Driving When You Could Bike: Fact Check - Voice of San Diego

Fact Check

Driving When You Could Bike: Fact Check

City Council President Todd Gloria claimed 40 percent of vehicle trips are shorter than two miles.

 

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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