Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Bicycle Coalition's dog and pony show

Hi Rob,
I was wondering if you had any sort of statement regarding today's hearing. Have you been satisfied with the city's work on the EIR to date? Do you plan to appeal the final EIR? What do you think the injunction has accomplished up to this point?

Jack Musto

The Bicycle Coalition is again whipping up hysteria about the EIR process on the Bicycle Plan. Based on today's rather sketchy presentation by Rahaim and Rohan---sounds like a vaudeville act---apparently the transportation report of the EIR is taking longer than the city expected.

But that's the core issue here: the city's transportation system, which means our streets. The 527-page Bicycle Plan has very specific proposals on how it wants to change many of our streets and, in effect, our transportation system. A big, ambitious project like this really requires a big, thorough EIR, one that can't be challenged by that wicked Rob Anderson in court. Hence, the EIR better have a convincing case to justify the changes they want to make, especially where they want to take away traffic lanes and street parking.

Don't forget that the Bicycle Coalition and its many enablers in city government didn't want to do an EIR in the first place, arguing that one isn't necessary because bikes don't burn fossil fuel, unlike cars, aka Death Machines (Steve Jones). If the city had done the damn EIR three years ago---the litigation was filed three years ago this month---as the law clearly requires, presumably we would have a bicycle plan being implemented right now.

Supervisor Sandavol can demagogue this issue all he wants---he's running desperately for that judge job---but the fact is it's the city and the Board of Supervisors that are responsible for the delay. If they had followed the law three years ago, the city would be implementing a bicycle plan now, and the bike nuts would have nothing to worry about, except of course motor vehicles and their own cognitive limitations.

The EIR is obligated to try to calculate the impact on city traffic when they take away a traffic lane and/or street parking on a particular street. Which is where the LOS issue comes in that Thornley and Mirkarimi talked about. The Level of Service standard requires that the city do a traffic study to calculate the impact on traffic.

Of course the bike people hate LOS, because taking away a traffic lane to make bike lanes, not surprisingly, can make traffic worse. Bikes don't burn fossil fuel, so why should they have to justify themselves? But if what they want to do---that is, the Bicycle Plan---is going to make traffic worse, the LOS standard stands in the way. They talk about replacing and "reforming" LOS---they would like to dump it---but my understanding is that they have to have something plausible to replace it, which they don't really have.

Today's hearing was nothing but a political ploy by the SFBC and has no legal significance. I saw many of the same people today that I've seen at so many other meetings. Shahum and Thornley always get the troops out.

There was some talk today about the bike people intervening in the case as a third party to fight the injunction, but that seems unlikely to be successful. The judge has already made a decision on this case and the city lost. They have to do the EIR, and of course they can't do it fast enough for the SFBC, which didn't think it needed to be done in the first place. We of course will resist allowing a third party to intervene at this stage of the litigation.

We will take a very close look at the EIR. If we think it's deficient, we will call its shortcomings to Judge Busch's attention. He's the one the city must satisfy; he'll make the ultimate call on the adequacy of the EIR and lifting the injunction.

My impression is that the city is working hard on the EIR, and that the people that are now complaining about delay are the same people who didn't think the city needed to do any environmental study at all.

Rob Anderson

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At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the traffic engineering algorithm for taking human behavior into account.

"No bike lane? I think I'll drive, thank you very much."

"Extensive bike network? Hey, maybe I'll try riding."

Love to see this and many other factors expressed in a formula (increasing gas prices, the growing popularity of cycling, the effect of congestion and road space on driving, etc).

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous brad said...

It's too bad that you cast this issue as a partisan affair: car people vs. bike people. We should really be concerned about creating a mixed infrastructure that accommodates all modes of transportation safely in a mix that gives us better options than we have now.

Most people I know walk, bike, drive and use public transit, depending on what is faster, cheaper and more convenient. As it stands, driving is hardly ever the best way to go within the city (unless you need to haul some stuff, or where you are going takes too long on muni). That is because there are too many cars for the streets - large single occupancy vehicles are just inefficient and take way too much infrastructure to accommodate and if we all used them for everything it would be an even worse disaster.

The current situation is the result of decisions made starting in 50s. Most places outside of the US made different decisions have better developed public transport and bicycle infrastructure as a result. AND, they are more livable pleasant places to move through because of it.

Now is the time to reevaluate our decisions in light of what we know -- this includes issues around the price of oil, global warming, and health (lack of exercise, pollution). The permanent, or speedy replacement of cars is not a feasible short term goal, but discouraging the use of private automobiles for short inter-urban trips, together with improvements of alternatives, for walking, biking, and busing, must be.

These are the kinds of things smart urban planners are advocating (SPUR?). It's what we need to do as a society. And it won't be easy to let go of our feelings about the cars -- that they provide freedom and convenience. I do think though that most anyone who examines honestly the hours they spend in traffic or looking for parking might begin to see the light.

At 8:25 AM, Blogger lee.watkins said...

I don't understand how reducing the number of cars is going to make traffic any worse. Usually when there are fewer cars on the same street, they have an easier time getting where they are going. Right? It's also usually easier to find a parking space when more of them are empty. Right? And anyway traffic is people and whatever they bring with them. The car, like the bike, is just something you are bringing with you. If a crowd of people were standing in the street, that would still be traffic. If a bike lane gets people where they want to go faster when they have a bike, and reduces car congestion, than it would seem everyone wins here. Everyone gets where they want to go faster regardless of how they get there. Sounds good to me.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"As it stands, driving is hardly ever the best way to go within the city (unless you need to haul some stuff, or where you are going takes too long on muni)."

Maybe for you driving isn't the best way to go, but for many others it is necessary (I don't own a car and walk or use Muni everywhere I go.) If you have a family and can afford a car, of course you use it to shop and get your kids to school and other activities. All of the goods in our stores are brought in on trucks. Millions of tourists drive into SF every year (tourism is our largest industry). 35,000 people commute into SF every weekday to work. There are 460,150 motor vehicles registered in SF.

"We should really be concerned about creating a mixed infrastructure that accommodates all modes of transportation safely in a mix that gives us better options than we have now."

We already have plenty of such options. Interesting that the bike people rarely discuss Muni, which is the best alternative to driving in SF. Cycling is the least safe option, which is why more people don't ride bikes in SF.

Anyhow, this post is about the EIR on the Bicycle Plan; it's not a discussion of transportation in SF, which I've written about extensively elsewhere in this blog. Do you think the city is somehow dragging its feet on the EIR? Do you understand that the people who are now complaining about how long the EIR is taking are the same people who didn't think it needed to be done in the first place?

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I don't understand how reducing the number of cars is going to make traffic any worse."

Taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes is what can make traffic worse, which means it has to be done very carefully, if at all. Making traffic worse for motor vehicles---which is what the SFBC really wants to do---is folly in a small city like SF (see response to Brad above for some numbers on city traffic).

And a point that the bike people continue to ignore: If you make traffic worse for cars, you're also going to make it worse for Muni---which already struggles to meet its scheduled runs---and emergency vehicles.

As I remind Brad, this post is about the hypocrisy of the SF Bicycle Coalition, which is complaining about delays in the EIR for the Bicycle Plan that they don't think should be done in the first place!


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