Saturday, May 07, 2005

Who hates Muni the most? Those who don't ride it

Matt Smith is a typical Muni critic in that he doesn't really ride it much. Smith disqualifies himself early in his uninformed anti-Muni tirade in the current SF Weekly ("Gridlock," SF Weekly, May 4-10) when he tells readers the extent of his experience riding the bus to work: "I can vouch for Muni's dysfunction. Last month I fell ill and used Muni, rather than my bicycle, to travel to work and other appointments." 

It's disillusioning to learn that the guy who wrote the nice hit on Critical Mass in the SF Weekly two years ago is dumb enough to ride a bike in the city. Granted, riding a bike downtown from the neighborhoods might get you there faster than Muni, depending on where you're coming from---and assuming you survive the trip in the first place. Being shot out of a cannon would probably get you there even faster. 

Smith claims that "riding Muni [is] a chump's errand" and that "hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans...have a hard time getting around the city..." The opposite is the case: Riding Muni is eminently sane and practical, while riding a bike in the city is for suicidal chumps.

The dumbest paragraph in the article singles out the 38 Geary line for special attention:

The 38 Geary---our main bus route transporting people from the Richmond District suburbs to downtown---spends much of its time lurching from stop to stop on every block through the Tenderloin District. The ride is so slow and uncomfortable that many people drive instead, clogging the streets and making the buses slower still.

I often ride the 38 Geary, and my experience is the opposite of Smith's: True, an outbound 38 takes several minutes to make its way through the Tenderloin, but by the time it passes Van Ness it moves rather briskly westward to the sea. The journey on the inbound 38 is the same in reverse. And the 38L---the express version that stops only at main cross-streets---moves much faster than the regular 38; savvy 38 riders often wait for the 38L. 

The East-West Geary corridor is actually well served by the 38 Geary. Smith compounds his mistaken characterization of the 38 by claiming that "the 38 Geary remains an underused extended sentence in transit jail." The 38 Geary "underused"? Ha! The 38 is a double bus that runs frequently and is almost always crowded. [Later: more than 50,000 "boardings" a day according to the MTA] Anyone who rides the 38 regularly knows that.

Smith's piece is really a love letter to Bill Lieberman, the new planning director for MTA, who, alas, is another bicycle zealot:

"I saw what bicycles can accomplish[in Amsterdam] in terms of moving people in an urban area, and what it requires to facilitate them," he said, as smiles, approving murmurs, and nods of agreement spread through the audience.

Does Amsterdam have 430,923 autos and trucks registered within its city limits? San Francisco does. Add motorcycles/motorbikes and the total is 447,585. And this doesn't include buses---tour buses, Muni buses, school buses. San Francisco is not Amsterdam or Beijing.

Like Smith, Lieberman wants to move us around faster: "In San Francisco it takes a long time to get around by transit. It's just plain slow. It takes forever to get anywhere." This is simply bullshit.

What's the Smith/Lieberman solution to our non-existent problem? Something called "bus rapid transit," which is unexplained in the article but sounds like more express-type buses like the 38L. Big deal.

Riding bikes will never be a significant "mode" of transportation in San Francisco, except for the young, the foolish, and those with a death wish. It's alarming that the bike nitwits continue to have so much power in San Francisco.

Muni, on the other hand, is reasonably efficient way to get around the city. I've never owned a car and rely on Muni to get where I want to go, with an occasional cab thrown in the mix for late-night trips home.

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