Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The DEIR on the Bicycle Plan: "significant unavoidable impacts"

The first thing that needs to be said about the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) on the city's Bicycle Plan is that it involves a lot more than 60 projects; 24 of the proposed projects include an additional "option," which means that there are in effect 84 projects. The idea is apparently for the city to test the political winds and select the options that are politically feasible before it screws up city traffic for the 97.5% of city residents who don't ride bikes to work.

The next thing to note is that the DEIR tells us that 26 of the proposed projects---they are all called "improvements" in the document, of course---will have "significant unavoidable impacts" on traffic and transit, which means there's no way to mitigate the negative effects of those projects on traffic and, more importantly, Muni, since buses and cars share the same city streets, a reality the bike people routinely ignore.
 
Leafing through my hard copy of the 700-page DEIR, I count 56 traffic lanes that will be removed to make bike lanes for projects under the Option 1 proposals and only 12 under the Option 2 proposals; I count 1,914 parking spaces that will be removed to make bike lanes under Option 1 proposals and 1,169 under Option 2 proposals. In practice of course the city will choose a mix of different options, presumably depending on how disruptive the projects are to city traffic.

In short, the DEIR confirms what we tried to tell the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors way back in 2005: taking away traffic lanes and street parking not only will make traffic in San Francisco worse---obviously an environmental impact---but it's also clearly illegal to do so without any environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We were dismissed contemptuously by both bodies and vilified by many in the city's political community when the Superior Court imposed the injunction against implementing the Bicycle Plan until the city completes an environmental review of the ambitious Plan.

The DEIR discusses that sequence of events:

In response to the approval of the 2005 Bicycle Plan Policy Framework, a concerned citizen sued the City, charging that the City did not conduct adequate environmental review of the project. In November 2006, a Superior Court judge ruled that the City must immediately stop all Bicycle Plan activity, including any improvements and policies approved and adopted under the plan. This injunction was to remain in effect until the City prepared an EIR on the Bicycle Plan Policy Framework, Network Improvement Document, and implementation phasing plan...Since the imposition of the injunction in 2006, City Staff have worked to refine the Bicycle Plan. Based on public input and dialogue with City staff and the SFMTA Board, the Bicycle Plan has been further refined and now includes the Network Improvement Document (page III-2, DEIR).

In fact the city did no environmental review of the Bicycle Plan at all, even though the "adequate" usage suggests otherwise. And there was also a preliminary injunction imposed by Judge Warren in June, 2006, before he retired, since we were able to show him that the city was implementing the Plan one street at a time even before the hearing on the merits of the litigation took place.

Note too that the DEIR includes the Network Improvement Document as part of the Bicycle Plan. From the beginning to the bitter end, the city insisted that the Network Document was not part of the Bicycle Plan, which, they implausibly claimed, was only the Framework Document passed unanimously by the Planning Commission and the BOS. The problem with that argument: every city document drafted before the litigation described the Bicycle Plan as consisting of both documents. The city tried to hide the Network Document over at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) disguised as a funding document, an obvious attempt at "piecemealing," prohibited under CEQA, which says you can't break a project into pieces to avoid environmental review of the whole project.

In an effort to keep both the Network Document and evidence of its duplicity out of the administrative record, the city argued that the SFCTA wasn't really a city agency and therefore their records and proceedings shouldn't be included in the record! The DEIR now calls making the Network Document---which contained nothing but detailed plans for the proposed bike projects----part of the Bicycle Plan a "refinement," even though in reality Judge Busch ordered the city to include the document in its environmental review of the Plan.
 
How are the "significant unavoidable impacts" on traffic calculated? By measuring the amount of time traffic takes to move through specific intersections:
 
The operating characteristics of signalized and unsignalized intersections are described by the concept of level of service (LOS). LOS is a qualitative description of the performance of an intersection based on the average delay per vehicle. Intersection LOS ranges from LOS A, which indicates free flow or excellent conditions with short delays, to LOS F, which indicates congested or overloaded conditions with extremely long delays (page V.A.3‐14, emphasis added).
 
Creating bicycle lanes on Second Street, Fifth Street, 14th Street, 17th Street, Division Street, Howard Street, Townsend Street, Cesar Chavez, Portola Drive, and Masonic Ave., among others, will create "congested or overloaded conditions with extremely long delays" on those streets.
 
Creating bike lanes will also have "a significant unavoidable impact" on "loading" on some streets. North Point Street is a good example :

Because there is heavy loading activity and frequent double‐parking along the mid‐section of this corridor, the removal of one westbound travel lane with Project 1‐3 could potentially increase the impact of this double‐parking on bicyclists and general traffic because the proposed bicycle lane and/or the single travel lane would be obstructed. Double parking along the single travel lane could potentially result in a safety issue because in order to bypass double‐parked trucks, vehicles would have to use the opposing lane which could lead to conflicts with oncoming vehicles. No designated yellow commercial freight loading spaces would be removed as part of Project 1‐3. However, as a result of Project 1‐3, there may be safety issues resulting from vehicles crossing into the opposing travel lane to navigate around double‐parked vehicles. Therefore, there would be a significant loading impact (pages V.A.3‐206, V.A.3-207).

That is, all the businesses on that part of North Point Street would find it difficult, if not impossible, to get deliveries if a lane is taken away to make a bike lane.

But the DEIR claims that the city can implement the Bicycle Plan even if it screws up traffic for everyone else that uses our streets:

Any project environmental impacts which cannot be mitigated to a level of less‐than‐significant are identified as significant and unavoidable impacts. The decision‐making body that reviews the EIR may adopt the Bicycle Plan even if significant and unavoidable impacts are identified, by citing “overriding considerations” which they believe to justify the approval of the Bicycle Plan even in light of the Plan’s potential to create significant and unavoidable impacts on the environment (page III-5).
 
My understanding, however, is that the city can't simply invoke "overriding considerations" to make the unavoidable significant impacts go away. Somewhere along the way they will have to show "substantial evidence"---that is, actual facts---to justify screwing up city traffic for everyone but a small minority of cyclists, not to mention the political danger this sort of arrogance would present to supervisors elected by district.

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22 Comments:

At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boring for me to weed through, but I read an SF Weekly article today that gave you and your suit a lot of credit for helping the City to put in place many components of the bike plan. Its kind of like how the Christian rightwing and Prop 8 are forcing people to stand up and enforce equal rights. So thanks Rob for being a anti-bike nut :-) You can't fight the tide of sensible people who are sick of traffic and just want to get to work. And in SF bikes are great commuter vehicles. As the Weekly article said not all of us are Mission anarchists - many of us are normal people who like getting exercise and getting around the city in a convenient way. So long after you are dead and gone Rob, your legacy will live on - thousands of people all riding bikes safely and happily in our great city!

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

In this great city of ours, only 2.5% of the people commute by bicycle, which doesn't make it a very "great" transportation "mode" compared to autos (48.2%, public transportation (30.3%), and walking (9.6%). It's folly to redesign our streets for a tiny minority of the citizenry.

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Rob - I've already posted this years SFMTA study, which includes numbers different (much higher) than the ones you quote. Again, you are all for the facts, unless you don't like them.

 
At 10:36 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm quoting the DEIR on the Bicycle Plan, which cites The US Census Bureau American Community Survey 2006": 2.5% of city residents commute via bicycle (page IV.B-6).

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I should add this: the other numbers come from the San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet of October, 2008, which is available online on the MTA website.

 
At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to think the DEIR is some sort of "overkill" but frankly the analysis is very lightweight. The amount of analysis work on the taking of lanes on Geary and Van Ness for buses (which move lots more people) are much more extensive! I think the missing disclosure piece is how the additional delays at many of these intersections will also add traffic to surrounding neighborhood residential streets.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

I think the missing disclosure piece is how the additional delays at many of these intersections will also add traffic to surrounding neighborhood residential streets.

Wrong.

http://gravityandlevity.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/the-price-of-anarchy/

Traffic expands and contracts based on available resources. If removing a lane makes traffic worse, people will adjust, including the oh so awful "not driving". This doesn't mean becoming a shut-in, because we are offering choices - even to the balance inhibited like Rob. MUNI, walking, biking, scooter, etc...

In the end, the traffic is as bad as people will stand, and not any worse. See - Macarthur Maze Collapse, Bay Bridge Closure.

The net difference after the plan is that people will have choices. Are we trying to "coerce people out of their cars?" Yes. That's the official policy. Not only in San Francisco ("transit first") but nationwide.

*****************************
Asked if his emphasis on livable communities was, as Will's column argued, a veiled effort to "make driving more torturous" and "coerce people out of their cars," LaHood was unbowed.

"It is a way to coerce people out of their cars," he said, observing that few people enjoy spending an hour behind the wheel to travel to work or run an errand. While every community cannot be redesigned to coax more residents onto transit or bikes, he added, the encouragement of those opportunities is important.

"The only person I've heard object to this is George Will," LaHood said.

******************************
Clearly Ray LaHood (Obama's Transportation Secretary) has not met Rob Anderson.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, for once Murph is right;this is the way SF does its traffic "planning": make it as difficult and expensive as possible for people to drive in the city---and then lament the fact that, gee, middleclass people with families are fleeing the city and its public schools. Of course this approach does succeed in forcing a certain number of people out of their cars, if not out of town entirely. Especially the poor saps who have to rely on street parking, which the city is steadily eliminating. It's official city doctrine that parking is not a CEQA impact. That is incorrect as a matter of law, but the only way to make the city back down is by going to court. CEQA has no other enforcement mechanism but litigation against the city.

But now the city and the bike zealots are facing the hard part: implementing these Bicycle Plan projects without creating a political backlash from the citizenry. Creating bike lanes by eliminating traffic lanes on Second Street, Fifth Street, Masonic Ave., and Cesar Chavez, for example, would seem like pure folly, for it's sure to make traffic worse on those streets, as the DEIR itself tells us. Until now most good city progressives have operated on the assumption that Bikes are Good and indulging the bike people is a win-win deal. They are about to learn otherwise.

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"middleclass people with families are fleeing the city and its public schools"

If you think that has anything to do with how hard it is to drive around the city, I want the number of your medical marijuana dispensary, they are selling good stuff.

You are relying on your magic crystal ball to decide what people will think about it, the bike-nuts are doing actual outreach. The results - people, and yes businesses, favor the bike improvements - lanes, racks, etc...

Say goodnight gracie.

 
At 5:54 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course it also has to do with housing prices and jobs, but middle income people with children need cars.

"...the bike-nuts are doing actual outreach. The results - people, and yes businesses, favor the bike improvements - lanes, racks, etc..."

Some evidence for this would be helpful for your credibility, Murph. In fact the tough decisions haven't been made yet. Once Judge Busch certifies the EIR those decisions will be made by Planning and the Board of Supervisors---on Masonic, Second Street, Fifth Street, Cesar Chavez, etc.

 
At 12:01 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"Of course it also has to do with housing prices and jobs, but middle income people with children need cars."

Again - wrong. Shows how out of touch you are. I won't make you swing a third strike.

The problem driving people with kids out of the city is the school lottery system.

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Oh, okay. Thanks for clearing that up, Murph. Don't you ever get tired of always being right?

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Don't you get tired from always being wrong?

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I was kidding, Murph. You're almost always wrong. On top of that you're a bore.

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Okay, here's a typical Murph-like comment: "Rob - I've already posted this years SFMTA study, which includes numbers different (much higher) than the ones you quote. Again, you are all for the facts, unless you don't like them."

You posted a link to the State of Cycling Report for 2008, which provides numbers on the increase in cycling over the past several years. The number I cited was for the percentage of commuters in SF who ride bicycles, which is 2.5%, cited by the city's DEIR on the Bicycle Plan. The other numbers I cited are from the San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet of October, 2008, which, by the way, puts the percentage of cycling commuters at 2.3%, compared to 2000, when the percentage was 2.1%.

You make your uninformed, irrelevant comment to my post on the DEIR, which you are too lazy to even look at.

 
At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In this great city of ours, only 2.5% of the people commute by bicycle, which doesn't make it a very "great" transportation "mode" compared to autos (48.2%, public transportation (30.3%), and walking (9.6%). It's folly to redesign our streets for a tiny minority of the citizenry."

Yeah, and there's no way that those numbers will increase if we give people places to ride.

We're not Portland, New York, or anywhere else that has done this (and let's just forget about Valencia st). The examples from other places don't apply to San Francisco because I said so.

 
At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"this is the way SF does its traffic "planning": make it as difficult and expensive as possible for people to drive in the city..."

Well, it's also worth considering that driving isn't exactly the most appropriate transportation choice for a dense, urban area.

 
At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...middle income people with children need cars."

Dad can pedal to work if there are bike lanes, though.

In fact, mommy can even pedal little Timmy to school if there are bike lanes, then pedal herself to work.

Big Timmy can eventually pedal himself to school if there are bike lanes.

 
At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of the reason there's so much traffic congestion in the city is that there has been way too much emphasis on providing for automobiles.

Sometimes, as in the case of bicycles, it is at the expense of other transportation modes.

So the obese person gets all the food on the table while the undernourished person goes on starving.

 
At 1:38 PM, Blogger Foggy Freewheeler said...

In the beginning you had the gaul to call yourself, the plaintiff, 99%. Despite not owning a car for a longtime, it seems like you defend those steel and glass death traps' right to exist. Gas powered autos are dinosaurs that have to be destroyed as they're killing us loudly with violent force and slowly with toxic emissions.
The muni takers (who are always slowed by the amt. of cars on the road)
and the peds are with us the bikers as those trying to live in a healthier city. By your numbers, we are 52%. Look in the streets. I'm sure the biking numbers has grown past 2.5% in the last 2 years.

J- 17 yrs. in SF commuting by bike and MUNI

 
At 1:58 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You've been here long enough to do some minimal homework on transportation in SF. You could start by printing out the Transportation Fact Sheet from MTA's website, which will tell you that 48% of city residents drive to work, 30% take public transportation, and only 2.3% ride bikes to work. If you make it more difficult for car drivers to move on city streets---by taking away traffic lanes and street parking---you're also going to make it more difficult for Muni to do so, since they have to share the same streets. And don't forget trucks, which deliver all the goods bought and sold in SF. If the city continues to deliberately make traffic worse than it has to be on behalf of the bicycle fantasy, it's going to damage our economy, which, by the way, depends on millions of tourists who drive in the city every year.

Then you could check out the Bicycle Plan, which is also online, which will tell you exactly which streets the city wants to screw up on behalf of the bike fantasy---Masonic, Second Street, Fifth Street, and Cesar Chavez, among others.

 
At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Rob Anderson. Greedy Cyclists are a fringe demographic and should only get their fair share of road space:

• 195,000,000 square feet of roadways in San Francisco total(DPW).
• 1 mile of 5' bike lane = 26,400 square feet.
• 6% of all trips in SF made by bike (SFMTA State of Cycling Report).
• 6% of total road space = 443 miles of dedicated bike lanes.

There are currently 44 miles of bike lanes in San Francisco…

 

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