Street Fight 2
Jason Henderson seems to think he's a thinker. The Bay Guardian and Streetsblog accept him at his own valuation, since he's anti-car and pro-bike, which is important in how San Francisco progressives define themselves.
Henderson's three different ideological categories in Street Fight defining how people think about transportation does nothing to clarify matters. It just creates a layer of abstraction that conveys a false sense of profundity by, in Henderson's words, "deconstructing the ideologies that undergird and inform the debate about streets and urban space."
I elucidate how three competing ideologies---progressive, neoliberal, and conservative---have come to dominate the contemporary political discourse about urban mobility in San Francisco and arguably throughout the United States.
Anti-carism is an important issue for city progressives---the anti-car, pro-bike movement is a creation of the liberal-left---but Henderson's riff on ideology "elucidates" nothing, since ideology has nothing to do with how people think about transportation.
In Henderson's terminology, "progressives seek to use government to limit the overall amount of automobility." This is correct, since SF progressives are the most fervent supporters of the city's anti-car movement: "Moreover, the progressive spirit questions the need for excessive, unfettered movement." Except for cyclists, of course, but not those driving devilish motor vehicles.
On the other hand, "Neoliberals, consistent with the broader agenda of privatization of space and market-based pricing of public access to space, envision a mobility system shaped by pricing and markets rather than by regulation and collective action."
And "conservative politics of mobility posits that unfettered movement is a prerequisite of individual liberty and freedom and that government should proactively accommodate uninhibited movement, mainly by car...Conservative discourse has mounted challenges to the progressive mobility vision of restricting automobility."
Who are these people? Not surprisingly Henderson doesn't name any individuals or groups in San Francisco that conform to this analysis because there aren't any. Transportation in San Francisco---and everywhere else---is about day-to-day practicality, not ideology. People use the means of transportation that fits their needs. Obviously our Muni system, for example, is not a product of the market system, except in the sense that people who can't afford cars rely on it to get to jobs and run errands. Fares only cover about 25% of its operational expenses. People who can afford cars, drive cars to get around. Ditto for cabs.
People like me---a Democrat and an Obama supporter---can't afford a car and rely on Muni and walking to get around, which has nothing to do with ideology. Henderson calls me a "conservative" (page 123), but I'm not by any sensible definition.
But Henderson has a convenient cop-out to justify not naming anyone or any group in the city that conforms to his categories:
The narrative does not focus on personalities. I purposefully limit emphasis on key activists, politicians, developers, and other central actors, not because they do not matter but because emphasis on individual agency can divert attention from the attempt to understand the ideological context within which such personalities and characters arose.
The only people in San Francisco that approach transportation issues with something like an ideology are the anti-car bike people. I call it BikeThink:
Calling this mish-mash of historical ignorance, self-righteousness, self-congratulation, and anger an ideology is of course overstating the case. Still, add all the nonsense up and you have a more or less coherent point of view.
Tomorrow: Why San Francisco?