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! 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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