Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tom Davidson and the Silent Majority

Tom Davidson writes:
Hi Rob,

Have been reading your blog for the first time tonight, and feel like email is perhaps a better way to make my points rather than public discussion.

I live in the city and own a car and a bike. If I need to haul other people, or groceries, or it's miserable out, or late, I'll drive. If the weather is nice, or I'm headed somewhere nearby, I try to bike. When I'm biking, I really appreciate bike routes, and try to ride predictably and be courteous to cars. When I'm driving, I do what I can to make life easier for cyclists (no double-parking in bike lanes, checking my mirrors fanatically). Not having to find parking, or worry about getting a ticket is really nice, as is getting some fresh air on a nice day. Around commute time, I find that the many other cyclists I see on the bike lanes are similarly calm and pragmatic about their mode of transport.

So this email is not to take issue with your specific arguments, but just to remind you that there may be another 'silent majority' out there that your writings don't really deal with: citizens who are not deeply invested in the politics of cycling, but who are willing to try a different balance between the various modes of transportation that keep a busy city humming. If my experience is any guide, there is actually quite a lot of 'elasticity' in the choice of mode of transport, and I think this is a valid target for policy-setting.

Lastly, I think there are also lots of ways in which this is not a zero-sum game. For instance, setting up bike lanes on quieter streets (like the lane down Page street that I use quite often) is a great way to segregate bike and vehicle traffic, which is safer and faster for all concerned. It seems like you and your interlocutors on the board have really gotten yourselves into an us-and-them situation, but I hope as you head back to court in the coming months that you realize there's a lot to be gained from reaching consensus and letting the planning process proceed.

Tom Davidson

Rob replies:
What makes you think this e-mail message is a better way to discuss these issues than commenting on my blog? Actually, you don't really say much of anything anyhow, so why the personal message? Of course there are a lot of otherwise sensible people like you who ride bikes. Maybe your scoutmaster will give you a merit badge for safe and sensible cycling in the city.

In fact, on many city streets it is a zero-sum game, since many of our streets have only two traffic lanes. To make bike lanes on these streets, the city has to take away either a traffic lane or street parking. And then there are busy streets like Masonic and Cesar Chavez that have more than two lanes where taking away a traffic lane risks making traffic a lot worse for everyone but cyclists.

"Letting the planning process proceed"? You mean like the way Planning and the city tried to sneak the Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review? What "consensus"? The city and the bike nuts are going to more or less redesign our streets on behalf of your small minority regardless of what I think. They only have to worry about screwing up city traffic so badly that it will cause a political backlash from the overwhelming majority of city residents who don't ride bikes.

Your message is bland, smug, and adds nothing to the discussion, Tom, but thanks for sharing.

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At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Paul C. said...

Damn Rob... the guy was presenting a reasonable argument, and you responded like a jackass.

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

Davidson's message doesn't contain an argument at all. It could only sound reasonable if you know nothing of what's happened in the city recently. It's self-congratulatory pseudo-rationality. It's fatuous to talk about "reaching consensus and letting the planning process proceed" in light of how the bike people and city government have behaved in the past several years. First, they try to sneak the massive Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review. Then, when they were busted by the court, they reacted furiously with the nastiness of the foiled fanatics that they are. The tip-off that Davidson's message is bullshit comes in the first sentence with the implication that he of course is above the vulgar rough-and-tumble of actually commenting to my blog and engaging in "public discussion." His message was supposedly a private, statesmanlike move to the higher ground of "consensus." Bullshit! He congratulates himself for being one of the reasonable bike people, not like the riff-raff who race down city hills, intimidate pedestrians, flip off motorists, or take part in Critical Mass. But the whole point of my recent posts is that the city's bike community includes many such individuals and the SFBC actually panders to them by endorsing Critical Mass. The pseudo-rebel pose adopted by many cyclists is a public relations problem for the whole bike community that, if I'm right, is turning into a political liability for whatever rationality there is---and I don't think there's much in the first place---to bikes as a serious "mode" of transportation.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long a bike requires a small fraction of the road space a car would use for parking and operation, taking space from cars and giving it to bikes cannot, by definition, be zero-sum.

Example: several parking spots were removed on Market street to put a bike lane in between Octavia and Van Ness. Hundreds of cyclists now have a safer place to ride every day. The parking spots did not accommodate as many users as the bike lane.

Nonzero-sum, in other words, because bikes can do more with less.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Several" parking spaces were removed between Van Ness and Octavia to make bike lanes? Actually, there were dozens of spaces removed, much to the distress of the small businesses in the area, which relied on those spaces for their customers. At the committee meeting that passed on the removal, the bike people and Leah Shahum lectured these folks about the necessity of accepting change. And the city rushed this project through at the behest of the mayor to get it done in time for Bike to Work Day that year! Hence, the small businesses on Market Street were on the losing end of this arrogance by the city and the bike people.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"the small businesses on Market Street were on the losing end of this arrogance by the city and the bike people"

Do you have data that they have seen a drop in business? Hard data? Anecdotal data? Or are you just making this up?

I'd be satisfied if you even said "I went and talked to the guy at Flax, and Delissio, and they said they are getting hammered due to the parking spots being gone" (assuming you weren't lying about talking to them...).


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