Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Serious People" and bikes in the city


How to explain another dumb Chronicle editorial on bicycles this morning? Paul Krugman, puzzled that zombie economic ideas continued to dominate public discussion, had a plausible explanation of why "Serious People" are often not very smart:

When I was young and naive, I believed that important people took positions based on careful consideration of the options. Now I know better. Much of what Serious People believe rests on prejudices, not analysis. And these prejudices are subject to fads and fashions.

Prejudice, fad, and fashion might explain the city's goofy obsession with trying to force people out of cars and onto bicycles, since neither the facts nor the reality of life on city streets provide an adequate explanation.

But the Chronicle has a history of running with the lemmings on public policy debates in the city. Recall that a few months ago it joined the herd with an editorial urging CEQA "reform." 

And back in 2010, the Chronicle editorialized in support of City Hall's bike policies in another fact-free editorial, relying on the city and the Bicycle Coalition as sources:

Other cities, notably New York, have faced revolt and taken out bike lanes where neighbors, drivers and merchants objected. No such rebellion has happened here, perhaps because an expansion of bike programs was held up by legal delays and is only now rolling out. Bond Yee, the director of sustainable streets for the Municipal Transportation Agency, suggested another reason. The city's famously drawn-out policymaking, built around hearings and lengthy comment periods, has accommodated most objections. "We're getting very little negative pushback," Yee said.

The Chronicle editorialists don't notice neighborhood "rebellion" against the Bicycle Plan because the Chronicle doesn't report it when it happens.

I was the only one who wrote about the protests by small businesses on upper Market Street in 2006 when the city took away street parking to make bike lanes; the Examiner, not the Chronicle, wrote about a similar protest by small businesses on Ocean Avenue when street parking there was taken away for a bike lane; and Scott James, not Chronicle reporters, wrote about the same issue on 17th Street for Bay City and the NY Times.

Today's editorial continues to ignore neighborhood opposition to the bike lanes by distorting the recent events in Polk Gulch:

What the study also glosses over is the necessary change in public attitude. Merchants and residents along Polk street---designated for a badly needed north-south bike pathway---are protesting the loss of parking. As other streets are tapped for greater bike use, there will be similar objections.

That is, it isn't City Hall that needs an attitude adjustment; it's the residents in Polk Gulch and the business owners on Polk Street who need to get with the program and understand that they have to give up all that street parking for a "badly-needed" bike lane! Who really thinks a bike lane on Polk Street is "badly-needed"? Only the pro-bike MTA and the Bicycle Coalition, since cyclists are now a small minority of travelers on Polk Street:

For all its visibility on major streets, cycling remains only a blip on the transit radar, accounting for just 3.5 percent of the daily transportation picture. But this small share has built up quickly, leading the Municipal Transportation Agency to dream about bumping the figure to 8 to 10 percent of all trips by 2018.

The party line has changed from the preposterous 20% by 2020 to 10% by 2018? That's a loss in alliteration with no gain in credibility. The reality is that the share of bicycle trips has not "built up quickly." Even the city's own reports show that commuting by bicycle has only increased from 2.1% in 2000 to the 3.5% cited by the editorial (see the Transportation Fact Sheet, page 3, which actually says "3.3%"). 

That's a not-very-quick gain of 1.4% in ten years after years of anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition. 

No matter how much City Hall punishes everyone who drives in the city over the next five years, how likely is it that cycling will increase to eight or ten percent? This may be a "dream" that Leah Shahum and Ed Reiskin have, but it's not shared by the other 96.5% of those who use city streets---or by small businesses in the neighborhoods.  


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Sunday Sermon


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