Saturday, May 21, 2005

Andy Thornley: "We need to take space from cars"

Thornley doesn't wear a helmet

What is it about bicycles that makes San Francisco progressives so irrational? Why do they cling to the delusional notion that riding a bike in this city---any city in the country, actually---is a safe, sensible way to travel for a significant number of people? When you talk to city progressives, you learn that, while they themselves don't ride bikes to work, the assumption is that it would be a Good Thing if a lot of other people did.

The inescapable conclusion is that bikes are really just symbols of SF progressivism, much like the cross is a symbol of Christianity. Like many professed Christians who don't practice their religion very rigorously, most city progressives, while brandishing the bike in their political discourse, don't really ride bikes much, if at all. In progressive iconography, the bicycle is like a crucifix on wheels, the symbol for something like a political cargo cult in San Francisco.

Look at the numbers: According to the DMV, as of the end of 1999, there were 434,642 cars, trucks, and motorcycles registered in the city limits of San Francisco. As of the end of 2004, there were 464,903 cars, trucks, and motorcycles registered in the city, a gain of 30,261 in five years, an annual gain on average of 6,052! 

As the city inexorably gentrifies (which many city progressives are facilitating by supporting radically increased housing density in neighborhoods along "transit corridors") these numbers are going to continue to go up, because---this bulletin just in---wealthy people own cars. And, importantly, they will have garages in which to park them. Are the well-off people who buy condos in Chris Daly's Rincon Towers highrise, for example, going to ride bikes to Zuni's to dine or to Union Square to shop? To ask the question is to answer it.

Progressives like CEQA when it helps them stop projects they don't like, but it makes them cross when it slows the adoption of their pet project, the radical Bicycle Plan. The SF Bay Guardian has a petulant piece in its current issue that exhibits this irritation while illustrating a number of progressive delusions about bikes in the city (The Slow Lane: In Bike-Friendly S.F., Why Do Cars Still Come First, Steven T. Jones, May 18):

The status of the city's Bike Plan update is a good example of the problem. Three years in development and the product of dozens of public hearings, the plan was supposed to get final approval last year. But now the Department of Parking and Transportation has decided to chop it in half, sending the broad policy portions on for approval and breaking the bike network portion up into many individual projects---and the ones with the most impact on cars will likely languish as they wait for detailed review.

DPT chopped the Bicycle Plan in half, because they understand that they clearly have to do an EIR on the second half, the Network Document, which has detailed plans for specific streets. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have proceeded so far under the fiction that the so-called policy portion of the plan---the Framework Document---doesn't call for any specific changes to particular roads or buildings in the city, so it doesn't require a CEQA review. 

By proceeding this way, the city has raised a couple of important legal issues: whether it's permissible to bifurcate a project like this under CEQA, and whether they can get away with amending the General Plan without treating the first part of the Bicycle Plan like it was a project, thus necessarily triggering a CEQA review.

The question is, If the so-called policy portion of the Bicycle Plan is so innocuous and not a project under CEQA, why pass it at all without the Network document? The latter contains all the specific changes the bike cultists have in mind for our streets and our buildings. Even the deluded bike people can't pretend that the Network plan doesn't contain plans for specific changes to the streets of the city, because that's all the document does contain. It's going to require a full CEQA review, which will properly be a long, painstaking, expensive process. Sooner or later the whole delusional, misguided Bicycle Plan is going to be reviewed.

What continues to shock me is how oblivious the bike cultists are to the real dangers of cycling in the city:

Sharrows are those logos with a picture of a bicycle and a double set of arrows that serve to let car drivers know bikes are allowed to be out in the lanes and encourage bicyclists to take the lanes and avoid the zone next to parked cars where open driver-side doors pose a hazard...[T]he city plans to paint about 2,500 sharrows around the city next year, assuming the plan is approved on schedule.

Lane-sharing, the ultimate folly of the bike cultists: Encourage people on bikes to assert their "right" to occupy the same lanes as cars, trucks, and buses!

The bike cultists have accused those of us who oppose making the Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan without CEQA review of being "anti-bike." But the reality is that they are anti-car: They want to make it as difficult as possible for people to drive cars in the city. Andy Thornley of the Bicycle Coalition lets the cat out of the bag in the Guardian story: "We've done all the easy things so far. Now we need to take space from cars."

What's the hurry? Why not subject both parts of the Bicycle Plan---and it really is one Plan---to a complete review? What are the cultists afraid of? I suspect they're afraid that, given the radical nature of the changes advocated in the Plan, the more people learn about it the less they'll support it. 

A genuine review of the Bicycle Plan will reveal the full extent of the radical changes proposed by a small minority for the streets and buildings of San Francisco, thus for the first time producing significant political opposition for the bike cultists in the city.

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