Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taking space from cars for bikes

Steve Jones is the SF Bay Guardian's designated bike guy. Tim Redmond and other Guardian contributors are of course also pro-bike, but Jones is the reporter the Guardian turns to when it wants to do a substantive piece on bikes in SF. His latest piece is a good news/bad news summary of the political status of the city's bike people.

Not surprisingly, Jones quotes the city's recent study that shows an increase in bike use in spite of the 2006 injunction against the city:

This increase is especially significant when viewed in light of the injunction against the City's Bicycle Plan. This injunction has stopped the City from installing any new bicycle facilities since June 2006. Despite a lack of improvement or additions to the City's bicycle route network, cycling use in San Francisco appears to be increasing.

Jones makes no comment on this quotation, because it's no doubt self-evident to him and his comrades that more people on bikes is simply a Good Thing. What I think it means: riding a bike in SF has nothing to do with bike lanes or safety; it's a PC fad for the many young and politically motivated people in the city. Riding a bike in SF---or any American city---will never really be "a safe, attractive option," regardless of the miles of bike lanes that are eventually painted on city streets. Regardless of the obvious dangers, some people will ride bikes in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics will engage in suicide bombings---because they are politically motivated to do so.

Where Jones and I agree: the real political crunch will happen when the EIR on the Bicycle Plan is finished, approved by Judge Busch, and the injunction is lifted. Jones's latest piece in the Guardian is essentially a pre-emptive political strike---a warning shot, so to speak---aimed at Mayor Newsom. Jones and the bike people are already preparing the political ground to allow the city to trump neighborhood concerns about taking away their traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes:

Yet there are still political barriers to overcome in a city where cars are the dominant transportation option---and the first barrier is Mayor Newsom. He has yet to show a willingness to back his green rhetoric with policies that actually take space from cars, which many of the bike lane projects will entail. "I think we have seen this mayor talk big on some environmental problems, but I've been disappointed that on transportation, that thinking hasn't been turned into action yet," said SFBC executive director Leah Shahum, whom Newsom appointed to the MTA board but then removed earlier this year before her term expired, a sign of the complex and largely adversarial relationship between the mayor and bicyclists.

"Taking space from cars" means taking away street parking and/or traffic lanes to make bike lanes, which is going to be controversial on some of the streets now being studied by the city. When the time comes next year, the bike people want the mayor to push the Bicycle Plan through regardless of neighborhood opposition.

The bike people have routinely treated Mayor Newsom with contempt, even though, far from being a "barrier" to their agenda, he's given them everything they've asked for, including his endorsement of the Bicycle Plan. The only time he went against the bike lobby was his veto of the Healthy Saturdays idea in Golden Gate Park a few years ago, and he more or less redeemed himself with a subsequent "compromise" that achieved virtually the same thing. In short, he's been friendly to the bike agenda even though they have been antagonistic to him and surely voted against him in both 2003 and 2007.

But if Mayor Newsom runs for Governor of California, he will have things to consider other than the antagonism of the city's bike people. Gay marriage---and his much-publicized adultery---may be acceptable here in Progressive Land but not necessarily in the hinterland. If those same folks perceive that Newsom is also trampling on the legitimate concerns of this city's neighborhoods simply to cater to the same people who bring us Critical Mass every month, it won't be a political plus for him.

It's odd that Jones cites his ride with Mayor Newsom on Bike to Work Day two years ago, when he cursed and insulted the mayor. Not surprisingly this account of the occasion doesn't mention that.

Dave Snyder is trotted out once again as if he was some kind of authority on city transportation issues, but his main qualification is that he led the Bicycle Coalition for years before the advent of Leah Shahum. Snyder is also known as the guy who formulated the city's deceitful, unsuccessful strategy of bifurcating the Bicycle Plan to sneak it through the political/legal process.

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At 12:40 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

"some people will ride bikes in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics will engage in suicide bombings"

Wow, in case anyone doubted that you were a wingnut, this statement pretty much sums things up!

At 1:14 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Rob - at this point I feel the need to point out a bit of a social justice issue. Oil has hit $132 a barrel today. This isn't exactly surprising to anyone really paying attention - it is not surprising to me and this is why I took a very large futures position in crude oil months ago.

Cyclist numbers *ARE* increasing - not just in SF. Denying this is really burying your head in the sand. And the reason is very obvious - Gas prices are going up, they are going up fast, and there is no magic pixie dust that is going to change it. Add in a credit crunch and people are going to have to change their behaviors. It will happen.

We can either wait for this to happen and then adjust, or we can plan. World class cities plan. The rest become Houston.

The bikenuts said it would happen, you said we were nuts. It happened, you still say we are nuts. To me that only proves you are nuts. The fact I respond to you proves to me that I am nuts. Argh!

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People ride bikes for obvious reasons:
(in no particular order)

1) fun
2) health
4) cost
5) environment
6) culture
7) never stuck in traffic
8) free parking everywhere

In Rob Anderson's view, or Rob-vision:

1) because they want to be 'PC'

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Murph: Your point about oil prices and my critique of the bike nuts in SF is poorly taken, since rising oil prices don't come as a surprise to me, either. Higher oil prices will have a positive effect on how the US uses energy in the long run, resulting in more energy-efficient vehicles and conservation, etc. (the millionth Prius was sold the other day).

But as a typical bike nut, you're insensitive to the pain this is causing a lot of Americans who have to drive. Serves them right! Let them ride bikes! The American people will not now turn to bicycles en masse. It's just not going to happen. Instead, energy-efficient vehicles and increased use of mass transit are what's going to happen.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger jt said...

Since when did owning and driving a car in a metropolitan area become a right? I view it as a privilege and, at times, an utter luxury. In District 5 we have access to some of the best transit routes in the City. How can you waste so much mental energy attacking people who either don't have the means to support car ownership or don't want to deal with the hassle of fighting for parking?

Do you really understand what causes pain to a lot of Americans? Being forced to use an antiquated and dangerous mode of transport - the personal auto.

I live down the street from you Rob, we share a dense neighborhood. I, unfortunately, need to own a car for my job but I'm also an avid cyclist. When I don't have to drive, I ride, walk or take Muni. I get back in my car when I either have to get somewhere that's too far away from my house and I'm schlepping or I just don't feel safe riding because there aren't enough bike lanes and thanks to you, we won't be getting any more anytime soon.

I'm hardly an example of extreme ideology or lifestyle. I represent an important demographic in D5. If you're serious about getting anyone to take your candidacy seriously, I would tone down the anti-bike, pro-car rhetoric.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Nothing in your comment addresses the specifics of this post. It's okay if you just want to download your half-baked opinions about Bikes versus Cars, but it would help if you addressed the contents of this post, which focused on what's going to happen if/when the Bicycle Plan EIR is okayed and the injunction is lifted.

It's tiresome for me to reinvent the wheel every time I get a crybaby, clueless comment like this about the Bicycle Plan. Obviously you haven't read either that document or anything I've written about it on this blog for the last three years.

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Business as usual = taking space from everyone and everything for cars.

I say it's time to reverse that. Let's widen sidewalks, stripe bike lanes, turn parking lots into parks, close overpasses, calm traffic, and design the city for people instead of cars.

Cars are gross overconsumers of city space.

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The American people will not now turn to bicycles en masse. It's just not going to happen."

So how do you account for the fact that it IS happening?

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"energy-efficient vehicles and increased use of mass transit are what's going to happen."

Bicycle = the most energy efficient vehicle there is.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Oil has gone up 5x in the last few years. Priuses do not get 5x the mileage of the average fleet vehicles already in operation. The "more efficient vehicles" theory is not keeping up with the need.

As for mass transit, I am probably a bigger advocate for it than you. In fact I absolutely believe that I am - you continue to support car-centric culture and that culture is to the detriment of our mass transit. People in this town rail on MUNI all the time because it is unreliable. Cars - both in their sheer numbers, and the poor behavior of drivers (which cannot be changed from what I have seen) - are the #1 factor in that problem.

Additionally, Mass-transit cannot be a panacea in the short term. For example, I take the train to work every day. It gets me from downtown SF to downtown MV in 45 minutes. Great! But I don't live in downtown SF and I don't work in downtown MV - on each side I have a last mile problem. MUNI from home to 4th/King means budgeting 45 minutes. On my bike - 15 minutes. Car? 20 minutes and then I have to find parking, and the parking cannot scale. On the MV end I have a company shuttle, but not everyone does. The bike is the enabler for the transit. With that enabler, more can use transit, the more that use it, the better it becomes.

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cars are more frequently used to commit suicide bombings than bicycle. One of their advantages in committing mass murder is they provide more raw material to be thrown off as shrapnel due to their larger size.

Rob entirely fails to address the fact you are more likely to be injured or killed by a suicide bombing by car than a suicide bombing by bike.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Maybe you could post something on dangers of cycling that
a) a $30 helmet won't fix, and
b) outweigh the manifest health benefits of cycling.

As for your claims that cyclists have a "political" motive, once upon a time, giving up some measure of personal convenience for the larger good counted as public spiritedness or civic virtue, one of the foundations of a working democracy. Sneering at that as "political motivation" and thus somehow invalid replaces the outlook of the citizen with the perspective of the consumer, or even the addict. |You may consder that a good; I don't.

At 6:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before this car fad started, American's used to depend on bikes for getting around. What's happened that will prevent them from doing so again? Just laziness?

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Americans depended on bikes before cars? What happened to horses? The pioneers rode bikes across America, not covered wagons? The Donner Party's bikes got snowed in on Donner Summit?

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do covered wagons have to do with anything? Do you have some lunatic theory about how bikes ruined things for horses back in the day? Maybe this whole bike thing is a fad and when it's every everyone will go back to riding horses.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My point is obvious to everyone but True Believers like you. Bikes are a late-19th Century invention, which means Western civilization---including San Francisco---was never dependent on bikes. Horses, trains, and boats did the heavy lifting and pulling. To this day, bikes are primarily a recreational accessory in the US.

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Donner Party was a bunch of idiots. Had they simply waited until the invention of the car and the interstate they'd have never gotten trapped on the summit.

At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To this day, bikes are primarily a recreational accessory in the US."

Which is a huge missed opportunity.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony.

Rob will probably be quick to point out she was politically motivated, and dismiss woman's suffrage as "bikethink" or terrorism.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Anthony died in 1906, which makes her comments on transportation issues in the US of limited utility now. What she said then probably contained some truth in the hyperbole. But I bet the automobile has done much more for the liberation of women since that time. Note that the most repressive Arab regimes don't allow women to drive.

I of course support women's suffrage. The point I made about terrorists and cyclists: both are politically motivated. Many people in SF ride bikes not because they are a safe, sensible way to get around but because they are politically motivated to do so.

By the way, I notice from the city's "2007 Citywide Bicycle Counts Report" that only 24% of the city's cyclists are women.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And for those of us that understand cycling involves risk (also true of driving or walking) should not be allowed a sensible way to get around?

Islamic fundamentalists want to force people to live according to their beliefs. I'm not going to force Rob to ride a bike, yet he believes we should all stop riding because he personally doesn't agree with it.

Who's the fundamentalist?

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"By the way, I notice from the city's "2007 Citywide Bicycle Counts Report" that only 24% of the city's cyclists are women."

You also noticed the number of cyclists went up 15% over the year before too? Or do you only look at the numbers that support your cause?

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Who's the remedial reader? If you want to risk life and limb on a bike, I have no objection at all. What I object to is redesigning city streets on behalf of you small minority of political zealots, since that will only make traffic worse for everyone, including Muni buses.

At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So bikes are slowing down Muni? Where did you get that, or did you make it up? I'm pretty sure it's not one of the problems the TEP turned up.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It will surely slow down Muni if, for example, the city takes away a traffic lane on Masonic Avenue to make bike lanes, which is what is now being contemplated by those doing the EIR on the Bicycle Plan. The #43 Masonic Muni line is a much-used, major North-South bus that already has to negotiate an always-busy Haight Street. The bike zealots don't seem to understand that if they screw up traffic for those wicked automobiles they are also screwing up traffic for Muni in our supposedly transit first city.

At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have any of the previously installed bikes lanes been shown to contribute to Muni delays?

If bike lanes are to cause a problem with traffic flow on Masonic, that will be exposed through the EIR process. Rob, you've fought very hard to hold the city accountable to the EIR process, but you're jumping the gun if that hasn't been completed yet.

You're also being disingenuous by not fully explaining their are multiple options on the table and if "the city takes away a traffic lane on Masonic Avenue to make bike lanes" it's most likely going to be the parking lane, in the commute direction, and only for two hours on weekdays at peak hours.

Switching parking lanes to traffic lanes at peak hours is common throughout the city to the benefit of drivers who are relieved of the congestion. In this case creating a dedicated bike lane during peak hours would be to the benefit of drivers because it would get the cyclists already using it out of the traffic lanes and out our way. Secondly it would effectively make the outermost car-lane wider by removing the parked-cars hemming it in on the side, allowing drivers to go faster without sacrificing safety, since the cyclists won't be in their way and even side-by-side are not as wide as the parked car. It also gives Muni vehicles pulling in and out of stops room to maneuver, picking up some speed before merging and get around cyclists.

All of this works to the benefit of drivers as well as cyclists and Muni riders. Where is there a problem?

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"If bike lanes are to cause a problem with traffic flow on Masonic, that will be exposed through the EIR process."

Right. It will all work out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The same people who never thought the Bicycle Plan needed an EIR in the first place will do the right thing!

If the city takes away street parking to make bike lanes on Masonic, it will both allow traffic to go faster and encourage cyclists to use Masonic more than they do now, which will only create a more dangerous reality for them on Masonic. Why anyone with any sense would want to ride a bike on Masonic an and/or next to that fast-moving traffic is the kind of question you bike people can't really answer. It's irresponsible public policy.

There's also the danger of the #43 driving through the bike lanes as it approaches the bus stops, which you can't explain away by claiming that Muni buses will have "more room to maneuver." The buses will be "maneuvering" through the bike lane as they pull up to and away from bus stops.

And of course taking away neighborhood parking, even if it's only during commute hours, is of no concern to the anti-car city.

Yes, the folks doing the EIR commonly have several options to choose from, but you have more confidence than I do in both the process and the ultimate wisdom of those doing the EIR.

And then there's Second Street, Fifth Street, Cesar Chavez, etc. The city is riding a tiger with the Bicycle Plan. How do they implement it without fucking traffic up so badly it creates a backlash among the 98% of city workers who don't commute by bicycle?

At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And of course taking away neighborhood parking, even if it's only during commute hours, is of no concern to the anti-car city"

So the city should stop this practice outright then? Slow down traffic at peak hours so there will be more parking, right?

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What I think the city should do: leave Masonic alone entirely. Forget about bike lanes, which will only create even more danger for cyclists.

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Rob said, just leave it alone. The number of cyclists is going up in the city (last year it went up 15%, and that was before $4/gallon gasoline) soon enough there will be enough that it forces cars to slow down and with higher gas prices there are fewer people driving.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I was referring to Masonic specifically. You want to speed up traffic on Masonic---which is already moving pretty fast---and you want to improve safety for cyclists on that street. These are mutually exclusive goals. Anon's post lays out the bike nut fantasy: someday soon there will be so many bikes on our streets---including Masonic!---that traffic will have to slow down, making it much safer for the bike people. What they really like is to create traffic jams, which are safer for cyclists, who can then demonstrate their superiority by weaving in and out of the stalled traffic. This is why they opposed the garge in Golden Gate Park; they liked the traffic jams in the park before the garage was built. This is also why they want to "reform" LOS to death; they will then be able to create traffic jams all over the city by eliminating street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger georoad said...

Rob, let me reiterate murphstahoe comment, I'm a nut too for responding. Fuel / energy efficient vehicles are the secret to America's new age. What is the most energy efficient land transportation? By orders of magnitude? The most efficient transportation on land for any animal? Cost effective and fun too? Bicycles are great, the second safest form of land transportation (behind public transit). Now in case you want to bring out any sort of tired argument about how much more food a cyclist uses- peds use more per mile; and the energy use is orders of magnitude less. Ivan Illiaich said it best in his Energy and Equity-- the best way for freedom is to reduce a societies per capita quanta of energy.


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