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Probably "old hat" to most, but I don't use Garmin or Strava or any other GPS based system, and I just came across this (by clicking on the "Next Blog" thingy at the top of Blogger). Possibly more interesting given the news I also saw earlier today of the Northern Illinois University student found dead after / due-to a fraternity initiation / hazing activity (22 members of the fraternity have been charged with misdemeanors and / or felonies).
Here's a fun idea. Let's see who can drive fastest through the streets of San Francisco.
Say I zoom from the Ferry Building to Ocean Beach. Using my car's GPS, my time, speed and route will be posted on a website and then you can try to beat it.
Of course, as the times get quicker, we may have to run some red lights and stop signs, but that's part of the edgy excitement, right?
OK, so that's ludicrous. It will never happen. People would be outraged.
But that's the bicycling model of the website Strava, based in the city. Strava members run routes, their times are posted, and other riders are encouraged to beat the time.
It is a perfectly fine idea as a concept. Biking is a social community; it is fun to see where your friends are riding, how often and how fast they are going on routes you ride yourself. Most members ride safely and use the site for feedback.
But Strava has also created its KOM (King of the Mountain) awards. Set the fastest time, and you are awarded a KOM Crown. But face it; no one is setting a best time in the city without running stop signs and red lights. There may be only a few reckless KOM types on Strava, but they are exactly the kind of dangerous riders we're trying to slow down.
It leaves Strava essentially giving awards for reckless riding. And, says attorneySusan Kang, who is part of a lawsuit against Strava, if your KOM time is beaten, you are notified immediately.
"You get a message that says (essentially), 'Go out there and show them who's boss,' " she says.
That makes it look like Strava is egging on the riders to go even faster.
Critics say Exhibit A is East Bay riderKim Flint, a Strava KOM winner who crashed on South Park Drive, a scary, steep 1.4-mile descent in Tilden Park. Flint, who said he once clocked 49.3 mph and was indisputably choosing to ride recklessly, died when he hit a car.
Flint's parents are suing Strava for encouraging reckless behavior. (A Strava spokesman, after first agreeing to comment, declined to respond to several subsequent attempts.)
In the city, Strava faces criticism because bicyclist Chris Bucchere was tracking his speed on Strava - on a route known as the Castro Bomb - on March 29 when he struck and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian at Castro and Market streets. The district attorney's office says video evidence shows Bucchere had run several stop signs before the accident.
Kang's law partner,Richard Meier, says Strava bears responsibility, even if it can't control cyclists' behavior.
"If there was a contest to see how much alcohol you could drink - knowing the dangers - and someone died, the people that ran the contest would be responsible," Meier said.
OK, cue the angry backlash. What is this, a nanny state, you ask?
Thierry Attias, owner of Oakland's Cycle Sports and president of a top professional bike racing team, says that, like most members, he uses Strava for nothing more than to check on friends, find new routes and record his times.
"You can't blame an organization that tracks data for the group that produces the data," he says. "It's up to the individual to use common sense."
I would agree, with a couple of exceptions. First, it makes absolutely no sense to make a hair-raising descent into a competition. People rocket down South Park Drive all the time, but there's no reason for Strava to award a prize for crazy riding.
"If they stopped monitoring descents, that wouldn't be a horrible idea," Attias concedes.
And second, it is not a good idea to create race tracks through the busiest intersections in San Francisco. Routes should be evaluated to see if they are too risky - for everyone.
The problem is, Kang says, "Before they had the KOMs, Strava was not well known."
So Strava may be encouraging dangerous riding. But as a business model, it's working great.