Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tim Redmond: "I'm part of the problem...I drive a car."

Every week the Guardian's Tim Redmond seems to start with a blank slate, his mind devoid of any information about the city's recent history. In the current Guardian, he cites with feigned surprise a paragraph from the Controller's report on the city's taxi system:

The resident population in San Francisco appears to be increasing. Since 2000, the Department of Finance reports it has grown by 4.7 percent, or by approximately 0.6 percent per year. Although the Census Bureau believes San Francisco lost population from 2000 to 2005, it too has reported population increase since 2005. Muni trips have slightly declined over the same period — a cumulative negative change of 2.5 percent — while vehicle registrations in San Francisco have increased by 1.5 percent. This suggests that residents may be substituting away from mass transit and into private and personal transport modes.

The slight decline in Muni ridership is old news. A SPUR report two years ago took note of that fact and suggested some remedies, and I wrote a blog item at the time on the report.

In any event, Redmond draws a false conclusion from this paragraph:

There is no official city goal to reduce the number of cars in town or the number of car miles traveled or the number of vehicles on the streets. The city Planning Department continues to base its land-use decisions on projections of increased car traffic (which has to be accommodated with more garages). Nobody's calling for a five-year plan to turn the trend around.

While the city may not have a specific goal to achieve in reducing cars, as I've pointed out many times, the city does in fact have an official anti-car policy on a number of levels, since in practice it punishes drivers whenever possible through parking fees and expensive parking tickets---a major source of revenue for the city---and even discouraging building owners from putting garages under their own property. And there's the ultimate anti-car policy, the 527-page Bicycle Plan, which would take away traffic lanes and street parking all over the city to make bike lanes for 2% of the city's population.

That Redmond's analysis is completely disingenuous is revealed in his reference to the Planning Dept.'s "land-use decisions that are based on projections of increased car traffic (which has to be accommodated with more garages)." This is a reference to the Level of Service (LOS) analysis that has to be done for proposed projects in the city. If the LOS study shows that a proposed project will make traffic worse on a particular street, the project's sponsors must include mitigations for that impact. The bike people desperately want to do away with the LOS traffic studies in the city (see Action 2.8, pages 2-7 and 2-8, Framework Document, SF Bicycle Plan), which will not only allow the city to eliminate traffic lanes and street parking all over the city to make bike lanes--regardless of the negative impact that will have on city traffic---it will also allow them to continue to okay housing projects that discourage developers from providing adequate parking for new housing units, e.g. the UC/Evans project on lower Haight St., and the Market/Octavia Plan.

Why didn't Redmond just say this, and why didn't he refer to the Bicycle Plan? Who does he think he's writing for? Knowledgeable cyclists and the leaders of the SF Bicycle Coalition know what he's talking about, but the uninitiated will be mystified. Thus, his piece is both deceptive and uninformative, which is typical of how the city's bike zealots operate---and the real reason they tried to sneak the Bicycle Plan through the process with as little public awareness as possible. Deep in their tiny brains, the bike people understand that the more the people of San Francisco learn about their plan to remake city streets the less they are going to like it. Hence, it's best to keep the issue vague, lest they alarm the unwary, who will get a sense from this cryptic account that, while the "progressive" Redmond understands these technical Planning Dept. issues, they don't need to bother with the details.

But I had to laugh at Redmond's confession near the end of his piece: "I'm part of the problem, and I know it: I drive a car, and I drive it too often. I do it because it's difficult to get my kids to and from school on a bus." Just so. If you have a family, it's difficult to do these things---and grocery shopping---without a car. A single guy like me can shop at the nearby stores and either walk or take Muni home with my one or two bags of groceries. But if you're shopping for a family, having a car makes it a lot easier to get your kids to school, to after-school activities, and to do the family shopping. As Redmond notes, as the city gentrifies there are going to be more cars on our streets. The progressive Bay Guardian is of course officially against gentrification, but its spotty coverage of city housing issues has been very unhelpful in creating a well-informed electorate to combat gentrification.

But Tim, what happened to your bike? Redmond has written in the past about how he likes to ride his bike in the city, but he fails to mention that transportation "mode" in this anti-car piece. This is only more confirmation that bikes in SF are mainly a political symbol, an accessory to a Politically Correct way of life here in Progressive Land, not a serious means of transportation for anyone but the young, the politically motivated, and the foolish.

Editor's Notes
The city's transportation policy is failing -- as the city itself gets richer

By Tim Redmond (
tredmond@sfbg.com)

There's a January report from the San Francisco Controller's Office that says the city's transportation policy is failing.

It doesn't say that in so many words — that might have gotten some media attention — but the implication is clear.

The report is on the taxicab industry, always a fascinating topic, and it's filled with charts and graphs discussing how much money the cab companies make and how little the drivers make. But in the middle of all of that is a remarkable paragraph that says:

"The resident population in San Francisco appears to be increasing. Since 2000, the Department of Finance reports it has grown by 4.7 percent, or by approximately 0.6 percent per year. Although the Census Bureau believes San Francisco lost population from 2000 to 2005, it too has reported population increase since 2005. Muni trips have slightly declined over the same period — a cumulative negative change of 2.5 percent — while vehicle registrations in San Francisco have increased by 1.5 percent. This suggests that residents may be substituting away from mass transit and into private and personal transport modes."

That reads like, well, a Controller's Office report, but here's the translation: More San Franciscans are driving cars. Fewer are taking Muni. It's not exactly shocking news to anyone who pays attention to traffic patterns in town, but it's a serious indictment of city policy.

The statistics show a couple of things. One is that the city is, indeed, getting richer — generally speaking, wealthier people are more likely to use private cars. Another is that Muni hasn't been performing: all of the national and local data show there's a direct correlation between on-time transit service and ridership (and of course there's a direct, or rather inverse, correlation between the number of people riding Muni and the number of cars on the streets.)

But what it says to me is that city hall doesn't really consider the car glut a top priority.

There is no official city goal to reduce the number of cars in town or the number of car miles traveled or the number of vehicles on the streets. The city Planning Department continues to base its land-use decisions on projections of increased car traffic (which has to be accommodated with more garages). Nobody's calling for a five-year plan to turn the trend around.

It's going to be a big year for transit policy: the city's Transit Effectiveness Study comes out in February, and the report on congestion management should be done in June. Perhaps the supervisors can use that information to create goals, timelines, and programs that will reduce — instead of accommodate — cars on the streets.

I'm part of the problem, and I know it: I drive a car, and I drive it too often. I do it because it's difficult to get my kids to and from school on a bus.

That's one of the tricky parts of this equation (school buses in a city where everyone has choice and kids from any neighborhood can go to any school), but I have to say, the parking lot at McKinley Elementary School is packed every single morning with people driving schoolkids. You'd think the city could work with the San Francisco Unified School District — maybe organize car pools. Maybe the mayor's $130,000 per year global warming coordinator could get involved.

We could start with a citywide survey: Why do you drive? Where? What would get you out of your car? Aim for 5 percent per year. It'd be better than what we're doing now.

Wednesday January 23, 2008

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11 Comments:

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Darien Austin said...

I See you upgraded the number of SF cyclists from 1% to 2%! Nice, that's impressive growth.

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Darren:

The 2% I mentioned is the most generous number available on the percentage of city cyclists that commute by bike. The Bicycle Plan itself cites data in the 2000 Census on "journey to work" as 1.9% of the city's population (Framework Document, page 1-6). On the other hand, the SF County Transportation Authority puts the percentage of commuters by bike at a mere 1% (page 39, Countywide Transportation Plan, July 2004).

 
At 5:47 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

I agree that Tim Redmond's article was of no substance.

But I must ask if your view of bicycle transportation applies only to San Francisco, or if you feel the same way about bicycling in other cities.

In many cities in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, for example, more than 20% of all trips are made by bicycle. Do you believe that all these trips are being made by the "young, the politically motivated, and the foolish" as you have declared for San Francisco?

 
At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sure way to keep those pesky cyclists at a mere 2% of trips is to stop the implementation of the bike plan. Otherwise, we will be encouraging what is know to be a deadly form of transportation.

 
At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So 1.9 percent of the city's population bikes (actually, haven't bicycle traffic counts been up?) despite the fact that only 4 percent of city streets have some sort of bike lane.

I think that's pretty interesting. That amounts to 16,000 (more?) people biking even though it isn't encouraged very much.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Dudes:

I don't know or care about European cities, but I know San Francisco's streets well. I think using a bike as a primary means of transportation in this city is a dumb and dangerous way to get around. When I see a young cyclist speeding down McAllister Street, I think of the Hare Krishna cult and wonder about the turnover in the city's bike cult: how long do these folks stick with this dangerous transportation "mode" before they get seriously injured and/or grow out of it?

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous those dudes said...

It's too bad that you don't know or care about European cities. Once San Francisco completes the Bicycle Plan EIR, and implements a citywide network of well-designed bicycle facilities (as some European cities have done), bicycling may be made a good deal less dangerous.

What I find really dumb and dangerous is using a car to make most trips of less than 5 miles in San Francisco. Spewing exhaust, maiming bicyclists and pedestrians, and slowing down Muni by clogging City streets just doesn't make sense.

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Like it or not, motor vehicles are here to stay. According to the DMV, there are now 460,150 registered motor vehicles in San Francisco. The problem with the Bicycle Plan is that it involves taking away traffic lanes and street parking all over the city to make bike lanes, which would have made traffic in the city much worse than it has to be---and, by the way, slowing down Muni and emergency vehicles. Worst of all, the city tried to do this without doing any environmental study beforehand, which of course the court ruled illegal. If the city is going to take away traffic lanes to make bike lanes anywhere in the city, it has to be done very carefully.

In the item you're commenting on, Tim Redmond---a bike zealot himself---describes how difficult it would be to get his kids to school without using his car. I'm sure he and the mother of his children also find it difficult to do serious grocery shopping for their family without using a car. It's easy for people with no family to consider to pontificate about the wickedness of motor vehicles, but many in the city are unable/unwilling to adopt a Third World way of life.

 
At 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't know or care about European cities, but I know San Francisco's streets well. I think using a bike as a primary means of transportation in this city is a dumb and dangerous way to get around. When I see a young cyclist speeding down McAllister Street, I think of the Hare Krishna cult and wonder about the turnover in the city's bike cult: how long do these folks stick with this dangerous transportation "mode" before they get seriously injured and/or grow out of it?"

I don't see how that is anything but an argument for safer cycling.

 
At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Like it or not, motor vehicles are here to stay."

I don't think anyone is arguing otherwise, are they Strawman?

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The moral superiority that cyclists assume over drivers is in part based on the fact that bikes don't burn fossil fuels and thus are not contributing to global warming. That argument is common in the Bikes versus Cars discussions I've been having on this blog. As on many other aspects of their belief system, the bike people haven't really thought this through. As we all know, cars are increasingly being powered by other fuels. Thus the moralistic argument will have to be reformulated. The Guardian's Steve Jones dubs motor vehicles "death machines," and he used that terminology in the context of the allegedly dangerous intersection at Fell and Masonic, where some cyclists have been hit by motorists. This shifts the moralistic, anti-car argument to a more explicitly anti-car idea. If cars, trucks, and buses are nothing but death machines, why do we allow them to dominate our streets? Hence, drivers must be punished with expensive parking tickets and parking fees, and their free movement must be hindered by restricting the number of parking spaces available, and by "bicycle boulevards," etc. Of course I think this is nothing but piffle intellectually and politically.

 

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