San Fran Mag and their stupid bike survey

San Francisco Magazine claims to offer “insightful and award-winning editorial coverage of national, regional and local issues,” but a recent survey from them asking cyclists to catalog their scofflaw behavior suggests they’re more interested in controversy and division rather than any real insight.

San Francisco cyclists
SF Mag asks cyclists to complete a survey full of “when was the last time you beat your wife” type of loaded questions. Most cyclists will go into the survey, I think, and answer questions about running stop signs and red lights honestly.

Given the nature of the questions in the survey, I almost guarantee SF Mag will skip the nuances on why you ran that red light and publish something along the lines of “87% of San Francisco cyclists break the law!” without any correspondingly insightful discussion on how important this might be for traffic safety, or statistics on the vast majority of car drivers who also break the law and, perhaps, some insightful discussion on why motorists, as a rule, don’t acknowledge their own scofflaw behavior, while cyclists generally admit to it.

San Francisco cyclist

Perhaps I’ve completely missed the point of SF Mag’s survey, and they’ll publish a story on how honest cyclists are compared to the lying dirtbags we all become when we’re behind the wheel of a car. That’s a much more difficult story requiring real research, and that’s something I’d expect from an insightful, award-winning publication. Simple Internet surveys with pre-determined results is the sub-par hack ‘journalism’ you’d see at the SF Examiner when it was operated by Philip Anschutz and his Clarity Media Group.

When the UK Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) tried this same cheap stunt just two weeks ago regarding British cyclists, The Guardian broke the press release embargo and called the motoring organization out on their outright lies. BikeBiz also broke embargo to leaven IAM’s lies with truth and prepare cyclists for anti-cyclist controversy. In a followup at the Guardian, a professional pollster expresses his deep disappointment that an organization committed to road safety would stoop to misleading headlines.

San Francisco cyclists

I took the SF Mag bicycle survey, but because I suspect it’s intended purpose is to mislead the public on the truth of cyclist safety, I lied on my answers, just like motorists consistently and reliably lie in surveys on their own driving behavior. In the survey, I am a completely law-abiding cyclist. You do whatever you want, but I suggest you answer the same way and make the SF Mag writer dig a little harder on his story and earn his pay. I’ve also let SFMag know how I feel about this via Twitter.

H/T to Jenny.


  1. Thanks for the link.  I did the same and in the “which have you done while riding” clicked other and wrote, “Ride safely and follow traffic laws”.  Of course, that’s when I’m not riding helmetless, while on the sidewalk and going the wrong way, high on my signature cocktail of MDMA/cocaine/adderall, and texting.  Seriously, who the hell came up with that survey?

  2. Good article. Nice to see people calling out this kind of junk journalism. But rather than lying on the survey, I just say ignore it. No need to even give this sort of lazy journalism the time of day.

  3. The survey asks if I “salmon” while I ride. “Salmon”? Do they mean “slalom”?

  4. I doubt it. To “salmon” is to ride against traffic. It is because salmon swim up stream

  5. I was surprised to see this rather obscure bike jargon. Anybody who reads BikeSnobNYC knows it, but it’s not exactly a mainstream term.

  6. What’s so bad about it? If you haven’t done any of the things listed, then don’t check the box. I feel like it’s a pretty standard survey and isn’t necessarily being accusatory. Gotta say, I’ve seen lots of cyclists run stop signs, red lights… I’ve actually almost been run over one myself once. But I’m sure there are lots of safe cyclists out there too, and I consider myself one of them, so just answer honestly. If you’re actually a safe cyclist then it shouldn’t be an issue.

  7. If you haven’t done any of the things listed, then don’t check the box.” 
    Um… really? At the very, very least, how come that there is no answer option that says, I do none of the above? Given that question #1 is mandatory, the results will only be limited to scofflaw riders. Come on…  

  8. All of the questions save the lone demographic question are framed negatively — have you screamed at people, run over dogs, which type of bikers ’causes the majority of issues’, who wreaks the most havoc, etc.

    Even the most law-abiding of cyclists will likely have taken a drink while biking (and what’s wrong with sipping from the water bottle or chewing a Clif Bar in mid-ride?), and probably run a red light that didn’t detect your presence.  I’m generally law-abiding but I’ve probably hopped onto the sidewalk to catch a bus or stop at a sandwich shop. Adderral is a prescription medication with legal uses!

  9. I suppose “Other” would be for ‘none of the above’, but you’re right, I see your point there. Could have phrased it better.

  10. The survey asks “have you been in a screaming match or altercation with one of the following?”, not “have you screamed at people?” There’s a difference there, and it’s not insinuating that the biker is necessarily the one doing the screaming/the one at fault. The questionnaire also asks “who do you think wreaks the most havoc on the road?”, which includes all citizens on the road (drivers, bikers, pedestrians, etc), and then asks the follow up question, “AMONG BIKERS, who do you think causes the most problems” etc etc etc. So I guess I see that more as a sub-question of the initial question. Not necessarily saying that bikers wreak the most havoc.

    Also, I’m pretty sure running a red light on a bike is as avoidable as running a red light in a car. Maybe even more avoidable if you’re not moving as fast. If you see a yellow or red light, just stop. That’s how those pedestrians were killed earlier this year.

  11. Ah, I’m not talking about running a ‘stale yellow.’ I’m talking about the situation where you’re on an empty street at 2 AM, arrive at a red light, you wait and you wait and you wait for the light to trigger, than after four minutes you decide the light won’t trigger, so you run the light.

  12. Their lack of research is apparent in question 2. Not wearing a helmet is not illegal in San Francisco, or California for that matter, if you are 18 or older.

  13. … which is just one of many examples of how the roads are designed to favor one mode of transportation over others.

  14. It’s weird to me that they’d group helmetless riding, sipping from a water bottle or munching a Clif Bar with clearly dangerous and illegal behavior.

    What’s the point of even asking if you ever ate anything while biking?

  15. Disclosure, I ride a bicycle, and drive. I notice bad behaviour by people on bikes and by those driving cars and larger vehicles. But I have to say that it’s the people driving motor-vehicles that worry me much more. And the combined differences in mass and speed  mean that the danger from bikes is trivial compared with a motor-vehicle.

    In the UK, there is a strong element of biased reporting in the media, with a concentration on bad cycling and a widespread denial about bad driving. This bias even extends to the legal system. Where motorists who kill cyclists or pedestrians get trivial penalties unless they’re real criminals and are evading arrest, DUI, no licence, insurance etc.
    Whereas on the rare occasion when a cyclist manages to kill someone, they tend to get treated much more harshly than a motorist all other things being equal. There is a de facto motorists’ discount in operation.

    So, just for balance, here’s another survey from the UK, this time one about motorists.

    ‘Red Alert: Motorists Drive Through 278 Red Traffic Lights a Minute – 22nd August 2011
    5.2 million drivers have passed through a red traffic signal in the last month
    Amber gamblers: Almost one in ten drivers doesn’t slow down for amber lights

    New research from Direct Line car insurance reveals that motorists are driving through 12 million red lights each month on British roads – the equivalent of running 278 red lights every minute *.

    Over 5.2 million (14 per cent) motorists admit that they drive through an average of two red traffic lights each month. Over 760,000 (two per cent) motorists habitually drive through red lights if they feel the road is clear and there is no traffic.

    As a result of their reckless behaviour at red lights, drivers risk clocking up over 36 million penalty points (three for each offence) and fines from fixed penalty notices
    totalling £721** million every month.

    A worryingly high number of motorists, dubbed ‘amber gamblers’, are putting their lives and other road-users at risk by failing to slow down for traffic lights about to turn red.
    Almost one in ten (nine per cent) motorists don’t reduce their speed when approaching amber lights, with four per cent admitting to putting the accelerator to the floor to race through the lights.

    Over 1.5 million (four per cent) motorists admit to getting ‘a thrill’ when driving through amber traffic lights that they know will have turned red before they have passed through the crossing or junction. Over 500,000 drivers risk being ‘rear
    ended’ as they stamp on their brakes as an automatic response whenever they see amber traffic lights.

    Andy Goldby, director of motor underwriting at Direct Line commented: “Motorists who play Russian roulette at the traffic lights are putting their own and other road-users lives at risk. Motorists involved in an accident if they pass through a red
    light will automatically be deemed at fault for a collision. They could also face higher car insurance premiums at renewal if they have points on their licence.

    “Vehicles approaching traffic lights and roundabouts are favourite targets for ‘crash for cash’ scams, where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops which force the following motorists to crash into them. Drivers should be aware that the car in front may brake very late if the light changes
    to amber, and should always proceed with caution. Brake steadily when approaching amber or red traffic signals to avoid the risk of hitting the car in front if the lights change, as well ensuring the driver behind doesn’t crash into your vehicle.”

    One in twenty (five per cent) motorists also risk head-on collisions by driving through temporary traffic lights, as they assume the lights are broken if they take more than a couple of minutes to change….’

  16. Also in question 2, “Been without lights”.  I see scofflaws riding without lights all the time … during the day.

  17. Personally, I think we should wait until an article has been written and published before judging its content.

  18. You’re probably right. I finally got a tweeted response from SF Mag today about this. They say they plan  to publish a story about what San Francisco cyclists smoke while they ride.

  19. You may know me as a software engineer, but I drifted into the field from sociology (running statistical regressions on survey results).  I have seen many, many, poorly-designed surveys in magazines and online, but none so blatantly slanted as this one.  I can’t help but think it’s deliberate.

  20. I think to assume motorists lie more on surveys about their behavior than cyclists is less than insightful. Frankly you have bad and good drivers same as you have good and bad cyclists. I think that’s just human nature. Yeah the stupid survey was stupid but who actually reads any of that junk and takes it seriously anyways.

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