Driving When You Could Bike: Fact Check

Driving When You Could Bike: Fact Check

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Councilman Todd Gloria

 

Image: MisleadingStatement: “Forty percent of vehicle trips are two miles or less,” City Council President Todd Gloria said at a Feb. 25 press conference.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: City Council President Todd Gloria wants San Diego to be more bike-friendly.

Gloria, who represents mid-city neighborhoods many of the city’s bicycling advocates call home, has pushed for improved bicycle infrastructure and innovations that remind San Diegans they share the road with cyclists.

Late last month, Gloria joined Mayor Bob Filner at a press conference to celebrate the opening of the city’s fourth bike corral. Gloria emphasized the ease with which San Diegans could walk or bicycle instead of using a car. After all, he said, 40 percent of vehicle trips are two miles or less, he said.

“If we begin to substitute some of those trips with bicycles instead of cars we can make a significant impact when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, improving our quality of life and making us a better city,” Gloria said.

We decided to fact check Gloria’s claim because bicycling advocates nationwide have cited similar statistics as yet another reason to embrace cycling over driving. If it’s true that 40 percent of vehicle trips are two miles or less, that would strengthen the argument for making it easier to bike and walk around the city.

Gloria recalled getting the statistic from the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition . They directed us to a post that cited numbers from a 2009 survey by the Federal Highway Administration.

Every five to 10 years, the federal agency asks thousands of Americans about their daily transportation habits. The latest National Household Travel Survey revealed how much time Americans spend on the road and analyzed the length of the average trip.

The 2009 study showed 40 percent of trips recorded by more than 300,000 participants were two miles or less.

The statistic incorporated all forms of transportation — cars, bicycles, subways and more, said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration.

That differs from Gloria’s statement because he singled out vehicle trips.

If one simply focuses on car trips, the percentage of short trips increases significantly.

According to the research, 69.1 percent of trips were two miles or less, Hecox said.

But while some San Diegans participated in the study, it represented a national look.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the county’s planning agency, conducts a similar survey every decade.

The latest one was released in 2007 after more than 3,650 San Diego County households provided travel data to SANDAG.

The final report didn’t include conclusions about the average mileage of trips in San Diego but SANDAG provided county-specific numbers.

Researchers found that 37 percent of all trips, which includes all modes of transportation, are two miles or less. That percentage dropped to 32 percent when only vehicle trips were included, said Helen Gao, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The latter percentage also doesn’t match the statistic Gloria cited.

Gloria’s statement wasn’t far off but he relied on national numbers at the press conference. We’re fact-checking him based on Federal Highway Administration numbers for that reason.

We dub a statement “misleading” when it includes an element of truth and distorts or exaggerates it, giving a deceptive impression.

We think that definition fits this claim because Gloria misstated the national survey results.

That’s not to say Gloria intended to deceive. In fact, if he had correctly cited the percentage of vehicle trips that are two miles or less, it would have bolstered his cause.

Gloria should have been more careful when he mentioned the 40 percent figure. Statistics are meant to be exact and verifiable, so botching the numbers or mischaracterizing the information they represent defeats the purpose of citing them. For that reason, Gloria earns a “misleading” rating.

We shared the correct local and national statistics with the council president’s office. A spokeswoman for Gloria said he’ll cite those numbers in the future.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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46 comments
e9fb185c-9586-11e2-bb55-73831b19236e
e9fb185c-9586-11e2-bb55-73831b19236e

You are free to create some definition of "necessary" that includes cars but excludes bicycles, just as I am free to define the word in my own terms. So I suggest we avoid using subjective words like "necessary" if we want to make any progress, and instead focus on making sure our streets are designed to be safe for all modes of transportation. Remember the Zero-One-Infinity rule: streets should be safe for exactly zero modes of transportation, or exactly one mode of transportation (similar to a railroad), or all modes of transportation. The number two in this context is completely arbitrary and that makes it useless for any serious discussion.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, your argument is a good example of the logical fallacy known as the "false dilemma" because it only considers two extremes and ignores anything and everything in-between. Bicycles allow a person to get around faster and carry more cargo than walking or running, at a lower financial and environmental cost than driving.

Derek
Derek

Jim, your argument is a good example of the logical fallacy known as the "false dilemma" because it only considers two extremes and ignores anything and everything in-between. Bicycles allow a person to get around faster and carry more cargo than walking or running, at a lower financial and environmental cost than driving.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The point remains, you can walk, you can drive, biking adds a third option that we don't really need.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The point remains, you can walk, you can drive, biking adds a third option that we don't really need.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

It takes me 40 minutes to walk 2 miles but less than ten to bike it.

Derek
Derek

It takes me 40 minutes to walk 2 miles but less than ten to bike it.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jmg, your situation is ideal for an electric bicycle to help you get up those hills.

Derek
Derek

Jmg, your situation is ideal for an electric bicycle to help you get up those hills.

Jean Gray
Jean Gray subscriber

I'd love to bike, but I have 2 kids and live in the foothills. From where I live to the main road is a 500 ft elevation change and then another 350 ft up to my daughter's school 2.5 miles away. There are more hills between my house and the nearest store 3.5 miles away. If I lived in a flatter more urbanized area, I would have no problem with investing in a bike and trailer and using that for neighborhood errands, but the truth is the suburbs have been built without a lot of consideration to getting around by anything other than car and neighborhood markets aren't all that common. And as others said, it's scary biking in San Diego. Heck, it can be scary driving with so many people still using their phones and otherwise out in la-la land.

jmg
jmg

I'd love to bike, but I have 2 kids and live in the foothills. From where I live to the main road is a 500 ft elevation change and then another 350 ft up to my daughter's school 2.5 miles away. There are more hills between my house and the nearest store 3.5 miles away. If I lived in a flatter more urbanized area, I would have no problem with investing in a bike and trailer and using that for neighborhood errands, but the truth is the suburbs have been built without a lot of consideration to getting around by anything other than car and neighborhood markets aren't all that common. And as others said, it's scary biking in San Diego. Heck, it can be scary driving with so many people still using their phones and otherwise out in la-la land.

Lee Knight
Lee Knight subscribermember

I own a car. But I also own a bike, a backpack and a bike trailer which I use for short trips in HIllcrest. And at times I take a bus or a train. This doesn't have to be cast as a war between car people and bike people. Can't we all acknowledge that there are too many cars on the road and that we should encourage more bike riding and public transportation?

Lee Knight
Lee Knight

I own a car. But I also own a bike, a backpack and a bike trailer which I use for short trips in HIllcrest. And at times I take a bus or a train. This doesn't have to be cast as a war between car people and bike people. Can't we all acknowledge that there are too many cars on the road and that we should encourage more bike riding and public transportation?

Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson subscriber

There's no bigger corporate welfare than with the automotive and oil industries.

billdsd
billdsd

There's no bigger corporate welfare than with the automotive and oil industries.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

There are cheaper trailers, too, as little as $100. They won't carry lumber, but they'll carry groceries. One of them would recover its cost in only 3 months.

Derek
Derek

There are cheaper trailers, too, as little as $100. They won't carry lumber, but they'll carry groceries. One of them would recover its cost in only 3 months.

Franklin Blunt
Franklin Blunt subscriber

Regardless of the hazards of bicycling & motoring, there is too much reliance on petroleum anyway ... whether from the polluting emissions, contribution to declining health & obesity, environmental degradation, other directly related or intangible factors, the critical conditions will soon be grave. We must become aware & make the transition, but I'm an idealist in a very fouled-up place rife with hypocrisy so consider the possibilities.

FrankNBlunt
FrankNBlunt

Regardless of the hazards of bicycling & motoring, there is too much reliance on petroleum anyway ... whether from the polluting emissions, contribution to declining health & obesity, environmental degradation, other directly related or intangible factors, the critical conditions will soon be grave. We must become aware & make the transition, but I'm an idealist in a very fouled-up place rife with hypocrisy so consider the possibilities.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

The only value I see to most recent fact checks is the discussion that follows. I often learn things from that.

myearth
myearth

The only value I see to most recent fact checks is the discussion that follows. I often learn things from that.

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

I think that the study is highly questionable considering that we don't know whether the people studied recorded all of their trips, some of their trips, or how they did that. It seems a little hard to believe. In my opinion, this check should have resulted in a false rating. The number didn't indicate 40% or more. If the national study indicated 37% then stating anything above that is flat out false.

shawn1874
shawn1874

I think that the study is highly questionable considering that we don't know whether the people studied recorded all of their trips, some of their trips, or how they did that. It seems a little hard to believe. In my opinion, this check should have resulted in a false rating. The number didn't indicate 40% or more. If the national study indicated 37% then stating anything above that is flat out false.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

It makes no sense to bike if you already have a car, unless you simply have a hobbie of biking.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

It makes no sense to bike if you already have a car, unless you simply have a hobbie of biking.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Although neither of uses a bicycle any more, my wife and I chose Uptown as our retirement home in part because we can (and do) walk to restaurants, doctors, dentists, theaters, restaurants, the Library, grocery stores, etc. Making it easier to walk, through count-down walk signals, delayed green lights, traffic calming measures, repaired sidewalks, improved night-time lighting, etc, has our support. And, as I have previously written, we also support and encourage safer bike access to vehicle-dominated streets. Walking and biking are both means to enhance the life of neighborhoods and the people who live, work, or visit in them.

fryefan
fryefan

Although neither of uses a bicycle any more, my wife and I chose Uptown as our retirement home in part because we can (and do) walk to restaurants, doctors, dentists, theaters, restaurants, the Library, grocery stores, etc. Making it easier to walk, through count-down walk signals, delayed green lights, traffic calming measures, repaired sidewalks, improved night-time lighting, etc, has our support. And, as I have previously written, we also support and encourage safer bike access to vehicle-dominated streets. Walking and biking are both means to enhance the life of neighborhoods and the people who live, work, or visit in them.

Lawrence Hogue
Lawrence Hogue subscriber

And another possibility for carrying bags of groceries on a bike is an XtraCycle.

Lhogue
Lhogue

And another possibility for carrying bags of groceries on a bike is an XtraCycle.

Elyse Lowe
Elyse Lowe subscribermember

Council President Gloria calls for investments in low cost bike infrastructure that can make it safer and convenient for more people to bike. Whether its only 30 or 40% of trips that are under two miles is not the point, its what can the region, and the city to do to make it safer and easier for people to choose biking and walking. With SD's great weather, more people would bike frequently if the City designs for it. It is a bit of a culture shift. Yet everyone who still wants to drive all the time, can absolutely do so. Freedom of choice should be for all modes.

MoveSD
MoveSD

Council President Gloria calls for investments in low cost bike infrastructure that can make it safer and convenient for more people to bike. Whether its only 30 or 40% of trips that are under two miles is not the point, its what can the region, and the city to do to make it safer and easier for people to choose biking and walking. With SD's great weather, more people would bike frequently if the City designs for it. It is a bit of a culture shift. Yet everyone who still wants to drive all the time, can absolutely do so. Freedom of choice should be for all modes.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

Your fact check "ratings" have become useless parodies of serious journalism.

fryefan
fryefan

Your fact check "ratings" have become useless parodies of serious journalism.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross subscribermember

With the increasing number of adult bike riders that are just as careless as many of our car drivers shouldn't the bike riders also be licensed?

Activist
Activist

With the increasing number of adult bike riders that are just as careless as many of our car drivers shouldn't the bike riders also be licensed?

Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson subscriber

Just curious, do you carry loads of lumber every day? Do you carry 4 shopping bags every day. As it turns out, people who bike commute don't have to do it every day. They can bike on the days that they don't need to carry a lot of stuff and drive on the days that they do. The notion that it has to be all or nothing is a false argument. It's a straw man. It's only suggested by people trying to discredit the effort to encourage more bicycling.

billdsd
billdsd

Just curious, do you carry loads of lumber every day? Do you carry 4 shopping bags every day. As it turns out, people who bike commute don't have to do it every day. They can bike on the days that they don't need to carry a lot of stuff and drive on the days that they do. The notion that it has to be all or nothing is a false argument. It's a straw man. It's only suggested by people trying to discredit the effort to encourage more bicycling.

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor subscriber

Did Gloria say 40% of vehicle trips in the city or county of San Diego, or did he simply say 40% of vehicle trips, as the quote above says?

lucasoconnor
lucasoconnor

Did Gloria say 40% of vehicle trips in the city or county of San Diego, or did he simply say 40% of vehicle trips, as the quote above says?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Not all vehicles are personal vehicles, and not all vehicles are motor vehicles. What percent of trips not on foot are two miles or less?

Derek
Derek

Not all vehicles are personal vehicles, and not all vehicles are motor vehicles. What percent of trips not on foot are two miles or less?

Andy Kopp
Andy Kopp subscribermember

Yes the judgement is technically accurate, however, if the spirit of a statement isn't violated by the statistic, maybe it could just be corrected and forgiven.

Andy Kopp
Andy Kopp

Yes the judgement is technically accurate, however, if the spirit of a statement isn't violated by the statistic, maybe it could just be corrected and forgiven.