Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grand Jury on cycling: spineless and irrelevant

The Civil Grand Jury's report on cycling in San Francisco was so poorly conceived that it immediately qualifies for the recycling bin. This misconception is stated in this early fuzzball paragraph explaining the "Purpose of this Report":

The purpose of this report is to focus City attention on identified barriers to the successful implementation of the San Francisco Bicycle Plan: serious mistrust, conflict and misunderstandings among City stakeholders including motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. To move towards everyone seeing him/her self as part of the community sharing the roadway, the Jury recommends actions and amendments to the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. (page 4)

The real problem facing the city is not barriers to implementing the Bicycle Plan but whether/where to implement the Plan at all. The only real barrier to implementing the Plan has been the injunction in 2006 preventing the city from implementing the Plan until---and if---the court rules that the city's environmental impact report is legally adequate. (The hearing on that issue is scheduled for June 22, with a decision probably sometime in July.)

Instead of addressing the thorny issue of the litigation and why the court ruled against the city in the first place, the Grand Jury approaches the sharing of city streets with a group therapy model: can't we all---cyclists, motorists, pedestrians---just get along? Well, yes, more or less. The implication is that chronic discord on our streets is somehow holding up the Bicycle Plan, which is simply untrue. In fact the city was busily implementing the Plan, street by street, five years ago when we filed the litigation. The city's bike people weren't at all concerned about civility on city streets. Indeed, they saw the ambitious Bicycle Plan as a great leap forward toward "calming" those streets by means of hindering motor vehicle traffic in favor of cyclists with new bike lanes on busy city streets created by taking away traffic lanes and street parking. The bike people and their many enablers in City Hall weren't waiting for anyone's "attitudes and perceptions" to change. Only our litigation stopped the city from completely revamping city streets on behalf of a minority of cyclists.

The report blandly retails a lot of information that's easily available, along with a lot of information we don't need, producing clunkers like this paragraph:

It appears from review of the literature and comments from interviews that the jury conducted, that motorists see cyclists as arrogant, dangerous, despised, erratic/unpredictable, inconvenient, irresponsible, and vulnerable. Cyclists are viewed by many non-cyclists as not paying their fair share. Cyclists see motorists as an impediment, selfish, materialistic, causing world havoc with financial systems and the environment (page 11).

No shit! This is the sort of observation that someone from another planet might make after spending a few minutes on our streets, but it's not particularly interesting or useful to anyone who lives in San Francisco. A long---two and a half pages---smug letter from a cyclist named "Splork" is included in the text, followed by a discussion of a 2002 study from Scotland on motorists' attitudes toward cyclists. The report uses a couple of pages to discuss the non-issue of insurance for cyclists. Who cares, except cyclists and their insurance brokers?

Occasionally there's a nugget in all the dross. Ever wonder why city cops don't cite cyclists for infractions more often?

Police officers report (Interview, December 2009) that of all the complaints filed against them[with the Office of Citizen Complaints], one percent are from motorists and twenty to thirty percent are from cyclists. Officers commented that the potential for complaints from cyclists makes them reluctant to cite cyclists (pages 10-11)...Police report a disparity of complaints received regarding their actions from motorists versus bicyclists. Only one complaint is generated from 100 motorist citations; twenty to thirty complaints out of 100 involve bicyclists. Because of the high incidence of complaints from a certain segment of the population, the police are reluctant to cite bicyclists...Another police officer stated that they have certain beliefs about enforcement, but have to follow directives about what is important to do in light of the large responsibility they have. They understand the bicycle community and the political power it wields (page 23).

The Grand Jury thinks what's really needed is more enforcement of traffic violations on the streets and more education and training for all concerned. Toward the end of the report, there's this proposal for enforcing traffic laws against cyclists:

A "negative registration" process could capture the names and other pertinent data about cyclists who are ticketed by SFPD for moving or equipment violations or otherwise involved in traffic accidents where the cyclist is cited at fault. The cyclist should be required to appear at a "bicycle court" where prescribed safety education would be required. The format of the court, including a cycle-friendly venue such as a ride-up location, and an educational curriculum should be provided through collaboration among SFPD bicycle officers, the Bicycle Coalition and other cycling advocates. Notices to Appear, if ignored, should be pursued through SFPD and the courts. A nominal fee raised through "negative registration" to reduce resentment would most likely not be a deterrent to cycling (page 25).

I had to laugh when I read this, as if our sneering punks on bikes would consider appearing at this court for cyclists---with a "friendly ride-up location"!---to be sentenced to "prescribed safety education" for their infractions! The people who wrote this report are completely out of touch with both life on our streets and the political context of their proposals. No one familiar with city politics can possibly think that a Board of Supervisors that passed the Bicycle Plan unanimously with no environmental review, no dissent, and no discussion would consider such a proposal. The Grand Jury hasn't got the message that City Hall has been sending us for years: Bikes are Good, Cars are Bad, and Muni is to be neglected---or even obstructed, as the EIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us it will be once the court gives the city a green light on the Bicycle Plan. It's bikes uber alles.

Nor do they understand the cultural/political roots of the great, planet-saving bike movement. Get out of their way, they aren't burning fossil fuel! These mostly young people fancy themselves as rebels, and they have formed a smug, self-righteous political community with a strong political lobby in the SF Bicycle Coalition. Even the health and functioning of our Muni system takes a backseat to the bike lobby.

When the Report happens on an interesting subject, it wimps out, like its discussion of Critical Mass:

Chief of Police George Gascon is considering addressing the issue of Critical Mass, the last Friday of the month ride that ties up traffic. Currently, the police assign officers and a supervisor to a "pedal parade" that it cannot control. The Chief is looking at a New York policy that requires bicycle groups larger than fifty to obtain a permit. The permit would "put someone on the Critical Mass side down as responsible, map out a specific route, give drivers warning and possibly require payment for the police time expended escorting the group across the city" (Curb Critical Mass, San Francisco Chronicle editorial, March 17, 2010). (page 25-26)

Calling that a "discussion" is inaccurate. It's just a mention, with a spineless refusal to even take a stand---does it support the chief or not?---on Critical Mass, which, unmentioned by the Grand Jury, costs city taxpayers $10,000 a month for the police escort of a demo designed to screw up our rush hour traffic on the last Friday of the month.

What's really needed is a Grand Jury investigation into the litigation on the Bicycle Plan. Why did the city continue to push a case that the City Attorney knew he was going to lose? How much did that litigation cost---and continue to cost---the city? What about the relationship between the city and the Bicycle Coalition, a special interest group that's encouraged by City Hall to pursue its anti-car agenda with city contracts to, in effect, propagandize the people of the city with their own tax revenues, much like those TV commercials for the Marines that are bought with federal taxes. How much money does the city pay the Bicycle Coalition every year and for what? The EIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us that implementing the Plan will have "significant impacts" on a number of streets and Muni lines. It would have been a lot more useful if the Grand Jury had analyzed and warned the city about these impacts.

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At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Philip said...

Heh heh, ha ha, ROFL.

It really must be a good report to have you spouting and spitting this response.

Of course, I have to agree that one of the quotations you gave was very, very poor.
Cyclists see motorists as an impediment, selfish, materialistic, causing world havoc with financial systems and the environment

I just can’t agree with this. I doubt any self-respecting cyclist would overlook the dangerous nature of cars, the rampant traffic congestion they create, the community division caused by auto sewers, their inefficient space utilisation, the health consequences of an inactive lifestyle, the loss of street amenity and the unjustified financial subsidies to automobiles, and road infrastructure.

I’m sure you’ll make every effort to correct these omissions.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're a good representative of the bike people: smug, self-righteous, arrogant, reckless, foolish, and, most of all, intellectually challenged.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"It really must be a good report to have you spouting and spitting this response."

Which tells us that you haven't read it, even though I provided a link. Thanks for sharing your ignorance, Phil.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

You know, I've enjoyed this blog a lot more since I learned to appreciate you for the sociopath that you truly are. Thanks for providing such a ridiculously hyperbolic counterpoint to all of the reasonable discourse happening elsewhere on the internet and in real life. Your war on cycling has provided us all with a very important lesson in the power of disenfranchised individuals to derail public policy. At the very least, I hope that our dysfunctional city government learns from this, and avoids any more legal entanglements that might further delay these much-needed infrastructural improvements.

Go ahead and reply with your typical ad hominem attack. Call me smug and arrogant all you want. Continue making those same stupid generalizations and encouraging your simple-minded buddies to do the same, further divorcing yourselves from constructive public discourse and marginalizing your own opinions. We'll continue pushing for and celebrating projects like the separated lanes on Market and the fantastic new parking corrals on Valencia even if the Bike Plan is struck down entirely. In fact, I think that would be a great opportunity for the city to reevaluate its strategy and start from scratch with more specific projects vetted with and informed by healthy public debate. (Because what's happening on this blog is anything but.)

For what it's worth, a lot of cyclists agree with you that it was a huge mistake for the city (and the SFBC) to write the Plan behind closed doors and attempt to push it through in its entirety without adequate review—public or environmental. They've wasted a significant amount of time and taxpayers' money defending that choice, and they've engendered a lot of mistrust from everyone in the process. I'm mad as hell at the city, and I won't forget all of this if Dennis Ferrara decides to run for mayor. But the government's mistakes don't implicate the entire population of SF cyclists—from the occasional recreational rider to the everyday commuter—in some subversive plot to "screw up traffic" for everyone else. Traffic is a tricky thing to manage, but it's not hard to imagine how much worse it would be if cyclists all decided to drive en masse (or even take public transit) tomorrow. If you had any sense you'd smile and thank the next cyclist you see on the street for freeing up some space on the streets (and on Muni) for people who need it. But I won't hold my breath for that to happen any time soon.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rob, there's a cool story on SFGate that you'll like, about how food entrepreneurs are using bikes to deliver their goods. Makes perfect sense with the density of traffic and lack of parking here in SF. Bikes are super efficient in getting around, especially for small delieverires!


« San Francisco's... | Main
By Regina Hope Sinsky Photo by Mai Le. Mai Le on a bang mi delivery. Natalie Galatzer has been up working since 11:30pm yesterday. By the time you read this, the petite, curly-haired, 26 year-old will...
"Entrepedalers" Deliver the Goods
"Entrepedalers" Deliver the Goods

By Regina Hope Sinsky

Mai Li on a bang mi delivery.

Photo by Mai Le.

Mai Le on a bang mi delivery.

Natalie Galatzer has been up working since 11:30pm yesterday. By the time you read this, the petite, curly-haired, 26 year-old will have ridden her bike from her home in the Mission to her kitchen in the Marina, baked more than 70 handheld pies, jumped back on her bike and delivered around the city. If you're lucky, you may be eating one of her sweet or savory pies for lunch today.

Galatzer is one of San Francisco's "entrepedalers," a growing group of individuals who have made careers out of distributing food -- and sometimes cooking it -- from their bikes.

When I met Galatzer last week I made the mistake of driving to meet her. I was 30 minutes late after struggling with a carshare which happened to be hidden down an alley behind a locked gate. Wearing her headphones and looking impeccably clean for someone who just baked dozens of pies from scratch, she met me out front.

"When do the parking meters turn on around here?" I asked, fumbling with coins.

"I have no idea," she replies with a laugh. "I've never driven here."

Natalie Galatzer previews a pie. Photo by Amit Gupta.

Natalie Galatzer previews a pie. Photo by Amit Gupta.

Galatzer, like her fellow entrepedalers, has been getting lots of attention lately. The Bold Italic and Daily Candy have both written about her (significantly increasing her sales). Interest in San Francisco's "street food via bicycle" scene is becoming more popular as passionate foodies in search of creative outlets, extra income, or a full time job take to the streets. Many of them don't own cars. All of them love their bikes.

Mai Le pedals her beloved bike to deliver her homemade Vietnamese sandwiches around the city on Wednesdays. She also runs the street fashion site www.fashioni.st and works for two startups. Her schedule, like Galatzer's, is exhausting.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/transportation/detail?entry_id=63927#ixzz0oRBb7lqG

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Lex said...

@ the cyclists.

You're absolutely convinced that Rob is so wrong yet the judge ruled in his favor over and over again. You'd think that would mean something to you, but no.

There's an external reality that exists outside the closed little cycling world. You just can't clap your hands, chant "booga booga!" and wish it away.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

Lex, clearly you didn't even read my comment if you think that the judge's rulings and the city's repeated mistakes don't mean anything to me. Thanks for proving my point about stupid generalizations, though.

Your suggestion that cyclists don't somehow "exist within reality" is just silly. We're not all unemployed trust fund kids. Some of us are grown-ups just like you, with families and businesses of our own. We exist in the same community that you do, and we share most of the same concerns about our city. It's a shame that the very necessary discussion about something as seemingly simple as installing a bike lane has devolved into this rancorous battle between two ridiculously caricatured viewpoints. You pigeonhole cyclists and portray them generally as arrogant, reckless, and stupid. For our part, some cyclists choose to see anyone driving a car (or "death machine") as a murderous maniac hellbent on global destruction. Neither of these viewpoints is valid, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for encouraging their expression.

Conversely, I would point out that you can't just clap your hands and wish cyclists away either. We're here to stay, and there are more of us coming. There is a demand for cycling infrastructure in San Francisco, and it's been on an upward tick for a decade. That's the reality with which you need to come to terms, and it's going to be a lot easier to deal with if you can learn to participate in the discussion intelligently and respectfully. Again, though, I'm not holding my breath.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Trouble is, most of the cyclists here in SF don't care to engage in intelligent and respectful discussion. Many do, in fact, live in their little closed cycling world.

Cars and bikes can exist in SF..but cars are not going away, and I believe the long term effects of creating bike lanes all over the place will lead to more congestion and safety issues for cyclists and cars.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My response to Paul is here.


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