Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Group therapy with the bike people

Wednesday night's lecture/press conference/group therapy session led by the Department of Parking and Traffic's (DPT) Oliver Gajda, the Bicycle Project Manager, highlighted the peculiar psychology of the bike people. For all their passion for their dangerous hobby, they are surprisingly uninformed and don't seem to read much. They are also prone to self-pity and a sense of victimhoood, evidently seeing themselves as an oppressed and neglected minority, even though the entire city government, including the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, has been striving to implement their agenda for years.

Gajda's Wednesday night lecture was portrayed in Rachel Gordon's article (below in italics) as if it was a separate initiative, over and above the city's ongoing work on the environmental impact report (EIR) on the Bicycle Plan. In fact Gajda was simply presenting the details on the projects being studied in the EIR, which were on the list of projects in the Initial Study released earlier this month.

The Planning Dept. is doing the EIR, but DPT is the agency that did the Bicycle Plan in the first place and is responsible for the updates, which, for funding purposes, have to be done every five years. The present update happens to dovetail nicely with the preparation of the EIR.

Since there was really no new information to release, Gajda's presentation was more like a public relations move by the city to calm/reassure the restive bike people in SF, who are being whipped into a frenzy by the SF Bicycle Coalition---the city is dragging its feet on the EIR! Cyclists are dying while bureaucrats fiddle with the environmental study that was unnecessary in the first place! To emphasize the city's commitment to the SF Bicycle Coalition's agenda, Nathaniel Ford, head of the MTA, and Heather Fong, Chief of Police, made statements supporting safety for cyclists before Gajda took the floor.

Gajda's opening remarks included some important concessions: before the injunction, the city was incorrectly characterizing the Framework Document as the Bicycle Plan, even though it knew the Plan included a second volume, the Network Document, which contained detailed plans for every street the city wanted to change. As someone who's seen all the documents in the successful litigation against the city, I know that this pretense was maintained to the bitter end of the litigation, with the City Attorney maintaining that the Bicycle Plan was just the Framework Document, that the Network Document was merely a funding document for the SFCTA. Since all previous city documents said that the Plan consisted of both documents, it was easy to convince Judge Busch that the city was being disingenuous.

In response to a question about why the EIR was taking so long, Gajda emphasized how far-reaching and complicated the EIR had to be, since the Bicycle Plan itself was a citywide project affecting so many city streets. We now have two concessions from the city: that its strategy of pretending that the Bicycle Plan was simply one document was essentially a sham and a mistake; and that the Bicycle Plan itself was a large, ambitious project that required a large, equally ambitious EIR. 

All the commenters to this blog who called me names after the injunction and Judge Busch's decision can now send in their apologies, since the city now apparently agrees with what we tried to tell the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors three years ago: the Bicycle Plan is a large project that will impact many city streets, and it requires an environmental impact report.

When Gajda opened up the floor to questions from the audience, the bike people who had questions/comments almost all had an aggrieved tone. One man said that he had gone to five funerals lately for cyclists who had been killed on the streets. Gajda surely knows that no cyclists have been killed on city streets recently, but he didn't bother to point this out in his response. 

Robin Levitt, not surprisingly, advocated changes in state law to allow the city to do whatever it wants on city streets. But state law now clearly preempts local law on how streets are configured and how traffic is regulated, and it seems unlikely that the state legislature is going to change the law just for Progressive Land. 

A questioner asked about doing bike lanes the European way---putting them in a slightly elevated space between street parking and sidewalks. Gajda referred to "right-of-way" problems with that solution, by which he probably meant that at least five feet of space would be needed to do that, that either eliminating a traffic lane or street parking would still be necessary. 

A woman from the Urban Forest Council advocated planting trees in parking spaces, because she preferred riding her bike on tree-lined streets. Another questioner referred to "conservative" judges who make decisions like Judge Busch's on the Bicycle Plan. Gajda didn't point out that Judge Busch is a registered Democrat, though Judge Warren, who issued the original injunction before he retired, is a registered Republican. Hence, the injunction had bipartisan support. If there had been a Green Party judge assigned to the case, he/she would have come to the same conclusion, which was required by both the facts and the law.

Even worse, Rachel Kraai, project coordinator for the SF Bicycle Coalition, fingered me as the party behind the successful litigation. She pointed at me and indignantly demanded that I respond to the alleged ongoing emergency for cyclists at the Fell/Masonic intersection. Would I be willing, in spite of the injunction, to allow some changes to that supposedly dangerous intersection? If Kraai was hoping to incite the aggrieved audience to turn on me with fury, she was disappointed, since they didn't. Still, her attempted incitement was irresponsible, though it was typical of the current leadership of the SF Bicycle Coalition. Gajda responded correctly that that meeting was not the proper forum for that issue, that the question should be directed to the City Attorney's office, which represented the city during the litigation. Does anyone really think that the Bicycle Coalition hasn't already brought the subject up with the City Attorney? I bet they have.

If she was honest, Kraai would have told her bike comrades Wednesday night exactly what the City Attorney told the SFBC. What I think the City Attorney told them: you/we don't have enough information to prove to Judge Busch that that intersection is any more dangerous than a lot of others in the city, since there is no reliable citywide data base on cycling accidents. Kraai referred to eight recent accidents involving cyclists at the intersection. 

But to make the case to Judge Busch, the City Attorney would have to show that these accidents were not the fault of the cyclists, that the intersection has a design flaw, and that something obvious could be done immediately to make it safer. I walk through that intersection regularly, and I often see cyclists taking the kind of chances that are routine for many people who ride bikes in the city, in particular, rushing to beat the light before it changes. Both cyclists and motor vehicles rushing to beat a traffic light is a recipe for disaster.
[This just in: We just received documents from the City Attorney telling us that the city is in fact going to ask Judge Busch to modify the injunction to allow the city to make changes at both the Market/Octavia intersection and the Masonic/Fell intersection. The date of the hearing is April 29, 9:30 a.m., department 301 in the Superior Court.]

New S.F. bike plan would add 34 miles of lanes
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

San Francisco bicyclists would be able to ride on 34 miles of new bike lanes---routes that would, in some cases, mean a loss of curbside automobile parking and traffic lanes, under a plan being circulated by city officials.

The plan would nearly double the city's existing network of bike lanes, which cover 44 miles of city streets.

The proposed projects include new bike lanes on such roadways as Market Street, Ocean Avenue, Howard Street, Portola Drive, Masonic Avenue, Alemany Boulevard, Seventh Avenue and Fifth Street.

Some would require the removal of street parking and traffic lanes, or the narrowing of traffic lanes.

The recommendations are aimed at updating San Francisco's 1997 bicycle plan, a document that is required to make the city eligible for regional, state and federal grants.

In addition to creating new lanes, the new proposal calls for the creation of more secure bicycle parking. It also suggests starting a pilot project that would allow bikes on the Municipal Railway light-rail system and stepping up enforcement and penalties against motorists who illegally double-park in designated bike lanes.

In all, more than 50 individual projects are proposed.

The idea is to cement the role of San Francisco---with its famous hills and all---as one of the most bike-friendly cities in North America. The goal hasn't been universally embraced.

The push for bicycle improvements comes as the city is temporarily barred by court order from starting any new bike-related projects that entail physical changes to the streetscape.

Implementation of the bike plan was successfully challenged in Superior Court in 2006 on the grounds that the city did not undertake sufficient environmental analysis to determine the effects the bike-related improvements would have on such things as parking and traffic.

Rob Anderson, the citizen behind the lawsuit, said the city catered to a vocal minority of bicyclists without sufficiently studying effects on the driving public and merchants who want convenient parking for their customers.

As a result of the legal challenge, the Planning Department and Municipal Transportation Agency reluctantly started a wide-ranging environmental review of the proposals. A draft of the study is expected to be completed in the fall. The earliest the bike lane projects are expected to commence is in the summer of 2009. All the projects in the new proposal will be studied in the environmental report.

Meanwhile, city officials have been allowed to craft proposals for an updated bike plan, generally maintain the existing bike lanes and work on a bicycle safety campaign.

Bicycle activists, who point to polls they commissioned that show biking gaining popularity in San Francisco, have criticized the city for not moving fast enough on the required environmental analysis.

"San Francisco no doubt considers itself a leader in the sustainable movement, but in terms of the bike plan, city officials are not giving it the high priority they should," said Leah Shahum, who heads the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "The city was burned by the lawsuit. There's been a cautiousness and conservativeness around this issue. Bottom line: Is three years too long for this?" she asked. "Absolutely."

Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the city is working to ensure that the bike plan's environmental impact report "is the most thorough and legally defensible document possible."

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At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After hearing all those cyclists talking about how dangerous it is to use the road, as is their legal right, you still don't seem to take any interest in the safety of your fellow citizens.

Are you really so heartless that you cannot take responsibility for your actions and apologize to everyone who's been endangered by your selfish actions?

Are you really so delusional to think all these cyclists who's lives are endangered by pro-car, anti-pedestrian, anti-bike laws are going to start kissing your feet for dragging this out and putting them in further danger?

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Are all you bike people remedial readers? I don't care what you/they think of me, but it's clearly irresponsible of Rachel Kraai to finger me in the audience, given the marginal emotional/intellectual capacities displayed by some of her comrades. What a bunch of crybabies! Anyone who rides a bike in the city has to understand the dangers of doing so. Speaking of delusions, the central delusion you folks hold is that somehow riding a bike can ever really be made safe. It's an intrinsically risky way to get around the city.

Even so, I don't want to see anyone get hurt, and in fact there's no evidence that anyone has been hurt because of our litigation. That's just hysterical bullshit. I too am a pedestrian, and I feel more threatened by cyclists running through stoplights and stop signs than I do from cars. I'm also a daily rider of Muni, which will be further delayed if you morons get your way on the streets of San Francisco.

At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good thing not everyone makes the same kind of generalizations and stereotypes people the way Rob Anderson does.

I find it kind of funny that you said this woman fingered you, and lump all cyclists as being delusional, but point out yourself the cyclists at this meeting didn't attack you or whatever it was you were afraid of.

You say it's delusional to think cycling could ever be made safe. If I understand this right, cyclists don't feel safe because motorists are not obeying the law and not sharing the road as they are legally obligated to do. Is this correct?

If the issue is that motorists are not obeying the laws and endangering cyclists, then isn't this the exact same issue for pedestrians? There are a lot of pedestrian injuries, and fatalities, caused by motorists who are not obey the traffic rules and hitting pedestrians.

Are pedestrians then delusional for ever thinking it would be safe to enter a crosswalk?

Separately, what exactly is it that makes cars sacred so cyclists can't share the road with them? Why is this not seen the other way around. Roads are public property that all citizens have access to, but it's the private car that is endangering all other use of this public space. Pedestrians, cyclist, skaters, segways, and wheelchair users would all be much safer if the roads were not being hoarded from everyone so only a slight majority of motorists monopolize it.

Even worse is the behavior of motorists who then expect to have their own parking spaces everywhere they go.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Rob -

The barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge is also being held up by an Engineering and Environmental review. In the wake of the accident on the bridge the other day there is a clamor to get it done - now, for safety reasons.

If the bridge needs a barrier in order to be "safe", how is this different than saying we should improve bike facilities to make cycling more safe. If cycling is so dangerous and driving is not, how did this happen on the bridge to the drivers, next to 1000's of cyclists who suffered no injuries crossing the bridge that day.

Perhaps you also believe that the bridge barrier should follow process at the same pace it has been following, that the safety of drivers is not paramount to process, exactly as the case with the bike plan.

Even with a barrier, that incident on the bridge would have been ugly - instead of careening into oncoming traffic, the cars would have careened into the barrier and back into their own lane. Much like there will still be cycling incidents even with better bike lanes.

If someone tries to bypass process for the bridge barrier, can we count on you to sue?

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I don't anything about the process behind putting a traffic barrier on Golden Gate Bridge, but I haven't heard of any litigation on that issue. Have you? No, you're just desperately looking for an analogy to the Bicycle Plan litigation. "Environmental review" is not the same as litigation. And the bridge directors have an obvious problem with putting a barrier on the bridge: If it's a stationary barrier, how do they adjust the traffic lanes---as they do now with cones---to deal with the different traffic flows during commute hours? You fail to make a convincing argument because you don't really know anything about the barrier process, which I suspect is difficult because of that basic engineering problem.

Of course I don't claim that driving can't be dangerous, but you bike people get your knickers in a twist when anyone points out the obvious dangers involved in cycling and rush to change the subject to motor vehicles. Why is that? Recall that Bert Hill, a bicycle safety expert who's on the Bicycle Advisory Committee, said in a Chronicle article several years ago that most bike accidents are solo falls that don't involve other vehicles. That is, even if there were no other vehicles on the road, cycling would still be a risky way to get around. The Bicycle Coalition understands this with its campaign for the city to fix the surface of city streets. Potholes can damage a car, but for cyclists they pose a threat of serious injury.

The SFBC is fomenting hysteria about the safety of cyclists, but there's no evidence of any increase in accidents and/or injury to cyclists since the injunction against the city in June, 2006. If there is, let's see it.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I find it kind of funny that you said this woman fingered you, and lump all cyclists as being delusional, but point out yourself the cyclists at this meeting didn't attack you or whatever it was you were afraid of."
No, I wasn't attacked, no thanks to Rachel Kraai. But it was a real danger, given the ridiculous sense of grievance nurtured by some bike people---a sense of grievance that is actually encouraged by the irresponsible leadership of the SFBC.

We know now---the city filed the papers yesterday---that the city is going to court to try to convince Judge Busch that it needs to do something about the Fell/Masonic intersection Kraai cited. If Kraai knew that was going to happen---and surely she did---her demagoguery the other night is doubly inexcusable. But she was only following the bad example set by her superior, Leah Shahum, executive director of the SFBC, who constantly implies that the injunction is causing unnecessary injury to city cyclists.

"If the issue is that motorists are not obeying the laws and endangering cyclists, then isn't this the exact same issue for pedestrians?"
Yes and no. Motorists are only part of the problem, since many cyclists are injured in accidents that have nothing to do with other vehicles. And many of the city pedestrians injured by autos and Muni vehicles are actually at fault when they cross streets recklessly and illegally. As a pedestrian, I'm wary of both motorized traffic and cyclists when I cross the street.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Let me posit this question so perhaps I can see your exact point of view, since I'm new here (to your blog, not SF).

You are being attacked as using the lack of an EIR as an end-around to prevent the bike plan from being implemented? Correct?

Were the EIR to be completed and the review states that the Bike Plan does not negatively impact the enviroment, would you oppose the implementation of said plan?

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, you're getting warm, Murph. Why would I want to block the Bicycle Plan? According to a lot of commenters, it's just because I don't like cyclists or don't like bikes. One commenter speculated that maybe I didn't get a bike as a kid and have nurtured some deep grievance on the matter ever since.

It's simply bad public policy to redesign city streets on behalf of a small minority of citizens---the 2000 Census says that only 1.9% of city residents commute by bike---when 98% drive cars or take Muni and to do it without doing any environmental review beforehand.

Of course the cit is going to say in their EIR that it can't have any negative impact on the environment, but they said that about the 527-page Bicycle Plan before they did any environmental review at all, didn't they. Clearly their judgment on the issue can't be trusted. We will take a close look at the draft environmental review when it comes out later this year. If we have some problems with it, we will take it to Judge Busch, who issued the injunction and still has jurisdiction on the matter.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"there's no evidence of any increase in accidents and/or injury to cyclists since the injunction against the city in June, 2006. If there is, let's see it."

I've got to call Bullsh*t on this one. The question is not whether there has been an increase in bike accidents; the question is which accidents could have been avoided or ameliorated if not for our failure to implement safety measures (i.e.,the bike plan).

And most of the danger in SF is not instinsic to biking (the activity itself), but extrinsic to it; death-dealing cars, buses, and trucks.

Why is cycling so much safer in Copenhagen, for example, even though many more people cycle and nobody wears a helmet there? The short answer: bike facilities and traffic calming.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

1) Do you predict the plan will come back as "Bad for the environment"? One can assume you believe that will be the case, otherwise you would not be causing this ruckus. If not, and this is ONLY about process, then you should be causing a ruckus about bridge barriers and the like as well.

2) Is the standard "Has no negative impact on the evironment?" If that is the standard, we should block pretty much *everything*. My wife is pregnant. If we had an EIR on that, the only conclusion is that no matter how eco-conscious I train the little bugger, my child will have a negative impact on the enviroment just by living.

3) There are some flaws with your stats. Without even claiming that your stats are incorrect, I will claim that they are not *meaningful*. You spend a lot of time whining about Market/Octavia. Only a tiny minority of citizens utilize that intersection - despite the amount of traffic there. Is it bad public policy to focus on that area?

There are very few cyclists commuting up Twin Peaks on a daily basis. I rode when I lived on Forest Hill and never saw another cyclists. However, I would not be surprised if 50% of trips on Townsend between Division and Embarcadero are made on bikes. And that road is a *nightmare* for cyclists AND the many pedestrians who use it (there is no sidewalk so pedestrians, dropped off by the 19, walk in the road. Their biggest danger is getting hit by a bike. Now, who is in the wrong? The cyclist in the road where they are legally bound to be, or the pedestrian walking on the road?)

The injunction prevents work on corridors where cyclists are NOT a tiny majority. The census data spawning across San Francisco is arbitrary - the national average is lower than SF, the average in the Mission alone is much higher than the citywide average. The argument that the city should not cater to local conditions falls flat - if that were the case then the roads on Mt Davidson should be unpaved since they serve only a couple of people.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

I've got to agree with murphstahoe on the point that "The argument that the city should not cater to local conditions falls flat."

Rob, according to your logic (which in simple terms seems to be don't plan for bikes since they are currently a minority of road users), then we also shouldn't be designing buildings or our public rights-of-way to be accesible to persons with disabilities, since they are a miniory of the population. Of course, our society has generally accepted the fact that we have a moral obligation to design for everyone. Everyone includes cyclists. Continuing to plan our transportation system for the way people currently get around the City is regressive, and fails to account for the latent demand of cyclists that exists were there a systematic network of safe facilities to ride on.

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were plans for Townsend to get sidewalk, wonder what ever happened with that...


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