Friday, May 14, 2010

"Democratizing" city streets

It's an essential aspect of the leftist mindset to believe that History is moving your way, a residue of Marxism that assumed the eventual triumph of the working class. But here in Progressive Land that unlikely historical triumph has been downsized. 

Recall that several years ago the Bay Guardian trumpeted a new force for historical change---a "transit justice" coalition---in the wake of the victory of Proposition A and the defeat of Don Fisher's Proposition H, ballot box "victories" that were a result of a coalition of organized labor, the bike people, and all right-minded city progressives.

Now that organized labor is some disrepute because city progs have been giving them a blank check on city revenue---causing a chronic economic crisis for the city---organized labor is apparently no longer seen as a force for historical change. The Guardian now sees a movement to "democratize" city streets---that is, screw up traffic by using our streets for something other than traffic---as some kind of "tipping point," even though this movement consists of the same anti-car folks that have been active for years in that dubious cause.

Steve Jones gets supportive soundbites for his article from the usual suspects:

Gregory Metcalf of SPUR ( Metcalf is a long-time bike guy. In fact he's one of those zealots who puts his child on the back of his bike as he rides on city streets, which leads to the question, Why is this legal? I guess we'll have to wait for one of these children to be killed in an accident before it becomes illegal.

Dave Snyder:
Snyder was the head of the SF Bicycle Coalition for eleven years. He's now reinvented himself as a transportation "expert."

Susan King: Long-time bike activist and Critical Mass participant, now in charge of Sunday Streets.

Supervisor Mirkarimi: Since he was elected in 2004, the Murk has been diligently carrying water for the Bicycle Coalition.

Jones refers to the recent makeover of Divisadero Street as if it was a victory for this movement, but that tarting up process---primarily landscaping and repaving the street---didn't remove any traffic lanes, though, to the satisfaction of the bike people, it did remove three parking spaces to construct the "parklet" in front of a coffee house on Diviz that also happens to be a bike repair shop and a rendezvous for cyclists. What a coincidence!

"The San Francisco Bicycle Plan project eliminates 56 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 parking spaces on city streets," attorney Mary Miles wrote in her April 23 brief challenging the plan. "According to City's EIR, the project will cause 'significant unavoidable impacts' on traffic, transit, and loading; degrade level of service to unacceptable levels at many major intersections; and cause delays of more than six minutes per street segment to many bus lines. The EIR admits that the 'near-term' parts of the project alone will have 89 significant impacts of traffic, transit, and loading but fails to mitigate or offer feasible alternatives to each of these impacts."

Jones thinks this is just fine, and he correctly notes that "elected officials in San Francisco are nearly unanimous in their support for the plan, signaling how far San Francisco has come in viewing the streets as more than just conduits for cars." Not clear what the "nearly" means, since I don't know of a single elected official who criticizes the city's anti-car movement, which is a comment on the GroupThink predominant in San Francisco's ruling elite. 

This is why city voters will never get a chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan. "Whether they like it or not," city residents are expected to allow the bike people to redesign their streets. These same officials colluded with the Bicycle Coalition in the clearly illegal attempt to rush the Bicycle Plan through the process without any environmental review.

The city's main overriding consideration is that we must do more to get people out of their cars, for reasons ranging from traffic congestion to global warming. City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said that it's absurd that the state's main environmental law has been used to hinder progress toward the most environmentally beneficial and efficient transportation option.

As we predicted five years ago, the city's EIR on the Bicycle Plan clearly says that the Plan will have "significant impacts" on a number of city streets, slowing down traffic and Muni lines on streets where the city will take away traffic lanes to make bike lanes. Jones is referring to the city's "statement of overriding considerations" appended to the EIR that tries to justify screwing up traffic for 90% of those who use city streets on behalf of this small, PC minority. To put it mildly, we think that statement is legally deficient, and we hope the judge agrees.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the leading legal officer in SF, has played a particularly unprincipled role in this whole fiasco. Once we got the injunction against the city in 2006, he surely knew the city was going to lose the case---you can't get an injunction without convincing the judge that you'll eventually prevail on the merits---but for purely political reasons he pushed the city's pathetic legal arguments to the bitter end. In private practice, his clients would sue him for malpractice. Instead, by currying favor with city progressives and the bike people, he could be elected Mayor of San Francisco.

Jones quotes me accurately, but the context is lacking: "It's a leap of faith they're[the city] making here that this will be good for the city." The city is telling the court that if it's allowed to screw up traffic for the overwhelming majority---including Muni passengers---on behalf of cyclists, there will then be a huge increase of cyclists on those streets. As we pointed out in our brief, this is a leap in faith that's not supported by any evidence. Hard to believe that Judge Busch is going to find that persuasive, but, as lawyers always tell their clients, you never know what a judge or a jury is going to do.

As Jones himself reported last year, Mayor Newsom is ready to backpedal, so to speak, if implementing the Bicycle Plan screws city traffic up too badly. Ultimately, the issue will be determined by the people of San Francisco, who will decide how badly they're willing to allow these folks to screw up their streets.

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At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy now?

At 5:17 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

This ties in very well with the current big noise in Noe Valley to CLOSE OFF part of a public street, mainly Noe St. at 24th and turn it into a so called "plaza"..

Largely led by staunch bike activist John Murphy and others in the bike crowd, they are part of the movement to get rid of streets, designed for vehicles and make them into cute little plazas to hang out with your bratty kid in a stroller, or your off leash dog and drink your Starbucks latte. They refuse to discuss the issues of traffic diverting to smaller, quieter streets.

They just somehow believe that public streets are...well....not really streets at all, but open public land up for that taking.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Happy now?"

Why would I be happy to see someone injured, moron? You bike people are a bunch of drama queeens. You don't even know who was responsible for the accident, but a cyclist is hurt, so strike up the violins and break out the flowers. In fact I walked through that intersection today and saw a cyclist rushing recklessly to beat the red light, which is as common a practice with city cyclists as it is with motorists.

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Rocky's Dad, I do believe that public streets are public space.

I wouldn't say that it's open land up for the taking, though.

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I DO know what was responsible for the accident: poor bicycle infrastructure, which a major American city is unable to remedy because of your ego trip.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Can you explain how the Bicycle Plan would have prevented that accident? There's nothing in the Plan for that intersection that will prevent people from running red lights. Neither Jim Herd at Citizen nor BikeNopa know who was at fault. You crybabies seem to think that somehow the city is going to make your hobby safe, like your Mommy and Daddy made everything safe for you on your tricycle.

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Oonora Ter said...

Rob is a fag. However, the fact that the person injured in this event was riding a "fixie" makes me a lot less sympathetic. Fuck you fixie hipsters!!!!

Now, as for calling someone a "zealot" because he rides a bike with a kid on it. That's just beyond the pale. Seriously, may god damn you to hell Rob. Real people go for rides with their kids. That's how it's been for generations, and we're not going to let the real zealots fuck it up.

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Oonora Ter said...

Rocky's Dad - if you don't like plazas, then may god damn you to hell to. You have NO RIGHT to be in this city if you don't understand how to make it better. In the words of your master, I urinate in your general direction.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Sounds like someone is a little grouchy today...and he can't seem to control that potty mouth. Oh well.

But I've been in this city for 33 years and love it and have done a lot to improve it, helping to plant tons of new street trees and sidewalk landscaping..just to name a few things...

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anderson Sparks said...

Hey Rob - have you read Spur's plan to fix Muni? It's by far the best plan I've read. I wouldn't dismiss them as bike zealots so quickly!

At 6:47 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Just wondering, but why aren't cyclists helping to pay for the streets they ride on. I mean paying some sort of tax or license that helps pay for the striping, fixing holes, etc.

I can't believe very many cyclists bother to even get a bike license. And why are cyclists required by law to carry insurance? Drivers have to.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

typo: meant to say why "aren't" cyclists required to carry insurance?

At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rocky's Dad, you should really take a second look at how streets are paid for.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

I have, and they are not paid for by cyclists.

At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

I'm curious where you looked, Rocky's Dad. Because clearly you glossed over the facts that 1) many cyclists also own cars (and hence, pay registration fees and gas taxes), and 2) roads are becoming increasingly dependent on funding from non-drivers (about 35% in 2007, according to Subsidyscope). What are your sources, and how can you say with any authority that cyclists don't "pay for the streets"?

Cyclists aren't required to carry insurance for the same reason that pedestrians aren't: They're much less likely than anyone in a car or motorcycle to cause harm to other people or damage to property. Administering the paperwork for cyclist registration would be more expensive than it's worth for the city. Does you really think that this city needs another bloated bureaucracy?

And fixing potholes, seriously? Bikes don't tear up the roads; cars and trucks do. Fortunately for you, though, the SFBC has instituted a campaign encouraging cyclists to report potholes to 311 so that they get fixed more quickly. What are drivers doing to solve the pothole problem?

At 1:32 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Seriously, Paul?

Of course many cyclists own cars. We all know that.

Cyclists should be required to register their bikes just as car owners are required. And cyclists should be required to carry insurance for liability and property damage. It's simply about the issue that because cyclists are allowed legally to ride on the streets and roads in traffic lanes, that they have the ability, at times, to cause an accident. And should be liable.

But pedestrians? Wow...that's a new one. You mean, say if I'm walking too fast and bump into a car I may damage it?

Get real.

At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

Wow, okay. You asserted that cyclists don't pay for the roads, and I provided links that disprove that notion. Instead of responding to anything factual, though, you snarked at a complete misinterpretation of what I wrote and told me to "get real". Nice.

I just don't understand what problem you're trying to solve by insisting on bike registration and requiring cyclists to carry insurance. If you could prove to me that cyclists are wrecking havoc on city streets, running people over, and smashing into cars with impunity, then we could have a conversation about that. But, by your and Rob's admissions, a very small proportion of the city's residents ride bikes, and most of their accidents are "solo falls" anyway. So it stands to reason that the large majority of accidents don't involve other people or property, and that most cyclists' injuries would be covered by their own health insurance. It's not like people are riding around recklessly because they know that the government will pick up the tab if they get hurt. And if they are, "requiring" registration or insurance—which, you know, SFPD can surely enforce with all that free time they've got—isn't going to change their behavior.

So, again, what exactly do you think that bike-specific registration or insurance would solve? You don't need insurance to file a report with police or take somebody to court for hurting you or damaging their property. It just smacks of spite toward people who don't pay out the ass for the "privilege" of using streets that everyone pays for. And if you think that people should insure their potential for destruction, well, then I think we could agree that motorists aren't paying their fair share considering the noise, pollution, and traffic delays that they inflict on every one of us daily—not to mention the physical destruction of which they're very capable.

Look, I'm not personally opposed to paying a user fee if there are tangible benefits, like one of those chips that they implant under pets' skin to determine runaway ownership, and which could be used to return stolen bikes to their owners. But the last thing this city needs is another bureaucracy, and I'm highly skeptical that DPT or DMV would be able to administer a registration program even if they charged much more than $10/year per bike. If you've got a proposal for a system that's cheap to administer and either provides tangible benefits to society or solves an existing problem, I'm all ears. But if you don't you should probably shut up, because it's making you look really stupid.


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