Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CEQA, SFCTA, and the SAR on LOS

Shawn Allen writes:
Thanks, Rob. I feel like I'm starting to understand your argument better now. Re: LOS E and F, I think the biggest problem with your objections (and, as a friend of mine in public transit planning recently admitted to me, the very models used to calculate the effects of street modification) is that there's no accounting for the increased adoption of other modes of transit that would actually improve throughput, specifically in high congestion areas. Biking is an undeniably faster and more efficient mode of transit than cars, MUNI, and sometimes even BART on major thoroughfares during commuting hours. LOS E, F streets are, as you've noted, defined as such by serious congestion problems. It makes perfect sense to me that the city would pursue drastic changes for these areas, including even removing vehicle traffic from them entirely. Many experts agree: This page provides a thorough breakdown of multimodal LOS assessment, as well as some very specific justifications for sacrificing vehicle LOS for improved bicycle and pedestrian safety. This document (see "3.5 Multimodal LOS Research" on page 30) discusses methods for calculating overall LOS based on different factors for each mode, implying that local governments should be in charge of prioritizing LOS for each mode as they see fit.

Rob replies:
Yes, I'm familiar with all the blather about "multimodal" assessment. But what you keep ignoring is that by essentially eliminating the present LOS standards you're only going to make traffic worse, for example, on Second Street and Fifth Street in San Francisco, two streets on the list of 56 projects being studied in the Bicycle Plan EIR. Traffic in the city is a zero-sum game: You can't take away space from cars, trucks, and buses in favor of bikes on busy city streets without immediately making traffic on those streets a lot worse for everyone else. The assumption behind LOS "reform" is that in the long run there will be a large enough increase in cyclists to justify doing that. Perhaps more importantly, the public outcry that would result from doing this to city streets is the biggest obstacle to implementing the Bicycle Plan entirely. That's the problem the city will be facing when they release the EIR on the latest version of the Bicycle Plan: How far can they go on behalf of city cyclists without creating a backlash from the rest of the public?

Shawn Allen writes:
In fact, this is exactly what the SFCTA did in 2003, according to SFMTA's version of the Bicycle Plan (see Chapter 1, page 23): The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) adopted a Strategic Analysis Report (SAR 02-3) “Transportation Level of Service (LOS) Methodologies” in December 2003 which concluded that conventional LOS measures, and the City’s current process for evaluating transportation projects, are not consistent with the City’s General Plan policy guidance toward development of a balanced, multi-modal transportation system. Specifically, they conflict with General Plan Policy 10.1, which calls for the City’s transportation system to be assessed in terms of the movement of people and goods rather than vehicles. Furthermore, the City’s LOS measures do not incorporate factors most important to bicyclists and provide limited acknowledgement of the environmental benefits of bicycling.

Rob replies:
Yes, I'm familiar with the SFCTA's SAR on LOS. I still have a hard copy of it somewhere in my files. But there's a significant legal issue that they city will have to settle with the State of California before they can dump the present LOS system, since CEQA is a state law that trumps local law. My understanding is that the city will have to have another plausible way to measure traffic before they dump the traditional LOS standard. I don't think the city can just say to the state, "We want to redesign our streets to encourage cycling regardless of the impact that will have on city traffic." Traffic and parking issues are considered significant impacts under CEQA. I notice that you don't address my argument about Muni, which already is widely criticized for its slow service. In spite of all the pro-forma references to "transit" and different "transportation modes" in the elaborate, jargon-filled, dump-LOS literature, this effort is being pushed primarily by the bike people. It's all very well to spin out traffic alternatives theoretically, but the obvious impact of dumping the present LOS standard---assuming, as I say, that the city can even do that---would be to make things worse for our Muni system that already struggles to efficiently handle 700,000 "boardings" every weekday.

Shawn Allen writes:
Clearly there are some very smart people thinking about this stuff, and I defer to their judgment. CEQA is over 30 years old, though, and I think it's safe to say that we know a lot more about urban transit planning now than we did in the mid-70s. I'm not suggesting that CEQA is totally irrelevant, but that perhaps San Francisco could become the model for a broader definition of LOS (specific to CEQA) that more comprehensively addresses multimodal transit.

Rob replies:
I don't defer to their judgment, because these folks are spinning out their Big Thoughts on traffic primarily on behalf of cyclists. You misunderstand CEQA. It will never be obsolete, because it essentially is about a process that developers and local governments must go through before they implement big projects, namely, they must do an environmental review before implementing any project that even might have a negative effect on the environment. The original CEQA statute is fairly simple; it's the thousands of legal decisions accumulated over the years---the case law---that deal with all the possible issues that arise during the development process that makes it complicated.

Shawn Allen writes:
Most of the literature I've read on the subject doesn't even factor in the socioeconomic advantages of prioritizing dedicated bike and bus thoroughfares, which a friend of mine at the Association of Bay Area Governments tells me is the only real way to ensure that less well-off people have timely and practical access to the places where the well-paying jobs are. It may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but the fact of the matter is that when you provide people with better cycling infrastructure, adoption rates will eventually increase. The goal of politically active "bike people" is for the city to reach a point at which cycling is ingrained in the local culture, when it turns from an question of relative safety or a struggle between interest groups to simply a matter of personal practicality.

Rob replies:
The real alternatives to cars for poor people and working people are buses and trains, not bicycles. Again, since most city streets don't have enough room to acommodate existing traffic, street parking, and new bike lanes---"cycling infrastructure," as you call it---it's not politically feasible to fuck up traffic now based on nothing but the hope that people will get out of their cars---and abandon buses---to ride bikes in numbers significant enough to justify that entirely speculative long-term benefit.

Shawn Allen:
I don't expect that we'll ever become the next Amsterdam or Copenhagen for exactly the reason you often cite: Americans just love their cars. But surveys and research have long revealed that the biggest roadblock to cycling adoption is the perception of safety, for which the lack of critical infrastructure deserves most of the blame. People do fall on bikes, for sure, and it rarely has anything to do with cars. This is not some dirty secret that we're trying to hide from people in order to trick them into getting on a bike, though.

Rob replies:
Again, I disagree. The commenters on this blog---and the SFBC itself, by the way---consistently downplay the dangers of cycling. I got a shit-storm of negative comments when I quoted cycling author Robert Hurst's book on the real dangers involved in riding a bike: "Is cycling dangerous? Yes. Yes, it is. Deadly, no, but definitely dangerous. This is actually a controversial thing to say. There are those who bristle at any suggestion that cycling is dangerous, because they fear it will scare noncyclists away from ever ditching their cars and trying a more healthy form of transport. This is a good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that cycling is dangerous. This is not some urban legend that needs to be debunked. It is reality, and we need to embrace it."

Shawn Allen writes:
The comprehensive Bicycle Plan, as originally written, may end up having been too ambitious for its own good. And I don't mean to imply that the intent of your lawsuit was to suspend the installation of bike racks. But it seems to me that if what you're really concerned about is the removal of specific traffic and parking lanes, you should be lobbying and fighting the Plan's implementation at a lower level. In the end, I think that by halting any and all cycling-related improvements you'll have done your cause more harm than good, because when that EIR comes back and the Plan eventually moves forward there may be little legal recourse left.

Rob replies:
Our legal remedies will only be exhausted when Judge Busch rules that the city's EIR on the Bicycle Plan is adequate. There would have been no legal way for us to get the city to do an adequate analysis of all the individual projects in the Bicycle Plan if we allowed the city to rush it through the process. In fact the city was continuing to implement parts of the Plan even before the hearing on the complaint took place, which is why we got the injunction in the first place. The Bicycle Plan was essentially the Bicycle Coalition's wish-list. The city assumed no one would challenge it here in Progressive Land, so they put everything the bike people wanted in the Plan and pushed it through the system with no environmental review and no debate. I'm convinced they knew that was illegal, but they just assumed they could get away with it.

Shawn Allen writes:
I'll concede that the circumvention of CEQA may have been a strategic blunder on the Board's behalf. But the procedural technicalities of the Plan's adoption don't address what I think is the central issue of the battle you've found yourself in with San Francisco's "bike people," which is that you continue to use self-righteousness and the poor behavior of a minority as a moral justification for denying all cyclists a fair share of the city's streets. My suggestion? If you want to have a more enlightened discussion with cycling advocates, drop the combative tone and frame things in terms of the Plan's actual merits. You've got some good points (lack of proper neighborhood notification being one of the big ones), but I think the legitimacy of your concerns is muddied by your hostile attitude toward people commenting on your blog and cyclists in general. We're not all nuts. Treat us with respect, and you'll get some in return.

Rob replies:
As I've pointed out before, very few of the city's bike people who comment to this blog are capable of, or inclined toward, "enlightened discussion" on these issues. My main "cause" is this blog, where I write about a lot of other local issues besides the bike issue. Which brings me to another point about the bike people: With them it's always all about bikes. They never take any interest, for example, in the destructive development policies of the city---the Market/Octavia Plan, UC's housing development on lower Haight Street, the encouragement of all the new highrises in the city, like on Rincon Hill. To a hammer the whole world looks like a nail, when a pickpocket meets a holy man, all he sees is his pockets, etc. When an SF bike person looks at the city, all he/she sees is a lack of cycling "infrastructure," as if development issues and traffic aren't related. I've treated your comments with respect because, unlike so many of your comrades, you're trying to come to grips with my argument while making your own, not just insulting me for putting a stick in the spokes of the great, planet-saving bicycle movement.

Anonymous writes:
your "warning the neighborhoods" argument is BS. bike lanes in SF require legislation, which means they require public hearings. before the lawsuit, every single bike lane project in sf had a public hearing and associated public notice. the same will be true after the eir is completed and the bike plan moves forward again. don't try to pretend your lawsuit was about public noticing! it was a serious waste of taxpayer $, a self-grandizing scheme, and directly responsible for physical injury to many. hopefully you don't believe in karma.

Rob replies:
Take note, Shawn: This is a more typical comment from the city's bike people, full of misinformation and insults---my concern with public notice is "bullshit," even though that was one of the three issues we raised in our original complaint in the litigation. I'm just "pretending" to care about the issue, "self-aggrandizing," and "directly responsible" for many cyclists getting injured. In reality public notice is an ongoing issue in the city, not just on bike projects but also on other issues. Yes, the city usually can claim that they've followed the letter of the law on public notice by, for example, posting 8 1/2 x 11 notices on power poles in a neighborhood or publishing a legal notice in a local paper.

But practially speaking the city often whisks projects through the process with sketchy "notice" and then rubber-stamps them in poorly-attended committee meetings. See for example how the city and the SFBC pushed the upper Market Street bike lanes through the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee (Mirkarimi, Ma, and Dufty). There were a number of local merchants at the meeting to object, but it was done anyhow. There was no media coverage or political support---I was the only one who wrote about it----for those in the neighborhood objecting to the inadequate notice and the rushed process. The city even accelerated the process to get it done in time for Bike to Work Day!
 

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Obama: The end of "bad-boy thinking"?

Stanley Crouch in The Daily Beast:

Barack Obama's election brings down the curtain on decades of potted history, academic hustles, and bad-boy thinking in black politics and culture...While we’re cleaning house, we cannot forget the intellectual crack of black studies. Initially proposed on college campuses as an alternative to racist history texts, it was not the alternative it claimed to be. In far too many cases, black studies very quickly became a hotbed of paranoid bunk and intellectual buffoonery. Its specialty was feeding black students a diet of alienation, hopelessness, aggressive victimhood, and a fusion of racist and paranoid interpretations of all experiences with white people, especially Jews. Bogus but rabid clowns like New York's Len Jeffries were good at little more than porous logic, meeting purported racism with actual racism, and strutting about in ethnic getups as though African garb put one closer to some sort of truth. Clothes make the man, indeed!

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