Saturday, September 02, 2006

"Mob rule" or "utopian fantasy"?

Angry Young Man writes:

"According to the 2000 Census, only 1.9% of the city's residents commute by bike." How fascinating. So what? According to the 2000 Census, only 2.7% of the City's population commutes by streetcar. Should we eliminate all streetcars as well because only a "tiny minority" utilizes them to commute? Your mob rule way of thinking about transit is bad policy, Rob. Because more people use cars, we should build our transit system around cars. Doesn't matter that gas is becoming prohibitively expensive, commute times are ridiculously long, and the automobile is a general menace that's helping to rapidly destroy the planet, it's what the mob wants, it's what the mob should get. 

Well, you can't expect people to get out of their cars unless you provide them with reasonable alternatives to driving and in SF, commuting by bike IS a reasonable alternative. That's not even the point. There's no logic behind your stance. You argue that cyclists are a tiny minority and therefore don't deserve bike lanes while at the same time pointing to stats that show that that a tiny minority of paved surfaces in the City are actually dedicated to biking. You argue that biking is unsafe (complete and utter nonsense, by the way) and then argue for abolishing measures that would increase the safety of biking. None of this makes any sense at all.

Rob Responds:
"...the automobile is a general menace that's helping to rapidly destroy the planet..." This is the ideological heart of what I called BikeThink, the mindset of the hardcore, political cycling community. They are as much anti-car as they are pro-bike. They aren't just choosing to use a bike in the city as a means of transportation. They are striking a blow for world peace, against global warming, and helping to save the planet. 

If only 1.9% of city residents commute by bike, it's folly to redesign city streets---eliminating traffic lanes and street parking---on their behalf when there are 452,813 motor vehicles registered in SF alone. And this number of course doesn't include either the 1000 Muni vehicles or the number of daily visitors to SF, a city which is a regional job center for the Bay Area and whose main industry is tourism. 

According to the SF County Transportation Agency, a pro-bicycle agency that funds transit projects in the city, there are around 4.5 million trips by all transportation means in SF every day, with auto trips, internal and external, accounting for 62.1% of all those trips in 2000. Transit accounted for 17.2% of all trips, and bicycles accounted for only 0.9% of all trips. The SFCTA projects that the automobile's share of all city trips is going to decline only slightly to 60.8% by 2025. And the share that bicycles have of all city trips will still be 0.9% in 2025! (Countywide Transportation Plan, July 2004)

The notion that taking account of these facts when the city deals with traffic and how it designs our streets is "mob rule" is preposterous.

"Taking down the Central Freeway after the 1989 earthquake was not the Freeway Revolt, which happened 40 years earlier." Um, just where did I say it was? Thanks for the history lesson, Rob. Please refrain from insulting my intelligence with this kind of diversionary nonsense.

Rob responds:
In one of your earlier comments, you wrote, "You really resented the freeway revolt, didn't you, Rob?" Since a lot of young folks who parachute into SF from New Jersey or Kansas seem to think that the city's history began when they arrived, I just thought it was worth noting. And, actually, the Freeway Revolt happened 30 years before the 1989 earthquake, not 40 years as I wrote. 

No, I did not/do not "resent" the freeway revolt, however defined. What I resent is all the happytalk bullshit coming out of the HVNA and city government about what they have wrought in that area, which I think has been disastrous for the Hayes Valley neighborhood. And the city is poised to compound the Octavia Blvd. disaster with the Market/Octavia Plan and the massive housing development UC plans for the old extension property on lower Haight St.

"What I object to is the mindless boosterism of city officials and the HVNA about the new Octavia Blvd., a botched bit of planning that has degraded the Hayes Valley neighborhood."

Yeah, because Hayes Valley was such a desirable place to live when the freeway ran right through it. Maybe you weren't here then, so you don't remember what it was like. I was, and trust me, Hayes Valley is much nicer today than it was back then. You have repeatedly claimed that you are a regular user of mass transit in San Francisco, and a pedestrian, yet your pro-car attitude which reflects the kind of modernist city planning mentality that fell out of favor shortly after Brasilla was constructed, seems to betray someone who would rather be driving his own car with no passengers, the windows rolled down, with the air conditioning running full blast. None of this makes any sense.

Rob responds:
If your anti-car crusade ends up making traffic worse for cars, it will also make traffic worse for Muni---the main means of transportation of thousands of city residents---not to mention making traffic worse for emergency vehicles. Yes, I remember well what Hayes Valley was like when the Central Freeway ramp was there. In retrospect, it's not at all clear to me that the problems---drug use/sales on the streets, prostitution, etc.----in that area had much to do with the freeway ramp at all. 

Like a lot of bike zealots, you seem to think that you represent the cutting edge in urban planning and transportation, but the above riff shows that to be delusional, since your rant is entirely fact-free. Good public policy has to be based on the facts, not utopian fantasy.

My sense that cycling is unsafe is "complete and utter nonsense"? A quick web search on cycling and injury shows otherwise, especially when cyclists are not wearing helmets (knit caps seem to be the headwear of choice for a lot of young male cyclists in SF). For a physically fit, hardy---even slightly daredevil---minority, cycling will remain an option in SF. But for the rest of us---the elderly, the very young, the handicapped, the sensible---it will never be an option. I do not oppose bike lanes in general. Nor do I oppose safety for cyclists. What I oppose is redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority based on a utopian political fantasy.

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