Saturday, April 13, 2013

Streetsblog's body count in the traffic war

The folks at the Long War Journal are keeping score of US casualties in Afghanistan and the number of people killed in terrorist attacks around the world. SF Streetsblog does the same for cyclists and pedestrians, especially in its "Today's Headlines" feature, with links to stories around the Bay Area about pedestrians and cyclists run down by those devilish motor vehicles, aka Death Monsters

This is part of the BikeThink mindset, that they are not only visionaries about transportation and planning but they are also victims in the war being waged on the country's poorly designed streets, an oppressed class for choosing a non-motorized transportation "mode."

On April 11 a link had this commentary: "Driver Strikes Bicyclist at Valencia and 14th Streets." Did the driver get out of his car and hit the cyclist with a tire iron?  No, readers of Streetsblog will assume that the cyclist was just another casualty in the traffic war, during which cyclists and pedestrians are run down every day by enemy vehicles. But when you use the link you get only this:

A bicyclist was injured in a collision with a vehicle in San Francisco’s Mission District this morning, a fire department spokeswoman said. The collision was reported at 8:34 a.m. at Valencia and 14th streets, fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said. The bicyclist’s injuries were not considered life-threatening, Talmadge said. No other information about the collision was immediately available.

Was the cyclist hospitalized with his/her "injuries"? Who was at fault? No more info is provided, but it was enough for Streetsblog to record it as a successful Death Monster attack in its scorecard.

Another story is described as "81-Year-Old Mountain View Woman Killed by Driver." Did the driver get out of his vehicle and shoot the woman with his Glock? No, of course not. Clicking on the link we learn that this woman was indeed mowed down by an apparently distracted driver while she was on the sidewalk, which strongly suggests that the driver was at fault. But the "killed by driver" formulation suggests intent, that killing old women was just the sort of thing "drivers" did.

Not surprisingly, Streetsblog's perspective also skews its coverage of local transportation issues: "The SF Bike Plan was held up for four years after a lawsuit was filed by Rob Anderson, forcing the city to do an extensive re-analysis that led to no changes to the original plan." Actually, the city came up with a completely different plan at the end of the EIR process.

But yes, that grouchy old Anderson, threw a Spaniard in the works, as John Lennon would say. How could a Bike Plan possibly require "an extensive re-analysis"? After all bicycles don't burn fossil fuel! The Draft EIR on the Bicycle Plan told us how: by removing more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 parking spaces on busy city streets to make bike lanes. Hard---impossible, according to the court---to argue that such a plan, either the pre- or post-litigation version, couldn't possibly have an impact on the city's environment.

In fact before the court decision, the city had done no environmental "analysis"---"re" or otherwise---at all on the Bicycle Plan; it simply declared the 500-page, two-volume plan exempt from CEQA, a state law local governments must follow. The city just assumed it could get away with it and wouldn't be challenged in court. 

Contrary to Supervisor Wiener's claim, appealing and litigating a project under CEQA is not often done because it's very expensive and time-consuming. Of the very few projects that are appealed from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors, even fewer are actually litigated.

No story on bicycle projects in SF would be complete without a soundbite from Leah Shahum:

Even for relatively small projects like the protected bike lanes and pedestrian bulb-outs on Fell and Oak, the appeals process has added “unnecessary difficulty in making progress on our city’s stated goals,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Our organization has unfortunately seen a lot of the bumps in the road.”

"Our organization"? Is she referring to the Bicycle Coalition or the city? Actually, the city's "stated goals" are the same as the Bicycle Coalition's, and the latter seems to function as a city department, with coalition employees moving into City Hall. 

Shahum sees obeying the law as one of those "bumps in the road." As another matter of fact, the appeal process on the Fell/Oak bike lane project didn't slow the MTA down much, if at all. And of course the well-founded, well-argued appeal was rejected---they always are---by the Board of Supervisors. Who are they to overrule the Planning Dept. and the Planning Commission?

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