Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bicycle Coalition's ballot bluff

It doesn't surprise anyone who's actually familiar with the Bicycle Plan---a huge, ambitious project that will affect hundreds of city streets---but the environmental impact report ordered by Judge Busch is going to take a lot longer than the city's bike people expected. They are very cross about that, as we learn in this week's Bay Guardian (Backpedaling):

Bicycle advocates and some members of the Board of Supervisors are calling the bureaucratic delays unacceptable, and they're actively exploring ways to speed things up. Frustrations are running so high that some activists are now talking about taking the plan directly to voters, noting that initiatives are generally exempt from the strictures of the California Environmental Quality Act, under which the bike plan was successfully challenged last year by antibike activist and blogger Rob Anderson.

The talk about putting the Bicycle Plan on the ballot is a bluff, but exactly who do they think they are bluffing? Even Leah Shahum, Steve Jones, and Andy Thornley must have an inkling that the bike people aren't very popular, even here in Progressive Land, except in a few prog enclaves in the Mission and the Haight-Ashbury. It wouldn't be the "strictures" of CEQA that they would have to worry about; many city voters would love the opportunity to rebuke the arrogant folks responsible for Critical Mass and other annoyances on our streets, like the ban on the right turn onto the freeway at the Market and Octavia intersection. And if the people in the city's neighborhoods ever find out what's actually in the Bicycle Plan---like taking away neighborhood street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes---it's defeat would be assured. This "anti-bike activist" says, "Go ahead, make my day. Put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot!"

Jones writes that Ross Mirkarimi wants to blame Mayor Newsom for the latest delays, but that won't wash. If Mayor Newsom was responsible for the delay, it would simplify their political problem, but the fact is the mayor has given the bike people everything they've asked for, except for his veto of the Healthy Saturdays ordinance a few years ago. And he vetoed that only because, unlike the politically obtuse bike people, he understood that there is serious opposition in the avenues to closing the park to autos on Saturdays. In any event, Newsom quickly arranged a "compromise" measure that closed a different part of the park to autos on Saturdays, and even that still rankles with people in the avenues.

It appears that those who are actually responsible for doing the EIR on the Bicycle Plan understand that it's a big undertaking, since they are dealing with a 527-page Plan that will affect hundreds of streets all over the city:

But project staffers say their work is both complicated and unprecedented. "No one has ever done an environmental review quite like this," Oliver Gajda, bicycle program manager for the MTA, told the Guardian. "It's a fairly complex document that no city has done." That's because San Francisco's bicycle plan is the first to be successfully challenged under CEQA. Gajda said the latest delays stem from expansion of the work scope and in coordinating with various neighborhood plans in the city and with other agencies like the port and redevelopment districts. "We're trying to capture everything we can foresee in the entire city," Gajda said. "We are trying to make this the most solid environmental document possible."

Gajda understands that if, like most EIRs, the EIR on the Bicycle Plan is nothing but a cut-and-paste, pro forma exercise, those pesky "anti-bike activists" will challenge it in court, Judge Busch will send them back to the drawing board, and that will further delay the implementation of their bogus "improvements" to our city streets.

Gajda now admits what we've been saying for almost three years now: The Bicycle Plan is a huge project for which the city should have done an EIR in the first place. Instead, with the SF Bicycle Coalition and the Bay Guardian cheering them on, both the Planning Commisssion and the Board of Supervisors irresponsibly voted unanimously to implement the Plan---and make it part of the city's General Plan---with no environmental review at all.

To view an online version of the Bicycle Plan: Go here, click on "Bike Updates," then scroll down and click on "Bike Plan Environmental Review," and scroll down to "Draft San Francisco Bicycle Plan." I've been describing the Bicycle Plan as a 460-page document, but the online version is 527 pages.

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A sore subject: Bicycle seats

From the December, 2007 "University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter: The newsletter of nutrition, fitness, and self-care."

Many people don't cycle because they find bike seats uncomfortable. A cyclist's genitals and perineum (between the anus and genitals) can indeed take a beating. Even Sunday cyclists may notice numbness or pain, especially when riding over rough terrain. In men, temporary impotence can result, as well as prostate symptoms, such as frequent and/or painful urnination. Women may have temporary urinary tract symptoms.

To avoid or minimize these problems:

* Adjust the saddle angle to a more horizontal position.

* Set the saddle height so that you don't wobble from side to side as you pedal. If you are unsure, get the seat height angle adjusted at a bike store.

* Raise the handlebars if they are too low. Try to sit upright, because this puts less pressure on your bottom than leaning forward.

* Try different seats. A wider one may help. Some new seats have strategically placed cutouts or gel sections. There are also gel cushions that go over the seat.

* Try a mountain bike or hybrid bike that has shock absorbers.

* Consider a recumbent bike. The semi-reclining position puts less pressure on the genital area, and the seat is more like a chair---no soreness, no numbness.

An earlier NY Times story on the same subject.

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Ahimsa Sumchai: "Please do not send anymore vitriolic messages"

The city's left evidently has trouble with the political dialogue thing. In response to my Dec. 11 message below, I got this from Ahimsa Sumchai: "Please do not send anymore vitriolic messages." Where's the "vitriol" in that message? Seems like I raise some valid questions about homelessness in San Francisco, and of course it's those questions neither Sumchai nor any progressive leader in the city is prepared to answer: Who exactly are the homeless people in SF? Are most of them, as seems to be the case, people with psychological problems and/or crippling substance abuse issues? Or, as the city's progressives insist, are they simply poor people who can't afford housing in San Francisco?

(See also H. Brown's response to another attempt at dialogue with the city's left.)

Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2007
Subject: Homeless Numbers

Ms. Sumchai:

You're right about my putting "lies" in quotes. That was careless of me, since that usage wasn't yours but that of another PROSF correspondent. On the other hand, you are surely implying that the city is trying to deceive the public about its relative success in dealing with homelessness with the "statistical games" usage. Instead, the information the city gave me was what the people at Public Health regard as an accurate reflection of what they have achieved in the past four years in dealing with the ongoing crisis of homelessness. And, by the way, those numbers square with the numbers released from the very beginning of the Newsom administration in 2004. I know of no reason to think that these are untrue or represent an attempt by city officials to deceive the public. If you have such information, I'd like to see it.

Of course the homeless folks that the city is encountering, for example, in Golden Gate Park are not simply "comprised of city residents displaced by the skyrocketing housing market and our failure to provide mental health, substance abuse and workers compensation benefits for those who are disabled." The people causing the most concern to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood can in fact be described as "derelicts," since they are responsible for the many hypodermic needles that litter the park and the surrounding neighborhood. These are also the folks responsible for littering the park with the 240 tons of debris the city has removed from Golden Gate Park as it eliminated large camp sites where hundreds of homeless people were living.

In a past incarnation, you recognized that the overwhelming majority of the homeless have drug and alcohol problems, as do most of the homeless who die on our streets every year. These are the kind of people San Francisco seems to be attracting from other parts of the country, swelling the ranks of the homeless on our streets. 

Yes, I know that most of the homelss in SF are supposedly "city residents," but I've never seen any statistics to back that claim up. Or any analysis of what being a "city resident" means in that context: How long does one have to live here to be deemed a "resident"? It's nothing but an analysis blinkered by ideology that persists in seeing the city's homeless as simply poor people who can't afford housing, but it's an intellectual/political shortcoming you share with San Francisco's other progressives. The homeless I'm referring to as "derelicts" are the same population you and your fellow doctors referred to way back in 2003---people crippled by drug and alcohol addictions, often complicated by mental illness. Hence, I'm convinced that most of our homeless problem has little to do with housing. Instead, we need to come to grips with the real nature of this problem, which means understanding exactly who these people are and where they come from.

Rob Anderson

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I have never, in my correspondance on this matter used the term "lies". You are misquoting and misrepresenting me in forwarding an email with the word "lies" in parentheses suggesting I have used this term. I used the term "statistical games" because this is what this represents. As a former Stanford postdoctoral research fellow I hold a Ph.D equivalent and have pointed out to you the discrepancies obvious to anyone with a third grade understanding of math. Over two thirds of the cities homeless population is comprised of city residents displaced by the skyrocketing housing market and our failure to provide mental health, substance abuse and workers compensation benefits for those who are disabled.

St. Francis of Assisi and the Franiscan Friars, for whom San Francisco is named, offered refuge to the poor, homeless, sick and disabled. San Francisco has a City of Refuge Ordinance on record that was enacted to protect immigrants seeking safety and shelter. It certainly can be interpreted to include the internally displaced refugees of San Francisco's war on the homeless, the impoverished, the working class and people of color.

The Bayview Hunters Point Distict of San Francisco is an important catchment area for homelessness as above market rate housing is being sited in a community with an area median income of less than $20,000 annually. Homeless families, women and seniors clearly are not the people you are referring to as "derelicts."

I was temporarily homeless in San Francisco while disabled from a work related injury and while a probate action took place on an $850,000 home I inherited in San Francisco's affluent Miraloma Park District. I fully understand how circumstances can create homeless in San Francisco...even for someone with a $150,000 a year income as a practicing physician.

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