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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