Thursday, January 31, 2008

Matt Smith: Know-nothing


In the current SF Weekly, Matt Smith offers some more advice to Mayor Newsom. No doubt the mayor is grateful, but he may be worried that Smith doesn't seem to understand much about the Bicycle Plan or the litigation that resulted in a court order to do an environmental review of a project that would have completely redesigned city streets. Since, in the same column, Smith calls Supervisor Daly and those opposed to housing proposals in the Hunters Point area "know-nothings," let's tally up a few important things Smith doesn't know:

The bike network is stymied by a lawsuit that claims it didn't undergo sufficient environmental review; a judge has ordered the city to conduct new studies to demonstrate that bike lanes don't harm Mother Nature. The review process is hampered by a California Environmental Quality Act that maddeningly considers the swift flow of traffic to be in the best interests of the environment. As a result, improvements that hasten the movement of pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and trolley cars, yet possibly slow down cars, are ludicrously considered ecologically damaging.

Like his bike nut colleagues at the Bay Guardian, Smith, with his "sufficient" usage, suggests that the Bicycle Plan underwent previous environmental review that was merely inadequate. In fact the 527-page Bicycle Plan had no environmental review at all before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to make the first volume---the Framework Document---part of the city's General Plan. Shortly thereafter the BOS, sitting as the San Francisco County Transportation Agency, unanimously passed the second volume, the Network Document, which consists entirely of detailed specifications---including engineering drawings---of exactly what the Plan will do to which city streets. And there was no environmental review of that document, either.

And maybe Smith can share with the rest of us exactly how, if the city takes away traffic lanes on busy streets all over the city to make bike lanes, that will not delay Muni buses and emergency vehicles? In their zeal to punish car drivers, the bike nuts don't grasp that not all motor vehicles are Death Machines, as the Guardian's Steve Jones calls cars. "Transit first" in SF doesn't mean "bikes first" or even "pedestrians first"; it refers most of all to buses and other Muni vehicles. You can't screw up traffic for cars without screwing up Muni, which already has enough on-time problems without the city deliberately creating new ones.

Smith again: "Andy Thornley, program director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, says Crowfoot promised to work on reigniting efforts to complete San Francisco's patchwork network of bike lanes." Thornley knows---and Smith should know---that an environmental impact report on the Bicycle Plan is now underway.

We discussed this topic last month, when the Bicycle Coalition complained about how long it was taking MTA to do the EIR.

Smith is implying that the folks at MTA are dragging their feet on the EIR and that all Crowfoot has to do is lean on them to get it done. Since Superior Court Judge Busch issued the court order to do the EIR on the Bicycle Plan, the whole thing is essentially still under his jurisdiction. Wade Crowfoot may be a great administrator who is wired directly to the mayor, but there's nothing he or anyone else can do about that. Once the city completes the EIR, those of us involved in the successful litigation will take a particular interest in its adequacy. If we don't think it's good enough, we will call its deficiencies to Judge Busch's attention, and he will make the final determination, Crowfoot or no Crowfoot.

Like the other bike nuts, it makes Smith cross that CEQA requires proponents of major projects to do traffic studies before their projects are built or implemented, a common sense notion that tries to avoid making traffic a lot worse. Hence, project proponents must propose mitigations if a project---and the Bicycle Plan is a large project---will have a negative impact on city traffic.

The bike nuts consider this to be a huge impostion. After all, bikes don't burn fossil fuel and only occasionally run over pedestrians, so shouldn't the Bicycle Plan get a free pass on environmental review? Nope, especially when you consider that if you take away a traffic lane on a busy street you are surely going to make traffic worse on that street, a direct impact on the city's environment. That's exactly the kind of impact CEQA was designed to anticipate way back in 1976. Smith and the SFBC---and the folks at the Bay Guardian---want to "reform" CEQA to give bicycle plans a pass on this requirement, but it's unlikely that the state legislature will agree that this is a good idea, since not many of them live in SF and breathe our rarified air (the ocean breezes carry our air pollution into the unprogressive Central Valley). Alas, most state legislators represent real people who live in the real world, which means that the City of San Francisco must follow the laws of the State of California just like every other jurisdiction in the state.

Oh, it's a great injustice that not everyone understands how very special we are here in Progressive Land!


...The recent appointment of government affairs director Wade Crowfoot to the newly created position of "director of climate protection initiatives" carried with it a whiff of bogusness.

Crowfoot was previously assigned the humiliating task of making presentations about a "climate protection initiative" that consisted of the fact that the mayor had ordered staff to stop drinking bottled water. However, Crowfoot has the potential to make a huge difference if he focuses on jump-starting plans to help city residents get out of their cars and move around San Francisco without polluting, taking up street space with parking spots, or running over pedestrians.

Andy Thornley, program director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, says Crowfoot promised to work on reigniting efforts to complete San Francisco's patchwork network of bike lanes.

The bike network is stymied by a lawsuit that claims it didn't undergo sufficient environmental review; a judge has ordered the city to conduct new studies to demonstrate that bike lanes don't harm Mother Nature. The review process is hampered by a California Environmental Quality Act that maddeningly considers the swift flow of traffic to be in the best interests of the environment. As a result, improvements that hasten the movement of pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and trolley cars, yet possibly slow down cars, are ludicrously considered ecologically damaging.

It so happens that Crowfoot is the right man to help untangle this environmental dilemma, while uniting the various city departments that need to ensure the new environmental studies get written and the bike lanes get built...

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The right-turn ban: Where's the evidence?

The hysteria over the Market/Octavia intersection began long before the new freeway ramp and the new, unimproved Octavia Blvd. were open in 2005. At the behest of the SF Bicycle Coalition, in 2004 then-Supervisor Matt Gonzalez carried a resolution to prohibit a sensible right-turn from Market Street onto the new freeway ramp.

Since then the city has spent thousands of dollars and newspapers have spilled gallons of ink on this bogus issue. I even saw an item about it on Channel 7 TV the other day. Though both the SF Bicycle Coalition and the article below refer to 13 "collisions" at that intersection since the revamped intersection was opened in September, 2005, there is a suspcious lack of analysis of that number. Did these accidents involve cyclists? How many of these accidents had anything to do with the allegedly dangerous right turn? How does that accident total compare with other busy intersections, like the one at nearby Market and Van Ness?

And the official Most Dangerous Intersection in the city is at Octavia and Oak, which had 14 injury collisions in 2006 alone, as opposed to the 13 total for the more than two years that the new Market/Octavia intersection has been open.

What this really demonstrates is the ability of the SF Bicycle Coalition to create a synthetic sense of emergency to continue to drive, so to speak, its anti-car agenda in San Francisco, enlisting our political leadership and a credulous media in its ongoing jihad against motor vehicles in the city.

Brent Begin
The SF Examiner
2008-01-28

One of the most dangerous intersections in The City may become equipped with an automated camera that would catch motorists who make an illegal right turn, much like cameras throughout The City that nab red-light runners. A bill by Assemblymember Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would allow The City to post an automated camera at the intersection of Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. Since the intersection opened in 2005 after the Central Freeway was torn down, 13 people have been hit, according to Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the intersection. In 2007 alone, at least 30 pedestrians have died in one of the deadliest years for city strollers. Last year, a truck carrying cement made an illegal turn at the intersection and hit Margaret Timbrell. Timbrell survived the collision but sustained 24 broken bones throughout her body, a collapsed lung and fluid in her chest cavity. The intersection has undergone several safety improvements since. The city placed extra signage at the corner and installed plastic dividers to discourage people from making a right turn off Market Street onto the freeway. Leah Shahum, director of The City’s Bicycle Coalition, said officials have had to make many late improvements because planners didn’t realize how dangerous the intersection, which is the entrance and exit to U.S. Highway 101, would be. “We didn’t get it exactly right,” she said. Installing the camera requires approval from the state Senate and the governor. It might not actually start taking pictures until 2009, but Ma said the improvement is much needed. “We have done as much as we can here in The City to try and prevent people from taking the right turn, but it is still one of the most dangerous intersections in this city,” she said. San Francisco has become a camera-rich city in recent years. In addition to dozens of cameras installed in high-crime areas, The City currently uses 23 red-light cameras to bust drivers who blow through intersections. Muni is planning to put cameras in the front of buses to catch motorists who double park on The City’s thoroughfares in legislation also authored by Ma. State law is unclear about which specific violations can be enforced by an automated camera. The existing law implies that cameras are meant to catch motorists who run a red light, but the Octavia Boulevard camera would enforce an illegal right turn.

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Mirkarimi destroys the Market/Octavia area

One would think that Supervisor Mirkarimi had it in for the Market/Octavia neighborhood, since he's done more to destroy that part of the city than anything since the 1906 earthquake and fire. First he praised the awful new Octavia Boulevard more than two years ago. Okay, to be fair, once city voters chose to tear down the damaged Central Freeway overpass, something like what we have now was more or less inevitable, since all that traffic had to go somewhere. But Mirkarimi, like a lot of city progressives, is still in self-congratulation mode for tearing down the freeway. A corollary to that self-congratulation seems to be that whatever replaced it is by definition a Good Thing, even though Octavia Blvd. is now carrying 45,000 vehicles a day that used to pass overhead on the Central Freeway through the heart of Hayes Valley. At the very most, this is a mixed blessing for that neighborhood, but you will never hear Mirkarimi and city progressives make even that modest concession to reality.

Then Mirkarimi endorsed the awful Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which essentially loosens city zoning regulations to encourage the construction of 6,000 new housing units and 10,000 new residents in an already densely-populated part of town (it's a lie that the M/O Plan involves anything like a neighborhood, since the Plan covers thousands of properties in the middle of the city, not a distinct neighborhood). Why burden one part of town---already struggling to cope with all the new traffic on Octavia---with a massive amount of new housing? The rationale has always been the now-discredited "transit corridors" theory, that the city can allow an unlimited amount of new housing anywhere near a major traffic artery. Even one of the originators of that concept is alarmed by the city's complete misunderstanding and misapplication of his idea to fragile SF neighborhoods.

Finally there's the Murk's roll-over for UC's land-grab at the old extension site on lower Haight Street.

Mirkarimi apparently sees himself as a bold, radical leader, but the reality is that on important city planning issues he's completely in the pocket of an aggressively pro-development city Planning Dept. A question for city progressives: How would a Republican supervisor have voted any differently than Mirkarimi on these proposals?

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