The Chronicle endorses Critical Mass
The remarkable thing about this morning's front-page story in the SF Chronicle is not that the story was favorable to the SF Bicycle Coalition. The Chron clearly wanted to balance out the negative stories on the last Critical Mass in recent Matier & Ross columns. What was remarkable is the Chron's front-page endorsement of Critical Mass in a sidebar next to the story, telling readers where/when to go to join in on all the fun later today. This makes the Chronicle complicit if/when something goes wrong tonight and someone gets injured. Why did the Chron do it? As the leading newspaper here in Progressive Land, apparently they wanted to reassure city progs, in the wake of the Matier and Ross stories, that they are pretty cool and in the same corner as the city's groovy people.
I talked to Rachel Gordon once on the phone, and we had a one-sided email exchange (below in italics) before the story appeared. Looks like Gordon talked to Mayor Newsom, David Binder, Leah Shahum and me. That's balance for you! And of course I come off as a pathetically unphotogenic old obstructionist. I don't know where they got that awful picture; it was probably taken during the 2004 campaign for D5 Supervisor. But at least they published my blog address. Out of the mud grows the lotus.
An astonishing piece of information comes at the end of the story: The bike lane to nowhere---from the eastern part of the bridge to Treasure Island---on the Bay Bridge will cost taxpayers $200 million! Am I really alone in thinking that this is insanity?
(The first message was written to Gordon after the story appeared)
You portray the bike movement as a triumphal process, moving from victory to victory. I see it as already having an inflated political significance in the city---and in the suburbs, too, for that matter. Binder is right: It's essentially political symbolism, aka bullshit, like those anti-war measures that appear on city ballots every year. Parking "stalls"? What are they? How about parking "places" or "spaces"? The SFBC achieved the so-called compromise on Healthy Saturdays in Golden Gate Park, but everyone knows that they would have lost at the ballot box. And why is that? Because they aren't nearly as popular as your story makes them out to be. $200 million for a bike lane? That's insane, which most of your readers will immediately understand.
I also ran in 2004, and my website for that campaign is still up here. I ran as a Green in 2000, but that was a mistake based on a flawed analysis on my part. I'm 64, and a dishwasher. I live on McAllister St. near the McAllister/Scott intersection, a block off Divisadero.
I've been effective---with some important help from a few friends---in countering BikeThink because the cycling community really is a paper tiger politically. As I've tried to point out, whenever city voters have a chance to vote on something the bike people support, they've voted against them: The 1998 election in favor of the garage under the Concourse; the 2000 election when the Healthy Saturdays idea was rejected twice on the same ballot; and last November, when a hike in the parking tax---supported of course by the SFBC---was rejected by more than a two-to-one margin.
The political support for the bike people is very shallow, concentrated almost entirely in our political elite and in a few city agencies. The traffic circles on Page St. were unpopular in that neighbohood and had to be removed several years ago. The SFBC annoyed a lot of people in Japantown several years ago when they kept trying to take away traffic lanes on Post St. to make bike lanes. The city and the SFBC took away the street parking between Van Ness and Octavia Blvd. last year, rushing it through the process to get it done in time for Bike to Work Day, steamrolling a lot of opposition from the small businesses in that area. And then you have Critical Mass, a monthly reminder of the arrogance of the bike people.
The litigation on the Bicycle Plan was a good example of the political arrogance of the bike people and their enablers in city government: They rushed the Plan through the system without doing any environmental study at all, and they were even implementing it piecemeal as the litigation went forward. That's why we got the injunction. Both Judge Warren---now retired---and Judge Busch were rather harsh on the city during the sparsely-attended hearings leading up to the decision last November. Judge Busch's order to the city to do an EIR on the Plan came as a shock to a lot of people, but it didn't surprise me. They had no case at all. Judge Busch's decision was very critical of the way the city handled the Bicycle Plan, all but accusing them of outright deception, and he was right. The city was dishonest and sneaky in the way they conducted themselves. And the SFBC, by the way, was intimately involved in the Bicycle Plan process, even getting a $250,000 contract from CalTrans to do the public outreach and at least another $50,000---maybe more---from SFCTA.
This is another thing people don't understand: The SFBC really functions as a quasi-city agency. DPT and Planning always seem to make sure they are notified of all the relevant meetings, while we are on our own as far as notice is concerned. And trying to get documents out of city agencies is a painful, time-consuming process. The point is that the SFBC is an advocacy group with a strong interest in the outcome of the Bicycle Plan process. They should not be allowed to have so much influence on the process, let alone be given public money to do community outreach on the Bicycle Plan.
If the recent Healthy Saturdays compromise was on the ballot, it would have lost. After all, the bike people had enough votes on the Board of Supervisors to put it on the ballot again, and they didn't do it only because they knew they would have lost! If and when the people in the neighborhoods understand what's in the Bicycle Plan---like taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes---they too will reject it.
The more people learn about the bike people's agenda---and the more they see them in action, both on the streets and at public meetings---the less they like them.
I'm the only real media critic the bike people have, but I'm consistently better informed than they are. All the comments to my blog after Judge Busch's decision showed that none of my critics had read either the Bicycle Plan itself or was familiar with the litigation, which is, well, arrogant!
From: Gordon, Rachel
To: Rob Anderson
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Subject: RE: bike story
Hi Rob. A couple of questions for you:
How old are you?
Are you a Green Party member?
What do you do for a living?
And, do you live in the Haight or NOPA?
And is the 2000 supes race the only time you ran for office in SF?
(I'm asking these questions for the story I'm doing on bike politics and how you were able to tamp the bike activisits political clout.)
From: Rob Anderson
Sent: Saturday, April 21, 2007
To: Gordon, Rachel
Subject: bike story
My computer was in the shop yesterday, and I'm just now catching up with my email.
I'm going to expand on some of yesterday's remarks.
* Mayor Newsom thinks the bicycle movement in the city has "come of age"? Depends on how you look at it. I think they've achieved political influence based on an agenda that's essentially a utopian fantasy---that bikes will ever be a serious transportation "mode" for a significant number of people in SF. The bike people have nothing but contempt for Newsom; they all voted for Gonzalez in 2003. He's done everything they asked of him thus far, except for his veto of the Healthy Saturdays ordinance last year, but they still despise him. Bikes are either an accessory to a political fantasy or nothing more than a recreational accessory. People don't rent bikes in the city to go grocery shopping or to pick up their kids from daycare. They rent them to ride in Golden Gate Park.
My sense of things is that the progressive leadership of the city is out of step with the voters, much like they were clueless on homelessness before Care Not Cash.
* The Guardian anti-car editorial reflects the orthodox view in progressive circles. But, as I try to point out, implementing even more stringent anti-car measures will only begin to stifle economic activity in the city, particularly in the tourist industry.
* Critical Mass serves no legitimate political function, since it's tied to no specific political purpose. Instead, it's an exercise of raw political power by a segment of the cycling community, aided and abetted by the SFBC, which insists on claiming that it doesn't endorse Critical Mass. Hard to see how screwing up traffic during rush hour furthers the image of cycling in SF. And 15-20 city cops "escort" the illegal demo every month. What does that cost the city in overtime? Cycling in the city will only become a mature interest group after its leadership renounces Critical Mass. By the way, the window-breaking incident during the last Critical Mass took place around 9:00 p.m. I had no idea that the demo went on for more than three hours. I think that's outrageous, and I bet I'm not alone.
* We didn't touch on this, but there's the issue of how the SFBC affects other city issues, like the Market/Octavia Plan. They support that Plan to overdevelop the Market/Octavia area because it is aggressively anti-car and restricts the amount of parking developers can provide for new housing in the area. The Plan is a disaster for other reasons---it okays an unknown number of 40-story highrises in the Market/'Van Ness area---but the SFBC doesn't care about anything but the parking issue. As I noted yesterday, the SFBC opposed the garage in the park and the Hastings garage. Anything that makes it easier to drive in the city the SFBC opposes. This is bad for the city's economy and a nuisance to the many people who own cars and/or have to drive in the city. The overwhelming rejection by city voters last November to raising the parking tax is evidence of resistance from city drivers, which would mean that the anti-car agenda is not politically sustainable in SF.
* The bike people are now hemorrhaging political support, as they increasingly become associated with Critical Mass. We may be witnessing the self-destruction of a political interest group, as their anti-car ideology is evidently more important to them than advancing responsible and safe cycling in the city. This is okay with me, since I think they are a malign influence on city politics.
From: Gordon, Rachel
To: Rob Anderson
Sent: Friday, April 20, 2007
Subject: bike story
hi rob. I'm doing a story on bike politics in san francisco and was hoping to talk to you. will you reachable by phone this weekend or Monday morning?