Dear Steve Emerson,

April 6th, 2012 by hughillustration

Hi Steve,

We have a policy of not publishing comments that contain threatening words. Your comment submitted today threatened to run over cyclists at the next Critical Mass, so I can’t publish it as is.

However, I would like to give you a personal response, since this issue has been on my mind a bit, in the wake the tragic accident in which a cyclist hit and killed an elderly pedestrian, possibly as a result of his own negligence and poor riding skills.

So let me make both a logical and a moral objection to your comment. Logic first:

The number of Bay Area pedestrians who die each year as a result of collision with a bicyclist is, on a 10 year average, ZERO. It happens so rarely that it’s not a blip on the statistical radar.

Meanwhile, the number of Bay Area pedestrians who die each year as a result of collision with motorized traffic is, on a 10 year average, 100. (For injuries, including paralysis and other life-altering damage, the number is about 800.)

If your concern is public safety, your emphasis on one rare event involving a bicycle is irrational and illogical.

On the moral front, I’m sorry to point out that you have no credibility, since you express outrage at the death of one innocent person while threatening the lives of dozens of other innocent people. That’s a glaring contradiction, assuming your concern is for the safety of others, and it does not speak well to your sense of civic responsibility.

Therefore, I conclude that your concern is not safety. Rather, it seems likely that your real concern is a cultural resentment against bicycling and what it represents. Bicyclists and pedestrians are beginning to get a larger share of the traffic funding, and policies around parking and street design are shifting to reflect our needs and our presence (though the shift is not nearly dramatic enough, in my opinion). Assuming you yourself are a motorist, I imagine that you interpret this cultural shift as threat to the relative privileges you enjoy as a person who drives.

I propose that you drop this antagonistic stance against a change that after all cannot be derailed. Why not join us? Get out of your car, organize your life so that you’re not behind the wheel for hours each day, and start cycling and walking as your primary means of transportation. You may find, as I have, that this creates a positive change in your life, leading to greater health, a reduction in stress, and social connections to others which are rewarding and pleasurable.

If you like, you can join us on the last Friday of the month at Critical Mass — no one is ever turned away, and the very least you would learn about the ideas and lives of those you profess to oppose. And if you’d like to re-word your comment in a more constructive manner, I’m happy to publish it, even if the views expressed do not accord with my own.

Good luck, Steve!


PS: Now that I’ve written this, I think I’ll publish it on our blog. Thanks for the instigation!

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18 Responses to “Dear Steve Emerson,”

  1. Bubblegirl says:

    VERY nicely written, insightful and incredibly restrained response, H.

  2. Well articulated!

  3. deep says:

    Hugh –

    REALLY well put Hugh – thanks for:

    a) taking the time
    b) posting this
    c) making things better in your own inimitable fashion.


  4. Critical Statistics says:

    While your ten year average is zero and applying your statistics, you could factor in +5 for those that have given birth (or gotten pregnant) over a 50 year average. For the month of April 2012, the number of deaths just made an impact on a family.

    Show some respect for the grieving family and do not use this as a way to propel your cause. Someone died, there is a problem.

  5. Jimmy Donahue says:

    “Thanks for the instigation!”
    That is confrontational. Sorry. Your letter was well written… until that.
    Just saying.

  6. Jym Dyer says:

    =v= He was speeding down a hill, ran a red light, and killed somebody, which is why Wallace Richardson’s name is now a household word!!!

    Whoops, my bad, that was the UCSF shuttle driver whose name was hardly mentioned in the news at all.

  7. Blah says:

    Based on the number of comments, no one cares about ur cause.

    Your statistics are flawed. There are far more car drivers then bikers hence more chances for accidents via a car.

    Bikes, cars, who cares. Get urself a family and u won’t have time to write long articles about how cool bikes are!

  8. It’s true that there are more cars than bikes. This does not change the statistical fact that if you are a pedestrian, you are in far greater danger of death or injury as a result of collision with a motorized vehicle. So when the news media whip up a frenzy concerning public safety due to dangerous cycling, this frenzy is unhelpful and stupid.

    I do have a family, and I rather resent your tone.

  9. jaxondi says:

    It is tragic when anyone gets maimed or killed in any kind of traffic accident. However, I have personally witnessed members of Critical Mass completely ignoring traffic laws (little things like red lights) and holding traffic up while they parade through as if it didn’t matter. Obviously a group of emotional midgets. I truly do wish Critical Mass was a responsible group who promoted the responsible use of bicycles in S.F. but that’s not what I’ve seen. Not sure if this rider was a member of your group but he rode with the same careless abandon.

  10. In almost 20 years, no pedestrians have been injured to our knowledge, and certainly none have been killed by cyclists on Critical Mass.

    On why Critical Mass sometimes runs red lights:

  11. Nio says:

    Thanks Hugh! Very well said and thanks for taking the time.

    I’d also add a relevant truth as a sweetner. Some might consider it pandering or too kind, I think is practical.

    I have friends that for various reasons, such as health or fear of biking, I don’t expect to start bike commuting right away. When one must drive, having more cyclists on the road and fewer cars is actually a good thing for everyone. Parking is scarce and traffic jams are common. If one learns to share the road with cyclists, it’s really not difficult or unpleasant.

  12. Nio says:

    to Blah and Jaxondi —

    The number of bicycle caused injuries and deaths to pedestrians is non-existent statistically. As Hugh mentioned, with motorists killing about 100 and injuring 800 per year in the Bay Area, and cyclists on average killing close to zero.

    Motorists would need to outnumber cyclists by a few hundred to one, in order for cyclists to be as dangerous as motorists *per-capita. In fact, cyclists represent a significant fraction of traffic, with estimates from 3% overall, to 7% in some areas. So, a conservative estimate is that motorists are several hundred percent, maybe an order of magnitude, more dangerous to pedestrians, per capita.

    It may surprise you to learn that traveling by bicycle is actually safer, to the operator, than traveling by car on a per-trip basis. On a per mile basis, statistics show cycling is fractionally more dangerous than driving. However, as cyclists tend to travel shorter distances and be more local, or mix their commutes with public transit such as Caltrain or shuttle for longer distances, the average cyclist commute to work or the market or such, is actually safer than driving.

    To give an example, a biker who commutes down the peninsula by a mixture of bike and Caltrain, is statistically much safer than one who commutes the same distance by driving. They’re also more likely to support the local community by doing things like shopping at local small business, dining, etc. There’s no strip malls for bicyclists.

    So, a cyclist commuter is actually significantly safer for oneself, several fold safer to the public, puts less wear on infrastructure and public costs, doesn’t use parking or create traffic jams, is better for the environment, and arguably has health and lifestyle benefits to oneself and the community.

    Critical Statistics — it’s actually anti-bicycle people using this tragedy for their own political purpose and attempting to scapegoat cyclists. A real concern for pedestrian safety, as opposed to an anti-bike agenda, requires reason and proportionality to actual causes. All the statistics show: motorists are the menace to pedestrians, cyclists, and other innocent motorists — by several fold compared with cyclists — per capita.

  13. Rich Wilder says:

    Friggin’ morons. Once again, you ruined my bike ride home. As I left work near the Ferry Building, I thought “I bet these idiots go by the stadium today since there is a game going on, and god forbid anyone in CM choose a route where there is no congestion.”

    Then, I was trying to cross near the ballpark, had the light and ran into not one, but two moronic cyclists who were paying absolute zero attention to the fact there was oncoming LEGAL traffic. What exactly is the point of blocking other cyclist’s routes? And yes, the police waved me through. Don’t give me all this “we are all here to have fun and are completely innocent of anything remotely wrong.” I yelled at the cyclists there was another bike coming through but their eyes were glazed over with CM idiocy.

    As a cyclist, I have to say your ride is pathetic and your writing is even worse. Even noted by another poster “thanks for the instigation” – just get off your moral high horse and SHARE the road.

  14. Joe says:

    Go ahead and congratulate yourselves, but don’t make the mistake of combining pedestrians with bicyclists. Pedestrians hate you just like everyone else does.

  15. Hi Rich,

    That’s funny that you don’t like my writing, since I dislike yours, so it’s a mutual disregard. However, the question of the word “instigation” is interesting to me. I don’t see the objection. To clarify: I was thanking Steve for writing, since his comment spurred me to write a longer piece I hadn’t gotten around to, and probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t written. Is that not the meaning you take? Very strange.

  16. Joe, you’ve made an assertion without backing it up with logic or evidence. If you’re going to comment here, please try to be a little more thoughtful.

  17. kodjovie says:


    Joe’s post is correct. Do not lump pedestrians and bicyclists together. The reality is bicyclists are another hazard which we pedestrians have to watch out for. It makes more sense to group cyclists and motor vehicles together, even the law of the land believes so, than cyclists and pedestrians together.
    You are correct that more pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles than bicycles, however this does not make injuries from cyclists acceptable. I also find it offensive that you consider Mr. Hui’s life a “statistical blip”. Two pedestrian deaths within a year is more than enough to demonstrate that there is a problem.

  18. moo says:

    I think the “assertion” in Joe’s post that Hugh was referring to is, “Pedestrians hate you just like everyone else does.” That statement is not even worth commenting on.

    Probably every death due to a traffic accident, Mr. Hui’s being no exception, demonstrates there is a problem of some sort. However, that incident doesn’t show that bicycling in general or even Critical Mass itself is that problem. Nor is Steve Emerson’s threat to run over cyclists a reasonable solution to a problem.