Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mr. Mean replies to Mr. Dumb

Matt Smith goes real deep intellectually in his hit on me in the current SF Weekly: “Mean people suck. And if we don’t watch them closely, there’s no telling the damage they do.”

Every journalist in the city must be grateful for this conceptual breakthrough in political commentary: “Mean people as an analytical concept when dealing with politics and issues! Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

On the other hand, dumb people suck, too, especially when they are in important positions in local journalism.

Smith is a dedicated bike zealot, and the Superior Court injunction we got last week against the city’s ambitious Bicycle Plan has apparently pushed Mr. Dumb over the edge, making him even dumber than usual.

#1 “An S.F. cyclist-hater just succeeded in halting citywide bike lane construction with a lawsuit that rests on this absurd claim: replacing car commuters with bike commuters may harm the environment.”

Of course I don’t hate cyclists. In fact, I don’t hate anybody. I do think cycling in the city is foolish because it’s dangerous, and I think cyclists are sometimes obnoxious personally as evidenced by their behavior on the streets. And, as a group, they are often politically obnoxious (SF Bicycle Coalition, Critical Mass). But most of all I dislike the idea that city government and the Bicycle Coalition are remaking our streets on behalf of perhaps 2% of the city’s population, even though the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an environmental review of a proposed project if there is even any possibility of it having a significant impact on the city’s environment, which this Plan surely does. The truth of the matter is this: The city has done no environmental review of its 400-page Bicycle Plan.

Taking away traffic lanes and street parking is in fact a significant impact on the city’s environment.

#2 “I’m tempted to name the callous anti-bike zealot whose petty lawsuit hit pay dirt earlier this month by halting all San Francisco bike lane construction. But I won’t, because San Francisco is the kind of town where nastiness and notoriety combine to bolster dreams of political grandeur.”

Too late, Matt! Steve Jones already named me in the Guardian this week. But this is absurd: Smith questions my motives and even claims to know my dreams, even though he didn’t bother to talk to me before he wrote his story. In fact, anyone who’s read my blog knows that I’m a serious writer on local issues. I have no dreams of grandeur, political or otherwise. I’m much too old for that. Smith has his ideas about cycling in S.F., and I have mine. Why does he think my motives are suspect and his are not?

#3 “In that spirit, this guy is a busy attention-seeker. He ran in 2004 to represent District 5 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Nobody seemed to want what he was selling, however: He placed 18th. Since then has maintained a blog inveighing against perceived enemies, with bicycle commuters residing near the top. Judging from the number of people commenting on his extended blog posts---mostly zero---he’s one of those lonely yet harmless people who pass their time muttering about personal antipathies without actually hurting anyone. The bike-hater changed that, however, with a recent lawsuit filed on the grounds that a citywide plan to connect various segments of bike lanes violated the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Yes, I ran in 2004---and I ran in 2000, too. In 2000, long before Care Not Cash, I tried to get the other candidates---including Matt Gonzalez---interested in doing something about the city’s homeless problem. True, few were interested. (On the other hand, if Gonzalez had been interested in the homeless issue in 2000, he would probably be our mayor now.) In fact, I have no personal---or even political---“enemies.” I have political “opponents,” that is, those I disagree with on various city issues, including Matt Smith, who I have criticized in several posts on my blog, which may have something to do with his over-the-top invective against me this week. But it’s not personal, since I’ve never met Smith and have no interest in doing so. Nor have I ever abused him personally in print like he’s doing to me now.

#4 “The anti-cyclist gadfly falsely told a reporter for the Chronicle that his lawsuit was merely aimed at making sure city officials followed all the proper bureaucratic processes, and that he had nothing against bicycling per se. Judging from his numerous Internet postings on the issue, he wasn’t being truthful to the reporter.”

So now I’m a liar, too? Again, it’s not cycling per se that I’m against; it’s the city’s ongoing attempt to remake our streets for this tiny minority without doing a proper environmental study, which the law requires. There are two issues that Smith, like some of my other critics, tend to confuse: There’s my opinion that cycling in the city is foolish because it’s a dangerous way to get around in an urban context (according to the DMV, there are 452,813 cars, trucks, and motorcycles registered in S.F., not including the 900 Muni buses). I do indeed think that cyclists in the city are much like a political/religious cult---a cult that is very aggressive politically, with an unexplained influence on our political leadership.

And then there’s the lawsuit, which is a legal/process issue. What I’m saying is this: The city should, as the law requires, do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan, so that we can have a thorough debate on the contents of the Plan and the city’s neighborhoods can know what the city wants to do to their streets. While we’re at it, let’s have a discussion about the exaggerated role the cycling community---particularly the SF Bicycle Coalition---is playing in our political life.

#5 “He says he believes bicycle commuting is not a legitimate transportation mode. It’s an irresponsible activity. It’s merely a ‘lifestyle statement.’ Encouraging cycling by painting bike lanes is ‘wrongheaded, PC nonsense that, for utopian political reasons has the city’s progressive elite in its thrall.’”

Well, not exactly. What I wrote is that commuting by bicycle will never be adopted by a large number of people, because most people have more sense than to ride a bike in the city. It’s sheer fantasy to think that a significant number of people will ever regularly ride bikes in S.F. I think it’s irresponsible of city government to encourage people to engage in this inherently dangerous activity. Once people get around to looking at the actual Bicycle Plan, they will see that it mandates, among other things, that cyclists proselytize city school children as young as nine years old on the benefits of cycling in the city as a “lifestyle” (Section 5 in the Framework Document).

#6 “I’m not sure he interviewed bike riders to determine that cyclists aren’t engaged in a serious transportation mode. Personally, I would have told him that it takes me 11 minutes to get from my office to the Mission, a trip that takes 45 minutes by bus.”

Yes, I read Smith’s story in the Weekly last year describing his hair-raising, death-defying commute by bicycle to the Weekly’s offices South of Market St. It wasn’t a narrative likely to encourage anyone else to do the same, since it merely confirmed what I’ve been saying about the dangers of cycling in S.F.

#7 “To accommodate the flawed logic behind state environmental review policies, San Francisco now conducts an individual environmental impact study whenever they do a bicycle-oriented traffic improvement such as painting a bike lane. Each one of these studies seeks to prove that the improvement doesn’t harm Mother Earth. But it so happens the city Department of Parking and Traffic didn’t do a complete environmental review for the overall city plan for city bike lanes, which would have cost around $250,000.”

Maybe somebody in city government told Smith that they do individual studies on bike projects, but it’s a lie. In fact what they do is declare these projects “categorically exempt,” literally rubber-stamping this on the paperwork of each mini-project. And, as Smith himself has conceded earlier in the article, the Bicycle Project includes much more than painting bike lanes on city streets. Taking away traffic lanes and street parking in a city that has 452,813 registered vehicles in particular should have some serious traffic studies done beforehand.

On the cost of an EIR: The city gave the S.F. Bicycle Coalition more than $300,000 to do “outreach” in the preparation of the Bicycle Plan. Surely they can find an equal sum to do an EIR on this Plan, which everyone---even me, old Mr. Mean---agrees is so important.

Given the importance of the Bicycle Plan to both its supporters and its detractors, why didn’t the city just do the damn EIR? My opinion: They arrogantly thought they could get away with not doing it. After all, this is Progressive Land. Who’s going to challenge the sacred bicycle in San Francisco? That’s where yours truly, Mr. Mean, comes in!

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At 2:14 PM, Blogger Patrick said...


Great job exposing the FUBU (for us, by us) way that activists in San Francisco use the system to bypass the normal public review process for their pet agendas.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Darren said...

Hmm. I find your opinion fascinating that cycling is dangerous. If anything, it is getting safer every year. Please review the facts. Here is a link to the city's collision report for 2004:

Consequences are the only thing that shape behavior. Improvements to the cycling environment in the city will naturally encourage more people to cycle. Improvements in the bicycle network have shown this. The price of gas is helping too. I know several people who have started cycling because gas is simply too expensive now.

To try to thwart the most efficient mode of transportation is simply foolish. Your position basically amounts to reinforcing the status quo of our automobile-centered society, which has lead us to war in Iraq and global warming. Please explain how either of these things are good. If you think that our car-based society cannot change, then you are simply lazy. Change does happen. Look at apartheid. Look at the feminist movement. Change for the better occurred through hard work over long periods of time by dedicated people. Even though the obstacles were formidable, people with enlighted views prevailed. The truth is a powerful ally, and riding a bike is simply the best way to solve our nation's transportation and pollution problems. Naysayers (AKA you) aside.

In the end, I feel quite sorry for you because you are on the wrong side of this issue. Make no mistake, you will lose. It is inevitable. You might make improvements take a little longer, but they will occur. Cyclists will not give up. The environment will continue to deteriorate and thus more people will naturally see the necessity of riding a bike, and your silly injunction will be swept into the history’s dustbin of stupid ideas.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's really all about balance, since cars, trucks, and buses are here to stay (452,813 registered in SF alone, according to the DMV), regardless of the energy source. Fuel-cell and hybrid engines are moving us closer to the day when our dependence on oil will begin to decline. I'm not thwarting anything, but the bike people are clearly taking up more room on our streets---and in our political life---than their numbers justify. Yes, junior, I know all about change, since I was here for the re-birth of the feminist movement in 1970, the Civil Rights Movement, the gay rights movement, etc. I notice you don't even mention the law, as if cyclists are somehow above the law, unlike the rest of us. Taking away traffic lanes and street parking without doing the legally required studies is irresponsible and arrogant. But then so is the bicycle movement.

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Jon Stevens said...

Shame on you Rob Anderson. You have already caused enough trouble by wasting taxpayer dollars with your frivolous lawsuit. Here you are wasting electricity with your poisonous vitriol. I would like to think that the older we get the wiser we become. Your blog is proof that it doesn't. The perfect ending for you will be underneath the wheel of a car you so blindly defend.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Thank you for your concern about my safety and life. I think you are missing something, however. As an avid cyclist my heart, lungs and muscles are in better condition than at least 90% of the motorists with whom I share the roads. While auto/bike accidents sadly do take lives, the number of fatalities pale in comparison to those who croak from heart disease and other ailments aided by a sedentary life. I’ll choose the statistically small risk for the freedom, enjoyment, and health I get from cycling daily.

A lot can be done to make our cities safer for cyclists (and motorists). I can't understand why you, or anyone, would stand in the way of this. Please step back from this in order for those of us who ride, for pleasure, health, and transportation, to continue moving toward the safest environment possible.

Relax. Or better yet, fight for a meaningful cause

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Like a lot of comments, this is out of focus. This is not about cars versus bikes in the city; it's, in the first place, about the city following the law. But cyclists as individuals and as a community routinely act as if they are above the law. The whole point of this litigation is to make the city do an EIR before they implement the massive Bicycle Plan, which will change most of the streets in S.F. People in the neighborhoods have a right to know what the city wants to do with their streets before they do it. Now, I think cycling in the city is foolhardy, but that's really a separate issue. I also think that if the court orders the city to do an EIR, the public will finally get a chance to see what's in the Plan and have a healthy debate about it. Is that a bad thing?

At 3:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Mr. Andrews! You were right on the mark in suing. Now the bicycle Bolsheviks are going to have to follow procedure! Powered transportation isn't going away, ever. Indeed, increased exhaust emissions will result from slower traffic caused by the expropriation of traffic lanes. The truth about consequences hurts, and that's why these reactionaries are excoriating you. They also detest being outmanoeuvred legally.

You're correct to point out that not everyone is going to bike to work (and everywhere else). The climate here isn't exactly the best for that, and the topography can be wicked. Bicycling is an activity that can contribute significantly to loss of life expectancy. It's no wonder, what with bicyclists running traffic signals and stop signs, let alone changing lanes unsafely, passing right-turning vehicles on the right and riding against the current of traffic. (I see all of this every day.) The bicycle Bolsheviks (aka the Bicycle Coalition) tacitly approve of this behaviour.

While I have no objection to having my road taxes used for public transit projects, I'll be damned if I condone the use of them for bike lanes. If the bicyclists want lanes for themselves, they can bloody well pony up the money themselves - yes, that's right, put number plates on bikes and charge them for the tax tab on the plate just as I'm charged for the tax tab on my car's number plate. Perhaps a lawsuit over this sort of thing is in order too.

Bikes on Muni trolleys? I think not! I am a motorman, and I can tell you that there is not enough space on the trolleys; they're just not as spacious as BART trains. The best one can hope for is to permit bikes in the Metro between Embarcadero and West Portal stations, and then only during off-peak hours.

I enjoy riding my bike whenever I can, and I see no need to whine about sharing the road with motorists - I have more problems with them when I drive my car. Mutual respect is all I expect, and that's more than most of this city's bicyclists will give.

You have done good work, keep it up. You have done the legal equivalent of placing a pipe into the front wheel-spokes of an odious organization. The Bicycle Coalition are the 'virulent' anti-automobile extremists who have convinced many of the politicians in city government to join them in their orgy of mental masturbation.


The Mad Motorman of Market Street West.

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for standing up, do you consider motorycling as danagerous, more danagerous or simply crazy to do in an urban area?

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Thank you, Mr. Motorman, for your support (the name is Anderson, by the way). Yes, I agree that the bike people are as much anti-car as they are pro-bike. But they are more like anarchists than bolsheviks historically. Recall Lenin's description of the anarchists of his day as engaging in "left-wing adventurism and infantile disorder." Is there a better description of Critical Mass than "infantile disorder"?

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Tanya said...

Ah but WHY is cycling dangerous? If its danger comes from the fact that a bike loses when it comes into contact with 2000 lbs of steel, is it not the 2000 lbs of steel that is really the danger on the streets and needs to be removed, and cyclists, and pedestrians (ya even the guy walking from his parking space) that are the unfortunate victims?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

According to Bert Hill, one of the SF Bicycle Coalition's own stalwarts, most cycling accidents have nothing to do with other vehicles (see "Mission: Not Impossible," Paul McHugh, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 17, 2005). In any event, in a city with 373,115 registered cars---not to mention 62,127 trucks and 17,571 motorcycles/motorbikes---are you advocating banning cars from city streets to protect cyclists? If so, at least you are following the SFBC/Bicycle Plan's anti-car logic to its preposterous conclusion.

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please enlighten me on how you come up with "biking in the city is inherently dangerous” Is it from personal experience? Did some one else say it and you agreed with them?
What defines a "dangerous activity"?
Is it number of people killed doing the activity?
There are approx 700 to 1,000 cycling related deaths in the US per year.
Compare this to other causes of death
Injury-Related Deaths
Motor Vehicle 40,982
Suicide 30,484
Homicide 25,488
Falls 12,646
Poisonings 7,082
Fires/Burns 4,803
Drowning 4,186
Other 19,984
Total 145,655

CDC 1992

I have been commuting to work for at least 5 years through the city, and I have never found it to be inherently dangerous. There are dangerous situations and motorist I encounter, but that doesn’t make the act of commuting inherently dangerous.
From my personal experience, bike lanes make car drivers more aware of cyclist therefore making cycling safer. I fully support the SFBC effort to improve bicycling in the city and have respect for the political power they have attained. It just goes to show how politics work.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Terry Yassour said...

The place where your logic fails is that you think the city broke the law. It did not. It placed the "Categorical" exemption on bike lanes, because it doesn't take a genius to recognize that bike lanes are NOT harmful to the environment.

The board did a service to the city by choosing not to waste $250,000 on a needless study, and you are suggesting that not only should they waste that money, but they should waste their time dealing with this asinine attention-grabbing lawsuit. I hope they counter-sue YOU to cover the legal costs, plus the $250,000.

Bike lanes are good for everyone.

Again, and again, and again (see Valencia/Polk/Baker etc...) bike lanes have increased economic activity, increased people biking, made streets safer and more attractive, sheesh! You want to talk about minorities? How about the 0.001% of people who mindlessly oppose bike lanes?

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're wrong on the legal argument. The city claimed a "general rule exemption" under CEQA, not a categorical exemption. The general rule exemption means that the city has to know to a "certainty" going in that the Bicycle Plan can't possibly have a significant impact on the city's environment. And the 400+ page Plan is not just about bike lanes; it's also about, to name a few of the more important items, taking away traffic lanes and street parking on behalf of cyclists. Thus there's a direct physical impact to the city's physical environment. Hence, an EIR is required under CEQA. The bike lane on Valencia is different than, for example, the bike lane they just put in on Market between Van Ness and Octavia. There was no parking removed on Valencia to make the bike lane, and there are plenty of lanes left for traffic. The Market St. project required that the city take away a traffic lane and all the street parking in that area, in spite of vigorous protests from local merchants. This is the sort of thing we need to avoid in other neighborhoods. An important part of the EIR process is informing the public about projects before they are implemented. The people in the city's neighborhoods have a right to know what the city and the bike zealots are trying to do to the streets in their neighborhoods.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Darren said...

You said:

"I notice you don't even mention the law, as if cyclists are somehow above the law, unlike the rest of us. Taking away traffic lanes and street parking without doing the legally required studies is irresponsible and arrogant. But then so is the bicycle movement."

Martin Luther King Jr. said:

"Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular— but one must take it because it is right. One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws— an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law."

It is immoral to allow these polluting machines (cars) to own the earth. Civil disobedience (e.g. Critical Mass etc) is the best way bring about change and raise consciousness for this issue. The law is so flawed that it gives preference to those who drive polluting machines. Does that sound moral? I feel it is my duty as a person to not drive a car. The only other realistic option is to ride a bike. I think anyone who is enlightened and (keyword) unselfish would agree. The rule of law is fine, but when the law is wrong, the result is tyranny. In this case, tyranny results in pollution, disease and war. Tell me, when you consider these facts, how can you seriously defend your position? It is just absurd.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

So city cyclists are an oppressed minority? Who's their Martin Luther King? Andy Thornley? The thing about civil disobedience is that it's always very situation-specific---to get public accommodations for black people in the South in 1964, for example, or to refuse to report for military service when there was a draft in the 1960s, etc. There is no specific political goal or point for the monthly Critical Mass orgy of self-indulgence by the cycling community. It's not an act of rebellion, either, since the progressive consensus in SF is that it's cool to deliberately screw up rush hour traffic on Friday to make it difficult for working people to get home. Your self-righteousness is untethered to any sense of political/moral proportion here.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Darren said...

So you don't think that global warming and the war in Iraq are significant political/moral issues? If that's the case, then what do you find significant? (I'm almost scared to ask.)

I'm sorry you can't see the beauty of Critical Mass. It's not an orgy of self-indulgence, it's about raising awareness, and it's obviously successful. If those people are inconvienienced, then they can take BART!! Sorry you can't recognize it as civil disobedience, but then it is becoming very apparent that you aren't very perceptive. You can't even see the moral implications of war in Iraq, global warming, and how they are intrinsically connected to people driving cars. Do you read the paper? Connect the dots.

Andy Thornley? No, he's not Martin Luther King, but he certainly bears more resemblance to him than you.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, of course, those are significant issues, but the relationship between those issues and cycling in SF is tenuous at best. It confirms my opinion that cycling in SF is more of a political/lifestyle statement than a serious transportation "mode." Your claim for its international significance confirms that: You aren't just risking life and limb by riding a bike in the city; you are doing it for world peace and to fight global warming! I think it was Chesterton who said of George Bernard Shaw that he saw the whole world as a moral gymnasium in which he could exercise his conscience.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Darren said...

I find your moral gymnasium response fascinating considering your view essentially amounts to "Americans are too lazy to change and get out of their cars." Did you ever stop to think that maybe it is just you who is lazy?

Moreover, consider that riding a bike is a personal choice that makes a direct impact. Your ideas about government action, hydrogen fuel/electric cars solving the problem are losers, not to mention passive and (again) lazy. If you wait for the government to solve problems, you get global warming and war. I'll take my bike any day. What have you done to make a difference?

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, my view is that cars are a great invention that provide Americans with extraordinary mobility in our geographically immense country. I don't see much need for Americans to change and give up driving, except that obviously the oil trip is at least beginning to come to an end, though I'm assuming that the transition to alternative energy will be long enough that there won't be major social disruption as a result. The idea that somehow bicycles are going to play a major role in the US once that transition is over seems fanciful to me. In the meantime, I'm not waiting for anyone to do anything; I either walk or ride the bus to get where I'm going here in SF.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your position is totally untenable, Mr. Anderson. Your disdain for cyclists clearly clouds your ability to think about the issue rationally.

I'm, as you might guess, a cyclist. I don't belong to the SFBC, and I've never ridden in a Critical Mass. I started riding my bike to work about a year ago, and it's changed my life significantly. I get to and from the office faster than public transportation allows, and I get exercise and fresh air on a regular basis. Bicycling not only saves me time and money, but it has the added benefit of reducing my environmental footprint and keeps me healthy personally.

You state, unwaiveringly, that bicycling in the city is unsafe and "foolhardy," but you cite no evidence to support your statements. You ignore the most salient observation of a previous commenter who compares motor vehicle fatality rates with those of bicyclists, and the city's 2004 collision report that states:

"injury totals have been declining recently, this at the same time that the number of bicycle trips appear to be increasing."

Funny, that. It seems obvious to me (and every single person that I've ever ever discussed the issue with) that more people bicycling can only be a good thing. A greater number of bikes on the road raises the awareness of drivers—this fact cannot be disputed. Raised awareness and experience sharing the road with cyclists inevitably makes the roads safer for everyone.

I'll admit that there's a lot more to biking for me than just saving time and money. But those reasons alone should be good enough for many people to reduce the amount of driving they do, assuming that the city can be made more friendly and safer for cyclists. And that's the whole point of installing more bike lanes. It's not some cynical plot by the bike lobby to discourage driving, or to provide the liberal elite with speedy passage through the city at the expense of everyone else. It's simply to make the roads safer for those of us who choose to ride a bike in the city, be it for transportation, leisure, sport, or exercise.

Our motivations for riding (which you assume to be purely cultural or political in nature, but for many riders are, in fact, quite practical) are irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that people are going to ride their bikes whether you like it or not, and the city has a responsibility to make it safe for its citizens to do so—just as much as it does to make sure that pedestrians have sidewalks to walk on, and streets safe enough to drive on.

You won't win this war, Mr. Anderson; logic and morality will rule the day, and it's a shame that the city will have spent the time and money that it did to appease your cynical crusade against cycling.


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