Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bike racks and LOS: the dialogue continues

Since Shawn Allen is at least trying to come to grips with my ongoing criticism of the city's bike community and their political representation, I'm posting this to the blog instead of relegating it to the comments section. Another point in his favor: He's not anonymous like so many commenters.

Shawn Allen writes: "How is LOS 'outdated'? Do you really think the city shouldn't have to do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan?"
LOS is absolutely outdated. CEQA's definition of "significant impact" to LOS doesn't account for improved pedestrian or cycling throughput, let alone safety. This document (which you should really read in its entirety, as it addresses several of your other EIR-related arguments) proposes the following amendment to CEQA:

As a standard, a finding of LOS E, F will not be considered to be a significant impact if the change is caused by creation of, or improvement to, pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities. The term facilities includes all projects that create dedicated right of-way or re-allot traffic signal timing to improve pedestrian, bicycle and transit safety and efficiency.

Rob replies: This is the cyclist critique of the level of service (LOS) standard for measuring the impacts of proposed projects on traffic. E and F are the two lowest LOS ratings, which means a street has a serious congestion problem. The problem with eliminating LOS ratings in favor of cyclists---which is what the SFBC and its many enablers in city government want to do---is that by doing so you would also screw up traffic for "transit efficiency"---that is, Muni---not just for cars. My understanding of state law is that if the city eliminates LOS, they have to have something plausible to replace it, which they don't have. What the bike people want to do is eliminate LOS so that they can take away traffic lanes to make bike lanes anywhere in the city, regardless of the effect that will have on traffic.

Shawn Allen writes: And no, I don't think that the city should have to do an EIR on the entire Bicycle Plan. If anything I think it's a problem that the Plan was bought into as a take-it-or-leave-it package deal, because its review put a freeze on totally uncontroversial improvements like the installation of new bike racks. Bike parking is actually a big problem in some parts of town as a result of your lawsuit.

Rob replies: Actually, we weren't worried about bike racks. The judge simply prohibited any changes in the city's "hardscape," which obviously includes bike racks. We were concerned primarily with the city taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes---and doing it without either adequate environmental review or sufficient notice to the public. You of course are entitled to your opinion that the city shouldn't have to do an EIR on the 527-page Bicycle Plan, but we had both the law and the facts on our side, which is why Judge Warren gave us the original injunction, and why Judge Busch kept it in place until the city completes the EIR, which, by the way, is apparently coming out next week.

Shawn Allen writes: Everything that I've read makes me confident that the EIR is going to thoroughly dismantle your technical and legal objections to the Bicycle Plan. Then you can use all the clout that you've accumulated in this ordeal to lobby the city on behalf of San Franciscans Against Progressive Smugness.

Rob replies:
"Technical and legal objections to the Bicycle Plan"? The litigation was not about the contents of the Bicycle Plan but about the city's failure to do any environmental review of the ambitious project, which was clearly against the law (CEQA), since it was easy for us to demonstrate that it might have a negative impact on the city's environment. The EIR is what has to deal with the contents of the Bicycle Plan. If we think the EIR is inadequate, we'll take our objections to Judge Busch, who will make the final decision. That's the only remaining legal issue.

Shawn Allen writes: Look, my point is this: You've got a huge chip on your shoulder, and it's clearly clouding your judgment. Of course you can't think of any similar "consolation" for "bike people"; you can't seem to recognize a single good thing about cycling. You see the world through this distorted lens of the lone stalwart fighting the big, dumb, progressive system. You associate everyone on a bike with the SFBC because they're a convenient enemy in your battle against politically motivated self-righteousness. It's the same us-versus-them mentality that you find so abhorrent in politically active cyclists fighting for their right to the city streets. And you know what? I find that totally annoying, too. The difference is that I can look past self-righteousness and see all of the good things that happen when you encourage people to get on bikes. Most of the folks who you mockingly refer to as "bike people" don't give a shit about the SFBC. (At their peril, I think; they do a lot for cyclists beside political advocacy.) Their motivations for riding a bike are as varied as anything else. And by lumping all of them in with the small fraction of cyclists that ride illegally and/or act disrespectfully, you're lowering the level of discourse around the issue. It's like saying that the city should take car lanes away because of a very visible minority of rude, aggressive, and antisocial drivers. Sorry, jerks! You don't deserve that infrastructure!
Rob replies: I have a chip on my shoulder? Actually, it's the city's bike people who are rather touchy. They're obviously not used to any criticism at all. I'm the only consistent media critic you folks have, and your comrades don't handle it very well, though you're doing better than most. I've had a shit-storm of ugly and uninformed comments ever since the first injunction way back in 2006, and the comments haven't gotten any better since then. You folks don't seem to read anything but material put out by other bike people. You clearly don't know anything about the litigation, even though I've written a lot about it in the past two years. Take a look, for example, at the post about Judge Busch's decision. And you can click on "Bicycle Plan" at the bottom of this post to learn more about the litigation.

I don't really give a shit about cycling per se. Let a thousand transportation "modes" bloom! What I object to is cyclists redesigning city streets on behalf of their small minority, even though the overwhelmng majority of the city's population use cars, trucks, and buses to move around. The EIR may end up justifying more bike lanes here and there, but at least people in the city's neighborhoods will have some warning about what the city wants to do to their streets---a warning they'll only have because of our successful litigation. No one is saying that cyclists don't "deserve" bike lanes; all I'm saying is that they and their enablers in City Hall shouldn't be allowed to redesign our streets on behalf of a minority of cyclists without adequate notice and study beforehand.

Shawn Allen writes:
When all is said and done some very interesting things will have been said for and against the city's attempt to improve bike facilities and encourage their use, but mostly we'll just have wasted a lot of time. And what makes me more angry about that than anything is that your Machiavellian delay of the Bicycle Plan seems--judging by the way that you refer to and interact with cyclists on this blog--to have been motivated almost entirely by your disdain for smug progressives and jerks on bikes. And that's just really sad.

Rob replies: I'm not a Christian who turns the other cheek when insulted. Based on my experience with the bike people, I don't have a lot of respect for them intellectually or politically. For example, why do you use a term like "Machiavellian"? What can that possibly mean in this context? I was a party to successful litigation against the city, during which there were a number of open court hearings, which no one from the cycling community attended, by the way. Again, the time gained by doing the EIR hasn't been wasted, since, as I pointed out, at least the city's neighborhoods will have some notice before the city takes away their street parking or their traffic lanes. And, presumably, the city will have done adequate traffic studies on the streets where they want to take away lanes or street parking. We'll see

And consider this: the massive, 527-page Bicycle Plan contains a lot more than the 56 projects the city is supposedly studying in the EIR. If the city had gone unchallenged, they would have been able to cherry-pick and implement a wide variety of projects in the Plan with no environmental study and no public notice, which is what they were doing before---and even during---the litigation.

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At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep referring to the 527-page bike plan. According to MTA's website, the bike plan is only 132 pages:

At 12:14 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Here's my take on it. FYI - if "murphstahoe" is not good enough for you, my name is John Murphy, I live in District 8, and I am contemplating running for Dufty's seat when he is termed out.

This situation is typical of the sort of thing that has degraded America's competitiveness. We have become a prisoner of bureaucracy in instances where common sense should prevail. The amount of time, money, LIVES, that have been wasted on this for no net benefit is ridiculous. While it won't be possible to measure this statment, I posit that in the end the bike plan as implemented will not diverge greatly from how it would have been implemented had the lawsuit and injunction had never started.

There have been plenty of abuses of process and laws are in place to prevent those abuses. The downside is that now people like Rob Anderson can abuse the checks and balances in order to slow progress to a crawl. We are talking about bike lanes and bike racks here - not the Bay Bridge, not river diverting dams, nuclear power plants, or anything of that sort. The bike plan never would have gotten to where it was - pre-injunction - without general consensus that it was of benefit.

Obama on the stimulus plan "I want to see it enacted right away. It is going to be of a size and scope that is necessary to get this economy back on track". Even Rob has called Obama "transformative". Why is he inspiring people? Because he is instilling a sense of URGENCY - that we can't screw around. San Francisco has been forced to screw around with the bike plan by one person abusing process. Blah, blah, blah San Francisco was abusing process. Thanks for keeping us in the 20th Century, Rob.

Rob, I know you aren't ashamed of your shenanigans, but you should be. I'm on the record, you can reprint that as many times as you want if you want to attack me should I file papers to run.

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

Anon: The city has redefined and downsized the original version of the 500-page Bicycle Plan, which used to be available online. If you don't have a hard copy of it, I guess you're out of luck; it's gone down the Orwellian memory hole. The litigation was about the larger version.

Murph: You're not a very careful reader, Murph, which means you'll make a good candidate. As I pointed out in the item you're commenting on, if nothing else the successful litigation means that the neighborhoods, once the EIR is released, will have some warning about what the bike people and their enablers in City Hall want to do to their streets, which is an important benefit.

Every other major project on the drawing board in the city---the Market/Octavia Plan, UC's plan for the old extension property, the proposed Whole Foods at Haight and Stanyan, to mention a few---all had to do an EIR. Why is the Bicycle Plan any different? Please explain why the bike people are somehow above the law that everyone else has to follow.

"The bike plan never would have gotten to where it was---pre-injunction---without general consensus that it was of benefit."

Wrong! The whole point of the litigation---and one of our original complaints---was that the city was giving insufficient notice to the neighborhoods before the were implementing the Bicycle Plan. In fact, they were continuing to implement the Plan even as the litigation proceeded, which is why we got the injunction in the first place. I included a link to a post on Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to do the EIR. Funny that we were able to fool two smart Superior Court judges---Warren and Busch---with our "ridiculous" litigation.

There has been no abuse of the process, except by the city. Judge Busch all but called the city liars in his decision, based on the way they were proceeding with the Bicycle Plan and the way they were arguing in court. They were blatantly violating both the spirit and the letter of CEQA, which made it an easy decision for Busch.

You're already on record as a complete bike nut, Murph, with your many comments over the past two years. You'll definitely get the bike nut vote. But you may be overestimating the bike vote in that district, so best to be careful. And here's a thought experiment for you: How do you think the people of SF would vote if the Bicycle Plan was on the ballot? How do you think they would vote if Critical Mass was on the ballot?

At 1:45 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

We'll just have to find out. Gary Wysocky was the top vote getter in Santa Rosa's City Council Race as an unapologetic cyclist, Santa Rosa is less progressive than San Francisco as a whole and definitely District 8.

Let's get it on.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Shawn Allen said...

Thanks, Rob. I feel like I'm starting to understand your argument better now.

Re: LOS E and F, I think the biggest problem with your objections (and, as a friend of mine in public transit planning recently admitted to me, the very models used to calculate the effects of street modification) is that there's no accounting for the increased adoption of other modes of transit that would actually improve throughput, specifically in high congestion areas. Biking is an undeniably faster and more efficient mode of transit than cars, MUNI, and sometimes even BART on major thoroughfares during commuting hours. LOS E, F treets are, as you've noted, defined as such by serious congestion problems. It makes perfect sense to me that the city would pursue drastic changes for these areas, including even removing vehicle traffic from them entirely. Many experts agree: This page provides a thorough breakdown of multimodal LOS assessment, as well as some very specific justifications for sacrificing vehicle LOS for improved bicycle and pedestrian safety. This document (see "3.5 Multimodal LOS Research" on page 30) discusses methods for calculating overall LOS based on different factors for each mode, implying that local governments should be in charge of prioritizing LOS for each mode as they see fit. In fact, this is exactly what the SFCTA did in 2003, according to SFMTA's version of the Bicycle Plan (see Chapter 1, page 23):

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) adopted a Strategic Analysis Report (SAR 02-3) “Transportation Level of Service (LOS) Methodologies” in December 2003 which concluded that conventional LOS measures, and the City’s current process for evaluating transportation projects, are not consistent with the City’s General Plan policy guidance toward development of a balanced, multi-modal transportation system. Specifically, they conflict with General Plan Policy 10.1, which calls for the City’s transportation system to be assessed in terms of the movement of people and goods rather than vehicles. Furthermore, the City’s LOS measures do not incorporate factors most important to bicyclists and provide limited acknowledgement of the environmental benefits of bicycling.

Clearly there are some very smart people thinking about this stuff, and I defer to their judgement. CEQA is over 30 years old, though, and I think it's safe to say that we know a lot more about urban transit planning now than we did in the mid-70s. I'm not suggesting that CEQA is totally irrelevant, but that perhaps San Francisco could become the model for a broader definition of LOS (specific to CEQA) that more comprehensively addresses multimodal transit. Most of the literature I've read on the subject doesn't even factor in the socioeconomic advantages of prioritizing dedicated bike and bus thoroughfares, which a friend of mine at the Association of Bay Area Governments tells me is the only real way to ensure that less well-off people have timely and practical access to the places where the well-paying jobs are.

It may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but the fact of the matter is that when you provide people with better cycling infrastructure, adoption rates will eventually increase. The goal of politically active "bike people" is for the city to reach a point at which cycling is ingrained in the local culture, when it turns from an question of relative safety or a struggle between interest groups to simply a matter of personal practicality. I don't expect that we'll ever become the next Amsterdam or Copenhagen for exactly the reason you often cite: Americans just love their cars. But surveys and research have long revealed that the biggest roadblock to cycling adoption is the perception of safety, for which the lack of critical infrastructure deserves most of the blame. People do fall on bikes, for sure, and it rarely has anything to do with cars. This is not some dirty secret that we're trying to hide from people in order to trick them into getting on a bike, though.

The comprehensive Bicycle Plan, as originally written, may end up having been too ambitious for its own good. And I don't mean to imply that the intent of your lawsuit was to suspend the installation of bike racks. But it seems to me that if what you're really concerned about is the removal of specific traffic and parking lanes, you should be lobbying and fighting the Plan's implementation at a lower level. In the end, I think that by halting any and all cycling-related improvements you'll have done your cause more harm than good, because when that EIR comes back and the Plan eventually moves forward there may be little legal recourse left.

I'll concede that the circumvention of CEQA may have been a strategic blunder on the Board's behalf. But the procedural technicalities of the Plan's adoption don't address what I think is the central issue of the battle you've found yourself in with San Francisco's "bike people", which is that you continue to use self-righteousness and the poor behavior of a minority as a moral justification for denying all cyclists a fair share of the city's streets. My suggestion? If you want to have a more enlightened discussion with cycling advocates, drop the combative tone and frame things in terms of the Plan's actual merits. You've got some good points (lack of proper neighborhood notification being one of the big ones), but I think the legitimacy of your concerns is muddied by your hostile attitude toward people commenting on your blog and cyclists in general. We're not all nuts. Treat us with respect, and you'll get some in return.

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your "warning the neighborhoods" agurment is BS. bike lanes in SF require legislation, which means they require public hearings. before the lawsuite, every single bike lane project in sf had a public hearing and associated public notice. the same will be true after the eir is completed and the bike plan moves forward again. don't try to pretend your lawsuit was about public noticing! it was a serious waste of taxpayer $, a self-grandizing scheme, and directly responsible for physical injury to many. hopefully you don't believe in karma.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

S.F. asks court to allow bike improvements "Rob Anderson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the bike plan injunction, could not be reached for comment Monday."

Do you care to comment Rob? Care to comment on why the city is asking the court for permission to improve pedestrian safety by adding bike racks? By your accounting, nobody rides bikes, yet the city is now claiming that there are so many bikes out there and nowhere to park them, so they are being parked in such a way that pedestrians have to go into the street to walk around them.

Not only that, the city is asking permission to make improvements on the streets! Lest you think this is just a ploy by the anti-car bike nut people, "The recommendation was derided by Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition." Herrera is doing this DESPITE the SFBC, not at the SFBC's behest.


-- Polk Street between Beach and Market streets, where 73 motor vehicle-bike collisions have been reported since 2003.

-- Valencia Street, where 65 motor vehicle-bike accidents have been reported since 2003.

-- Third Street, where 32 motor vehicle-bike collisions have been reported since 2003

Note these statistics say "motor-vehicle-bike collisions" - not "Solo falls by cyclists".

Care to comment?

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

I didn't want to give Gordon a comment until I'd seen the legal papers, which go to the attorney, not me. I still don't have a copy of the city's filing yet, but based on Gordon's story, I can make a comment. Everything the city has ever tried to do on behalf of the bike nut community is always called an "improvement," Murph, but that doesn't make it so.

Shahum was only commenting on the city's plan for the Market/Octavia intersection, not on anything else. Even she thinks that making motorists and cyclists share a single lane is a bad idea at that intersection. What the city doesn't seem to understand is this: Once they force bikes and motorists to share a single lane going through that intersection, there's no longer any threat to cyclists from cars turning right onto the freeway from Market Street. Hence, if the judge allows them to do that, they logically should undo all the obstacles they've put in the way of motorists trying to get on the freeway.

The city doesn't define what constitutes a "collision" in its accident reports as opposed to solo falls. Whether they do in the legal filing I haven't seen, I don't know yet. Since the city doesn't make the distinction clear anywhere in any document I've seen, they in effect make cycling seem safer than it really is. Nor do they apportion blame in their reports, though when they do cyclists are at fault in the accidents as often as not.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"Hence, if the judge allows them to do that, they logically should undo all the obstacles they've put in the way of motorists trying to get on the freeway."

Repeat after me. The no right turn off of market onto the 101 at Octavia has nothing to do with bicycles. The pocket is not long enough with respect to the previous intersection and allowing that right turn will result in gridlocking market. This is what the traffic engineers determined when they prohibited the right turn.

The problem the cyclists have is that they expect the cars to obey the pesky little sign that says NO RIGHT TURN - regardless of why the right turn is prohibited - and when the cars do not obey the law, problems ensue.

No change to the positioning of the bike lane nor a change to sharrows will result in removal of the right turn prohibition. If bikes did not exist, the right turn would still be prohibited.

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

You make a bunch of assertions but provide no evidence for them, Murph. The ban on the right turn off Market onto the freeway was in fact about bicycles. There's no engineering report that I've ever seen that argues against that turn, just a memo of June 5, 2003, written by John Billovits of the Planning Dept. that cites the alleged safety problems the right turn would cause, particularly for cyclists. Billovits refers to no engineering reports but merely claims that CalTrans, after meeting with city officials, that the right turn should be banned. What else could that ramp possibly be used for?

The city is now proposing that in effect the bike lane through that intersection should be merged with the motor vehicle lane, an idea that even Leah Shahum rejects. My point about that proposal: Once you merge bike traffic and other vehicle traffic through that intersection, there would no longer be any justification for the right turn ban, since cyclists would no longer be to the right of motorized traffic in their own lane.

How allowing freeway-bound traffic easy access to the freeway at that intersection could possible create "gridlock" escapes me. I know of no studies that reach that conclusion. The opposite would be the case, since the easy right turn would get freeway-bound traffic off of Market Street much quicker, instead of forcing drivers to go all the way to 13th and South Van Ness to get on the freeway.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"The opposite would be the case, since the easy right turn would get freeway-bound traffic off of Market Street much quicker, instead of forcing drivers to go all the way to 13th and South Van Ness to get on the freeway."

The issue is that an official access to the freeway at that spot would attract more drivers to that route than the roadway can support.
Currently drivers in the Mission/Castro/whatever approach the freeway via 14th. Being able to take the right off of Market would funnel that traffic onto Market.

This is exacerbated not by bikes specifically but pedestrians as well, if pedestrians are crossing Octavia at Market, on the green, nobody can take the right turn. Pedestrians, moving at their regular speed, can inhibit 2-3 cars per light cycle. This only really has to happen once to gridlock the block, blocking the right turn off of Pearl onto Market - that pocket is not deep.

I'm not a traffic engineer, that's just what I have been told. You can dispute it, but you're not a traffic engineer either.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I haven't seen a single document that supports your claim about increased traffic to get on the freeway. It's always been about the alleged safety threat to cyclists and pedestrians. To get on the freeway now, drivers have to make their way to 13th and South Van Ness, either via Noe or by going all the way down to Van Ness and making a right turn to the freeway entrance. Seems real dumb to not allow freeway-bound traffic to get off the surface streets of the city quickly and onto the freeway. Yes, anyone making that right turn onto the freeway would have to wait for pedestrians to get out of the way, but that's true of every right turn in the city, isn't it?

This is not something to leave to the so-called experts. All you have to do is go down to that intersection and take a look at it.

Banning that sensible right turn, Critical Mass, and the bad behavior of cyclists common all over the city have left a lot of people in the city with a certain amount of loathing for you bike people, Murph.


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