Thursday, November 03, 2011

Days of wine and bicycles

Darlington examines a bottle of Two Buck Chuck

David Darlington's hymn to cycling in the city in the November issue of San Francisco magazine (Truly Critical Mass) could have been written for the Bay Guardian, the SF Weekly, or even the SF Chronicle, all of which support the radical anti-car bike agenda in San Francisco, though the people of the city have never had a chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan or Critical Mass---and they never will if City Hall has its way.

Darlington contacted me back in June:

I'm writing an article for San Francisco Magazine about the  bicycling movement in the city. I understand you brought the injunction that shut down cycling developments for several years. Would you be interested in talking to me about your motivations for this?

Along with my phone number, I sent him a link to my post on Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. That was the last I heard from Darlington, who was evidently determined to do a puff-piece.

Darlington parrots the Bicycle Coalition's talking point about the alleged "explosion" of cycling in the city: "Between 2006 and 2010, the city had found, cycling trips were up 58%, and the proportion of all trips made by bike had grown to 6 percent."

As I pointed out in a post early this year, the unimpressive last two counts show that cycling in the city may have already peaked. The city tried to blame last year's low count on the weather, but that was clearly untrue. According to their own report, the day of the count was a typical August day in the city, with scattered clouds, fog, and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees (pages 21-24).

Darlington skips lightly over the litigation and the injunction:

After Gavin Newsom became mayor, he signed an expanded [bicycle] plan, backed by the coalition, for 60 new bike-lane projects. Construction was stalled for four years by a court injunction, but when that was lifted, in 2010, the city plunged into catching up on these improvements...

Naturally, everything the bike people want to do to our streets is an "improvement"! Mayor Newsom did support the Bicycle Plan throughout the process, but he shouldn't get too much credit/blame, since both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the Bicycle Plan in spite of our dissent.

Darlington makes an unconvincing attempt to explain the alleged popularity of cycling in SF:

Credit (or blame) can be directed at any number of factors: Lance Armstrong, who brought bicycling to the attention of the entire nation; the tech boom, which attracted young people from around the world, making the city more congested and harder to get around by car; the recession, which gave residents more time to ride and less money for owning, insuring, and parking an automobile.

Except perhaps for the Lance Armstrong reference, these "factors" are untrue. There's no evidence that in recent years it's been hard to get around by car in the city---see the still-valid Curt Sanburn piece in the SF Weekly---though the bike people and City Hall are determined to put a stop to that. According to the DMV, there are actually 10,000 more motor vehicles registered in SF now than there were ten years ago.

Darlington quotes Dave Snyder: "It shouldn't be a political act to ride a bicycle." But riding a bike in a traditionally liberal city like San Francisco is clearly politically-motivated. Bikes are a political symbol for these folks much like the crucifix was for early generations of Christians, though it's unlikely that the bike religion will have the same long-term success that Christianity has had.

Darlington is probably unaware of it, but Snyder is one of the Big Thinkers who formulated the city's failed strategy of ignoring the law and rushing the Bicycle Plan through the process without any environmental review.

Darlington provides more evidence of anti-carism by the city's bike leadership. First, there's the admission by Snyder that for cyclists to prosper motorists must suffer: "It's a [zero-sum] real estate game...You can't make it better for alternatives to cars without making it worse for cars." When he was executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, Snyder, in opposition to the parking garage in Golden Gate Park, thought that the park "seems overwhelmed at times by the most pernicious form of urban pressure: the automobile."

This is in line with what the Bicycle Coalition's Andy Thornley told the Bay Guardian more than six years ago:  "We've done all the easy things so far. Now we need to take space from cars."

Darlington quotes the MTA's Timothy Papandreou, Deputy Director of Transportation Planning, whose aim is to make cars "residual" on the streets of the city: "If we're going to become more livable and change the quality of life, cars are going to have to take a backseat."

But even bike guy Darlington was struck by the hypocrisy of Supervisor Chiu and Leah Shahum:

...[W]hen addressing the media, neither Chiu nor Shahum waxed quite as revolutionary as when they were preaching to the converted. I asked Chiu directly if he wants to discourage automobile use. "Absolutely not," he answered. "The goal is to improve all the modes of transit---taxicabs, car sharing, pedestrian, Muni---so that we actually make it easier for car owners to get around." Even Shahum wouldn't go on record as anti-automobile. "We want options," she demurred. "We want people to feel safe and comfortable choosing bicycling for more of their trips."

Though he's written whole books on wine, Darlington doesn't want to be known as a "wine writer," since he also regularly writes about bikes, which makes him a wine and bike writer.

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At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still waiting for your horrible traffic to materialize. Lots of bike lanes, no more congestion than before.

Waiting... cause it will never happen.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

You, as a de facto shut in, who at best gets around your neighborhood, have no clue. If anything the stats understate the number of people riding bikes. Not as a political statement, but in large part as a revolt against unreliable MUNI service or the inconvenience of parking (something that was inconvenient before any bike lanes went in).

The city is fucking crawling with cyclists. Compared to when I moved to SF and started riding around in 1997, it's goddamn Beijing. And WE LIKE IT THAT WAY. Beijing on the other hand is making things more comfortable for drivers. I think you would love it - MOVE THERE.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm a "defacto shut in"? I don't ride my bike 50 miles to work like you, Murph, but I'm out and around on the streets of the city every day, walking and riding Muni with my clipper card.

Riding a bike in SF is a revolt against "unreliable Muni service"? Bullshit. Muni service hasn't changed much in years, and the bus lines heading downtown through my neighborhood---on Haight, Hayes, McAllister---are all packed every morning with people going to work.

Muni lines that I ride regularly---on Divisadero, Masonic, McAllister, Haight, Geary, and California---all run with acceptable regularity and efficiency.

Muni is in fact the only real alternative to driving in SF for most people, which is why you bike people denigrate it.

Riding a bike is essentially politically symbolism for you trendies, much like long hair, beards, and tie-dye shirts were for my generation.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muni is in fact the only real alternative to driving in SF for most people, which is why you bike people denigrate it.

Actually, you continuing to fight for more cars and more parking is about as anti-Muni as it gets.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Your Neighbor said...

If Muni is "in fact" the only "real" alternative to cycling, then why is the number of cyclists increasing while other modes decrease? Does that make the tens of thousands of cyclists in this city... imaginary?

It's not hard to find faults with Muni if you've ever had to commute to work every day or get around the city without a car in a timely fashion. You, on the other hand, probably don't have a lot of time-sensitive things to do, and quite likely spend most of your time on Muni when those buses aren't packed with people. Those with jobs that require them to be on time, though, constantly encounter delays (or disruptions) and buses that are uncomfortably full during peak commute hours. Those are the two reasons I started riding a bike instead of taking the bus five years ago.

Don't take my word for it, though. Despite being the second densest city in the US, San Francisco's public transit consistently ranks below cities like Boston, Portland, and Minneapolis. On-time performance is abysmal, and has in fact declined since 2004 (average headway performance has dropped by 10% since 2005).

So just because Muni works "just fine" for you doesn't mean it works for everyone else. And as long as service continues to suck for many people, you should expect that more and more of them will get fed up enough to ditch the bus in favor of a bike.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"If in fact the only real alternative to cycling..."

Of course what I actually wrote is "Muni is in fact the only real alternative to driving in SF for most people, which is why you bike people denigrate it."

Yes, Muni doesn't work as well as it should for many people. What it needs is more money for buses and maintenance, as the grand jury report on the Central Subway pointed out recently. That's why people who really care about Muni oppose the Central Subway, which is draining scarce transit dollars away from the existing system into a project that will only increase the system's costs without improving service.

Bicycles clearly aren't a serious alternative for many people in SF, except for the young, the politically-motivated, and the foolish.

The links you provide don't help your argument. Let's look at SF itself. It's best to consider percentages, not numbers.

You could start by consulting the latest---November, 2010---MTA "Transportation Fact Sheet" (go to the MTA's site and click on "reports"), which tells us that 46.3% of city residents commute by car, 31.8% by public transportation, and---wait for it!---a whopping 3% of city residents commute by bicycle, which, in the last 10 years has increased by only 0.9%---even after all the pro-bike and anti-car propaganda from the SFBC and City Hall.

When you look at bike commuting in a national context, it's even more trivial according to the latest census report on commmuting in the US.

On page 3 we learn that nationwide "86.1% commuted in a car, truck, or van in 2009, and 76.1% drove to work alone."

On page 2 we learn that nationwide 766,000 people commuted by bicycle, which seems like a big number, until you consider that it represents 0.6% of the nation's workforce. Compared to that bike commuting in SF is pretty impressive, though, like the national percentages, not particularly significant, since 97 of SF's population doesn't commute by bicycle.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The last sentence in the above comment should read "since 97% of SF's population doesn't commute by bicycle."


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