Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Bike Debate and the "Valencia Epiphany"

wenk wrote:
Holt and the other SFBC types always refer to the the "Valencia epiphany," as something wonderful without ever noting what really occurred in the larger, surrounding area. While work on I-280 was being done for the post-1989 earthquake retrofit, cars had to exit the freeway at San Jose Ave. Once in the City, the cars would load onto Guerrero, Valencia and Mission St. After Valencia lost two traffic lanes, the number of cars on San Jose increased noticeably. A "coalition to save our streets" formed, massing at the intersection of Guerrero and Chavez for a rally. They got two lanes taken out of San Jose Ave. and bike lanes put in. 

Same number of cars still exited 280, but now more used Mission, and two years later damned if another coalition didn't form and rally at Mission/Chavez because of all the traffic---traffic that once was spread out between Valencia, Guerrero and Mission. Now that the Central Freeway ramp is open, most of the cars continue on I-280 past the San Jose exit, no longer using it. These "coalitions" made permanent alterations to the infrastructure in response to a temporary situation---the freeway retrofit. They blocked off Tiffany Ave. between 29th and Valencia to keep cars off the street and put in this "pocket park," three scrawny trees and an ugly chunk of concrete with cutouts for bicycles through it. This is called an "epiphany."

Nyson U wrote:
For the most part, Critical Mass is a fun, positive affair. I have zero sympathy for people who drive cars into SF (mostly from the suburbs) who have the nerve to feel so entitled that they can't leave 30 minutes later or earlier one Friday a month. They are arrogant fools and far more selfish than the bikers. However - I am bothered when the "mass" fails to let pedestrians cross and when Muni is held up. I know there are supposed to be no "leaders" but people in the crowd really need to stop the bikes from time to time (as I did last night) to let people walk across.

Rob is right about gasoline---that's not the prime issue, it's the clogging of the streets and the safey and asthetic problems with cars that make them a problem in cities. This is regardless of what they run on.

Rob Anderson wrote:
"Positive" for you, perhaps, and your narcissistic comrades. I don't see why it's "arrogant" to expect to drive in SF without encountering a bunch of assholes deliberately screwing up traffic. The reality is that, for the most part, driving in the city isn't that bad, except during commute hours when a lot of folks are trying to get to the bridges and/or the freeway. Curt Sanburn's article in the SF Weekly a few years ago still applies to driving in SF (Driving San Francisco Sane, June 29-July 5, 2005). He points out that, even though SF is one of the most densely populated areas in the country with the most cars, it's still not too hard to drive here---yet.

If the bike nuts have their way, however, traffic lanes and street parking will be removed wherever they want to put bike lanes, which will make driving in SF a lot harder to accommodate a small PC minority.

Michal Migurski wrote:
Rob, you write: "Only political ideology could motivate people to risk life and limb just to get to work. Most cyclists in SF ride bikes because it's the politically correct thing to do, not because it's a safe and sensible way to get around the city." There are two holes in your statement: one, there are plenty of motivators for cycling in the city. For me, it's speed, health, and fun. For any trip less than 3 miles (further for rush hour commutes) that doesn't follow the BART line, a bike is simply the fastest way to get around---faster than MUNI, faster than cars. The health and fun benefits seem self-explanatory to me. Second, you're completely overstating the risk factor. It's just flat-out not as bad as you think, especially thanks to the growing bicycle network and the political efforts of the SFBC. 

The more successful the bicycle lobby is, the less dangerous city biking gets. I wonder if this is why you're so hopelessly stuck on this fallacy---it's the only argument you've got that doesn't hinge on asserting that all cyclists are granola-crunching, self-denying, braindead birkenstockers. Also, this: "What's going to be your argument when, as is beginning to happen now, motor vehicle engines no longer run on fossil fuels and don't pollute the air?" I'll totally buy you a beer when these futuristic wonder-cars make up a majority of the vehicles in SF. I'm also curious to hear how their clean-burning engines will help them occupy less space, or help their drivers to be more observant. You sure spend a lot of time whooping up cars for someone who doesn't own one and depends on public transit. Don't you wish the MUNI could run a little faster without all the damn cars in the way?

Rob Anderson wrote:
"Speed, health, and fun"? The reality is that no one really knows how many cycling accidents happen in SF, since there's no system for gathering that information. If your bike accident doesn't involve another vehicle, require a police report, or involve an insurance company, the information isn't recorded anywhere. Nor do the city's emergency rooms keep such records. I know a number of people who've hurt themselves cycling in accidents that didn't involve other vehicles. Google "accidents and bicycles" and you come up with some not very reassuring information, especially about the danger of cycling without a helmet---for children in particular. Which is why I object to that part of the Bicycle Plan that calls for proselytizing schoolchildren as young as nine about the joys of cycling as a lifestyle, which is just irresponsible.

Nor is it clear that cycling is healthy for your lungs, since you're inhaling carbon monoxide and diesel fumes. And then there's the "speed" aspect of cycling, which isn't often discussed. Clearly many cyclists get off on the speed/thrill aspect of cycling, what you might call the "fun" factor. Cyclists seem to be risk-takers, given their often death-defying behavior on city streets. Mountain bikers are more candid than city cyclists about the speed/thrill aspect of their hobby.

In any event, what's the hurry? Recall that Camus once suggested that speed itself can be a form of violence (true, he died in a car accident, but he wasn't driving). I don't see myself as someone who is "whooping up cars." I just think it's delusional to think that cycling in a major American city is ever going to be a serious means of transportation for a significant number of people. And I certainly think it's a dumb to redesign city streets for a small minority of residents who are in the grip of a political ideology, which I call "BikeThink."

Michal Migurski wrote:
"The reality is that no one really knows how many cycling accidents happen in SF, since there's no system for gathering that information." Sounds like we can't assert one way or another how risky cycling is, so you ought to stop claiming that it's inherently a death wish. I myself have been in a bicycle accident on SF streets (a cabbie made an illegal left-hand turn, into me), so I am well aware that bad things happen. However, "data" is not the plural of "anecdote", so there you go. Regarding "BikeThink"---the streets can be whatever we design them to be, whatever will serve the people best. Personally I believe that the 20th century redesign of city streets to cater to CarThink was a grievous mistake. Watch this video of Market Street in 1905---the main street of downtown SF is freely shared by horses, trams, pedestrians, bicycles and cars! It's crowded, animated, and beautiful. We could succeed in knocking the automobile from its perch as the sole king of the streets, to enjoy that kind of close-packed urban experience again.

Dave Jowlles wrote:
Rob -Occasionally you have the opportunity to say something intelligent and then you totally screw it up. I actually agree with you for the most part about Critical Mass (especially when buses and pedestrian access is concerned), but you get totally crazy when you start ranting about biking being a "political statement" or "not safe". Michal is very correct in everything he said and I just want to echo it. Cycling is, without question, the fastest and most convenient way to get around most of this city. That is simply a fact. You can't "disagree" with it. You can say you're scared of it, or not in good enough shape, or too fashion conscious, or desire a different type of comfort, or just plain don't like biking! But don't get on people's backs for promoting it. By all means, if cyclists are rude and causing trouble, then bring it up! But please stop making up weird things to classify everyone who bikes as some kind of anarchistic leftist! Oh - another thing. Check this out. I think if we had a law like that it would make things a lot clearer for people, and be easier to enforce. Makes a lot of sense!

Rob Anderson wrote:
Michal: I don't recall using the "death wish" phrase, but if you don't think riding a bike in SF is more dangerous than, say, riding Muni, I can only wish you good luck on the streets! This is 2007, and autos---and buses and trucks---are here to stay, and I think that's a good thing.

Rob Anderson wrote:
"Cycling is, without question, the fastest and most convenient way to get around most of this city. That is simply a fact." No it isn't, Dave. That's an opinion. Tough to debate someone who doesn't know the difference. My opinion is that cycling in the city is more dangerous than taking Muni or driving a car. In any event, I don't care if you folks insist on risking life and limb to get to work or run your errands. What I object to is redesigning city streets on behalf of you and your PC pals. And I object to Critical Mass, a disruptive and juvenile demonstration by the same people.

Dave Jowlles wrote:
Rob - it's not an opinion - experiments have been done. I will bet you anything you want that if you biked from your place downtown it would be at least 2x faster than Muni. If you drove and had to look for parking you'd probably break even, if you paid for parking, the car would win. A taxi (assuming it actually shows up) would also be faster. Anyway, technically speaking, of course biking is more dangerous than those other methods. In the same way that walking outside your front door is more dangerous than staying on your couch. It's a tolerance thing, I guess.

Rob Anderson wrote:
Speed is obviously not the only consideration when choosing how "convenient" one's choice of transport is. Being shot out of a cannon would probably get you to your destination even faster than a bike. Safety and convenience are my primary considerations, which is why I take Muni and walk.


Though I may not live in San Francisco or even on the west coast for that matter, I think redesigning city streets to make cycling safer would be a good idea. Like it or not, motorists do have to share the road with cyclists.

Rob Anderson wrote:
"Sharing" the road is a good idea, but, according to the 2000 Census, only 2% of the city's residents commute via bicycle. On the other hand, according to the DMV, there are 460,150 motor vehicles registered in SF. And every year there are more than a million visitors to SF hotels who rent cars. Thousands more commute into SF to work every day. Since SF is a relatively small city geographically---with many two-lane streets---taking away traffic lanes to make bike lanes needs to be done very carefully.

Ari K wrote:
Rob sued the city to stop painting bike lanes and doing anything else for bikers. He won.The outcome was that those people, my wife included, who might have felt safe biking, decided against it. This group of potential bikers is divided into two categories: A. Those that bike or bus. B. Those that bike or drive. Rob’s impact for group A is null to the rest of the city. The same can't be said for what he did to group B. It's ironic that Rob, as a stoic bus rider, has such a protectionist attitude for cars. I've been commuting by bike in this city for 15 years. My impression is that cars slow the bus commute, not bikers. Rob's words fall flat when he says leave enough time for the bus because people in group B are not going to take an inefficient bus no matter how much encouragement Rob can give them. So they are back in their cars, slowing down the bus commute ever more for him and his fellow riders. At least you would think Rob’s win was a win for drivers—but it just helped to ensure gridlock for them. Possibly the only positive thing Rob’s win did was get more people to join the bike coalition.

Rob Anderson wrote:
Ari: I don't understand why you think you can make an informed comment about the Bicycle Plan litigation without reading anything about the subject. We sued the city because it did no environmental review of the Bicycle Plan before it began implementing it, a clear violation of state law (CEQA). The court ordered the city to stop implementing the Plan until it had completed an environmental review. After the city does that---and assuming the EIR it's now working on is adequate---it will continue to create bike lanes in the city where appropriate. 

The litigation was not about the virtues, real or imaginary, of cycling in the city or the benefits of making it safer for cyclists. It was about the city's gross violation of California's most important environmental legislation. Our concern was that redesigning city streets---without proper study beforehand---on behalf of a small minority was likely to make driving in the city unnecessarily more difficult and traffic worse for everyone. In a city that already has a lot of traffic, taking away traffic lanes without adequate study can make traffic worse for everyone, including Muni. Got it? If you enter "Bicycle Plan" in the search window for my blog, you will find a number of earlier posts on the subject that will help you get up to speed, so to speak, on the subject.

Alec wrote:
Even if you don't ride a bike, be glad that I do. I reduce the pollution you have to breathe; I'm one less hazard to your life; and if I drove my car, you'd face more traffic. How am I rewarded for my sacrifice? Many rides, I am nearly killed by a car. Sorry to "disrupt" your commute the last friday of every month, but mine is disrupted every day by near death collisions. Critical mass is effective in raising driver awareness. Participating has taught me safer ways to ride, particularly taking a full lane of traffic (as required by law.) If you like cars so much, why don't you move to L.A., where the city is designed around them? Cities where cars don't move smoothly---like San Francisco---are more compact, and more vibrant. The more the city is designed around cycling, walking, and public transit, the nicer it will be. Critical massers don't just ride once a month to cause disruption. It's a way of life. And it's lots of fun. You're invited to give it a try.

Rob Anderson wrote:
You're not riding a bike to benefit me or anyone else. Don't kid yourself. I'm "invited" to give daily "near death collisions" a try? No thanks, Alec. That's not my idea of "fun." Evidently you ride a bike---and risk your life doing it---for political reasons, which makes you a fanatic in my mind.

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"Uncommon Knowledge"

Eliza Hemenway tells us that her film---about how UC mismanaged and then hastily closed down the UC Extension on lower Haight St.---is now more widely available:

Uncommon Knowledge is now available to download online, DVD Quality.

If you want to see Uncommon Knowledge under the stars, it is screening this Thursday night at Alamo Square Movie Nights. We're opening for one my all time favourite films, Harold and Maude. The screening starts at 7, but pack a picnic and arrive early for some live music. The screening will be followed by a Q&A. Hope to see you there!

Eliza Hemenway
Producer & Director

Trinity Productions: http://www.hemenwaydocs.com
The Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival: