Saturday, June 05, 2010

Yes, it was a hate crime

I don't know the exact legal definition of a hate crime, but the recent rampage in the Mission by a motorist who targeted cyclists should qualify as one. If you physically attack members of a particular group, whether the attack is based on race, sexual orientation, religion, or, in this case, means of transportation, it has to be called hate.

I think I have to say this, because I've been accused of being a hater by commenters to this blog---that I hate cyclists or, even more absurdly, that I hate bikes.

A few weeks ago, when a cyclist was injured in a collision with a car at Fell and Masonic, a commenter posted this: "Are you happy now?" He mistakenly assumed that I would take some pleasure in seeing a cyclist injured. And when I pointed out that we didn't even know yet who was at fault in the accident, the commenter responded: "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. "

As it turned out, the cyclist was apparently at fault in that accident, but the implication was that, as a party to the successful litigation forcing the city to do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan, I was somehow responsible for every injury accident to a cyclist in San Francisco. A moment's reflection would show that there's nothing in the Bicycle Plan---or in any possible "intrastructure" or traffic plan---that prevents cyclists or motorists from trying to run red lights or riding or driving recklessly. The litigation and my pointing out over the years how badly many cyclists behave on city streets, including the monthly orgy of bad behavior called Critical Mass, makes me a hater in the minds of some cyclists, who can't distinguish between hate and legitimate criticism.

I confess to being guilty of thinking that redesigning city streets on behalf of cyclists without doing any environmental review is terrible public policy. And if the city insists on doing that even after doing the environmental review---which the city is now trying to do---it's still awful public policy. I also confess to thinking---based on years of observation on the streets of the city---that a substantial minority of city cyclists behave like jerks on our streets.

What many cyclists and their political leadership are in denial about is how much ill-will over time that behavior has created in the public, not just in San Francisco, but all across the country.

But even I was shocked at the tone of the many hateful, anti-cyclist comments to the Chronicle's online version of the Mission rampage story, and I bet very few of those commenters have ever heard of District 5 Diary.

This is the problem the city faces now: there's a certain amount---it's never really been quantified---of resentment of cyclists in the public that will probably grow if the city insists on making traffic worse on busy city streets on behalf of what is seen as an obnoxious, politically aggressive, PC minority.

What the city should have done years ago is put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot for city voters to consider. If cycling is as politically popular as the SF Bicycle Coalition claims it is, what's the problem with that? The answer: our political leadership understands that the Plan could lose such a vote. If the vote was even close, it would pose a big political problem for the bike people and their allies in City Hall.

It's a mistake to proceed as if the radical, anti-car bicycle project in San Francisco is something that has to be implemented. That will only put city leaders in Gavin Newsom's arrogant, "Whether you like it or not" territory. Mayor Newsom himself seems to understand this, as he told reporters last year: if the Bicycle Plan screws up traffic too badly, he's apparently ready to retreat on the issue. But, since he's likely to be elected Lieutenant Governor next week, our next mayor will soon be a yet-to-be-identified, pro-bike prog chosen by our progressive Board of Supervisors, which looks like a prescription for more trouble ahead on our streets.

Labels: ,