Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunday Streets: "This was not Newsom's idea"

Everyone who has written or commented on the idea of closing waterfront streets on Sunday mornings is assuming that the idea really was Mayor Newsom's brainstorm that struck him on the road to/from Davos. 

A little investigation shows a different story. In this morning's Chronicle, C.W. Nevius cites opposition from Fisherman's Wharf merchants and some supervisors and blames "a lack of consensus-building from the mayor's office" for that opposition.

Okay, we know who's against the idea---wharf merchants and Supervisors Peskin, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier. But besides Mayor Newsom, who is for the idea? Just off the top of your head, guess which politically influential special interest group in San Francisco would like the idea of shutting down city streets to motor vehicles? You got it: the city's bike people, who are as much anti-car as they are pro-bike. Any time they can make driving in the city more expensive and/or more inconvenient, they will do it.

To verify this, check out the archives of the anti-car chatboard where the bike people talk to each other.

Apparently the bike people have been working with the mayor's office on this misguided idea from the start:

The Supes think this is the Mayor's baby (he got the idea when he was in Davos!) so they are trying to mess with it. I just don't see the Supes supporting the Fishy Wharf merchants over a really good idea for any other reason. And if this is the case I think it would be good to let Peskin et. al. know before the meeting that this was not Newsom's idea. That it was initiated by walking, bicycling, and social justice people, but the Mayor's support was needed to make it happen, and why the hell are the Supes going against the SFBC and Walk SF when the city is so screwed up that we can't even get bike racks installed??? (emphasis added).

The bike people have contempt for both the Wharf merchants and their customers:

I'm a bit unclear why Aaron would be so swayed by the FWharf Merchants. I doubt many of them even live in the City. A handful of merchants with a failing business model are going to try and trump the merchants along the rest of the route: Ferry Bldg, South Beach, and BayView--- who all support this event---just to keep the crush of autos coming through our city to buy cable car souvenirs at the Wharf.

The bike people understand the interests of merchants on the Wharf better than the merchants themselves, because they understand the Big Picture wherein cars are obsolescent:

The Wharf has done everything in their power to make sure they will have hard time surviving in the new economy---the less private auto dependent economy---they have buried their heads in the sand and refuse to admit that the number of auto based visitors will continue to go down. Evolve or shrivel up and go out of business. I guess they are choosing shrivel up.

The same writer refers to "all the work we've done, the support we have, and the fact that we've got our ISCOTT approval..."

Sounds like the bike people have been working on the idea behind the scenes for some time. What does "ISCOTT" stand for? That's the acronym of the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, a committee representing all city agencies that have a direct interest in changes to city streets. ISCOTT considers lane changes, street parking, and street closures, among other things.

Funny but even a relatively well-informed guy like me didn't hear about the ISCOTT meeting that gave this street closing a green light. The reality: this is the way the bike people and their enablers in city government operate---they get what they want done by obscure committees in poorly-noticed meetings. 

This is how they were operating before the injunction against the Bicycle Plan. Get some committee to okay taking away street parking and/or a traffic lane for a bike lane, declare that piece of the Bicycle Plan "categorically exempt" from environmental review under CEQA, and the next thing anyone knows DPW is out taking away parking meters and striping a bike lane on a city street.

This is why both Judge Warren and Judge Busch gave us an injunction against the city; we were able to show them that this was how the city was implementing the 500-page Bicycle Plan incrementally with no environmental review. It's called "piece-mealing" in CEQA parlance, and it's clearly illegal. A city or a developer has to do environmental review of a whole project before it's implemented rather than doing it in pieces with no review.

Not surprisingly, the SF Bicycle Coalition, which represents the city's anti-car folks, endorses the idea of closing the Embarcadero:

A major effort to win more car-free space, which the SFBC has been advocating for, is being threatened. Sunday Streets is an exciting pilot program to create a nearly 5-mile, car-free route scheduled for Sundays, August 31 and September 14. Check out the cover story in the most recent Tube Times for our report on this amazing opportunity...

Turns out that the idea already has its own website and a long list of supporters, which they call "partners."

Seems like the bike people and the mayor have been working behind the scenes on this project for quite a while---long enough to get all this done before springing it on the rest of us on the front page of the Chronicle last Saturday (Car-free parties planned for Embarcadero).

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