Saturday, June 19, 2010

The city: "Bicyclists the primary beneficiaries" of the Bicycle Plan

Even though he's had almost five years to contemplate these issues, Steve Jones, the Bay Guardian's reporter, evidently still can't get his head around the injunction on the Bicycle Plan. 

Jones on the Guardian's blog:

On Tuesday, June 22, Superior Court Judge Peter Busch will hear oral arguments and consider whether to end the four-year-old injunction against the city executing any of the projects or policies outlined in its Bicycle Plan, a ban perversely created by the court finding the plan violated the California Environmental Quality Act because it wasn't subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report, which cost more than a million bucks and took two years.

Judge Busch "perversely created" the injunction on the city's Bicycle Plan? Shortly before he retired, Judge Warren issued the original injunction in June, 2006, after we showed him that the city was implementing the Bicycle Plan on the streets of the city before the merits of our complaint could be heard in court. 

As he pointed out in his decision of November, 2006, Judge Busch kept the injunction in place for the same reason that Judge Warren issued it in the first place:

The City cannot implement this project piece by piece, claiming that the impact of each small project does not have a significant environmental effect. Such reasoning is akin to trying to avoid review of a timber harvest plan by removing trees one at a time, claiming each tree removal to be independent and exempt. At the end of the process the forest would be gone or the entire City streetscape reconfigured without environmental review ever having happened

That's exactly what the city was arguing in its briefs and in oral argument in the hearings. At that point, the city couldn't argue otherwise, since it had admitted that it hadn't done any environmental review of the plan, "full-blown" or otherwise. 

Instead the city argued that it didn't have to do any environmental review of the Plan, that giving it a General Rule Exemption was justified, even though that exemption is only supposed to be used for projects that can't possibly have any impact on the environment.

Jones's "full-blown" usage is typical of how the city's bike people have claimed all along that the injunction and the successful litigation were based on some kind of technicality, not the essence of the most important environmental law in California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires an environmental review of any project that even could have a negative impact on the environment. 

The city was obviously required to do some kind of environmental review of the 500-page Bicycle Plan, which proposes taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy city streets to make bike lanes, which, we argued, surely could make traffic worse in the city, an obvious environmental impact.

Jones continues:

Despite the fact that the EIR was completed and certified last year, the plaintiffs who sued the city over the plan five years ago---anti-bike activist Rob Anderson and his attorney, Mary Miles---sued again, claiming the study was inadequate and decrying how the plan would take space from cars to improve bicycle safety.

In fact our challenge to the adequacy of the EIR is not a new "suit." The city has to get Judge Busch's approval of the EIR before he lifts the injunction on the Bicycle Plan. We dispute the adequacy of the EIR, which is what the hearing will be about next Tuesday. It's all part of the same process. 

Interesting to note that the city's latest brief doesn't even mention "bicycle safety." Instead the city simply argues that, yes, the Bicycle Plan is going to have "significant" negative impacts on traffic and Muni, but that it's going to implement the Plan anyhow on behalf of cyclists, regardless of its effects on more than 90% of the people who use city streets.

From the city's brief:

The City found that, despite the significant impacts from approval of the Bicycle Plan...the benefits of approving the Plan outweighed the unavoidable impacts it created (page 25)...the City determined that by implementing the Bicycle Plan, more people would chose[sic] to ride a bicycle than currently do---the idea of "mode shift" (page 26)...Nothing in the Statement[of Overriding Considerations] downplays the number or magnitude of traffic or transit impacts, or overstates the number of bicyclists, the primary beneficiaries of the Project's benefits (pages 27 and 28, "Respondent City and County San Francisco's Opposition to Petitioners' Objections to City's Return," emphasis added ).

Let's recap: The city passed the Bicycle Plan with no environmental review, and we appealed that decision to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. When the Board of Supervisors rejected our final appeal, we had to file suit, since there was no other way to make the city follow the law. 

The city lost the litigation and was ordered by the court to do an environmental review of the Plan. The EIR has been written, and it says what we thought it would say, that the Bicycle Plan is going to screw up traffic all over the city, including slowing down a number of Muni lines. 

The city now acknowledges all this but still insists on implementing the Bicycle Plan on behalf of cyclists, even though that's going to make traffic worse for everyone else, based on the hope that there will be a "mode shift" and a lot more people will ride bikes in the city.

What could go wrong with that?

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Sign the Fix Muni Now petition

The folks at BOMA remind us that we have only three more weeks to sign the Fix Muni Now peitition. Today there will be signature gatherers on Clement Street between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00. Tomorrow they will be at 24th and Mission between 10:00 and 12:00.

Next week's schedule:
* Wednesday, June 23, 4:30-6:00 PM: Geneva at Mission
* Thursday, June 24, 4:30-6:00 PM: ­ Downtown ­ Montgomery at Post
* Friday, June 25, 4:30-6:00 PM: ­ 24th and Mission
* Saturday June 26, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM: ­ Dolores Park
* Sunday, June 27, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM: ­ Stern Grove---exact location TBD