Thursday, June 16, 2005

Matt Smith: Bike Zealot, Part Two

Matt Smith confirms what I've been saying about the dangers of riding a bike in San Francisco. Smith rides his bike from Grove St. to the Weekly's offices down by SBC Park. His commute routinely involves scary, distressing encounters with motor vehicles:

These conflicts are extraordinarily stressful, and on those mornings I find myself spending the first part of the day numb with low-level anger and fear. And I'm what you might call an ace at this: I've bike-commuted in big-city traffic for the past 25 years. So if co-workers ask me about getting to our office by bike, I feel obliged to offer caveats about the sections where bike lanes disappear into impatient and sometimes dangerous auto traffic, and about the motorists who don't realize bikes have the right to occupy traffic lanes and who drive dangerously as a result. And if I didn't tell the co-workers, they'd find out soon enough on their own.

Okay, we can now stipulate this: Bike advocates know that riding a bike in the city is a dangerous means of transportation, even for an experienced cyclist. (See also "Mission: Not Impossible," Paul McHugh, Feb. 17, 2005, SF Chronicle). 

They understandably want to make it safer to ride a bike in the city, which is a sensible, uncontroversial idea. But when they argue that painting bike lanes on city streets and taking traffic lanes away from motor vehicles---as in the San Jose/Guerrero area in the Mission---is going to make it safer, they are being disingenuous and/or delusional. 

Smith also implies that if only motorists knew that cyclists had the right to occupy traffic lanes things would be different. But motorists already know, for example, that drunk driving and exceeding the speed limit are illegal, and many do those things anyhow.

Smith also presents the Bike Nut vision of a future San Francisco:

What if the asphalt of Fulton Street---six vehicle lanes that border Golden Gate Park all the way to the ocean---were converted to garageless condominium towers, with a cafe-packed, San Francisco-style pedestrian/bike commercial promenade below? Next, imagine Lincoln Avenue, which borders the park's south side, being transformed the same way...At San Francisco's 2000 population of 777,000, the city was about a quarter as dense as cycle-friendly Amsterdam, suggesting S.F. could easily absorb at least hundreds of thousands of new residents, if only they didn't bring cars.

As I point out earlier (Matt Smith: Bike Zealot, Part One), as of Dec. 2004, there were 464,903 motor vehicles registered in the city. That is, most people in the city own a car, truck, or motorcycle---or drive a bus. This seems to be about the fact that our city is undergoing a seemingly inexorable gentrification process. And the thing about gentry---at least in the US---is that they inevitably own cars. The notion that the people who would buy Smith's condos in his residential highrises by Golden Gate Park---an appalling vision itself---are not going to have cars is simply not reality-based.

Those progressives who see the bike lobby in SF as a benign, win-win deal politically for the city are kidding themselves. The bike nuts are politically arrogant: Making the Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan with no CEQA review is a prime example, as is the monthly Critical Mass demonstration that is tied to no specific political goal. The bike nuts do Critical Mass just because they can get away with it, and it's evidently an effective organizing tool for the Bicycle Coalition. 

And now they want to undermine the city law that requires a parking space for every new housing unit built in the city, a sensible law that deals with the realities of auto use in San Francisco. Their vision for San Francisco: residential highrises lining Golden Gate Park, along with the Rincon Towers south of Market St. and residential towers along Market St (see the Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan).

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