Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Don't be a contributor to the death of yet another cyclist doing the right thing"

The communication below (in italics) is typical of the comments I get from the city's bike people: It's semi-literate, very weak factually, and based on a remarkable self-righteousness. We cyclists aren't burning fossil fuel, so how can you oppose whatever we want to do to city streets? More than three years of this sort of thing has left me with little respect for the bike people intellectually. Is BikeThink symptomatic of an overall intellectual decline in an increasingly non-verbal culture now dominated by music and videos? I don't know, but it's still shocking. If it was just about a few commenters enamored of the great save-the-planet bicycle movement, it wouldn't be cause for concern. Alas, it's typical of the local political culture represented by the feeble commentary in our two high-circulation weeklies and in the mainstream SF Chronicle and Examiner. For these publications, part of the explanation for their lame content is probably about marketing: in a time of declining circulation for the print media, why antagonize potential readers by criticizing the bicycle fantasy that dominates the discussion of city traffic and transportation?

Regular readers of this blog will find it repetitious, but let's deconstruct the communication below:

* How do I feel about "contributing" to the death and injury of the two cyclists in the accidents cited? Since nothing I have ever said or done contributed to either of these accidents, I am completely guilt-free. Even a cursory reading of the brief news items my correspondent links indicates that they had nothing to do with bike lanes or the Bicycle Plan now undergoing environmental review by the city. In fact, the death of Kirk Janes was apparently a result of his own recklessness, since he hit a truck that was already in the Fulton/Steiner intersection. And he wasn't wearing a helmet. But Janes was a bike messenger, legendary for their reckless behavior on city streets. The man injured in the Cesar Chavez/Bayshore accident suffered "severe head injuries." I bet he too wasn't wearing a helmet, not that a helmet is a guarantee of safety in a collision between a bike and a truck. Beyond that, the Bicycle Coalition is quoted in the Examiner article as saying that that is a dangerous place to ride a bike. Nevertheless, the city is now contemplating taking away a traffic lane on Cesar Chavez to make bike lanes to encourage even more cyclists in the area.

* "Sure you are upholding thorough assessment of the environmental review process. However, we all know it is a convoluted flawed legal document intended for good but with the right lawyer can be twisted for any cause, beneficial or detrimental."

This is garbled, but we can more or less figure out the intended meaning: that I may be technically correct under the law but that my attorney "twisted" the intent of the "flawed" law to reach a "detrimental" result. What my correspondent is referring to is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the most important environmental law in California. CEQA requires that developers and/or governments do an environmental review of any project that even might have a negative impact on the environment. The 527-page Bicycle Plan, which proposed redesigning many city streets to make bicycle lanes, surely qualifies as a project requiring environmental review. In fact, any project---like a housing development---that might make traffic worse has to do an environmental review that includes traffic studies. Since taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes surely might have an adverse effect on traffic, the city was legally required to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. Hence, two Superior Court judges agreed that an injunction was necessary to stop the city from implementing the Bicycle Plan until the hearing on the merits of the case. After the hearing, Judge Busch ruled that the city must do an enviromental review of the Plan and that the injunction remains in effect until that review is completed. Judge Busch really had no choice in the matter, since CEQA is clear and not at all "convoluted." The successful litigation was not based on a legal technicality but on the very essence of CEQA, which is about nothing but environmental review.

* "We all know that installing bike infrastructure has been proven to increase bicycle transportation, hence decreasing any kind of pollution that could possibly be created by removing parking."

We don't know this at all, which is why the court ordered the city to do an environmental study on the possible effects of the Bicycle Plan. If given the opportunity, every developer in the state would claim that his project is environmentally benign and requires no expensive review. True, bikes don't burn fossil fuel, but if you take away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes, you surely might make traffic worse---I of course think that's closer to a certainty---which could mean traffic jams and more people driving around looking for parking, which would clearly be an adverse effect on the city's environment.

* "Look at Amsterdam and Groningen with 50% of all trips by bike, and Copenhagen. It is very pleasant and easy (not to mention a lot of fun, try it sometime) to get anywhere by bike relatively quickly, while getting exercise..."

I have never been to these cities, but I have lived in SF off and on since 1961. This is an American city that has 465,905 registered motor vehicles and millions of commuters and visitors driving on its streets every year, not to mention the 1000 Muni vehicles that share the city streets with cars, trucks, and bikes. My perception is that it's unpleasant and dangerous to ride a bike in SF; evidently my perception is shared by the overwhelming majority of city residents who drive cars and/or take Muni as their primary means of transportation.

* "If you have any desire to be a respectable citizen and uphold your legacy as a decent person in the eyes of history you will make every effort to expedite the process of passing the bike masterplan[sic]. Here is your chance to redeem yourself Rob. Don't be a contributer to the death of yet another cyclist or pedestrian doing the right thing."

This remarkable self-righteousness is common in many cyclists in SF. They aren't simply choosing to ride a bike; they are making an important moral/political statement; they are saving the planet! You can almost see on their faces the emotional changes cyclists go through when they get in a hassle on the streets: I'm doing the right thing, so why don't you get out of my way? I'm doing the right thing, so why should I feel endangered on city streets? They don't seem to think that people of good will can have different opinions on these issues or that their often obnoxious behavior on city streets gives many of us a different impression of their motivation and their moral stature.


Rob,

How do you feel about possibly contributing to the death of
this cyclist and the near death and suffering of this cyclist. Your efforts are making it more dangerous and inconvenient for good people who do not want to pollute the air to get around. Sure you are upholding thorough assessment of the environmental review process. However, we all know it is a convoluted flawed legal document intended for good but with the right lawyer can be twisted for any cause, beneficial or detrimental.

We all know that installing bike infrastructure has been proven to increase bicycle transportation, hence decreasing any kind of pollution that could possibly be created by removing parking. Think about it, the space of one car, usually with one person, can have the capacity of about 6 cyclists. We all know that your efforts are merely stalling the inevitable installation of bike infrastructure whether the EIR was completed or not.

"It's just not going to be a major transportation mode." Wow are you living in a cave? Look at Amsterdam and Groningen with 50% of all trips by bike, and Copenhagen. It is very pleasant and easy (not to mention a lot of fun, try it sometime) to get anywhere by bike relatively quickly, while getting exercise, and there is not the possibility of killing pedestrians (27 of which were killed by cars in SF in 2007).

When our children look back on the people of today, they are going to look up to those who helped to create a healthy and clean environment, and they are going to be disappointed and even disdainful of those who supported polluting ways, like yourself. If you have any desire to be a respectable citizen and uphold your legacy as a decent person in the eyes of history you will make every effort to expedite the process of passing the bike masterplan. Here is your chance to redeem yourself Rob. Don't be a contributer to the death of yet another cyclist or pedestrian doing the right thing.

Cyclist,
not contributing to wars and environmental destruction

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