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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