Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The SF Chamber of Commerce's New Clothes

Rachel Gordon reported last week that the SF County Transportation Authority has decided not to pursue a car-free Market Street, favoring instead a plan to "discourage" driving by "managing traffic." That management amounts to restricting some turns at a couple of intersections.

(The SFCTA is the same institution of brilliance that's pushing a 'shovel ready' Doyle Drive replacement and maybe Geary BRT in, well, not your lifetime)

According to Gordon's piece, the meek plan is in response to concerns that "businesses don't suffer" (Quote from Ken Cleveland, director of government affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco. Apparently he's qualified to discuss this because Market Street is a building).

This pro-car = pro-business attitude is nothing new, so why bring it up? because it was apparently enough to sway the Transportation Authority's decision makers despite the TA's own study, which proved that cars traveling down Market are not major contributors to economic activity.

Streetsblog SF has the details on the study, which found that people who drive into downtown spend less money there per month than transit riders and walkers. Further, Transit riders (60% of visitors) and walkers (20%) each represent more people than those who drive or carpool (17% combined).

So people who drive downtown are a tiny minority of shoppers, and they spend less per person than folks who use other modes of transportation. It should be clear who downtown business groups would like to encourage, right?
[San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Marketing Vice President Laura] Milloy added that while the Chamber supports dynamic parking pricing, such as SFPark, they are concerned about restrictions on drivers that would make it less appealing for them to travel to San Francisco to shop. "We are competing with a lot of other shopping districts in areas and we are trying to have as many options as possible." she said. -Matthew Roth (Streetsblog SF)
If the Chamber of Commerce is concerned with increasing business and economic activity in downtown SF, they should not be concerned about restrictions on driving. Instead, they should be pushing harder than any of us for improved transit and pedestrian access to downtown shops. According to Roth,
[Milloy] wasn't convinced the study's results were significant and didn't indicate they would use the results to try to dispel any perception among their members that most shoppers drive. She also reiterated the Chamber's opposition to congestion pricing, assuming this study was meant to add fuel to that fire.
Essentially, ignoring reality because it disagrees with their preconceived conclusion. I'm personally flabergasted by the asserton that these results aren't significant. Again according to Roth,
TA Transportation Planner Zabe Bent explained that the surveys for the mode choice study were conducted at three locations downtown (Union Square near the parking garage, Stockton and Market, and 4th and Mission near the parking garage) that were meant to capture drivers and transit riders equally.
But despite being designed to find 50% of respondants driving, the study found only 17%. Nobody could reasonably claim that that's within the margin of error.

For some reason Gordon, who is an excellent writer but happens to work for a newspaper that could fairly be re-titled The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Chronicle, doesn't offer much to counter that absurd statement beyond some quotes from officials with different points of view. As if it was just a matter of opinion.

Well, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

And facts we have. Streetsblog has also reported that drivers are less likely to be shoppers in neighborhood commercial areas, but the myth persists. We need to call the Chamber of Commerce out. The emperor has no clothes; their argument is not rooted in fact.

City policy should be rooted in fact and SFCTA should reconsider strict limits on driving downtown in order to improve the economic climate there.

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