Thursday, May 14, 2009

Steve Jones: "Anderson is right: bicyclists do have a radical agenda"

Steve Jones is the Bay Guardian's bike guy, and reading him (Uphill Climb) on the issue is a good way to understand what I call BikeThink, the assumptions underlying the mindset of the bike people:

I understand that bicyclists are criticized in many quarters as a vocal minority with a self-righteous sense of superiority and entitlement, and that I'm personally accused of bias for writing empathetically about bicyclists in dozens of bike-related stories. Well, guess what? I don't apologize. We are better than motorists, by every important measure. We use less space and fewer resources and create less waste and pollution.

People who ride bikes are better people than planet-destroying motorists.
But Jones's self-righteousness extends to other aspects of city life, as he told us a couple of years ago when writing of complaints about quality of life infractions in SF by the armies of druggies and the homeless the city struggles to cope with. Jones thinks people shooting up and drinking and drugging in our parks and neighborhoods is just part of "true city living." We should just get used to it because it's sanctioned by him and his pals, the cool people, the fun people, the groovy people who, God help us, represent the future: "We know that it's the rest of the country that's the problem, not us. Luckily, there are a million things to do in this beautiful and bountiful city while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up."

Jones is explicit about his bike fetish:

I love my bike, and so do most people who see it. San Franciscans appreciate the little things, like someone who rides a silly-looking bike. It started as a basic used mountain bike, but I styled it out for Burning Man a few years ago, covering it with heavy red acrylic paint that looks like stucco, a big basket covered in fake fur and ringed with electro-luminescent wire, and custom-welded high handlebars topped by a lizard horn. Maybe you've seen me around town — and if so, maybe you've seen me blow through stop signs or red lights. Yes, I'm that guy, and I only apologize if I'm stealing a motorist's right-of-way, which I try to avoid.

Oh Steve, you're so adorable, running red lights on your Burning Man bike! Of course Jones is a Burning Man guy; he regularly attends the annual corporate-sponsored event disguised as a counter-cultural happening.

Rob Anderson, who successfully sued San Francisco to force detailed studies of its Bike Plan (and blogs at district5diary.blogspot.com), regularly calls me and my ilk the "bike fanatics." I've interviewed Anderson by phone a few times and tangled with him online many times. He's actually a pretty well-informed and well-reasoned guy, except for his near pathological disdain for bicycling, which he considers an inherently dangerous activity that government has no business promoting and is not a serious transportation option.

The "detailed studies" usage implies that the city did any environmental study of the 500-page Bicycle Plan before it started implementing it; in fact the city did no environmental studies at all, which is why our suit was successful. The city and the Bicycle Coalition simply assumed no one would challenge their attempt to redesign city streets on behalf of the bike people here in Progressive Land. Riding a bike is clearly an option already chosen by a small minority of city residents. I have no problem with that, but the real question is, How far should the city go in promoting that minority option at the expense of everyone else who uses city streets?

But San Francisco would be a gridlocked nightmare without bikes. Transportation officials say this is already one of the most traffic-choked cities in the country (second after Houston), a big factor in Muni never reaching its voter-mandated 85 percent on-time performance. During peak hours, most Muni lines reach their holding capacity. Imagine 37,500 additional people (the estimated number of San Franciscans who primarily travel by bike) driving or taking Muni every day.

In reality, it isn't difficult to drive in San Francisco at all, especially in the middle of a recession when traffic has noticeably declined. Four years ago, Curt Sanburn wrote an article in SF Weekly that annoyed the bike people because he pointed out that, once you understand the street system, driving in this city is easy. The bike people want to put an end to that.

Because at the end of the day, Anderson is right: bicyclists do have a radical agenda. We want to take space from cars, both lanes and parking spaces, all over this city. That's what has to happen to create a safe, complete bicycle system, which is a prerequisite to encouraging more people to cycle. We need to realize that designing the city around automobiles is an increasingly costly and unsustainable model.

The problem with this agenda: Muni uses the same streets that cars use in San Francisco, and if you take away traffic lanes and street parking for cars---and, by the way, taxis, trucks, and emergency vehicles---you're going to make it harder for Muni to move on our streets. The bike people pay lip service to our "transit first" city, but for them it's really all about bikes.

Jones quotes Leah Shahum of the Bicycle Coalition: "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you'd let your six-year-old ride on them." This is a vision of traffic gridlock for everyone, including Muni passengers. Elsewhere in the same edition of the Guardian, Dave Snyder, in an op-ed about public transit, talks about making cycling safe for eight-year-olds. Shahum is clearly flanking the faint-hearted Snyder---a former executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition---on the left!

These people are arrogant crackpots determined to screw up our traffic based on a juvenile vision of the future of San Francisco.

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