Sunday, August 21, 2005

Curt Sanburn: granny killer

The city's bike zealots didn't like Curt Sanburn's June 29 piece in the SF Weekly about driving in San Francisco: "Although the city has more cars per square mile than either New York or L.A., driving in S.F. is no nightmare. In fact, once its intricacies are mastered, motoring here can be downright civilized---and civilizing." Why did they hate it? Because denigrating cars is part of their strategy for promoting bikes in the city. If cars are dangerous, bad for the environment, and clog the city's streets---and, of course, Muni is slow and unreliable---what does that leave us as a transportation "mode"? You guessed it: good, old bikes! As Sanburn points out, anyone who drives regularly in the city knows that cars are a safe and sane way to get around (For the record: I don't own a car and use Muni, another "civilized" way to get around).

The next issue of SF Weekly had an angry letter from Matthew Thayer:

Curt Sanburn wants us to believe San Francisco is nirvana behind the wheel, but it is not. His article validates a fact: San Francisco is no longer a city for pedestrians; it is a city for cars. Curt, I want you to think for a minute, next time you read the news, and someone's grandmother is killed by a hit-and-run driver on 19th Avenue, or someone's child is run down on a quiet residential street: Will you feel at all responsible? (Letters, SF Weekly, July 6-12, 2005).

Curt Sanburn, Granny Killer!

Of course Sanburn didn't claim that driving in the city is "nirvana"; he just pointed out that it's relatively easy to get around here in a car, that the traffic here isn't so bad, even though San Francisco has a higher vehicle density per square mile than either New York or Los Angeles. But what did Thayer mean by "San Francisco is no longer a city for pedestrians"? When was it ever a "city for pedestrians"? Is Thayer claiming that, before the advent of the automobile, SF was "nirvana" for pedestrians? But before the auto, there were horses and horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Only during prehistoric times, before the arrival of Europeans, was this area great for pedestrians.

Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition, recently made the same claim, suggesting that there was once a time when bicycles and pedestrians ruled the streets of San Francisco. But it's pure propaganda backed up by no historical evidence. The reality---and the historical truth---is that bicycles can claim no more "right" to city streets than autos or buses.

But the bike zealots look forward to another historical improbability, the day when gas is so expensive that cars will begin to disappear from city streets: "The time is coming when bicycling will no longer be a fringe activity. When the looming oil crisis finally kicks in and gasoline hits $6 a gallon, every day is going to be Bike to Work Day." ("Wheels of Revolution...," Tim Holt, SF Chronicle, Aug. 21, 2005) Even if petroleum disappears as the primary energy source for the personal automobile, other sources will be made available for electric, hybrid and fuel-cell engines. Hate to break it to you, Tim, but the personal auto is here to stay and you will always be a fringer.

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