Thursday, January 22, 2009

Judge Busch rules against the city---again

Yesterday Judge Busch again ruled against the city on its latest attempt to modify the injunction against the city's Bicycle Plan. The judge only allowed the city to repaint existing bike lanes and sharrows, while allowing three sharrows per block on Market Street between Embarcadero and Eighth Street where there are now only two per block. According to the law, to justify modifying an injunction the city had to show that there has been a change in either the facts or the law since the injunction was issued by the court. The city failed to convince Busch that there's a safety emergency at the Market/Octavia intersection to justify their proposed changes, probably because the numbers the city did provide showed a dramatic decrease in accidents there over the past year.

Busch also took note of the fact that the city was arguing that the intersection is in fact safe in another case (Margaret Timbrell v. City and County of San Francisco) where an injured cyclist is suing the city over an accident at Market/Octavia several years ago.

Busch pointed out that the EIR process he ordered two years ago is almost complete, so why ask him now to modify the injunction? He expressed some exasperation with the city for trying to turn him into a city traffic engineer, asking him to evaluate and allow the implementation of pieces of the Bicycle Plan before the CEQA/EIR process is complete, the very practice that led him to issue the injunction in the first place and to later rule against the city.

Busch rejected our attempt to have him hold the city in contempt of court for refusing to take the legislation implementing the Bicycle Plan out of the General Plan. His explanation for this sounded a little opaque to me---something about the city's conduct not being "willful" and thus not qualifying as contempt.

More importantly, the judge refused to allow the city to try another experiment---the same city proposal he rejected last year when he allowed the changes at the Fell/Masonic intersection---at the Market/Octavia intersection: removing the bike lane and forcing motor vehicles and bikes to share the same lane to prevent motorists from making the illegal right turn onto the freeway that endangers cyclists. The judge was understandably not convinced by the city's presentation that either a genuine safety emergency exists at the intersection or, even if there was, that the city's proposal would make it any safer. As we pointed out in our objections, all the city's plan would probably achieve is more traffic congestion, with thousands of motorists lining up behind a relatively small number of cyclists. The city unconvincingly claimed---with no traffic studies to back it up---that the shared lane proposal would have no impact on traffic on either Market Street or other streets in the area!

Judge Busch seemed to look forward to that happy day when the Bicycle Plan EIR was completed, he could certify it, and the city could again deal with its streets without his involvement.
Which points up the political reality the city will face later this year: How badly is it willing to screw up city streets for everyone else on behalf of a minority of cyclists? There are a number of projects proposed in the draft environmental report that will, in the report's words, have a "significant unavoidable impact" on the city's traffic, and the only way to avoid those impacts will be to not implement the projects in the first place.

Note too that the SF Bicycle Coalition is now complaining (in italics below) that the changes it successfully advocated for the Fell/Masonic intersection have not prevented more accidents there and that the SFPD must be enlisted to patrol that particular intersection to prevent injuries to cyclists ("the SFPD should be prioritizing it. There's no excuse for this negligence"). As I pointed out at the time, simply changing the traffic lights at that intersection was unlikely to make a big difference in safety, simply because there are always people---motorists and cyclists---who try to beat traffic lights.

Hence, even full implementation of the Bicycle Plan won't satisfy the SF Bicycle Coalition, which wants to reduce the number of motor vehicles on city streets, even though, as their own safety expert has pointed out, most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that have nothing to do with other vehicles.
The SFBC's anti-car campaign to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to drive in SF will continue regardless of how many bike lanes and sharrows are ultimately painted on city streets.

That Other Infamous Intersection Needs Help
While we're happy that the City has made much-needed improvements at the intersection of Fell and Masonic along the Panhandle Pathway, it is clear that more remains to be done, and we need your help to make sure the City finishes the job. Fell and Masonic rivals Market/Octavia as the most dangerous and intimidating intersection for bicycling in the city. A few months ago, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) created the city's first bike traffic signal and dedicated a crossing phase to bicyclists and pedestrians, holding off turning cars for their own second crossing phase. (
Background here ) So far, it's working, except for one BIG problem...

Unfortunately, lots of motorists are ignoring their red "no turn" arrow and making dangerous left turns into the intersection during the pedestrian-bike green phase. We're not sure if they're honestly confused or rudely disobedient, but we are sure that the situation is causing serious dangers for bicyclists and pedestrians. Another cyclist (and SFBC member) was hit and injured this past weekend by an illegally turning motorist.

We are frustrated that the MTA and the SF Police Department have failed to dedicate enforcement resources to this known problem. The MTA should be demanding it, and the SFPD should be prioritizing it. There's no excuse for this negligence.

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