Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bike intellectuals confer on injunction

If you think I'm exaggerating about the anti-car perspective held by the city's cycling community---and, increasingly, by city government---you need to listen to the podcast on one of their websites. The SF Bicycle Coalition's Andy Thornley, Rajiv Bhatia of SF's Dept. of Public Health, and Josh Hart, another Bicycle Coalition guy, try to come to grips with the recent court injunction against the city and their beloved Bicycle Plan.

Thornley starts off with a contemptuous reference to me and my blog, refusing to provide listeners with my name: "The best thing we can do is ignore him." He segues quickly into denigrating CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). According to Thornley, CEQA, while originally designed to inform the citizenry about proposed developments, has now been "perverted" by land use attorneys into a "meaningless husk of ceremony and priestly talk." He provides no real evidence for this opinion, but actual evidence is not his strong suit, since he goes on to say that the city's Bicycle Plan---which is really the SF Bicycle Coalition's plan, since his group had the largest role in putting it together---did receive environmental review, just not as "deep" a review as the litigants wanted. 

That's simply untrue, since the city gave the Framework Document a general rule exemption---and they are trying to pretend that the Network Document is not part of the Plan at all---which means the city is claiming that the Plan can't possibly have any significant impact on the city's environment. This is not the same thing as an environmental review under CEQA, which would be at least a negative declaration for a project of this size. In fact, a general rule exemption means that the city thinks it doesn't have to do an initial study of this large project. The city was arrogantly assuming that they could get away with not doing a review. After all, who here in Progressive Land is going to challenge the Bicycle Plan?

After also denigrating CEQA, Bhatia inititates a discussion of the "level of service" (LOS) measurement of traffic under CEQA, which means that any project must measure how it will affect traffic in the area---whether, specifically, it will generate enough additional traffic to delay traffic at intersections. In short, it's a time measurement of traffic; if a project actually degrades LOS on nearby streets---that is, creates traffic jams---the developer, or the city in this instance, must do a full environmental impact report. Bhatia calls LOS a "brick wall" for cyclists who want to take away traffic lanes in the city. 

What he and the bike zealots want to substitute for the sensible LOS measurement is a "auto trips generated" measurement, which would do away with the time/traffic jam analysis. Bhatia admits that this would lead to "delays" and "inconvenience" for drivers in traffic---that is, traffic jams---but people would then just give up on that street and look for alternative routes to their destinations, which would ultimately mean less traffic on that street! Besides, Bhatia thinks traffic jams are mere "social impacts," just as parking is not an environmental isse but a "social issue" for city planners. (I think he's wrong on both counts, but that's a subject for another posting.) And the beauty of the "trips generated" scam for the bike zealots is that the Bicycle Plan couldn't possibly generate any automobile trips. Get it?

Bhatia uses Second Street in S.F. as a hypothetical in his LOS discussion, a poor choice, since that street is a very unlikely candidate for bike lanes (See Appendix 9A, page 1 in the Network Document of the Bicycle Plan for a discussion of Second St.). Second Street was part of the 1997 Bicycle Plan, but the idea of taking away a traffic lane for bike lanes on that street was rightly rejected by both the city's Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation and the Parking and Traffic Commission. Second Street also carries four different Muni bus lines (9, 10, 15, and 71), which makes taking away traffic lanes very unlikely.

What was missing from the discussion was an accounting of what really went wrong with the Bicycle Plan as it moved through the process. Why would a judge give mere obstructionists an injunction that freezes all implementation of the Plan? Was he anti-bike, too? While the Bicycle Coalition is obnoxious and extremely aggressive politically, the injunction can't be blamed on them. 

The reality is that the city got bad legal advice every step in the process from both the Planning Dept.'s Major Environmental Assessment office and from the City Attorney's office. Instead of telling the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors the truth---that the city had to do at least a Neg. Dec. on the Plan---lawyers from these departments told them what they wanted to hear, that they didn't have to do any study at all, that bikes were so cool and so PC that the Plan gets a free pass through the CEQA process. Wrong!

In an article by Steven Jones in the Bay Guardian last year, Thornley was quoted as saying, "Now we need to take space away from cars." Thornley's idea is now city policy; that's what the Bicycle Plan is all about. People need to understand that our city government is now so anti-car that taking away traffic lanes to create bike lanes to deliberately create traffic jams is now official city policy, since LOS "reform" is part of the Bicycle Plan (see Action 2.8 in the Framework Document), which the Board of Supervisors made part of the city's General Plan last June.

In their zeal to punish motorists, the city is forgetting about both Muni and emergency vehicles, which will also be delayed in their carefully designed traffic jams. Forget about Transit First. If the bike zealots and their allies in city government have their way, San Francisco will in practice have a Bicycles First policy.

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