016

The importance of being important

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

It’s pretty amazing how we’ll believe things like “four out five dentists recommend Crest” and similar without any question, but when someone states data that you fundamentally disagree with because it doesn’t fit into your world view then the questions about the validity of the polling data is suddenly suspect.

A while ago I received a copy of one of the polls that were conducted late last year.  Lots of people reported receiving these phone calls and apparently there were multiple polls being conducted around the same time.  The one that I received was indeed done by a legitimate polling operation and this one was funded by the City of Alameda.  The polling was performed over five days in December and the sample size was 600 people.   In case someone is going to discredit that amount because it’s too small, in comparison the Gallup polls, which is considered a legitimate polling operation, have a sample size of 1000 to represent the entirety of the United States.   The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

The percentage of people over 50 polled was 56%.  Between 30-49: 34% and between 18-29: 10%.

Going into the Central Avenue meeting it’s pretty important that the results of the polling data is read accurately.  So let’s look at what the polling data said specific to bicycle and pedestrian safety and infrastructure in Alameda.

So it’s easy to just look at the “Extremely Important” and “Not Too Important” and say “See look, 42% thinking that adding bicycle lanes isn’t a priority,” but you have to take in account the gradient of support.  “Extremely Important” respondents are those that will be highly active to make something happen.  “Very Important” respondents will probably also work hard to push for a particular policy position as well.  It’s the “Somewhat Important” people that should be pushed into the support column but isn’t because these are people who would be thrilled to have whatever it is that they said is “somewhat important” but it’s not going to be something that they kill themselves to go to public meetings for or perhaps even cast a vote for.  It’s not that they don’t think it’s important like the “Not Too Important” people it’s just that they’re not going to extend themselves to advocate for it.


So if you account for all of the respondents who indicated an issues was “Extremely Important,” “Very Important,” and “Somewhat Important” then those that believed that “Increasing the number of bicycle lanes” is important comes in at 58%.

More importantly though the people who believed that “Creating a safe space on our streets for bicyclists and pedestrians” (what the Central Avenue project is supposed to do) is at 85%.

Given that phone polling tends to skew a little more conservative I would say these are extremely compelling numbers that reveal that most Alamedans believe that we should be doing more to create safer streets (“space” to me indicates by design and not by enforcement).  Hopefully the City Council will take this into consideration as opposed to how do we get cars from point A to point B faster at the expense of residents that use other modes of transportation.



  1. Trident, not Crest.

    Comment by dave — February 8, 2016 @ 6:12 am

  2. It will be interesting to see what the City Council does with the information that 75% of Alamedans don’t think it is very important to increase the number of bike lanes.

    Comment by 3/4 — February 8, 2016 @ 8:33 am

  3. 3/4, the poll doesn’t quite say that. In fact, one could legitimately claim 58% think that the bike lanes are at least somewhat important and more importantly, 85% think creating safe space for bikes and peds is at least somewhat important, with a full majority of 52% saying safer streets are at least very important. Only 13% of negatives on the latter question seem to be hard core auto ueber alles or just don’t care about street safety. But nice try anyway.

    Comment by MI — February 8, 2016 @ 9:25 am

  4. Line (i) says 75% are not in the very or extremely important category on the specific question about increasing the number of bike lanes.

    Comment by 3/4 — February 8, 2016 @ 9:30 am

  5. #2 Fixed that for you – “Only 42% of Alamedans think it is not important to increase the number of bike lanes.”

    Comment by ajryan — February 8, 2016 @ 9:30 am

  6. Happy Lunar New Year, everyone.

    Comment by vigi — February 8, 2016 @ 9:36 am

  7. I think it’s important to put these results in perspective. As I understand it, these were questions that were asked by the city in anticipation of putting a tax measure on the ballot. So the questions were really being asked to figure out what would best sell a tax increase, and not necessarily as a referendum on bike lanes.

    That said, I read these results as saying that a majority of Alamedans think adding bike lanes is at least somewhat important, and that even more Alamedans would like to see our streets become a safer place for people who walk and bike than they are now. Even if you read the results differently, there are a number of reasons that improvements that make Central more accessible for people to bike and walk are the right thing to do, safety chief among them.

    As both a constituent and (Disclosure: A member of the board of Bike Walk Alameda), I am hopeful the council will see these results as one of a long list of reasons to move the Central Avenue plan forward. The extension of Central Avenue’s bike lanes has been listed as a priority project in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan since 1999 – a plan that both Tony Daysog and Frank Matarrese voted to approve during earlier terms on the council. Extending the bike lanes will make it safer and easier for thousands of kids to ride to school, and more and more visible crosswalks will make it safer and easier for people to walk across.

    This conceptual plan has won the endorsement of the school district and the assent of the police department, was recommended by the Transportation Commission on a unanimous vote and even drew out a representative from Caltrans, who voiced that agency’s approval at the TC meeting. Hundreds of people sent postcards and letters to City Hall saying they want this to go forward, and dozens packed the TC to let them know they want to see this get done.

    As someone who lives near Central, I would love to see the car traffic slow down closer to the posted speed limit so I can cross more safely, and I’d love to see the bike lanes extended so I can feel as safe riding across the West End as I do in the East End (which has these critical safety features). I think the reduction of car lanes would also make it easier for me to turn left onto Central than it is now.

    I’d also note that making business districts accessible to people who bike and walk would be a boon to business, according to these studies collected by the folks at Bike East Bay:

    I think approving this conceptual plan is in keeping with the city’s longstanding policies (which two sitting members of the council approved in earlier tenures) and with the wishes of a lot of Alamedans. So I agree that it will indeed be interesting to see what the City Council does.

    Comment by Michele Ellson — February 8, 2016 @ 9:37 am

  8. I am for more bike lanes and hope there is a cross-town route that everyone can live with. I think it will make the city a better place. I was somewhat skeptical about Southshore (and think that as a side street resident, we’ve taken some of the overflow car traffic), but think that it has worked out fine and probably appreciated by Shoreline residents who have somewhat tamed car traffic in front of their homes). I don’t think this polling data tells us much one way or the other and it would be difficult to argue that a member is or is not doing the will of the people based on whether 33% lukewarm support gives one side an 8% majority or 25% deficit. Would rather that members for a good idea and, if possible, point to their own statements in favor of or against bike lanes made prior to being elected.

    Comment by MP — February 8, 2016 @ 10:28 am

  9. Even if you want to read these results skeptically, and say only 25% of the population really cares or needs more bike lanes, it doesn’t really matter. Do 25% of the people deserve 20% of the street space on one of many cross town streets devoted almost exclusively to the movement and storage of automobiles?

    Imagine for a moment the conversation was around disability access? (And some of this redesign is actually about safe access for that community too) Would the counter argument be “only 10% of the population is disabled, they shouldn’t be making things more difficult to me!” ??

    People who want or need to bike and walk along and across Central Ave deserve more than a stencil and a prayer.

    Comment by BMac — February 8, 2016 @ 10:53 am

  10. I want bike safety. 100% of car drivers want bikes to obey the rules of the road- like stop at stop signs, signal, wear bike helmets, take off headphones, yield to pedestrians, and take bike safety classes.Then let’s talk about more bike lanes.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — February 9, 2016 @ 6:18 am

  11. Hi “Captain Obvious,”

    Thanks for your comments. The thing about bike and pedestrian safety is that it’s not an “either-or” proposition but an interlocking series of efforts, all of which need to work in tandem to create safety and safe traffic flow for all transportation modes. This is a concept known as “The Five E’s” and it includes education on and enforcement of rules (more here:, along with engineering safer streets. (This is a concept Bike Walk Alameda supports: In fact, our newest board member is preparing to teach a cycling safety class for adults and kids, which people can sign up for here:

    I’m also curious if you would hold people using other modes of transport to the same standard you seem to hold cyclists to. Should we hold off on building new roads for cars until everyone takes a driver’s safety class, puts away their cell phone and stops putting on their makeup in the car?

    Pointing fingers at people that you perceive as a “them” is easy to do. But it doesn’t solve problems.

    Comment by Michele Ellson — February 9, 2016 @ 7:39 am

  12. It would have been informative to have had the the question; “How important is it to you to reduce the number of bike lanes on roads?” Then all the people who hate sharing the road with bikes could have clearly communicated their opinions. We would not be having to guess if people who said bike lanes were not too important were really saying they hate the idea of more bike lanes. Based on the people who talk to me there are a good number of Alameda residents and business owners who would rather never see another bike on the road.

    Comment by Marvin Hamon — February 9, 2016 @ 8:33 am

  13. @ 10. I’ve always wanted to engage in a wager to figure out this point. Maybe part “research project”. Here is the outline.

    Wager between a “Pro Car” Party (“PC”, i.e., you) and a “Pro Bike” Party (“PB”, i.e., me)
    Bet: $2,000 (open to negotiation, but this will take some time on each of our part so we need to make it worthwhile)

    Both PC and PB each pick a particular intersection or other road segment in town, as well as a particular weekday and time (Grand and Lincoln at Wednesday, 7:30 am, or Willow and Santa Clara on Saturday at noon, etc.)

    Week one, PC and PB sit at their chosen location and time for a predetermined duration (one hour, two?) and documents the traffic violations and bad behavior from Cars and Bikes.

    Failure to stop at stop signs (including failure to stop behind the designated white line), signal, wear bike helmets or seat belts, put kids in safety seats, take off headphones, yield to pedestrians; use of cell phones; exceeding the speed limit; crossing the double yellow to pass or perform a U-turn; double parking etc.

    I propose that in addition to sitting there and tabulating this by paper, PC and PB also set up go-pro cameras or equivalent on tripods to document the violations.

    Week two, PC and PB both switch and observe the other party’s chosen spot and time.

    Now we tabulate the number of traffic violations and bad behavior that were generated by Cars vs Bikes and figure out who gets the money. Takers?

    Comment by brock — February 9, 2016 @ 10:26 am

  14. Here’s something slightly different than your study, but I believe your study hag been five and found similar results.

    Comment by jkw — February 9, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

  15. Similar rates of infraction might be the case as stated in your study, but I’m not really down with this “can’t we all just get along?” approach when it comes to bikes v cars.

    As the Pro Car people are always telling us (“I only saw one person using the Shoreline Cycle Track when I was driving to the Post Office!”) there are many more people driving cars than cycling on the road.

    In addition, the cars on Alameda streets are 3,000 lbs and going 25 mph (har, har!), while the bikes and riders are 200 lbs and going 10 mph.

    So if the Pro Car people’s concern is safety, lets look at the total number of dangerous infractions (by car >>> by bike), and the potential for mayhem (vehicle weight x speed^2).

    Any intellectually honest person would STFU about “but cyclists are rolling stop signs!” (etc.) given these realities.

    Comment by brock — February 9, 2016 @ 8:24 pm

  16. Hey, Cap’n: It’s technologically quite simple to ensure cars that go over 25 MPH are automatically ticketed. I assume you favor that. And Michelle’s point about texting and driving is a good one. As I was stopped (yes!) on my bike at a stop sign on my way to work this morning, some oaf blew through in his truck while texting. The consequences of this rotund oaf’s behavior in his truck way exceed those had I not stopped. Until drivers obey the laws, can we shut down roads to cars?

    Comment by BC — February 10, 2016 @ 7:51 am

  17. @14 What a bizarre article jkw links! It says, in part: “The study gathered similar rates of infraction — 8 percent to 9 percent for drivers, and 7 to 8 percent for cyclists. And when Marshall researched the reasons a cyclist might break a traffic law, it turns out they are doing it for nearly the same reasons that a driver would, but with one difference.

    “Drivers and pedestrians will drive through or walk against a red light to save time.

    “ “They’re not trying to be reckless or rude,” Marshall said. “Cyclists, they’re doing it for their own personal safety or perceived safety. They felt like they’re more visible.”

    “On a transportation grid designed with cars in mind, Marshall says cyclists are acting on what they perceive is better for their safety. It is a rational choice in a cyclist’s decision-making, he said. At a red light with no other cars crossing, a cyclist can get a head start on the next block.

    “ “It’s interesting that you would break the law to feel safer,” Marshall says.” ” OK, this is a bunch of crap.

    What a cyclist perceives as safer for themselves, is not necessarily so. Other users of different modes of transportation on the same road at the same time do not agree with this safety analysis. Self-perception of safety cannot be used as an objective measurement of safety for all.

    When a cyclist can “get a head start on the next block”, the cyclist is just doing it to save time. No different than a driver or pedestrian who goes thru a red light. Cut the crap, cyclists. Your decision-making is no more rational than the rest of us.

    Comment by vigi — February 10, 2016 @ 9:40 am

  18. 17. vigi, let me try and explain it a different way.

    When I am on my bike, the place I feel most vulnerable is at intersections. Cars approaching, traversing, turning through, and exiting intersections have lots of things to pay attention to and the place a cyclist is placed on our roads is often in spots that are not foremost in drivers’ minds when making their movements through intersections.

    To that end, I spend as little time at or in an intersection as humanly possible. If I can time my arrival at a stop sign with a car that is clearly going straight, I will blow right through a stop sign and use them like a blocker. If there are cars approaching the intersection but I can see I will clearly be to the line first, I blow right through the stop sign. I don’t really ever run red lights unless it is clear that the signal doesn’t know I am there and I know it isn’t going to change and I deem it safe.

    The fact that stopping and starting at every quiet intersection I am approaching at a slow speed with really great visibility is an incredible waste of energy (especially for my big behind) and provides no safety benefits to anyone motivates me to treat those stop signs like yield signs. That said, it is below the safety concerns in my decision making tree.

    Some cyclists are reckless. As are some car drivers. As others note, the damage that a reckless cyclist can cause pales in comparison to a bad driver in an SUV. One of those two should influence policy and resource allocation.

    One thing that happens, I think, is that drivers who don’t also bike on busy streets get freaked out because these calculated acts of law breaking that most cyclists engage in seem chaotic and are unpredictable. The cyclist is most likely hyper aware of the potential risks in their action, however, and is trying to account for their safety.

    Comment by BMac — February 10, 2016 @ 10:17 am

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