Friday, November 07, 2008

Bikes uber alles

It was bound to happen sooner or later in the city where Critical Mass was born: There's a new force in local bike politics with the arrival of Peter Smith and the San Francisco Bike Blog (http://bikeblogs.org/sf/). Smith is flanking the stodgy old SF Bicycle Coalition---those wimps!---on the left-wing of the great bike liberation movement. He's so militant he's not only anti-car he's anti-bus. He assumes that cyclists are morally superior and thus have more right to the streets than motor vehicles. True, this kind of self-righteousness is common among SF cyclists, but the SFBC doesn't put it so baldly. For Smith anything less than asserting this moral superiority is simply lame:

You should stand up and take what is rightfully yours---a share of the road. You, biker person, deserve more of the road than any other type of user besides pedestrians. Period...And we don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve...If cars are in a hurry to get where they need to go, then...they can take the long route because they deserve to have a lower priority on the streets than we bikers do...[cyclists] deserve to be on that road more than any other road user, except pedestrians (and other active-transport folks).The major roads of the city may currently be dominated by cars and buses and other assorted people-killers, but that can change. It is changing. But we need to stick together, and we need to know that we bikers have at least as much right to the roads as the car people do---including the major roads, especially the major roads. The car people will push back---of course they will---and we need to continue to push for at least equal access to the roads, ideally more, to reflect our considerable benefits to the city’s livability.

Note the more militant terminology: cars are not merely "death monsters," as Steve Jones at the Bay Guardian calls them; cars and buses---and no doubt trucks, too---are simply "people killers," not the primary transportation "modes" used by the overwhelming majority of people in the city. Bike lanes? Mere painted "lines on the road": "We don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve." Cyclists should when possible stay off the city's busiest traffic arteries for their own safety? Only wimps take secondary routes!

In case anyone thinks I'm quoting Smith out of context, the full text of his rant is below in italics.

Debunking the "Better Street to Ride on" Argument
Some streets are better to ride on than others. Sometimes that is by design---either the city decided to throw a bone to cyclists and paint some lines on the road, or advocates busted their butts for years to force the city to paint some lines on the road. Advanced civilizations have even been known to install other bike infrastructure like Copenhagen-style bike lanes, or bike boxes, or traffic calming devices---all things aimed at making cycling at least feel safer.

And yet people will suggest that we should not push to gain bicycle access on some particular road---often a major road---because there is another nearby, often parallel, road that is ‘a better street to ride on, anyways.’ Maybe they don’t want to ‘piss off the motorists’ or some other nonsense. I have no idea.

In any case, we need to disabuse ourselves of this way of thinking---it is extremely harmful to the bicycle advocacy movement.

First, as I’ve pointed out, in order to achieve high-levels of cycling mode share (associated with perceived cycling safety, and eventually, hopefully, actual safety), we need to do a lot of things---and some of those things are absolutely core---if we don’t do them, we fail to achieve our goals---it’s that simple. Obtaining real bicycle access along major travel corridors is one of those things which we absolutely must accomplish if we want to be able to get from point A to point B in relative safety in this town. It makes good sense intuitively, and
people who have studied bike adoption rates say we need to do this. That’s good enough for me to believe that we need to do this. On this basis alone, it makes perfect sense to me---as a bicycle advocate---to push for bicycle access along the most major travel corridors in, around, into, and out of San Francisco. Period.

No, I don’t not ‘feel sorry’ for the car people. And neither should you. You should stand up and take what is rightfully yours---a share of the road. You, biker person, deserve more of the road than any other type of user besides pedestrians. Period.

What are these heavily-traveled corridors that we need to get real bicycle access to? Take your pick. The ones I’m familiar with, off the top of my head, include 3rd Street, Market Street, Potrero Ave., Cesar Chavez/Army Ave., Geary, Van Ness, 101, the Great Highway, San Jose, Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero, all trains, buses, and ferries into and out of the city---we even need full access to and from SFO airport.

And we don’t need just crappy little bike lanes---we need full, physically-separated paths for bikes, where we won’t be intimidated by motorists. This is the absolute bare minimum we need and deserve.

But why must we have access on the most major routes in the city? Because that’s where people like to travel. It’s where people can get from Point A to Point B the quickest. Bikers are not fundamentally different from other human beings---we like to be able to get places. I like to tell my car friends about how nice it is to just cruise to my destination---take my time---participate in the sights and sounds and smells of the city. But sometimes---often---I just want to get where I’m going. And the most major routes in the city are the streets and roads that can get me to my destination quickest. They are often the most direct routes. That’s why people travel on them. Bikes deserve to travel on them, too.

I am not particularly concerned that car people will not like it when we tell them that they are going to have to share the road with non-polluting vehicles, too. You should not be particularly concerned, either.

How about a practical example? OK---
3rd Street. It’s got the light rail line, and parking, and two lanes of pollution traffic in either direction. Sometimes a biker will haul up or down Third Street. Other bikers choose to slide one street over to Illinois St./Terry Francois Blvd---or into Dogpatch on the other side of 3rd Street---which they sometimes choose if they’re staying local---and that’s their prerogative. Bikers can go where they want. But don’t tell me to get off Third Street. That’s my street. And don’t tell me to give up bicycle access on 3rd Street---to just take an alternate, parallel route instead. If cars are in a hurry to get where they need to go, then they can go out to Illinois St./Terry Francois Blvd.---and they can take the long route because they deserve to have a lower priority on the streets than we bikers do. The bikers who do stay on 3rd Street are not doing it because they love the smell of exhaust, or because they love cars pushing them off the road, honking at them, etc.---they ride it because it gets them where they’re going the quickest---and they deserve to be on that road more than any other road user, except pedestrians (and other active-transport folks).

The major roads of the city may currently be dominated by cars and buses and other assorted people-killers, but that can change. It is changing. But we need to stick together, and we need to know that we bikers have at least as much right to the roads as the car people do---including the major roads, especially the major roads. The car people will push back---of course they will---and we need to continue to push for at least equal access to the roads, ideally more, to reflect our considerable benefits to the city’s livability.


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10 Comments:

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

who cares?

 
At 10:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

If you're not interested in what the city's bike people are up to, why are you reading this blog, asshole?

 
At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy seems to be taking the same 'car people' vs. 'bike people' stance that lots of people fall into, but it fails to represent how much overlap there really is.

 
At 9:34 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Agreed. Of course a lot of people in SF have both bikes and cars and use Muni when convenient. The thing about Smith that's interesting is that he's hostile to all motor vehicles, including buses. But the SFBC too rarely mentions Muni, which is the realistic alternative to driving in the city for most people. It's all about bikes.

 
At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MUNI could be a realistic alternative to driving, but unfortunately most MUNI vehicles are stuck in (largely) car traffic.

People who are used to getting around by bike don't consider MUNI all that viable because it takes 2-3 times as long, is often crowded, you have to wait for it, and there's usually a walk at both ends of the trip (many of these reasons are why more drivers don't take MUNI, incidentally).

I'm not sure where Smith is getting his stance against buses, other than maybe the way some of them are driven makes it rather difficult to share the road with them.

The basic position the SFBC takes on transit vehicles is that if more people switched some car trips to bike trips, MUNI would be less entangled in car traffic and able to provide better service. I think this is a reasonable position.

Also, the real way to provide alternatives to cars is transit *plus* bicycles, in concert; not transit *or* bicycles. Bikes are great for shorter trips, but not so great for longer ones. Trains are great for long trips, but unecessary for short ones. But if you can bike to the train station, take your bike aboard, and have it at the other end-- you basically have the silver bullet of transportation (you can move from one center of activity to another via train, get to and from the station by bike, and walk from place to place once you're there).

Without trains, bikes become less useful. Without bikes, trains become less useful.

Another great thing about having a viable bike and transit system is that is eases the burden placed on cars and buses, so when you have meaningful transportation choices (space to walk from place to place, places to safely operate a bicycle, efficient transit), the system as a whole benefits (less congested roads, better bus, taxi, and delivery servict, etc.).

It's true that roadways are finite and that providing space for bikes (or for pedestrians or transit lines) means taking space from cars. It's also true that cars are the least efficeint users of this space, though.

 
At 10:15 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

And just think - we could pay for a whole hell of a lot of bike lanes if we weren't cutting a SECOND 25 billion dollar check to Detroit's automakers. Strangely the bike industry is not having this problem and is booming...

I guess people who make bikes are smarter - or at least much better businessmen - than people who make cars. I personally feel the argument extends to riding/driving as well, exceptions to every rule of course. I tore a new bunghole into some bike riding deviant this AM who ran a stop sign and almost ran over a pedestrian, after stopping to check on the pedestrian. Of course while I was checking on the pedestrian - another miscreant (this one in a BMW) laid on his horn because we were in his way...

 
At 11:29 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The question is, Where are we going to put bike lanes in SF? The draft EIR on the Bicycle Plan is supposed to be out later this month, at which time we'll get some idea. The bike industry is doing well because Bikes are Good and Cars are Bad?

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"The bike industry is doing well because Bikes are Good and Cars are Bad?"

In some sense, yes, or more to the point the Car Industry is doing poorly because Cars are Bad. In a universe that scales infinitely (and people didn't drive like dopesmokers but that's another argument) cars could be good. Instead we have the real world, which has limits. We tested those limits by building a pyramid scheme that could not go on forever.

People came to depend on cars. So they depend on having a car, having a road, having a parking garage. All of these things suck money away from things that have better intrinsic value. Eventually, people were spending so much on their cars that they were dependent on, they ran out of resources to get the more valuable stuff. So they lost their jobs, and could not buy new cars - in fact they no longer needed a car because they didn't have to drive to work, and they couldn't afford to buy stuff at the store. Car companies went into the dumper.

I'm not completely prescient, I decided a year ago that gas prices would skyrocket and stay up there because people would be willing to pay very high prices for the privilege of driving. I did not factor in the reality that at some point the fact that all their money was being spent on gas would crater the legitimate economy such that people would no longer need to drive, thus sending gas prices down.

Unfortunately the lower gas prices will not be enough to kickstart the debt ridden economy. Even if I am wrong, that would just send gas prices back up and restart the cycle.

It didn't help that the car companies built their businesses on the theory of growth that would never stall. Pyramid Scheme. Now they cannot meet their pension obligations. Many people who voted for McCain because they "Worked hard and saved" will find out their savings was illusory - how will they feel about government handouts now that they are too old to work and the fruits of their labor has vaporized?

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My assumption is that cars are here to stay. Yes, they will be smaller and/or be fueled by alternative energy/fuel, but they will always be with us. The auto industry wasn't pyramid scheme at all. They made SUVs and trucks because, until recently, they could sell them and make a lot of money doing so. Our economy relies on mobility, which is what cars---and buses and trucks---do best: they allow people to move around quickly. From a bike person's perspective, you emphasize nothing but the negatives re cars. For a middleclass person with a family in SF, a car is really essential. You can't do serious shopping for a family on a bike, unless you're politically motivated by a luddite ideology to make that kind of effort.

 
At 7:26 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Smaller more fuel efficient cars won't solve the problem. Gas prices are not the only thing going up. With an expanding population, where do you park them? (if they get so small we solve that problem they can't haul the family). How do you expand the roads? The bite of insurance gets worse. So some say goodbye to cars, families have fewer cars, they keep cars longer. But the automotive industry is based on perpetually increasing sales.

They have staved off extinction somewhat by paying employees in future dollars the obligation of which they cannot possibly meet (sort of like social security). But the model started with selling cars to the rich, then to everyone, then more than 1 for the rich, for everyone, for the world, until now there is no room to grow volume. The only way out for such a high capital business is to shrink and charge MUCH more, which means that no longer can the economy be based on easy individual motor transport.

The economy (current style) doesn't rely on that anyway. It relied on perpetually growing extraction of finite resources -which is (here we go again) a pyramid scheme. Maybe the Luddites were on to something.

May you live in interesting times. Sadly we finally got someone smart at the top and the pyramid is about to collapse on him.

 

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