Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Public comment on the Bicycle Plan

Marc J. Zilversmit
Attorney At Law
523 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Admitted To Practice In California, Washington, DC
Telephone: (415) 431-3472
Facsimile: (415) 552-2703
Certified Criminal Law Specialist
The State Bar Of California
Board Of Legal Specialization

April l8, 2005


Re: File No. 050481, San Francisco Bicycle Plan Appeal

Dear Supervisors:

I write to support the appeal of the decision exempting the Bicycle Plan from Environmental Review. The Bicycle Plan has many potential adverse environmental impacts related to increased traffic congestion where the Plan calls for traffic lanes for cars to be closed and replaced with lesser used bicycle lanes. The increased congestion causes more pollution as cars idle in traffic. It also causes lost fuel efficiency.

Further, it simply keeps people in their cars and away from their jobs, family, chores, etc. These environmental effects should be reviewed. Further, I have recently discovered that neither the Department of Parking and Traffic ("DPT") nor the Bicycle Plan give notice to drivers who use the streets every day about lane closures or lane conversions from traffic lanes to bike lanes. The DPT contends the signs would have to be too big to give notice; yet the streets are full of banners every day, and even more banners and signs for drivers pop up along streets during election season. Further, DPT has a bicycle issues "liaison" but no driver issues "liaison."

While I agree that bikers deserve a voice, it is indisputable that drivers far outnumber bikers, and are by far the primary users of streets. Drivers deserve a voice, too. The lane closures do not provide alternative means of transportation for the drivers, many of whom need to shuttle their children to school or activities, and many of whom are not physically able to ride bicycles. Yet, the primary users of the streets have been completely shut out of this process. This completely deprives the interested drivers of the most basic and fundamental elements of due process of law.

Thus, I woke up last week to find that DPT had re-striped Guerrero/San Jose St. south of Cesar Chavez from 3 lanes to 2 lanes and added a bike lane. It is a major thoroughfare that I use every day, and many people use it to go through Noe Valley and the Mission or to get in and out of the City, as it goes right off and onto 280. I did some investigating and found out there had been hearings on the issue. Apparently the Board of Supervisors voted on the issue in November, 2004; yet, because DPT gives no notice to drivers, neither I nor any of the thousands of drivers who drive the street every hour, were ever given notice (I drive the street every day and live only 5 blocks away).

Therefore, as it stands, a small group of neighbors and bikers get together and push through street closures, but the majority of people who use the streets---the drivers---never know until it is too late. The Bicycle Plan being considered contains many such lane closure proposals which would adversely effect the environment and adversely effect drivers, without giving notice to drivers.

I am a fairly politically active person, and very well-informed, yet I never heard of these proposed changes until I woke up to find that my everyday driving route has been altered without notice. Most of my neighbors had the same experience. The staff at my office that uses the street every day never heard of the proposal to close a lane. Now they are stuck in traffic every day too.

The lane closures (also perplexingly called "traffic calming") increase congestion, decrease fuel efficiency, increase pollution, and make it much harder for people to get to work, to school, to the store and through the City for business and to spend money. Additionally, frustrated drivers are spilling into nearby quiet streets. Also, increased congestion is bad for bikers and pedestrians to the extent that they suck in the exhaust from all the cars stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.

Finally, these changes, once made, are never reviewed. DPT has told me that they will not revisit the changes; it’s up to the Supervisors to undo them. Again, it takes action by drivers---the majority of users---who are never given notice in the first place.

I have a modest proposal which I hope the Board can endorse, or at least can place on the November Ballot (then the People can decide). This is potentially a "Driver’s Bill of Rights."

1) Amend the traffic code Sec. 43(a), clarifying that the "posted notice" must be placed on the route of any proposed lane closure, and must be of a sufficient size that they are visible and readable by drivers passing by at normal speeds.

2) A new traffic code section which creates a "sunset" provision for any lane closure of perhaps six months. This will give drivers and the DPT time to evaluate the effect on motorists who use the street for any lane closures. Another hearing would have to be held (with notice to drivers) of a proposal to make the lane closure permanent. This would ensure that any motorists who use the street would be able to describe from personal experience the effects of any lane closure upon them. It would give the Board "hard evidence" of the effects, rather than simply relying upon guesses and estimates by DPT before the changes are implemented.

3) Because the San Jose/Guerrero St. changes (and other lane closures this year) were made without notice to the drivers, repeal them. (I can tell you from my experience that the street is backed up, bumper to bumper, the whole length of the contracted street each morning and evening; I have seen a number of frustrated drivers peel off onto sidestreets at unsafe speeds darting around quiet neighborhood streets due to the frustration of the new traffic; I have only seen two bikers on the street in the past two weeks).

4) Place all other lane closures on hold until the changes above are placed into effect.

I hope that the Board will support me and my neighbors and fellow drivers throughout the City on this proposal. I am open to tweaking it, as well. If the Board cannot support me outright, the Board can put it on the ballot for the voters to decide.

Finally, I do not protest this Bike Plan in order to become a biking gadfly. I have no interest in organizing and fighting over an issue like this. I work all day in the criminal justice system, and, like most car drivers, I spend my spare time with my family and working on my kids’ public school and preschool. I work for myself, so I do not get a salary and any time I spend in the car in bumper to bumper traffic, is money that I do not bring home for my family. If I have any extra time for "political" causes, I work on big issues like trying to get a better funding for schools, or criminal justice reform, or universal preschool, or universal healthcare or homelessness.

But I woke up one day, and found that DPT blocked off a large chunk of the street I use every day to get to these places, without notice to me or any of the thousands of drivers who use the street every day. (Many of these drivers have emailed me their support for these proposals.)

And now I find I cannot get to the office very easily, and I cannot get my kids to school as easily, and I cannot get to the grocery store or doctors appointments, because a well-organized minority have pushed through some misguided lane closure without giving notice to the thousands of people who drive the streets everyday to ask the drivers whether this is a good idea.

While the drivers may not be as well organized as the Bicycle Coalition, and while the drivers we may be too busy with jobs and kids to come to hearings, the drivers do vote and we have the same rights to notice and to be heard. The procedures for lane closures set forth in Traffic Code § 43(a), or in the DPT’s interpretation of that section, simply fail to accord due process rights to the majority of the users of the streets. So while I hate fighting over such a small issue, this fight was brought to me and to the other drivers who use the streets without any notice. So I urge you to delay action on the Bicycle Plan, to overturn the ruling exempting this far reaching plan from environmental review, and to implement the changes outlined above so that the drivers who are affected by the plan are given notice of lane closures that may severely inconvenience them and damage the environment.


Marc Zilversmit
Laidley Street,
San Francisco, CA 94131

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home