Thursday, May 01, 2008

City wins one, loses two

Rachel Gordon in the SF Chronicle almost got it right yesterday on the outcome of the hearing before Judge Busch the other day. She got the facts right: the judge rejected two of the three items in the city's motion to modify the injunction against implementing the Bicycle Plan until the city completes the EIR he ordered on the 527-page Plan. He allowed the city to make changes to the Fell/Masonic intersection but refused to let them make any more changes to the Market/Octavia intersection. He also refused to give the city a blank check to make more so-called safety changes at other intersections without first getting his permission.

What she gets wrong is the context for the judge's ruling:

Anderson and his cohorts believe that city officials are favoring a vocal minority at the expense of the driving majority. But bicycle enthusiasts argue that there is room for both drivers and cyclists, and that more people would get around by pedal power if policies were in place that made biking safer and more convenient.

This isn't untrue, and, to be fair, it's probably impossible to summarize these different viewpoints adequately in two sentences. What the Bicycle Plan proposes most importantly is taking away traffic lanes and street parking on city streets to make bike lanes. The city tried to rush the Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review or traffic studies. We busted them with our litigation, since that was clearly illegal. They are now doing the environmental review ordered by Judge Busch.

Beyond that, what my "cohorts" and I say is that it's a bad idea to redesign city streets on behalf of this politically influential, small, PC minority in a city that has 465,905 registered motor vehicles, millions of tourists in rental cars, 35,000 people driving into the city every weekday to work, and more than 1,000 Muni vehicles. What our "progressive" city government is really doing is not just promoting cycling but punishing drivers by making it as expensive and difficult as possible to drive in San Francisco. While they are at it, they are making traffic in SF worse than it has to be.

Take Masonic Avenue, for example: the city is now seriously considering taking away a traffic lane and/or street parking on that busy street to make bike lanes. Anyone familiar with Masonic has to know that riding a bike on that street is close to suicidal. But, as the city's own preliminary studies show, taking away a traffic lane on Masonic will lead to serious traffic congestion; if it takes away street parking to make bike lanes, it will eliminate much-needed neighborhood parking and irresponsibly encourage cyclists to ride on one of the city's most important North-South traffic arteries, where a lot of traffic moves quickly between Geary Blvd. and Fell Street. And it will delay Muni's #43 line that runs on Masonic. Either course of action is just plain dumb.

The intersection of Fell/Masonic: What the city wants to do there---what Judge Busch is allowing them to do---is create a left-turn lane and change the traffic lights so that cars and bikes don't share the same green light. Sounds sensible on the face of it, but that runs the risk of seriously jamming up traffic on busy Fell Street for uncertain gains in safety for cyclists and pedestrians. I often walk and/or ride Muni's #43 line through that intersection, and it's not unusual to see reckless behavior by cyclists racing to beat the light, while the traffic on Fell street races to do the same. Will a reconfigured intersection change this kind of behavior? Perhaps. If the proposed changes end up seriously snarling traffic on Fell Street, the city and the bike people will be clearly responsible for the debacle.

What the city wanted to do at the Market/Octavia intersection was a lot less plausible. The city proposed eliminating entirely the bike lane on Market Street from Pearl Street to Gough Street, forcing cyclists and motorists to share a single lane over that lengthy stretch of Market Street, thus eliminating the right-turn danger to cyclists. This would have been a boon for the many passive-aggressive cyclists on Market Street, but it would also have probably snarled traffic on the city's main street.

Interesting to note, however, that with this proposal once the right-turn danger to cyclists had been eliminated, the ban on the easy right-turn onto the freeway at that intersection could no longer have been justified!

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At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Rob, you lost one. Get ready for more.

As for Market/Octavia, my understanding - and I don't want to look up any of the numerous places I read it because I have work to do that I actually get paid for - is that the right turn is illegal because of the inadequate pocket depth for a right turn there - basically if that was the entrance to 101, everyone would line up there to turn onto 101 there and there's not enough room for the cars to line up. If you think I am wrong, that's fine - I'm not going to look it up, neither of us actually sets policy.

This then becomes a cyclist issue because cyclists incorrectly assume that drivers will obey the law (dang those scofflaw drivers always recklessly blowing off the no right turn sign).

There are at least "a few" intersections in this city where you can turn right. In fact I will go out on a limb and say you can turn right at the majority of intersections - and they suffer far fewer right hook collisions than Market/Octavia, simply because cyclists at intersections where a right turn is allowed account for that possibility.

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naturally I have to disagree with you on much of this, but I'll restrict comment to the Market/Octavia intersection. I agree that the proposed changes are trickier than at Fell/Masonic, but your specific criticisms are off base.

First, I don't buy that having bikes and cars share the lane over that short stretch would snarl traffic. Downtown Market street is not a traffic artery like Fell/Oak, Geary, Franklin/Gough, or the SoMa section of Mission. Market is a thoroughly multi-function street with lots of shopping, pedestrians, street cars, etc. Traffic on Market is inherently busy, highly regulated, and not particularly fast. Anyone familiar with the existing traffic signal timing on downtown Market is not going to take that street to get across town in a hurry, and is not going to be bothered by having to share the lane with a few bikers. At least not if they think about it rationally rather than in road-rage mode.

The city has long-standing policy discouraging the development of Market as a major traffic artery, particularly for traffic eastbound into downtown. The primary reason for this has nothing to do with serving bicyclists or hating drivers; it is in order to favor public transit, which relies on Market street so heavily.

Your insinuation that bikers are solely responsible for the prohibition of right turn onto 101 at Market/Octavia is a common saw among angry drivers, but it is off base. Although bike safety is one reason for the prohibition, the more important reason is the long-standing policy not to encourage more eastbound car traffic on Market and thus keep the street reasonably clear for public transit and safe for pedestrian crossings.

Although you claim to rely primarily on walking and Muni for your own transit needs, I can't say I'm particularly surprised you come down so far on the pro-traffic side of this issue.

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A planning memo corroborating my claims about Market/Octavia policy:

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I don't own a car, but I have driven downtown a number of times with a friend, and on almost every trip there's been a passive-aggressive cyclist screwing up traffic. Nor did I see a single instance where Muni was delayed by any other traffic. Murph's claim about "inadequate pocket depth" for the easy right-turn onto the freeway is the first I've heard of that theory. Like to see some documentation of that one. Instead, the John Billovits memo, which I'm familiar with, and former Supervisor Gonzalez's carrying---on behalf of the Bicycle Coalition---of the orignal BOS resolution to ensure that motorists couldn't make that easy turn onto the freeway are more relevant. The Bilovits memo is fact-free, offering nothing to subtantiate the need for the ban. And the Gonzalez move was strictly on behalf of the SFBC and the bike nuts (

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...I have driven downtown a number of times with a friend, and on almost every trip there's been a passive-aggressive cyclist screwing up traffic..."


"...on almost every trip there's been a cyclist riding on the road, but this offends my sensibilities, so I look for ways to find fault with them."

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, I mean literally driving in the middle of the left lane to fuck with the cars and trucks behind them. My sensibilities are not easily offended.

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, it's amazing how you let your opinions fly, then turn around and tell us that our claims don't have enough data to back them up. I mean, you've driven "downtown a number of times with a friend"? Could this be any more lame?

Anyway, I do think the memo addresses the Market/Octavia right turn policy pretty clearly. Granted there's some hand-waving in there, but it comes down to: why would we want to encourage people to line up on eastbound market street to get on the freeway? That will only hinder downtown-bound traffic, public transportation, pedestrian crossings, bike safety, etc. And for what? Any driver who know's what he's doing can get on the freeway perfectly simply either at Duboce or Octavia.

The reductio ad absurdum for the frustrated driver's attitude is "why can't my driveway be a freeway onramp, my destination be a freeway offramp, and the neighborhoods between my driveway and my destination just be... freeway?". I can understand why drivers get frustrated, but taking it out on bikers is just not rational.

On your comment "nor did I see a single instance where Muni was delayed by any other traffic", should I laugh or cry? Here's SPUR's report on the TEP: "Market Street provides the most egregious example of illegal occupation of bus lanes in San Francisco. . . Multiplied over many routes . . . it costs Muni millions of dollars. . . Muni is installing cameras on the front of all its buses that will be used to photograph motorists illegally blocking transit stops." Etc. Further refer to State Assembly Bill 101.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There's no document lamer than the Billovits memo on the right-turn ban at Market/Octavia. As I pointed out, there's zero factual basis in that document to justify the right-turn ban. Billovits is also known as one of the people in Planning who's completely screwed up the Market/Octavia Plan---seven years in the making and still screwed up!

Anyone who's actually looked at that intersection can see that allowing people to make that turn onto the freeway would present no problems and no need to "line up" at that point. Instead, they now have to go to 13th and South Van Ness or do a detour to get on Octavia Blvd.

My anecdotal evidence about traffic on Market Street is just that: I've never had any trouble driving down Market Street, except from passive-aggressive cyclists. My experience as both a passenger on Muni and a passenger in a car doesn't support SPUR's study.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I have to ask: is it possible that the reason your perspective on Market street traffic disagrees with the SPUR report is that you are seeing selectively? To you, any biker on the road is somehow creating a nuisance, but is there any real problem here other than raising a few impatient people's blood pressure? On the other hand, a real problem like helping public transit on Market street clean up its act is not even on your radar?

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...I have driven downtown a number of times with a friend..."

"Nor did I see a single instance where Muni was delayed by any other traffic."

Hardly empirical or objective evidence of there being a problem with cyclists or there not being any problem with Muni. If you were to ride the F-Line, or better one of the bus lines which uses the outer lanes of Market, it would not take long before you were stuck in traffic because cars, taxis or delivery trucks were blocking traffic.

As for Market & Octavia, I agree with you about not merging traffic, but what do you consider "snarling" traffic? Many drivers who take Market to get to the freeway are going to turn on Duboce, taking much of the freeway bound traffic off Market before the intersection.

At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's tough to take "your experience" very seriously, given your history of irrational antibikethink, routine dismissal of factual evidence, and repeated misrepresenation of bicycling issues in San Francisco.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying that the SPUR report is wrong; all I'm saying is that my experience doesn't confirm it, not to mention the fact that SPUR is squarely in the bike nut camp on transportation issues.

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, your argument here and elsewhere amounts simply to circular logic. When people respond to the factual evidence for the advantages of cycling, they engage in it and work to encourage it. That does not make them "nuts" or "true believers", unless you can actually point out a flaw in their logic or an error in their facts. Advocating for a greater role for bikes in transportation does not make your facts or your logic inherently questionable. Thus, it does not do to dismiss a planning study based on your perception that the planners favour bikes, unless you can actually find a flaw in their data or their logic.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You don't seem to read very carefully. I often post the traffic numbers showing the volume of motor vehicles on city streets. Our economy depends on our ability to move people and goods with some degree of efficiency over city streets. Our city government's fantasy that somehow we should redesign our mostly two-lane streets---taking away traffic lanes and street parking---on behalf of 2% of our population is simply preposterous. But if you lived in SF you could also see the other planning disasters that our Planning Dept. and BOS is inflicting on the people of San Francisco. The people in Planning are morons who are doing a lot of damage to what was one of the most beautiful cities in the country. The bike bullshit is only one instance of their crackpot approach to this once great city.

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this question has been asked here before, but avoided rather than answered in a serious way:

If you believe that San Francisco's economy truly depends on cars, do you think there will be an economic collapse when the injunction is lifted and the city proceeds with redesigning streets for bicyclists?

Why do think the economies of many Eurpoean cities that have redesigned streets on behalf of bicyclists haven't collapsed?

An economy that does depend on cars is not very well positioned to succeed in a century when peak oil looms and biofuels are proving to be a disaster in terms of sustainability. If San Francisco's economy is truly dependent on cars, perhaps it is time to work serioulsy to move the economy in a smarter direction, for the City's own economic health, if not the health of the environment.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No one is talking about "collapse." What's likely to happen if the city continues its anti-car policies: traffic will be made a lot worse than it has to be for everyone, tourists and residents, including Muni. Homelessness and the squalor on downtown streets are already an annoyance to many tourists. Making it difficult for them to drive on city streets will just be one more reason not to visit SF.

At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, no connection exists between your posting general statistics on traffic in San Francisco, and the reliability of a study on a specific intersection by a particular department. No facts make an ad hominem argument any more valid. If you want to refute a planning study, you have to show an error in the logic or facts behind that study.

Your general opinion of an organization does not invalidate a specific study they have done. As Orwell put it, "a thing can be true, even though Lord Halifax says so." Likewise, even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day.

So do you have specific criticisms of this study?

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What study and what intersection are you talking about? I post the traffic numbers to remind people of the real context of the bicycle fantasy. Both Gabriel Metcalf and Dave Snyder of SPUR are card-carrying bike nuts. Snyder was long-time head of the SFBC and even hatched the city's devious, failed strategy to try to sneak the Bicycle Plan through the process. Of course they "study" problems they already think they know the answers to.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob - tomorrow's bike to work day. Perhaps you should try riding to work (if you work?) tomorrow, just to give yourself some context for your ongoing jihad against the concept of bicycling for transportation. Who knows, you might learn something.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Los Dudos:

And maybe you could brush up on your reading skills. I don't oppose people riding bikes in the city, though I think it's a dangerous way to get around. I oppose redesigning city streets on behalf of a small, PC minority, since that will make traffic a lot worse than it has to be in a city where most people ride Muni and drive cars.

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think bicycling is a dangerous way to get around, AND you oppose redesinging streets for bicycling (which would make it safer for bicyclists to get around). Sounds like a jihad against bicycling to me. It's akin to someone saying they think Muni is an impracticle way to travel becuase it's too slow, while at the same time opposing measures to speed up Muni. There's a word for this kind of thinking: dumb.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Painting bike lanes on city streets only makes cycling statistically safer, not safer for the individual cyclist who gets doored, goes over the handlebars, or is hit by another vehicle. What's dumb is the denial by you bike nuts that cycling can be dangerous, regardless of the other traffic on city streets. I've never been opposed to bike lanes per se. What I object to is putting a bike lane on, for example, a street like Masonic Ave., a major North/South traffic artery in SF, but that's among the options now being considered by those writing the EIR on the Bicycle Plan. Only an idiot---or a young, politically motivated bike zealot---would even want to ride a bike on Masonic, whether it had bike lanes or not.

Speaking of dumb, like all the bike crackpots, you ignore this essential reality: most cycling accidents have nothing to do with other vehicles. They are "solo falls," in the words of Bert Hill, the SFBC's safety instructor.

At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Market/Octavio issue, I am confused as to how anyone thinks that keeping cars on market street for several blocks longer so they can turn onto Duboce helps traffic on Market street. It seems like the best solution would be to get the cars off as soon as possible.

Also, I am perpetually amused by the people who talk about "european" cities that are doing this that or the other thing for bikes. The assumption seems to be that because it is european it is better. But the deeper point is that beyond Amsterdam there is really not a lot of biking in european cities. In any case, all of this money would be much better spent on improving public transportation (something that europeans have, so that should be OK). Public transportation is accessible to the vast majority of the population, in inclement weather and at all times of day and night. Much better than biking which only a few percent of residents will ever want to do on a regular basis.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, everyone knows what needs to be done to make Muni better---more buses and more drivers, both of which are expensive. In their ongoing jihad against cars, the bike people overlook the fact that by screwing up traffic for cars they also screw up traffic for Muni and emergency vehicles on our mostly two-lane streets. Making Muni better is the sensible course for SF, not redesigning our streets on behalf of the bike fantasy.

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing what you do. Any chance you want to move to Chicago???

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Nick said...

Regarding Masonic traffic flow. If all the parking was removed on Masonic, the 43 would run a lot smoother. The slowest thing on the streets is usually someone parallel parking. The cyclists whiz by in comparison to that type of blockade.
Additionally the 43 goes by six times an hour. I think that's the only bus on Masonic. It's not likely that cyclists would be tormenting the 43 all the time.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The point is that Masonic is doing just fine as it is, including the #43 line. The Bicycle Plan isn't advocating taking away all the parking on Masonic, which, as the city knows, would cause a lot of negative feedback. Instead, the Plan has two alternatives that involve complicated lane and parking removal for various blocks between Geary and Fell. As the EIR tells us, these projects will degrade traffic at several of the intersections on this stretch of Masonic and slow down the popular #43 line, which is the only regular bus line on Masonic, except for a few express lines that use the street for a few blocks during commute hours.

If a bike lane is put on Masonic, the #43 line pulling in and out of bus stops would pose an even greater danger to cyclists.


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