Thursday, March 28, 2013

Showdown at Polk Gulch 2

David Chiu and Leah Shahum on Polk St. in 2011

Bike zealot Paul Skilbeck is part of the counter-attack---along with the Bicycle Coalition and Streetsblog---in support of the MTA's attempt to take away street parking on Polk Street to make bike lanes. Skilbeck, who writes about cycling on, weighed in with his pro-bike spin on the meeting the other night:

Business owners and residents on San Francisco's Polk Street see cyclists as typically culpable in accidents with cars, scoff at the notion of global warming, and are strongly opposed to the SFMTA's suggestions for improving their neighborhood. This was the tone of a public meeting organized by the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association at the Old First Presbyterian church, Monday night March 18th.

The city itself sees cyclists as "culpable" in causing half their own injury accidents; people just "scoff" at using global warming to justify taking away all that parking; and the MTA's proposal is more than a mere "suggestion." It's a serious project proposal that the city will surely implement if the neighborhood doesn't continue to resist. Streetsblog talks about "fearmongering," but those fears are completely justified. We had to sue the city just to get it to do an environmental review of its massive Bicycle Plan, even though it was clearly required by the law.

Supervisor Chiu aggressively courted the bike community when he ran for mayor last year, but the bike people seem to be a little disgruntled that he hasn't come out in support of the Polk Street bike lanes. From Streetsblog: "D3 Supervisor David Chiu, who usually talks a good game on street safety, has not taken a position on the project."

Interesting to note too that Chiu hired Judson True, former MTA spokesman, as one of his legislative aides. With the MTA, True routinely defended indefensible city anti-car policies. Maybe he can give his boss some pointers on that.

Skilbeck has Chiu commenting at the March 18 meeting:

Supervisor David Chiu, representing District 3, attended the meeting and reminded the assembly that the Polk Street corridor has, over an extended period of time, suffered a higher rate of collisions between people driving cars and those traveling by foot and on bicycles.

As I've pointed out before, the only mention of Polk Street in the city's latest Collision Report is on page 25, where it's listed on a graphic of intersections that had at least 7 bike/car accidents for 2009-2011. Ellis and Polk barely made the cut with 7 such accidents in that three-year period, hardly a bloodbath that justifies taking away all that street parking. Not to mention the fact that the city itself says that cyclists are responsible for half their own injury accidents. Adjusting for that reduces the number to 3.5 such accidents in three years---or one such accident a year.

If the city is serious about using safety to justify this project---I think it's bullshit like it is in justifying other bike projects---it should provide a report on all the recent accidents on Polk Street, including, according to the SFPD, who was responsible.

The Bicycle Coalition is encouraging their membership to support the Polk Street bike lanes, even suggesting a form letter people can send to Mayor Lee, Supervisor Chiu, and Ed Reiskin. They will surely be out en masse for the next public meeting.

Backstory: Paul Skilbeck ran afoul of other bike people a few years ago.

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At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to thank and applaud your efforts to make public what is happening throughout the city regarding the current anti-car hysteria.

Are you aware of the discussions on Socketsite regarding Polk and parklets?

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's "current" but it's also been going on for years here in Progressive Land, driven, so to speak, by the anti-car Bicycle Coalition and its many enablers in City Hall.

Here's a direct link to the interesting discussion of parklets on Socketsite.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger PaulS said...

Rob, there are a lot of good reasons for reducing car parking on Polk Street.

FYI SFMTA doesn't have a proposal yet, at this point they are still making suggestions. They will produce some proposals soon.

I hope you understand what you helping to enable in your position against the SFMTA suggestions.

First: Street-walking prostitutes. I have seen several of these persons hide behind parked cars when police patrols cruise past.

Second: Pimps. Prostitutes have pimps. Pimps use guns. Not long ago a prostitute was shot dead in the doorway of Brownie's hardware. I personally have been stared down by a pimp cruising on Clay Street. The store below my apartment took a gunshot through the window not long ago.

Second: Drug dealers. Drug dealers use the shield of parked cars to make their sidewalk deals. Again, the parked cars make this criminal activity much harder for police to spot.

Third: Open sewers. You want to know where the public toilets are on Polk Street? Between any two parked cars! Just ask the prostitutes and the homeless people.

Remove the parked cars and these social problems will be greatly reduced. They won't go into the alleyways when the alleyways are well lit and easily viewed by police. Maybe they will go to your neighborhood. Let's see how much you like the parked cars then.

Get more people walking and cycling more and you will see an equivalent reduction in obesity and diabetes levels and the associated drain on the public medical purse.

Fill a retail precinct with pedestrians and you will see revenues rise. This is the principle that has made the shopping mall a successful retail phenomenon all over the world.

Polk Street has a very large population living within two blocks. This is why only 15% of shoppers travel there by car. The street's business simply is not dependent on shoppers that arrive by car.

Should elderly and disabled people have access to motorized transport and parking on Polk Street? Of course! That should be maintained.

Here in the USA have developed very unhealthy mobility habits. Simply put, we don't walk enough. Homo Sapiens is metabolically designed to exercise every day. When I was a child growing up, we walked more than a mile to church on Sunday. We walked to the shops. I walked to and from school. I still walk a lot.

People across the USA are suffering chronic and expensive medical issues because they do not walk as part of their lifestyle. Why not? Because they drive everywhere.

They are living in a fool's paradise.

Asking people to give up a luxury for their own and the greater good is futile, they will never do it. And mostly they won't listen to reason unless it is life-threatening. Just ask any cardiologist.

This is what the argument is mainly about as far as I can work out. People plain don't want to change their unhealthy habits.

The arguments produced by opponents of the SFMTA plans generally are fearful knee-jerk reactions, uneducated guesses, deliberate distortions, or in the case of writers such as yourself, contrarian spin. Here's a great example:

"...the current anti-car hysteria."

This notion that proponents of cycling and walking are 'anti-car' is plain wrong. Many of these proponents drive a car and like it, including myself.

Bike zealot? Me? Nope. Just looking for a more sustainable, healthy and efficient urban transportation model. Better luck next time Rob!

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

This is the problem with enabling comments on my blog. Mostly I just get spam but when I get a comment like this---so far off that my first reaction was that you were putting me on---but re-reading it I have to think you're sincere. Now I'm compelled to respond, which is probably a waste of time, but I'm doing it just for you, Paul, to help you with your cognitive issues.

The SFMTA is only making "suggestions"? The MTA has the power to make all kinds of changes to city streets, since it has the political support of our fashionably PC Board of Supervisors. It also presents a number of mostly illusory "options" when it moves in on a neighborhood to redesign streets to the Bicycle Coalition's specifications. It also goes through a bogus "community" process before
it "implements" these "improvements." What they want to do is obvious: they want to take away enough street parking to make bike lanes in both directions. All the rest is flim-flam and bullshit. There won't be any parking for your imaginary "elderly and disabled people" or anyone else.

Your laundry list of the street crime opponents of this power grab by the bike people are enabling made me laugh and suspect that you were creating a pretty good parody. After more than ten years doing this blog, I'm a connoiseur of BikeThink comments, and this is a doozy, Paul.

So cars are cover for criminals and street crime and should be eliminated? This harkens back to the US war on Vietnam, with defoliating the jungle to deprive the Viet Cong of cover, and destroying-villages-to-save-them.

If this is actually a reality---which I doubt---there's an easy solution: cops can get their fat asses out of the patrol cars and walk a beat on Polk Street.

And eliminating the street parking on Polk Street will combat obesity in the US! This is not the first time I've heard this. People can and do walk in the city now. I do and I also jog; I don't own a car and walk and/or take Muni where I have to go.

No, removing parking on Polk Street will benefit no one but the bike people, a small, obnoxious, special interest that has city government in some kind of weird, PC grip.

Only 15% of shoppers on Polk arrive by car? Assuming that's true, for a small business owner 15% is a huge margin, both in foot traffic and profit margin. That the city and Streetsblog seem willing to discount the legitimate fears of small business owners shows how out of touch with the neighborhoods they really are.

You seem to be coming in late reading this blog. I've written a lot about the anti-car agenda of the bike people. Here's one post that comes to mind.

The Bicycle Coalition is in fact anti-car. Shahum and others in the SFBC have made that explicit over the years. Ed Reiskin himself is a bike nut, as is David Chiu. If the neighborhood doesn't continue to resist, this project will surely happen.

At 10:22 PM, Blogger PaulS said...

Thank you Rob, I am delighted with your responses. You've been most helpful!

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We keep hearing how only 15% of people drive to polk as per their survey. However the bike coalition guys earning a free membership BTW stationed in front of bars is just wrong. It will be sure to ask the MTA on Tuesday night what they could be thinking and they should stop pretending they did the survey, instead they took the bias survey route. Also while I'm ranting the bike guy who was in front of nicks crispy tacos who told a neighbor mother that her 5 yr old " would die of cancer" if she didn't back the the original plan.... What a fair way to conduct a survey(jk)

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The city and the Bicycle Coalition wave this survey around, but when you look closely at it on page 7 it looks like people who drive to Polk spend more money than those that arrive via other "modes," even if they make up a smaller percentage of visitors.

The bike people and the MTA are really worried about the Polk Street opposition to their "improvements." The Bicycle Coalition was campaigning as if all it took to show public support for the project was if all their membership showed up at that meeting last Saturday. I was there briefly early in the afternoon, and the turnout wasn't that great, with a lot of people simply standing around, not even looking at the "options" pinned on the wall.

A simple head count at these meetings clearly isn't a legitimate way to justify this radical project. What they should do is hold a neighborhood election, like the one the city held in the Haight in 2004 on the Page Street traffic circles. The city probably won't do that, because it lost the 2004 Page St. election. The circles were rejected by the residents.

But holding such an election would provide the city with a graceful way to extricate itself from the controversy: hold the election and abide by the results, regardless of how it turns out.

But the city would have to be ready to accept defeat in such an election. It would be a major defeat for the Bicycle Coalition and BikeThink in general. Democracy can be a bitch sometimes. I can live with that, but I don't think the SFBC and the MTA are ready to live with it, which is why the Bicycle Plan has never been on the ballot.


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