Friday, May 18, 2007

Rob Anderson: "Lone Antibike Nut"

The unsigned SF Bay Guardian editorial (below in italics) appears in the current issue, which, interestingly, also has a cover story on Warren Hellman, a man the Guardian previously regarded as a class enemy aligned with the city's wicked Downtown Interests. The friendly Hellman article by Steve Jones is an odd counterpoint to the editorial's uninformed attack on me. But who knows? If billionaire Hellman can be rehabilitated, maybe someday I too will grace the cover of the Guardian, and we can all live happily ever after here in Progressive Land.

The current Guardian also has an article ("Stationary Biking") by Steve Jones on the Bicycle Plan fiasco. Although Jones's version of what went wrong with the Bicycle Plan is muddled and inaccurate---he didn't bother to talk to me---it concedes that our litigation had some merit and that, yes, the city should have done an EIR on the Bicycle Plan before it tried to push it through the process without it.

The editorial below (Brugmann, Redmond?), however, clings to the notion that I'm a "nut" who singlehandedly derailed an environmentally benign city transportation policy.

"The lone antibike nut filed a lawsuit claiming that the city's bicycle plan lacked adequate environmental review, and in a departing slap at San Francisco, Judge James Warren signed off on an injunction blocking all bike improvements just before he retired."

Well, did the Plan lack "adequate environmental review" or not? The Jones piece suggests that it did and that the litigation wasn't such a bad thing after all. And why would Judge Warren, who lives in San Francisco, take a "slap at San Francisco" before he retired? The slur on Warren, a Republican, is evidently because he made other decisions the Guardian didn't like---on the garage in Golden Gate Park, on gay marriage, and on Chris Daly's ordinance banning handguns. Warren gave us the injunction because he understood that the city was implementing the Bicycle Plan even as the litigation was going forward, before a hearing on the merits of our suit could take place. Judge Busch, a Democrat, inherited the case when Warren retired, and he kept the injunction in place because we were able to convince him too that, without it, the city would continue to implement the Bicycle Plan before the hearing. Ultimately, Judge Busch's decision last November ordered the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan, with the injunction staying in place until that process is complete and the city is in compliance with the law.

"Now the city has to complete its entire plan—at least another year's work—then complete an environmental impact report (EIR) on it, and then return to court to get the injunction lifted. It's costing money and time, and it's making it harder for what should be a safe, healthy, pollution-free method of transportation to pick up more adherents in what ought to be the nation's most bike-friendly city."

Well, yes, the city has to comply with the most important environmental law in the state, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) like every other developer and jurisdiction in California. The Guardian seems to think that this is an unnecessary imposition, as if declaring its good environmental intentions should be enough to exempt the city from the time and expense of complying with the law. The question is, Why didn't the city just do an EIR in the first place? Our conclusion: simply because the city thought it could get away with not doing it.

"But there's not a lot anyone can do about Anderson and his pro-car crusade (yes, he says very clearly on his blog, district5diary.blogspot.com, that he's pro-car and that 'cars are a great invention, and they are here to stay')."

Though I haven't owned a car in 20 years, I am indeed guilty of thinking that cars are a great invention and that they are here to stay. Is that really a controversial opinion? Does the Guardian really think that cars will be obsolete someday and be replaced by bicycles? What I believe most in is recognizing reality: According to the DMV, there are 460,150 motor vehicles registered in SF alone; that, according to the SFCTA's figures, 214,660 city residents commute by car; that 130,311 commute by transit, that 39,192 walk, and that 15,014 commute by "other" means (bike, taxi, etc.). Many thousands more commute into the city by car every day, along with thousands of tourists, since tourism is our main industry. And there are 1000 Muni vehicles of various sorts on the streets of the city. So why should it even be controversial to ask the city to do some serious study before it takes away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes for that fraction of the city's population that commute by bike?

"In another year a judge will toss out this ridiculous injunction, and the city can get on with its planning."

In his decision last November, Judge Busch ordered the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan to comply with CEQA. Once that has been done, of course the injunction will be lifted. He also allowed the city to do all the planning on bicycle projects it wanted to do in the interim; it just can't make any changes to the city's "hardscape" without doing the EIR first. Since Busch was already convinced that the city was in fact implementing the Plan improperly without that review, he ordered the injunction to remain in effect.

"But it's critical right now that city hall not sit back and wait. The bicycle plan needs to be funded, and the project planning needs to continue moving forward at full speed, so that when the EIR is completed and the city is allowed once again to implement new programs, the projects will be ready to go. This lunatic lawsuit shouldn't give Mayor Gavin Newsom an excuse to defund bicycle programs for the next year."

My impression is that no one in city government is holding back on any planning on bicycle projects. Nor, unfortunately, has Mayor Newsom ever shown any inclination to oppose and/or defund anything in the Bicycle Plan. He agrees completely with the Guardian and the SFBC on the issue. The Guardian probably wishes it was otherwise, so that they could try to use the issue against him in the campaign for mayor this year.

"The truth is, thousands of additional people have begun to ride bikes to work over the past few years, and that's had nothing but a positive impact on the environment. Bikes can and should be a central part of the city's transportation infrastructure. That's the lesson for Bike to Work Day."

It may be true that "thousands" more are riding bikes to work in SF in the past two years, but there are no reliable numbers to back up that claim. The assertion is nothing but wishful thinking. Nor is there any evidence that bikes will ever be anything but a minor part of the city's "transportation infrastructure."

Instead of abusing me and composing transparently ignorant editorials, why doesn't the Guardian put a couple of reporters on the Bicycle Plan and our litigation and do an in-depth examination of all these issues?

Moving the bike plan forward
Rob Anderson's lunatic lawsuit shouldn't be an excuse to defund next year's programs

EDITORIAL It's an odd year for Bike to Work Day: San Francisco is in the middle of an ambitious plan to improve the city's bicycle infrastructure—and it's utterly stalled. The city can't add a single new bike rack, can't add a single bicycle route sign, can't take a single step to improve bike safety, and can't move forward on any of the 60 projects that are in the hopper. Every single transportation improvement that involves bicycles is on hold for at least a year.

For that you can thank Rob Anderson, a dishwasher and blogger who thinks bikes are unsafe in the city and recently wrote on his blog that "if the Bike Nut Community (BNC) gets its way on city streets, traffic in the city will be made unnecessarily worse for everyone, with more air pollution as a result, as motorized traffic idles in traffic jams, squeezed into fewer lanes after the BNC creates bike lanes by eliminating traffic lanes and street parking."

The lone antibike nut filed a lawsuit claiming that the city's bicycle plan lacked adequate environmental review, and in a departing slap at San Francisco, Judge James Warren signed off on an injunction blocking all bike improvements just before he retired. Now the city has to complete its entire plan—at least another year's work—then complete an environmental impact report (EIR) on it, and then return to court to get the injunction lifted. It's costing money and time, and it's making it harder for what should be a safe, healthy, pollution-free method of transportation to pick up more adherents in what ought to be the nation's most bike-friendly city.

But there's not a lot anyone can do about Anderson and his pro-car crusade (yes, he says very clearly on his blog, district5diary.blogspot.com, that he's pro-car and that "cars are a great invention, and they are here to stay"). In another year a judge will toss out this ridiculous injunction, and the city can get on with its planning.

But it's critical right now that city hall not sit back and wait. The bicycle plan needs to be funded, and the project planning needs to continue moving forward at full speed, so that when the EIR is completed and the city is allowed once again to implement new programs, the projects will be ready to go. This lunatic lawsuit shouldn't give Mayor Gavin Newsom an excuse to defund bicycle programs for the next year.

The truth is, thousands of additional people have begun to ride bikes to work over the past few years, and that's had nothing but a positive impact on the environment. Bikes can and should be a central part of the city's transportation infrastructure. That's the lesson for Bike to Work Day.

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