Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rob Anderson: from meanie to "advancing the cause of bicyclists"

Maybe my relationship with the SF Weekly's Matt Smith is looking up. According to his latest rant, I've actually done a lot "to advance the cause of bicyclists" in San Francisco.

Even allowing for the heavy-handed irony, that's an improvement from three years ago, when Smith called me "mean," a "cyclist hater," a "callous anti-bike zealot," and a "busy attention-seeker," the latter because I ran for District 5 Supervisor. Okay, he's still calling me a "bike-hater" and an "anti-bike nut," but I'll take his latest as something of an olive branch.

But Smith still has a sketchy grasp of state enviromental law:

Anderson and Miles made the novel argument that bikes are bad for the environment because they get in the way of automobiles, which must then idle and emit more smog. A judge agreed that San Francisco city leaders had flouted California environmental law by forgoing environmental review. And he slapped the city with a punitive-seeming injunction, forbidding bicycle-related improvements, even ones that don't take away space from cars, such as bike racks.

There's nothing at all "novel" about requiring a project---especially a major project like the Bicycle Plan---to include traffic studies in its EIR, since impacts on traffic are a common concern about any new development. We weren't particularly concerned about bike racks, but Judge Busch's decision prohibited any changes to the "hardscape" of city streets, probably because he had little faith that the city would do the right thing---based on its previous conduct on the Bicycle Plan---he made the order pretty broad.

Smith's real quarrel is with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires an environmental study of any proposed project that even might have a negative impact on the environment. Seems like a sensible law to me, but the city's bike people were shocked that the law was applied to the Bicycle Plan, even though it proposed redesigning many city streets---taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes---which clearly could have had a negative impact on the city's environment by making traffic in the city a lot worse. (The DEIR on the Bicycle Plan, by the way, confirms that the Plan will make our traffic worse.)

Since then, Anderson has used the judge's ruling to tirelessly share his view that bike lanes are a plot by extremists bent on harming ordinary Americans' way of life. The Wall Street Journal even did a story on his unusual crusade last year, in which he railed against the city's "bike fanatics." "The behavior of the bike people on city streets is always annoying," he told the Journal. "This 'Get out of my way, I'm not burning fossil fuels.'" (The story also noted that Anderson himself hasn't owned a car for 20 years.) He also regularly catalogues his complaints about the bike nuts on his blog. "These people are arrogant crackpots determined to screw up our traffic based on a juvenile vision of the future of San Francisco," he wrote on May 14.

I'm not particlarly concerned about the American way of life, which has survived a lot worse than the self-righteous bike movement. The bike people are just a politically aggressive interest group that has our dim-bulb, PC city leadership under its influence. But the way the city and the bike people were proceeding with the Bicycle Plan before the injunction could be described as kind of a plot, when you consider that few even in the city's political community knew exactly what they were trying to do to our streets.

And the SF Bicycle Coalition, an interest group with a stake in the outcome of the process, did the public "outreach" for the Bicycle Plan with $300,000 of the taxpayers' money. It's probably fair to say that the supervisors themselves, who voted unanimously to make the Framework Document part of the city's General Plan, had little knowledge of what was actually in the 500-page Plan. Maybe it would be more accurate to call it an attempted "coup" by bike people in and out of city government to redesign city streets on behalf of a minority of bike zealots.

Yes, the Wall Street Journal quoted me as saying that "The behavior of the bike people on city streets is always annoying." But I doubt that I said always annoying. "Often" is more like my view. "This 'Get out of my way, I'm not burning fossil fuels'" is a sentence fragment that the writer didn't catch before publication, though I'm sure I said something like that, since that seems to be a common attitude among cyclists.

"Anderson's lawsuit 'increased the resources the MTA put into the bike plan, the traffic analysis, and the outreach, by a factor of three at least,' said Dave Snyder, transportation policy coordinator at San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, a private smart-growth think tank. 'It encouraged them to consider all of the bike lanes as a package, and introduce them and get them approved as a package, which is way more efficient than what they planned to do' before Anderson's lawsuit."

Well, yes. But it's a remarkable bit of chutzpah for Snyder---who was the executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition for 11 years---to say that now, since he was the author of the deceptive, illegal piecemealing strategy the city was following before the injunction. The whole point of Snyder's strategy was to avoid having to do an expensive, time-consuming EIR on the Plan that would delay all these "improvements" to our streets. Obviously Snyder and city officials simply thought they could get away with doing it that way.

"But Anderson's lawsuit has fixed that. It has forced the city to make a detailed, highly engineered project out of a bike plan that five years ago was, comparatively speaking at least, more of an empty political gesture."

It's not surprising that Smith and Snyder want to rewrite this history, but it simply won't wash. The 500-page, two-volume Bicycle Plan---the Framework Document and the Network Document---was a lot more than "an empty political gesture" in 2005, when the city began implementing it on the streets of the city. That was the year the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Framework Document, making it part of the General Plan, while hiding the Network Document over at the San Francisco County Transportation Agency (SFCTA), where they could then use it to cherry-pick future bicycle projects.

One-quarter of the plan's stated goals involve corralling the law-breaking impulses of yahoos such as the aforementioned pamphleteer[Steve Jones]. The plan calls for bicycle safety education, and, more importantly, "improving bicycle safety through targeted enforcement." That's right: ticketing law-breaker cyclists as well as scofflaw motorists. The plan calls for working with police to put a high priority on "motorist and bicyclist violations." And it even calls for working with police and the courts to create bicycle traffic school, for wingnuts who might think it's okay to blow through red lights.

Oh, please. As if the SFPD is going to launch a serious traffic enforcement effort when it and every other city department is awash in red ink. It's not going to happen; it's just hot air. Smith and mainstream cyclists would like to distance themselves from the goofball Steven Jones types, but the pseudo-rebel ethos is an important element in the whole bike trip for a substantial number of cyclists. These people are saving the planet---get out of their way, they aren't burning fossil fuel!---even as they work out their Mommy and Daddy issues on the streets of our city.

The city plans to spend between $3 million and $4 million next year on bike improvements, with a total of $14 million to be spent on the entire plan. That's a cheap way to get more types of traffic moving in the city.

But you have to factor in some other numbers, like whatever the city is paying to have 13 people in MTA working on bike projects (see the roster below in italics). And the $120,000 a year that it costs to have 20 city cops on overtime babysit the monthly Critical Mass demo. And you have to consider the money taxpayers are spending to consider putting a bike path on the Bay Bridge ($1.3 million for the study), which, if given a green light, could cost as much as $390 million.

Since 1997, when much of the local police force was diverted to crack down on a law-breaking Critical Mass ride, some San Franciscans have regarded cyclists as an offensive fringe group. This is true in part simply because some motorists find it irksome to have to slow down for them on narrow city streets. But it's also because some people have taken to cycling as a form of activism or counterculturalism, rather than what ordinary bike commuters like myself consider it to be: merely a healthy, efficient, enjoyable, and cheap way to get to work, take my kids to school, cart the family to the ocean in the evenings, and ride to Marin County on the weekend.

I laughed when I read this, recalling Smith's description of his often hair-raising daily bike commute four years ago:

These conflicts are extraordinarily stressful, and on those mornings I find myself spending the first part of the day numb with low-level anger and fear. And I'm what you might call an ace at this: I've bike-commuted in big-city traffic for the past 25 years. So if co-workers ask me about getting to our office by bike, I feel obliged to offer caveats about the sections where bike lanes disappear into impatient and sometimes dangerous auto traffic, and about the motorists who don't realize bikes have the right to occupy traffic lanes and who drive dangerously as a result. And if I didn't tell the co-workers, they'd find out soon enough on their own.

Taking your kids to school or the beach on a bike? This sort of thing only invites the rest of us to wonder whether these folks---whether "ordinary bike commuters" or counter-culturalists---have any sense at all. Funny that society rightly makes a big fuss about making motorists put small children in car seats, but those little canvas trailers that some morons haul their children in are legal.

Bicycle Program Staff
Oliver Gajda
Bicycle Program Manager
Oliver.Gajda@sfmta.com
Damon Curtis
Associate Engineer
Damon.Curtis@sftma.com
Jessica Manzi
Associate Engineer
Jessica.Manzi@sfmta.com
Nick Carr
Bicycle Safety Outreach Coordinator
Nick.Carr@sfmta.com
Heath Maddox
Bicycle Sharing Program
Heath.Maddox@sfmta.com
Deirdre Weinberg
Planner II
Deirdre.Weinberg@sfmta.com
Raoul Roque
Junior Engineer
Raoul.Roque@sfmta.com
James Shahamiri
Junior Engineer
James.Shahamiri@sfmta.com
Jose Guadamuz
Engineering Assistant
Jose.Guadamuz@sfmta.com
Ryan Dodge
Planner I
Ryan.Dodge@sfmta.com
Phil Olmstead
Intern Planner
Phil.Olmstead@sfmta.com
Kevin Johnson
Intern
Kevin.Johnson@sfmta.com
Tim O'Keefe
Intern Engineer
Tim.O'Keefe@sfmta.com

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16 Comments:

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob,

I'm glad you're around and fighting these battles. The irony is, I really don't think for a moment that you're anti-bike (any more than I am, as a frequent cyclist myself.)

What I think you ARE against is the arrogant, self-entitled, irresponsible attitude that unfortunately characterizes many SF cyclists and most of the biking zealots. They think that anyone driving a motor vehicle is somehow evil and less deserving of resources. They eschew the traffic laws as if they don't apply to them. They feel that because they are cyclists, they deserve a disproportionate amount of pavement, resources, and attention.

I applaud those who are able to incorporate biking into their daily routine. But for other people, biking is not a practical transportation tool, for a myriad of reasons. Others simply choose to travel by car or transit for whatever reason. Those people are not evil. And there are always going to be more of them than there are cyclists, at least in our lifetimes.

Biking should be safe and convenient, to the extent that's possible. So should driving, transit, and walking. The three must be balanced, keeping in mind that neither side owns all the roads – and that clogging auto traffic to benefit a small minority of bikes has a lot of unintended negative consequences that affect everyone. The zealots always seem to favor a scorched-earth strategy... "screw everyone else, it's all about me" -- I suspect most of them grew up as spoiled children without siblings with whom they had to share.

You touched on enforcement -- I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see more traffic enforcement in SF. There is basically NO enforcement of the traffic laws in this city, and I'd love to see that change. Drivers and bicycles both are major offenders (I can't count the number of times I've been nearly run down in a crosswalk by both) but pedestrians could use some enforcement too. It's basically a free-for-all out there, I've never seen a city (including New York) where everyone flouts the rules so blatantly.

I apologize for always commenting anonymously, but I'm active in neighborhood issues and the like and feel I can be more useful by maintaining a low public profile so as not to get labeled by those who may disagree with me.

 
At 10:56 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Anonymous -

One thing Rob and almost certainly agree on - if you believe in something and are willing to make a statement, man up and say so proudly.

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

"The zealots always seem to favor a scorched-earth strategy...'screw everyone else, it's all about me'---I suspect most of them grew up as spoiled children without siblings with whom they had to share."

Yes, the sense of entitlement is remarkable, as is the assumption that city government has to make their rather dangerous transportation "mode" safe.

"I apologize for always commenting anonymously, but I'm active in neighborhood issues and the like and feel I can be more useful by maintaining a low public profile so as not to get labeled by those who may disagree with me."

I understand. Keep your comments coming anyhow. It's an interesting commentary on the state of city politics that people like you hesitate to criticize the bike people, lest they are labeled beyond the pale like Rob Anderson.

 
At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They eschew the traffic laws as if they don't apply to them."

So the laws that were designed primarily for 5,000 pound automobiles should always apply to 20 pound self-powered vehicles? Doubtful.

They're different machines.

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, bikes are different machines but they are using the same streets as motor vehicles.

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So the laws that were designed primarily for 5,000 pound automobiles should always apply to 20 pound self-powered vehicles? Doubtful."

Yes, shockingly, bikes are required to stop at stop signs and red traffic signals, signal their intentions to turn or stop (when able), not ride on the sidewalks, etc.

If you disagree with these rules, work to get them changed (good luck.) But you don't have the right to ignore and disobey them.

Notice how cyclists cry for more "safety" but then don't follow the simple rules designed for exactly that purpose?

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Notice how cyclists cry for more 'safety' but then don't follow the simple rules designed for exactly that purpose?"

Yes, their sense of entitlement---of moral superiority, really---is remarkable. And, as Steve Jones told us a few weeks ago, their agenda is a lot more radical than the Bicycle Coalition is usually willing to admit. They are not only anti-car but anti-Muni---or at best indifferent to public transportation, which is the real alternative to driving for the most of us.

In Jones's article in the Guardian, the SFBC's Leah Shahum had this vision of the future on city streets: "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you'd let your six-year-old ride on them." (Bay Guardian, May 13, 2009)That's a description of gridlock, not only for cars but for Muni, too. It's crackpot stuff, and sooner or later they're going to overreach. That may happen when the Bicycle Plan is certified by Judge Busch, and the city begins to take away traffic lanes on busy streets to make bike lanes---on Second Street, Fifth Street, Cesar Chavez, and Masonic Ave.

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Yes, shockingly, motorists are required to use hands free devices for cellphones, not text and drive, not drink and drive.

If you disagree with these rules, work to get them changed (good luck.) But you don't have the right to ignore and disobey them.

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

"If you disagree with these rules, work to get them changed (good luck.) But you don't have the right to ignore and disobey them."

A cyclist treating a stop sign as a yield sign puts nobody in danger, the behavior makes sense, but the laws around this are grossly inadequate. The legistation is not likely to change any time soon, so all we're left with is a form of civil disobedience.

"Notice how cyclists cry for more "safety" but then don't follow the simple rules designed for exactly that purpose?"

Always coming to a full stop at a stop sign makes sense for 5,000 pound vehicles with operators whose hearing and vision is obscured by the vehicle and whose traffic speeds are high, that's why the stop signs are there-- not because of bicycles.
(that being said, if you watch an intersection controlled by stop signs for any length of time you'll see that drivers approach the intersection, slow down to about bicycle speed, then either stop if necessary or go on through without completely stopping).

The bicycles are already at bicycle speed, weigh only a tiny fraction of an automobile, and their operators have much better visibility and can hear what's around them.

Another factor is that cyclists are totally exposed, a big disincentive for putting themselves in front of a moving vehicle.

Most of the reasons we require automobiles to stop at many intersections simply do not transfer to cyclists, and that's why so many cyclists bend the rules regarding stop signs.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, shockingly, motorists are required to use hands free devices for cellphones, not text and drive, not drink and drive."

Not to mention obey the speed limit, the basic speed law, and allow a safe passing distance, practice due diligence, do not intimidate or assault with their vehicles, stop at stop signs and red lights, do not drive on the sidewalk, signal their intentions...

 
At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The bicycles are already at bicycle speed, weigh only a tiny fraction of an automobile, and their operators have much better visibility and can hear what's around them."

Funny... I've seen bicyclists coming down some San Francisco hills at 40 MPH. Let's see the bicyclists stay in their lane at that speed (as several lanes in the Bicycle Plan are on streets with grades over 10 percent)!

As far as hearing what's around them, I'm more frequently witnessing bicyclists speeding down busy sidewalks -- complete with iPods and earpieces for cell phones -- living in another world rather than on the sidewalk that they are illegally on. I've known many a pedestrian to be injured by irresponsible cyclists.

 
At 10:07 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"Funny... I've seen bicyclists coming down some San Francisco hills at 40 MPH. Let's see the bicyclists stay in their lane at that speed (as several lanes in the Bicycle Plan are on streets with grades over 10 percent)!"

Are there even any streets in SF where the speed limit is over 40 MPH? If a bike is going the speed limit, they can take the traffic lane. If they are going over the speed limit, they are subject to citation, no different than the many drivers going over the speed limit.


"As far as hearing what's around them, I'm more frequently witnessing bicyclists speeding down busy sidewalks -- complete with iPods and earpieces for cell phones -- living in another world rather than on the sidewalk that they are illegally on. I've known many a pedestrian to be injured by irresponsible cyclists."

If the debate is framed as "all cyclists are irresponsible jerks with ipods riding on sidewalks", then I get to claim that all drivers are drunk off their ass. We don't have to dig very far to find pedestrians killed by irresponsible motorists, the motorists rung up a 9 year old girl in Novato last week - a driver with SIX DUI's on his record.

 
At 12:50 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

For lack of a better place to put this. A common refrain of Rob Anderson is that the SFBC is "ALL ABOUT BIKES - BIKES UBER ALLES".

http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/06/09/residents-upset-over-outer-richmond-muni-service-cuts/#more-2356

"When Outer Richmond resident and SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley realized that service on the 5-Fulton would be reduced past 6th Avenue, he was not pleased. Thornley said he had been looking forward to the 5 getting better through implementation of the MTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project before the budget crisis hit. “It’s definitely discouraging to see the 5 get worse” past 6th Avenue, he said."

Andy Thornley is out there working on the severe cuts to MUNI. Where is Rob Anderson - the man who is so concerned about MUNI and how the bike plan is going to screw up MUNI? If Rob cares so much about MUNI, why is he absent on this issue, while Andy Thornley is on the front lines?

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Typically stupid comment, Murph, in your eagerness to make a political point. (By the way, are you the Bicycle Coalition's designated Rob-watcher? Like those dim bulbs, you're a suitable representative of the BikeThink perspective.)

It's just grandstanding for Thornley to single out the #5 line for special concern. What about all the other lines in the city where service is going to be cut? And why do I have the suspicion that Thornley lives out in the avenues?

Note that even the Bicycle Coalition didn't dare insist on taking away street parking on McAllister Street to make bike lanes. The reality is that the Bicycle Plan will in fact screw up Muni on Masonic, Second Street, Fifth Street, and Cesar Chavez, which is the context in which you need to see Thornley's posturing.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"And why do I have the suspicion that Thornley lives out in the avenues?"

Clever detective work... given I wrote...

"When Outer Richmond resident and SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley realized..."

"The reality is that the Bicycle Plan will in fact screw up Muni on Masonic, Second Street, Fifth Street, and Cesar Chavez,"

There is one line that barely even uses Cesar Chavez, and the community around there - the people that would occasionally RIDE that bus - are CLAMORING for the redesign of Cesar Chavez.

I think I have finished my apprenticeship of learning that some people are just unhappy grouches who like to bitch and whine to get attention, as such rational thought is counter to their personal needs. I'll leave you to your misery now.

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

And there are still other people who fancy themselves as thinkers but who essentially pull it out of their asses.

 

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