Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CEQA, SFCTA, and the SAR on LOS

Shawn Allen writes:
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 streets 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.

Rob replies:
Yes, I'm familiar with all the blather about "multimodal" assessment. But what you keep ignoring is that by essentially eliminating the present LOS standards you're only going to make traffic worse, for example, on Second Street and Fifth Street in San Francisco, two streets on the list of 56 projects being studied in the Bicycle Plan EIR. Traffic in the city is a zero-sum game: You can't take away space from cars, trucks, and buses in favor of bikes on busy city streets without immediately making traffic on those streets a lot worse for everyone else. The assumption behind LOS "reform" is that in the long run there will be a large enough increase in cyclists to justify doing that. Perhaps more importantly, the public outcry that would result from doing this to city streets is the biggest obstacle to implementing the Bicycle Plan entirely. That's the problem the city will be facing when they release the EIR on the latest version of the Bicycle Plan: How far can they go on behalf of city cyclists without creating a backlash from the rest of the public?

Shawn Allen writes:
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.

Rob replies:
Yes, I'm familiar with the SFCTA's SAR on LOS. I still have a hard copy of it somewhere in my files. But there's a significant legal issue that they city will have to settle with the State of California before they can dump the present LOS system, since CEQA is a state law that trumps local law. My understanding is that the city will have to have another plausible way to measure traffic before they dump the traditional LOS standard. I don't think the city can just say to the state, "We want to redesign our streets to encourage cycling regardless of the impact that will have on city traffic." Traffic and parking issues are considered significant impacts under CEQA. I notice that you don't address my argument about Muni, which already is widely criticized for its slow service. In spite of all the pro-forma references to "transit" and different "transportation modes" in the elaborate, jargon-filled, dump-LOS literature, this effort is being pushed primarily by the bike people. It's all very well to spin out traffic alternatives theoretically, but the obvious impact of dumping the present LOS standard---assuming, as I say, that the city can even do that---would be to make things worse for our Muni system that already struggles to efficiently handle 700,000 "boardings" every weekday.

Shawn Allen writes:
Clearly there are some very smart people thinking about this stuff, and I defer to their judgment. 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.

Rob replies:
I don't defer to their judgment, because these folks are spinning out their Big Thoughts on traffic primarily on behalf of cyclists. You misunderstand CEQA. It will never be obsolete, because it essentially is about a process that developers and local governments must go through before they implement big projects, namely, they must do an environmental review before implementing any project that even might have a negative effect on the environment. The original CEQA statute is fairly simple; it's the thousands of legal decisions accumulated over the years---the case law---that deal with all the possible issues that arise during the development process that makes it complicated.

Shawn Allen writes:
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.

Rob replies:
The real alternatives to cars for poor people and working people are buses and trains, not bicycles. Again, since most city streets don't have enough room to acommodate existing traffic, street parking, and new bike lanes---"cycling infrastructure," as you call it---it's not politically feasible to fuck up traffic now based on nothing but the hope that people will get out of their cars---and abandon buses---to ride bikes in numbers significant enough to justify that entirely speculative long-term benefit.

Shawn Allen:
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.

Rob replies:
Again, I disagree. The commenters on this blog---and the SFBC itself, by the way---consistently downplay the dangers of cycling. I got a shit-storm of negative comments when I quoted cycling author Robert Hurst's book on the real dangers involved in riding a bike: 

Is cycling dangerous? Yes. Yes, it is. Deadly, no, but definitely dangerous. This is actually a controversial thing to say. There are those who bristle at any suggestion that cycling is dangerous, because they fear it will scare noncyclists away from ever ditching their cars and trying a more healthy form of transport. This is a good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that cycling is dangerous. This is not some urban legend that needs to be debunked. It is reality, and we need to embrace it.

Shawn Allen writes:
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.

Rob replies:
Our legal remedies will only be exhausted when Judge Busch rules that the city's EIR on the Bicycle Plan is adequate. There would have been no legal way for us to get the city to do an adequate analysis of all the individual projects in the Bicycle Plan if we allowed the city to rush it through the process. In fact the city was continuing to implement parts of the Plan even before the hearing on the complaint took place, which is why we got the injunction in the first place. The Bicycle Plan was essentially the Bicycle Coalition's wish-list. The city assumed no one would challenge it here in Progressive Land, so they put everything the bike people wanted in the Plan and pushed it through the system with no environmental review and no debate. I'm convinced they knew that was illegal, but they just assumed they could get away with it.

Shawn Allen writes:
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.

Rob replies:
As I've pointed out before, very few of the city's bike people who comment to this blog are capable of, or inclined toward, "enlightened discussion" on these issues. My main "cause" is this blog, where I write about a lot of other local issues besides the bike issue. Which brings me to another point about the bike people: With them it's always all about bikes. They never take any interest, for example, in the destructive development policies of the city---the Market/Octavia Plan, UC's housing development on lower Haight Street, the encouragement of all the new highrises in the city, like on Rincon Hill. To a hammer the whole world looks like a nail, when a pickpocket meets a holy man, all he sees is his pockets, etc. When an SF bike person looks at the city, all he/she sees is a lack of cycling "infrastructure," as if development issues and traffic aren't related. I've treated your comments with respect because, unlike so many of your comrades, you're trying to come to grips with my argument while making your own, not just insulting me for putting a stick in the spokes of the great, planet-saving bicycle movement.

Anonymous writes:
your "warning the neighborhoods" argument is BS. bike lanes in SF require legislation, which means they require public hearings. before the lawsuit, 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.

Rob replies:
Take note, Shawn: This is a more typical comment from the city's bike people, full of misinformation and insults---my concern with public notice is "bullshit," even though that was one of the three issues we raised in our original complaint in the litigation. I'm just "pretending" to care about the issue, "self-aggrandizing," and "directly responsible" for many cyclists getting injured. In reality public notice is an ongoing issue in the city, not just on bike projects but also on other issues. Yes, the city usually can claim that they've followed the letter of the law on public notice by, for example, posting 8 1/2 x 11 notices on power poles in a neighborhood or publishing a legal notice in a local paper.

But practially speaking the city often whisks projects through the process with sketchy "notice" and then rubber-stamps them in poorly-attended committee meetings. See for example how the city and the SFBC pushed the upper Market Street bike lanes through the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee (Mirkarimi, Ma, and Dufty). There were a number of local merchants at the meeting to object, but it was done anyhow. There was no media coverage or political support---I was the only one who wrote about it----for those in the neighborhood objecting to the inadequate notice and the rushed process. The city even accelerated the process to get it done in time for Bike to Work Day!

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At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, Am glad you are in favor of reducing traffic. You'll like this addition to the transit plan. Keep up the good work!

Transit plan would get motorists out of cars

Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

(11-25) 21:02 PST --

Drivers could pay $3 to enter, leave or pass through parts of San Francisco during morning and evening commutes under a proposal designed to push motorists out of their cars. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which has been studying the idea of imposing congestion-based tolls on city streets for nearly two years, released some of the details of its study today at a meeting of its board, which is made up of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors.

The board won't consider recommending a congestion toll plan until February, but members nodded their heads during the report and at least three, Jake McGoldrick, Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi, offered words of support.

"Clearly, I like where this is going," said Mirkarimi.

The congestion toll, if implemented, would be the first in the nation. Similar tolls, also known as cordon tolls, have been used in London and Stockholm, where they're credited with reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and miles driven. They also have raised tens of millions annually for public transportation improvements.

While many of the details are still being studied, Zabe Bent, principal planner for the authority, said a $3 toll was chosen because it would likely influence how many people chose to drive versus walking, biking or taking transit.

However, the actual toll price will be determined by the mayor and Board of Supervisors if they choose to move the plan ahead, said Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the authority.
Long process ahead

"There's going to be a long process of determining the toll," he said. "There are many variables, including social variables. The amount we arrive at may be very different."

The $3 toll would be collected on weekdays between 6 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 7 p.m. - meaning the average car commuter would pay $6 a day in congestion tolls. The fees would be collected using FasTrak transponders and a network of cameras. Motorists would be able to pay via phone, the Internet or retail outlets.

Drivers interviewed downtown today said having to pay an additional $6 probably would prompt them to take public transit, drive when the tolls aren't charged or skip San Francisco altogether.

"I won't come here," said Chris Concepcion, who is retired and lives in Pleasanton. "I'll go somewhere else. There's nothing unique about some of the things in San Francisco. You can find them elsewhere."

But for those occasions when he really wants to come downtown, Concepcion said, he'd probably take BART.

Brian Gigliotto, a financial adviser who lives and works in San Francisco, wasn't sure if it would affect his commute to downtown.

"I'd either suck it up and pay it if it were a small amount," he said. "Or I'd take public transit."
Selecting a route

Planners are still considering where to collect the tolls. Initially, they considered establishing a downtown zone - a twin triangle area bounded by Washington, Jones, Turk and Harrison streets and Van Ness Avenue. Then they looked at charging fees at the city's major gateways: the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, Highway 101 and Interstate 280.

But the downtown zone was too small, and drivers would just avoid it, causing problems in adjacent neighborhoods, Bent said. And charging at the gateways would reduce traffic from outside San Francisco but might end up encouraging more driving among city residents, she said.

So the study is focusing on two other scenarios:

-- The "double ring," which would charge a toll at gateways and another toll at the downtown zone. Tolls at one of the areas would be higher than the other - perhaps $1.50 at the gateways and $3 downtown, or vice versa.

-- The northeast cordon - a larger toll zone that would include downtown and Civic Center but also Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach and a number of other neighborhoods. The boundaries would include the waterfront on the north and east, Divisadero and Castro streets on the west and Eighteenth Street on the south.

The congestion toll could raise between $35 million and $65 million a year - money that could be invested in transportation improvements, with an emphasis on boosting service and capacity on Muni, BART and other transit agencies that serve San Francisco.
Tolls pay for improvements

Transit improvements that could be funded with the toll include bus rapid transit on the Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard corridors, more frequent local and regional service, more regional transit parking , electrification of the Caltrain line, bicycle lanes and a bike sharing program.

Drivers interviewed said that better transit service will be necessary if the plan is to work. Tom Radulovich, a BART director from San Francisco, told the board that trains are already crowded and urged investments in BART and Muni Metro as part of the plan.

"We've already reached our design capacity," he said, "and are going to need to make investments in expanding rail capacity."

He also suggested the city consider a free-transit zone downtown - something offered in Seattle and Portland - to entice commuters.

Moscovich said the transit improvements are likely to focus on increasing the amount of transit available and the frequency of service "to be competitive with the auto."

The congestion toll plan would also offer discounts to some drivers - including taxi drivers, who would not have to pay. Low-income and disabled drivers and residents of the tolling zone would pay half, and drivers who paid bridge tolls would get a $1 discount. Commercial vehicles, rental cars and car-sharing vehicles would pay a lower fleet rate.

The authority will hold public meetings on the plan in December, will narrow down the options being studied in December and January and will issue its final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in February. If the plan moves forward, environmental studies would need to be done - a process that would take two to three years.

"This is not something we're doing tomorrow," said Moscovich. "But we need to think about it today in the middle of warnings of a recession because we need to plan it today to be ready for tomorrow."

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com.


At 9:51 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, Michael, I read your story in the Chronicle this morning. No need to post the whole article. Congestion pricing in SF is a solution in search of a problem. The implication that this city's downtown traffic is as bad as London's is simply untrue. Of course Mirkarimi, Ammiano, and McGoldrick like the idea, since it's nothing but a corollary of the city's present anti-car policies and the bicycle fantasy. Fortunately, the plan is completely half-baked now and is unlikely to be implemented any time soon. All these anti-car measures always pay lip service to making transit better, but it never seems to happen. Downtown restaurants and retail businesses will be hurt by this sort of thing, but progressives have never cared about business, which is seen as a grubby calling---except when they need to finance the latest "progressive" idea. And it will be bad for tourism, which is our main industry. It will be small consolation for visitors at the airport who rent cars to drive to their hotel that they won't have to pay the full fee. It will be still another disincentive to not visit San Francisco, along with making it tough to park and the squalor of the Tenderloin in the heart of the city. Progressives don't see any problem with the latter, as they voted against the mayor's Community Courts on election day. The Geary BRT is nothing but another boondoggle in the making (it makes more sense for Van Ness). $200 million to "fix" transit on Geary---which already works quite well--- while tearing up that boulevard for years? And then progs hope to cap it all off with our own Rose Pak Big Dig, the billion dollar a mile subway under downtown!

At 10:05 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

1) The 38 sucks. Mostly because of traffic downtown (The 38L from downtown to Presidio is slowed by one thing - single occupancy vehicles). BRT would be a huge improvement. I sort of agree with those who say we should put it underground as "trains" attract more riders than "buses", but I am attracted by the reduced cost.

2) I think calling The Chinatown extension to MUNI a progressive cause is disingenuous. Ask your friend Gavin whether he supports it. Most intelligent transit advocates would consider it a waste of money.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

oh, and per reading comprehension, Michael Cabanatuan didn't post the article, your friend anonymous did.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"1) The 38 sucks. Mostly because of traffic downtown (The 38L from downtown to Presidio is slowed by one thing - single occupancy vehicles). BRT would be a huge improvement."

I often ride the 38, which runs often and briskly between Presidio and Van Ness. It's from Van Ness through the downtown area that can be slow going. It's simply untrue that cars impede the 38 between Presidio and Van Ness. Interesting that you support the Geary BRT even before the EIR is out. You'll fit right in as a prog politician. And then there's the cost issue. Even assuming you will improve how Muni runs on Geary, will that $200 million be well-spent?

You're implying that Mayor Newsom isn't a progressive? Not by Bay Guardian standards, perhaps, but he is by any other. He and the prog majority on the BOS agree on all the important issues---development and traffic, for example: the M/O Plan, Rincon Hill, UC's ripoff of the old extension property, the bike bullshit, etc.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

It's from Van Ness through the downtown area that can be slow going.

And surprisingly, that's where the congestion pricing is focused. Shazam!

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

So what? Geary and O'Farrell are typical SF streets, with two lanes and neighborhood parking on each side. Leave them alone. Leave Geary alone. Leave drivers alone. Of course you can't do that, can you Murph? You're a progressive, after all. Make the bicycle bullshit and congestion pricing part of your campaign program. I bet the people in gentrified Noe Valley will particularly like those ideas.

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, I would have expected you to support the idea of getting the 38 bus out of traffic. Putting it in the center lanes means it's no longer going to be pulling in and out of the bus stop pockets and messing with traffic and adds additional parking spaces along the street where the bus stops will be removed.

Even west of Van Ness the 38 is slow pulling in and out of bus stops and often gets stuck through an entire light cycle waiting for traffic to clear so the busses can get moving.

45 minutes to downtown from 9th is not brisk, and frequency does not equal speed.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course getting the 38 line out of traffic is a pretty thought, but the question is at what cost? Is that $200 million the best way to spend transit money? Not to mention the damage digging up the Geary corridor for years will do to small businesses and the neighborhoods. Muni is still short of drivers and buses from previous deficit years, and it needs to replace its diesel buses. Shouldn't that be our priority as we head into a deep recession?


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