Thursday, April 19, 2007

Latest DMV numbers and the anti-car movement

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, as of Dec. 31, 2006, there were 460,150 motor vehicles registered in San Francisco. The breakdown: 378,576 cars, 63,438 trucks, and 18,136 motorcycles/motorbikes.

Some other numbers to consider: According to the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4.5 million people stayed in city hotels in 2005, 25.8% of whom rented cars. That means there were 1,250,000 rental cars on city streets that year driven by the city's hotel guests alone.

Numbers like this show that the editorial in the April 18 issue of the SF Bay Guardian (below) is completely unrelated to the reality on the streets of the city. The Guardian thinks that "San Francisco ought to commit to cutting car use in the city by at least 50 percent in the next five years." What does that mean in practical terms? How would city government discourage the more than 460,000 city residents---not to mention commuters and tourists---who own cars from driving them on the streets of the city? "Some streets, such as Market, should be closed to cars entirely. Much downtown parking should be eliminated. More bike lanes and transit-only roads, more pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, and other measures of that sort would not only help discourage car use but also make the city a more livable place."

The Guardian wants the city to build affordable housing for its workers. But if driving in the city is discouraged, what impact would that have on the 66,315 workers---a $1.8 billion payroll for the city---dependent on the city's tourist industry? The Guardian doesn't tell us, because it doesn't know---or apparently really care much. If city workers don't have jobs, building affordable housing for them doesn't make a lot of sense. In fact city progressives have long been in denial about the important role tourism plays in the city's economy. The facts: 2005 figures show that the city has at least 15.7 million visitors a year, who spend $7.3 billion here, generating $418 million in tax revenue for the city.

The city's residents like their cars, and they are unlikely to allow the city's screwball left to make it any more difficult to drive in the city than it already has. According to the San Francisco Transportation Authority's 2004 Countywide Transportation Plan, 214,660 city residents commute by car, and there's more than one car per city household (page 40, 49).

The Big Thinkers at the Guardian don't want to clutter up their ideology-bound minds with a bunch of facts. They want action! "There's no point in thinking small: this is the year for dramatic talk about real environmental action." All this shows anyone who's paying attention is that the city's left is completely out of touch with the same reality as the rest of us, which they have already shown on other issues, like homelessness. But they do a lot of harm, since their anti-car ideology---along with that of the SF Bicycle Coalition---is common on the Board of Supervisors and in city agencies. Does that mean I'm just "thinking small"?

Green city, part one: cut back cars

EDITORIAL

San Francisco needs a real green city agenda — not something that comes out of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s corrupt propaganda operation or from the timid folks in the Mayor's Office but a comprehensive environmental plan for the next 10 years that aims at making San Francisco the nation's number one city for green policy.

There's no point in thinking small: this is the year for dramatic talk about real environmental action. And it doesn't have to be overwhelmed by global problems; there's so much to be done right here at home.

We will be laying out a much longer, more detailed platform over the next few months, but here's one way to start:

San Francisco ought to commit to cutting car use in the city by at least 50 percent in the next five years.

How do you do that? By making cars unnecessary and slightly more expensive.

The nation's addiction to oil didn't come by accident. As Thomas Friedman wrote in the April 15 New York Times, then-president Dwight Eisenhower responded to the cold war in part by building the Interstate Highway System, which allowed the military to move people and weapons quickly — but also set the nation on a path to the car-driven development and land use that are now poisoning the environment and global politics. Turning that around requires tremendous dedication and political leadership, but San Francisco shouldn't have to wait for the rest of the country.

A citywide auto-reduction plan would involve sweeping land-use changes. Some streets, such as Market, should be closed to cars entirely. Much downtown parking should be eliminated. More bike lanes and transit-only roads, more pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, and other measures of that sort would not only help discourage car use but also make the city a more livable place.

But there's more: a city that discourages car use has to build housing for local workers — that means affordable housing for the city's service-industry and public-sector workforce. All new housing needs to be evaluated on that basis: will people who work in San Francisco be able to live here — and avoid long commutes? Most housing currently in the planning pipeline utterly fails that test.

To make cars irrelevant, public transportation has to be vastly improved. As Sups. Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin point out in the Opinion on page 7, that means better management. But more than anything, it means money — big money. Muni fares ought to be reduced dramatically (or eliminated altogether) — but in exchange, Muni needs a dedicated funding source. A special fee on downtown businesses makes sense. A citywide transit assessment on property owners might be necessary.

It's not fair to place a burdensome tax on cars that makes it possible only for the rich to drive — but simply restoring in San Francisco the vehicle fee Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wiped out would cover Muni's deficit. Assemblymember Mark Leno is working on this, and it should be a top civic priority. So should pushing high-speed rail (see page 19), which would eliminate tens of thousands of car trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

There are lots of ways to approach this goal; the supervisors and the mayor just need to set it and enforce it.

Labels: , ,