Friday, February 22, 2008

Bike nuts on the freeway

Biking on the freeway: it can happen here
Robert Gottlieb
SF Chronicle, February 20, 2008

It was a heavy fog that settled over the freeway in the early morning of that day when we closed the Pasadena freeway for four hours to allow bikes and walkers on the roadway. More than 3,000 bike riders and several thousand more pedestrians began to appear from every direction. The excitement was palpable. Getting Caltrans to agree---as well as the California Highway Patrol and all of the different transportation departments---required months and months of organizing. But here we were, on the freeway. It was June 15, 2003.

The bike riders took off just as the fog began to lift. Because it was Father's Day, a number of families came to ride for the sheer pleasure of biking and walking on a freeway. The experience for the bike riders, particularly, was a revelation about how a bike ride not only provided pleasure but could potentially serve as an alternative form of transportation. Several bikers who traveled the entire 8.5-mile stretch of the freeway corridor reported that they did it in far less time than their rush-hour car commute the previous week.

The bike riders and residents adjacent to the freeway also noted how uniquely silent it had become that morning and how much they appreciated their chance to connect to the green space and natural surroundings of this area, known as the Arroyo corridor, from Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles. A resident who lived close to the freeway spoke of how disorienting - and liberating - it was to "open my window in the morning and hear birds and the wind and breathe the air in a way I had never experienced before." Another reported the reaction of a 12-year-old girl who lived in a nearby neighborhood. While walking on the freeway, she suddenly let out a shriek. "That's a passion flower," she cried, pointing to a delicate flower growing along the roadway's edge. "I know it, because I studied it, but I never thought I'd actually see one!"

Since that day when the Pasadena freeway was closed for the walkers and the bikers, new bike groups and walkable city groups in Los Angeles have proliferated. At the time, it seemed so improbable that a freeway could be closed in Los Angeles, the place where no one walks, as the song has it. But it did close, and, combined with the enormous frustration of two hour and longer car commutes, it helped change the notion that alternatives to the car and the freeway needed to become the central rather than the marginal criteria for how we plan our cities.

But if it happened in Los Angeles, could it also happen in the Bay Area, where the bike movements are larger and more vocal and the idea of a pedestrian friendly city seems more plausible, if not more achievable? The barriers, to be sure, are enormous. Even in the Bay Area, the car commutes are getting longer, the freeways are more congested and parking's big footprint gets even larger.

But change is in the air. Closing Golden Gate Park to cars and making it available for bike riders on a Sunday---and now on a Saturday---points to new possibilities. Bike groups and networks such as the San Francisco and Bay Area bike coalitions provide important resources and information about where and how to bike to get around the Bay Area. Events like Parking Day, where volunteers temporarily transform parking space into public parks, have become celebrations and statements about the need to challenge and eventually break the car's stranglehold over the city.

But can a freeway actually be closed in order to appreciate a different kind of experience of the city? A couple of years ago, Kaiser Permanente, as part of its Thrive campaign, placed billboards with a photo of bike riders on the 580 freeway. Kaiser was applauded for this masterful Photoshop creation, designed to encourage healthy activity. But the time has come, here as in Los Angeles, to transform a doctored photo into the real thing!

To hear more:
Robert Gottlieb will speak on his new book.
When: 6:45 p.m., March 12.
Where: The Prevention Institute,
221 Oak St., Oakland

For more information:

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At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Naybus Tyrello said...

Sound's like fun to me! Are you calling families and thousands of happy people "nuts" ? You should check out the ride they do in Chicago - shuts down lake shore drive for 20 or 30 thousand family bike riders. People love it Rob, get used to it.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The bike fantasy lives on! Where have all the flowers gone? Both of these events are essentially recreational outings on bikes that have no real transportation significance. It's just nuts to foster the illusion that bikes have any significance as a serious means of transportation in any American city.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

What transportation significance bikes have depends on the choices people make, and the choices people make depends, among other things, on the price of oil ($100/barrel and going up; some analysts predict prices of $5/gal for gas this summer), and the increasing crowding on roads. When workers figure out that their commute, plus the hours they put in at work to pay for and feed their cars take up more of their lives than anything else, they will look for alternatives.

Maybe you can explain to us "nuts" why we should want to spend the equivalent of half our work lives or more in cramped, uncomfortable vehicles and circumstances that promote aggression, frustration, obesity, and pay a high price for the privilege. Why should we suffer the indignity of depending on a machine for our mobility if we don't have to, to say nothing of a license the government can revoke at its pleasure?

Calling cyclists "nuts" does not make an argument, nor does repeatedly asserting that your compatriots will not abandon a largely irrational infatuation with the car because, well, despite your (sensible) use of pubic transit, you think they should pay the increasing costs of buying, insuring, and running private automobiles.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

People who can afford them like their cars. The cost of gas won't faze the wealthy driving in an increasingly gentrified SF. And, in the long run, all cars will run on electricity and/or a combination of other fuels. Of course Muni is a sensible alternative for people like me who never will be able to afford a car---and wouldn't buy one even if they could. The idea that anyone who has to commute for any distance to and from SF is going to switch from a car to a bike is fanciful, that is, nutty. That term may be offensive, but the whole bike thing is just plain nuts, especially when you consider that the city was on the verge of completely redesigning our streets on behalf of that fantasy.

Yes, of course a small minority of the young, the foolish, the suicidal, and the politically motivated will ride bikes in the city, but the rest of us won't, especially people with families and/or people who have to commute for serious distances to their jobs.

Previous generations had significant historical causes/events to deal with---war, economic depression, Civil Rights, etc. This generation has bikes! Pathetic.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Reality check (1):
It doesn't do to write about "alternative fuel" as though it will just happen. Powering an electric car commute in a city the size of San Francisco would require about 10,000 windmills. Biofuels come mostly from corn, which you grow using oil-based fertilizer. Other alternatives remain in the lab, able to synthesize a litre of fuel but not the millions of litres required to fuel the existing car culture.

Reality check (2):
I and others have already pointed out that by the sources you yourself cite, a single sensible safety precaution, helmets, make cycling less dangerous than almost any other form of physical activity. And given the physical and mental devastation wreaked by inactivity, cycling increases, rather than decreasing, the life span of those who do it.

Reality check (3):
Nobody expects commuters to ride sixty or a hundred miles a day to get to work. But some very minor changes to public transit infrastructure (bicycle lockers at transit stations, bus bike racks, provision for bicycles on commuter trains) would combine the speed, efficiency, and cheapness of mass transit with the flexibility of individual vehicles, and for far less than the cost of cars.

To sum up: your arguments against cyclists consist of sneers and insinuations of danger and irresponsibility that the very sources you quote do not bear out. Your arguments in favour of the car consist of a series of claims about what people want, claims which their votes do not bear out; neither people's aggregate choices nor your own (sensible) decision support your contention that people really "need" or "love" their cars.

In the end, you, not the "bike nuts" have had to resort to the courts and to legal technicalities to thwart the decisions of the elected representatives of the people. You, not cyclists, have ended up shouting at people about what they ought to want.

Very few cyclists want to ban cars. Most cyclists have driver's licenses; most cyclists support sensible alternatives to car ownership, such as car sharing; nobody has called for taxi service to shut down. Most cyclists just want the proper respect for their choices, meaning respect for their human rights, which include mobility rights.

As the cost of car ownership and car commuting balloons, it will make sense for fewer and fewer people. I still don't see how that affects you. You can fantasize about car ownership whether 90% of people commute by car, or 10% do.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Alternative fuels will "just happen" long before Americans give up their cars. If you seriously think anything else will happen, you fail to understand the country you live in.

Here's a reality check for you: According to the DMV there are 460,150 motor vehicles registered in SF. According to the Visitors Bureau, more than a million tourists rent cars every year while visiting SF. According to the city's Countywide Transportation Plan, 49% of the city's workers now commute by automobile, with 35% using transit, and 17% using "other." According to the same document, 93,325 city residents now commute to other counties, including Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. I bet very few of these people use any form of "transit" to get to their jobs. Where do bikes fit into this picture? Only in the most minor way, at most, which is why the city's attempt at redesigning--taking away traffic lanes and street parking---our streets on behalf of this small minority is just plain nutty, a movement based on nothing but an ideological fantasy.

You ignore my point about cycling injuries in SF: Since the city doesn't collect those numbers, we don't really know how many people are injured while cycling in SF. From my own acquaintance and observation, I suspect the number is large.

You cite "the elected representatives of the people," but the real test for you bike nuts would be to put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot like the SF Bicycle Coaliton recently threatened. Or put Critical Mass on the ballot and see how you would do. Do you really think you would win either vote? The city's "elected representatives" have been irresponsible on both the Bicycle Plan and housing, as they pushed projects through the system illegally (Bicycle Plan, Housing Element).

Our victory in court was hardly due to a technicality, since the city flagrantly violated the most important provision of CEQA, the most important environmental law in the state. The city, working hand in glove with you bike nuts, deviously tried to rush the Bicycle Plan through the process, but we busted them. Judge Busch's decision should have been humbling to you bike nuts, since he all but accused the city of bad faith and deception.

I sneer at you bike nuts, because I find you contemptible both politically for the aforementioned deviousness---combined with the arrogance behind Critical Mass---and intellectually for your remarkably stupid obsession with the bicycle, which is primarily a child's toy and/or a recreational accessory for weekend outings in Golden Gate Park---or to West Marin for the more dedicated Spandexers.

How does your bicycle bullshit affect me? If you screw up traffic in the city for motor vehicles, you also screw it up for Muni and emergency vehicles. By all means pursue your stupid, dangerous hobby, but don't impose it on the rest of us who have too much sense to ride a bike as a serious "mode" of transportation.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Reality check (1):
I don't live in the United States, but I do know that even Americans can't override the laws of physics. Even Americans can't bring innovations or "alternatives" to the market unless they actually work. And Americans, more in fact than most other people, will come to accept this.

Reality check (2):
Arguing that if the election results or statistics you have refute your point, the results you don't have will prove it just doesn't make it as an argument. At some point, you'll have to face the facts: you an call cycling dangerous and stupid all you want, but your own data clearly show cycling (with safety precautions nearly everyone takes) as less dangerous than most other forms of physical activity.

Reality check (3):
Sneers and contempt don't work as arguments. Neither I nor (I suspect) any other cyclists care at all what you think of us. Indeed, your apparent need to rant about the acceptance of alternatives to the car by itself proves that we have gained ground.

Fantasies about love of the car overcoming the laws of physics and economic obstacles don't work as arguments. Claiming the results you don't have "would" prove you right doesn't work as an argument. You really have nothing with which to convince us except insults, and your own choices speak more clearly than your words on the advantages of car ownership.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Will Americans also come to accept the significance of bicycles in their transportation future, too? My point about our elected officials in SF is that they often do the PC thing, but the courts end up reminding them that, yes, SF is still part of California and the United States. And the bike people in SF---I have the advantage of actually living here and observing them for many years---are not particularly popular with city voters, given the monthly Critical Mass imposition and the habitual boorishness of many cyclists on the streets of the city. Maybe you've been out of the country too long, since you also seem to believe that Americans will soon have to give up the automobile because of the high cost of oil. Fat chance!

At 4:12 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Reality check (1):
Americans have already begun to abandon car-dependent suburbs and the associated lifestyles.

Reality check (2):
You don't have to "give up" something to put it in a sensible perspective.

I don't expect most Americans to give up their access to cars; for taking a sick family member to the doctor or hospital, for example, cars have an essential flexibility. But I think you will see your compatriots giving up unnecessary use of the car, for tasks such as commuting to work, where public transit simply works more efficiently, or for most errands in urban areas, where bicycles, with their ability to park anywhere, get the job done faster than cars (and offer health benefits to boot). It makes sense, and the strength of American society has always included flexibility to adapt to new conditions. Rather than fantasize about more and more expensive Rube Goldberg schemes to keep people in cars, why not accept the logic of their choice to adopt more healthy and pleasant forms of transportation?

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

None of your statistics mean anything until you can give us a number of the people who LIVE in the city AND work in the city. I guarantee you that the number of people who commute by car INSIDE the city is vastly, vastly lower than the US average. I "understand" this country very well, I also understand that SF is very unlike most of the country.

People want choices man, and Biking is part of that choice. You are driven by an irrational hatred of bikes due, probably, to the behavior of a small group of punks who piss you off. They piss me off too man. But that's where it ends. You've gone totally bonkers about this issue and it clouds your usually insightful analysis of other issues.

Bikes and bike infrastructure are on the rise man, and most people in SF welcome it. If you want to spend your time and our money finding legal technicalities to mess with it, then that's your choice, but it's not going to stop anything, just delay it.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The numbers you refer to are in the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's Countywide Transportation Plan, which is available through MTA's website. According to this document, more than half---51.3%---of the city's working population commutes by car (214,660, see page 40). According to the Visitors Bureau, more than 25% of the people who stay in city hotel rooms rent cars, which means more than a million rental cars on our streets every year. 35,000 people commute into the city every weekday to work.

I don't know if this makes SF "unlike" other cities in the country, but I doubt it.

People will always have a perfect right to ride bikes in the city.

The successful litigation against the city was not based on legal "techicalities"; it was based on the central provision of the most important environmental law in the State of California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires the environmental review of major projects before they are implemented.

The point many of you bike people don't understand---though city politicians and the leadership of the SF Bicycle Coalition understand it very well---is that the city's neighborhoods don't really know what the city, at the behest of this small minority, is determined to do to their streets---take away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes.

Now that we've successfully forced the city to do an EIR on the 527-page Bicycle Plan, the city's neighborhoods will have a chance to understand the Plan and what it means to them. They will also have an opportunity to provide input when the draft EIR is published later this year.

This is not about the often-obnoxious behavior of cyclists on city streets; this is about a major project that will redesign city streets for a small minority.

It would give your comments some credibility if you took the time to inform yourself about the issues involved. The Bicycle Plan is available online through MTA's website, and this blog contains the only substantive criticism of both the Plan itself and, just as important, the sneaky way the city went about trying to implement it before it did the required environmental studies.

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

That statistic on page 40 does NOT refer specifically to people who live AND work in SF. Note that it talks about the growing number of people who commute to places outside the city, where are car is a virtual necessity.

What we need are stats about people who do not leave the city. I assure you the vast majority do not drive. Even if it were the 50% or so you mention that is still vastly lower than the US average.

According to 2007 numbers, 77% of americans drive alone to work and another 10% carpool. That's massively higher than SF's numbers, and would be even higher if we considerd only people living AND working in the city.

Plus those tourists do not rent cars to get around the city - they rent them to go to Napa and other places nearby. No one rents a car to get around SF, that's just common sense and I'm certain that if stats were published on it, you'd see the. Find that stat, then we can discuss.

Finally, I have read the bike plan, most of it anyway, and it doesn't take much to realize that it's quite simply good for the environment (the point of an EIR), good for neighborhoods, and good from San Francisco. If you want to call that an opinion, then so be it. but as someone who takes Muni and occasionally bikes, I'm all for it, and so are a lot of people.

What you did was abuse the environmental laws by citing what was indeed, a technicality, nothing more.

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...


The numbers on page 40 are of "Commute Mode of San Francisco Residents, 1990-2000." 169,508 drive alone, and another 45,152 carpool for a total of 214,660 city residents who drive to work. On the very next page are the numbers for "Commute Destinations of San Francisco Residents 1990-2000," where we learn that of the 415,306 county residents who work, 322,009 work in SF, while 93,325 commute to other counties.

The specific number you seem to think is so significant doesn't seem to be here, but back on page 39 are some numbers that may or may not demonstrate how special we are here in Progressive Land: under "Mode Share (internal trips,)" we learn that 54.2% are by "auto," 16.4% are by "transit," 28.3% are by foot, and a measly 1% are by bike.

You can "assure" me of whatever you want, but your assurances would be more convincing with some evidence specific to SF. Your assertions like "those tourists do not rent cars to get around the city - they rent them to go to Napa and other places nearby. No one rents a car to get around SF, that's just common sense" are fact-free. Does "common sense" mean that you don't have to provide evidence for that? I'm supposed to look for evidence to support your argument? Ha! Since the number from the Visitors Bureau is from people who actually stay at SF hotels, it's a certainty that those more than a million rental cars spend some time on our streets.

So you just know out front that the Bicycle Plan is "good for the environment" without doing any traffic studies? Gee, too bad we didn't have your expert opinion before the litigation; you could have saved everyone a lot of time. CEQA isn't applied by taking a vote as to who is for a particular project; the city still has to do an environmental study for all major projects, no matter how well-intentioned.

It was of course the city that "abused" CEQA by not doing the required study, which is the very heart of that important law. Maybe you should read Judge Busch's decision to inform yourself about the law in question. Just enter "Judge Busch" in my blog search engine, and you should find a post that quotes extensively from the decision.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My insignificant means of transportation gets me downtown in 10 minutes. The same ride on the trolley would be 20. The same in a car would be 15, but then I'd have to figure out a place to park.

I stand to gain from the exercise, the pleasure of riding, and the cost saviings. Others stand to gain by having one fewer car on the road.

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

You won't "look for evidence to support my argument" because you know I'm right! Ha!

Find me one tourist who rented a car to get around SF without ever leaving the city and I'll find you 25 who rented specifically to leave the city. C'mon man, try it.

At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

If you do the math on those number, getting rid of the people who work outside of the city, you're basically taking away about a quarter of total commuters which would greatly increase the number of SF residents who do NOT drive. I'm not sure what you're disputing.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You want to believe that SF is so special that most residents don't drive, but the numbers clearly show the opposite: most people in SF drive cars. Add in the million tourists who rent cars, the 35,000 who drive into the city every weekday to work, and you have a lot of cars on city streets, along with 1000 Muni buses. The Countywide Transportation Plan tells us that there are 1.08 cars per household in SF, which will actually increase to 1.11 cars per household by 2025 (page 49). The same document tells us that bicycle use barely registers in comparison with other transportation "modes": a mere 1% share of all "internal trips" in SF.

At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

Rob - why are you clinging to those numbers? I've already shown that even at the highest possible number - the 51% you quoted, it's massively lower than the US average. That's very significant.

If you consider people who live in San Francisco AND work in the city, you chop off more people which obviously comes out to less than half commuting by car. Therefore, MOST PEOPLE who live and work in the city do NOT drive to work. Period. Those are your own numbers I"m using.

That does not mean people in SF "dont drive" it just means that they do so at a vastly lower rate than most Americans - at least 50% less!

That's my only point man. I'm not ranting about bikes at all, so lighten up bro.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You haven't "shown" anything at all; you've simply asserted your opinion about driving in SF. Where's your evidence that SF is so different than other US cities? Maybe I overlooked it in all your replies. I'm the one who introduced some actual numbers to the discussion, both in my blog item and my responses to you. Why is it okay to eliminate the number of people who commute outside of SF to work? The facts show that most residents of SF use cars to commute to their jobs, whether here in the city or outside the city. You haven't made your point at all, dude. Either let it go or produce some evidence for your opinion.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

From an anonymous comment I just received to an old blog item ( which is relevant to this discussion:

"Bike riders in SF are considerably worse than on the Peninsula. I think there is more of a sense of entitlement or something. Usually the worst riders refuse to wear a helmet or obey any traffic laws. They make the assumption that the other rider or driver will avoid them rather than try to avoid a dangerous situation. Most of the time they are right but when they are wrong, the consequences are disasterous.

P.S. I bike to work."

Rob's comment:

Yes, the city's cyclists are motivated by a political belief system that sees bikes as a means of saving the planet, not merely a rather dicey means of transportation in SF, which fuels, so to speak, a self-righteousness and obnoxious behavior on city streets.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Allister Dayton said...

Good god Rob, how many times do I have to show it???? Go to and it shows that 77% of Americans drive alone to work. The maximum possible number of San Franciscans who drive to work is 51% as you demonstrated. That's a massive difference. What else do I have to show you???

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That's the first time you've presented anything that qualifies as actual evidence, dude. I'll check it out.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous murphstahoe said...

Rob Says...

93,325 city residents now commute to other counties, including Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. I bet very few of these people use any form of "transit" to get to their jobs.

Very few? Caltrain hsa 35,000 daily boardings, and it is definitely not 90% headed to work in SF. BART trains headed to Alameda County are not a neglible amount. Heck, several hundred people a day take the Google Bus.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're right. Of course many of those people use CalTrain, SamTrans, and there are even some people who take Golden Gate Transit to Marin to work. I was completely wrong in making that statement.

At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> It's just nuts to foster the illusion
> that bikes have any significance
> as a serious means of transportation
> in any American city.

Is this for real?

Do you spew such nonsense just to arouse an amusing chuckle? To pick a pointless fight at the blatantly absurd?

Or do you, improbably, really believe americans are ever-so-much-more-dumb than a hundred other countries?

Your writings are often plain contrary to my own views, but they're often well articulated, somewhat/largely coherent and occasionally lacking in the venom and vitriol that degrades an otherwise useful discussion of real issues into a whizzing contest.

Tell me this remark was just for "comic effect" !

Even if you have to lie!

Say it!!

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> The bike fantasy lives on!

Amusing to consider the overall passenger volume that might traverse the interstates during the same interval as each morning and evening rush hour.

Even reserving 75% of the traffic lanes for commerical truck traffic, one ventures a guess that passenger-miles each hour would increase double, triple, or more.

Anyone wanna try for government grant money to fund a study?

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Both of these events
> are essentially recreational outings on bikes
> that have no real transportation significance


Except where posted otherwise, bikes are just as legal on "Interstate highways" and "state highways" as any other traffic.

75% of Interstate freeways allow bikes. Mostly, that's rural roads, but not exclusively. Consider Hwy 24, where bikes are frequent and legal road users.

"Roads. They're not just for cars. Never were, contrary-to-the-views of those deceived by Oil-and-car-interests whose economic needs trump non-profit-centric requirements, goals and objectives."

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> People who can afford them like their cars.


I *detest* the purchase, ownership, operation, maintenance and stink of automobiles.

They're a constant bother, a constant, unceasing master of myself, at every turn demanding MORE MORE MORE time, attention and money.

And this from one with funds to buy anything shy of Ferrari, brand new, personal-check-in-hand, no-financiing required.

They're a scam. We've been suckered. And it'll cost us dearly to fix the impossible situation the auto and energy industries have created for their own exclusive benefit. In rebuilt energy infrastructure. Transport infrastruture. Land usage. Commerical logistics. Building contstruction. Work force organization. Government taxation schemes.

And it's not just america. It's europe. And some of asia. They all wanta to have cars. (No, Virgina, they DON'T want to be just like us americans. Lots of the world detests americans. But they like bright shiny things. When the marketers tell them to like bright shiny things. Cuz they're bright. And shiny. And marketing really works.)

So kindly stop telling me what I think, how I feel and what I want.

Although the previous decisions of many powerful people and organizations forces myself into an automotive environment, It's horrible. 100% nasty. Icky-yucky!


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