Friday, May 14, 2010

"Democratizing" city streets

It's an essential aspect of the leftist mindset to believe that History is moving your way, a residue of Marxism that assumed the eventual triumph of the working class. But here in Progressive Land that unlikely historical triumph has been downsized. Recall that several years ago the Bay Guardian trumpeted a new force for historical change---a "transit justice" coalition---in the wake of the victory of Proposition A and the defeat of Don Fisher's Proposition H, ballot box "victories" that were a result of a coalition of organized labor, the bike people, and all right-minded city progressives.
 
Now that organized labor is some disrepute because city progs' have been giving them a blank check on city revenue---causing a chronic economic crisis for the city---organized labor is apparently no longer seen as a force for historical change. The Guardian now sees a movement to "democratize" city streets---that is, screw up traffic by using our streets for something other than traffic---as some kind of "tipping point," even though this movement consists of the same anti-car folks that have been active for years in that dubious cause.

Steve Jones gets supportive soundbites for his article from the usual suspects:

Gregory Metcalf of SPUR (http://www.spur.org/): Metcalf is a long-time bike guy. In fact he's one of those zealots who puts his child on the back of his bike as he rides on city streets, which leads to the question, Why is this legal? I guess we'll have to wait for one of these children to be killed in an accident before it becomes illegal.

Dave Snyder:
Snyder was the head of the SF Bicycle Coalition for eleven years. He's now reinvented himself as a transportation "expert."

Susan King: Long-time bike activist and Critical Mass participant, now in charge of Sunday Streets.

Supervisor Mirkarimi: Since he was elected in 2004, the Murk has been diligently carrying water for the Bicycle Coalition.

Jones refers to the recent makeover of Divisadero Street as if it was a victory for this movement, but that tarting up process---primarily landscaping and repaving the street---didn't remove any traffic lanes, though, to the satisfaction of the bike people, it did remove three parking spaces to construct the "parklet" in front of a coffee house on Diviz that also happens to be a bike repair shop and a rendezvous for cyclists. What a coincidence!

"The San Francisco Bicycle Plan project eliminates 56 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 parking spaces on city streets," attorney Mary Miles wrote in her April 23 brief challenging the plan. "According to City's EIR, the project will cause 'significant unavoidable impacts' on traffic, transit, and loading; degrade level of service to unacceptable levels at many major intersections; and cause delays of more than six minutes per street segment to many bus lines. The EIR admits that the 'near-term' parts of the project alone will have 89 significant impacts of traffic, transit, and loading but fails to mitigate or offer feasible alternatives to each of these impacts."

Jones thinks this is just fine, and he correctly notes that "elected officials in San Francisco are nearly unanimous in their support for the plan, signaling how far San Francisco has come in viewing the streets as more than just conduits for cars." Not clear what the "nearly" means, since I don't know of a single elected official who criticizes the city's anti-car movement, which is a comment on the GroupThink predominant in San Francisco's ruling elite. This is why city voters will never get a chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan. "Whether they like it or not," city residents are expected to allow the bike people to redesign their streets. These same officials colluded with the Bicycle Coalition in the clearly illegal attempt to rush the Bicycle Plan through the process without any environmental review.

The city's main overriding consideration is that we must do more to get people out of their cars, for reasons ranging from traffic congestion to global warming. City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said that it's absurd that the state's main environmental law has been used to hinder progress toward the most environmentally beneficial and efficient transportation option.

As we predicted five years ago, the city's EIR on the Bicycle Plan clearly says that the Plan will have "significant impacts" on a number of city streets, slowing down traffic and Muni lines on streets where the city will take away traffic lanes to make bike lanes. Jones is referring to the city's "statement of overriding considerations" appended to the EIR that tries to justify screwing up traffic for 90% of those who use city streets on behalf of this small, PC minority. To put it mildly, we think that statement is legally deficient, and we hope the judge agrees.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the leading legal officer in SF, has played a particularly unprincipled role in this whole fiasco. Once we got the injunction against the city in 2006, he surely knew the city was going to lose the case---you can't get an injunction without convincing the judge that you'll eventually prevail on the merits---but for purely political reasons he pushed the city's pathetic legal arguments to the bitter end. In private practice, his clients would sue him for malpractice. Instead, by currying favor with city progressives and the bike people, he could be elected Mayor of San Francisco.

Jones quotes me accurately, but the context is lacking: "It's a leap of faith they're[the city] making here that this will be good for the city." The city is telling the court that if it's allowed to screw up traffic for the overwhelming majority---including Muni passengers---on behalf of cyclists, there will then be a huge increase of cyclists on those streets. As we pointed out in our brief, this is a leap in faith that's not supported by any evidence. Hard to believe that Judge Busch is going to find that persuasive, but, as lawyers always tell their clients, you never know what a judge or a jury is going to do.

As Jones himself reported last year, Mayor Newsom is ready to backpedal, so to speak, if implementing the Bicycle Plan screws city traffic up too badly. Ultimately, the issue will be determined by the people of San Francisco, who will decide how badly they're willing to allow these folks to screw up their streets.

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