Friday, June 14, 2013

The Grand Jury's bike report: A flat tire

The latest Grand Jury report on bikes in the city bills itself as a "follow-up" to its 2010 report, Sharing the Roadway: Confrontation to Conversation, which I blogged about at the time. This one---Are the Wheels Moving Forward?---isn't any better.
It gets off to a bad start with its "Background" section:
In 2006, the Coalition for Adequate Review and 99 Percent obtained an injunction to prevent implementation of the Bike Plan and requested greater City review to determine potential impacts to the flow of traffic, the availability of street parking, and public transit (page 7).
The endnote to this statement is a 2006 SF Chronicle story after Judge Warren issued the original injunction against the city. This is the only reference to the city's illegal attempt to ignore the most important environmental law in California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is also unmentioned in the report. "Greater review"? The city had done no environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. CEQA requires that any project that even might have a negative impact on the environment  must undergo some kind of environmental review before it's implemented. That was all our original suit was about---making the city conduct the legally required environmental review of its ambitious, 500-page Bicycle Plan that proposed taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy city streets to make bike lanes.

The report doesn't mention the Environmental Impact Report that was ordered by Judge Busch. It reached the conclusion about the impact of the Bicycle Plan that we predicted: it's going to make traffic worse on city streets, even delaying a number of Muni lines. The city has admitted that it doesn't really know whether doing this will result in enough people giving up cars and riding bikes to justify making traffic worse for everyone else, which makes it a faith-based traffic policy.
Like its prequel, this Grand Jury report shows no interest in the costly City Hall Bicycle Plan litigation fiasco. Instead of the many pages of platitudes about educating the public, the Grand Jury should have examined the  conduct of the City Attorney's office on this case, since it cost city taxpayers a lot of money and delayed the city's bike projects for years, whether you think that's a good thing or not.

In creating the Bike Plan, the SFMTA collaborated with the Planning Department, SFPD, BAC, SFBC and other community members to formulate a comprehensive plan for its mission. SFPD plays an important role enforcing roadway laws. SFBC, a non-profit advocacy group, promotes, educates and encourages bicycling for everyday transportation. BAC is an eleven-member City organization appointed by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) to provide various perspectives on bicycle projects and policies.

All of these entities---except the SFPD---are pro-bike. The Bicycle Advisory Committee is stacked with pro-bike people and does nothing but promote cycling in the city. It does not provide "various perspectives on bicycle projects and policies." One of the biggest problems the bike project has always had is that bike advocates---inside City Hall and outside---mostly talk to each other while they promote their problematic minority transportation "mode" at the expensive of everyone else who uses city streets. This report continues that insular practice by talking only to groups and individuals supporting City Hall's bicycle policies.

Even the Bicycle Coalition, after a couple of pedestrians were killed by cyclists, issued a report on "Scofflaws" on bikes. The rest of us call this phenomenon Punks on Bikes or The Asshole Factor. The report quotes a resident: "Let's teach motorists and cyclists the traffic rules about how to share the road. I believe there's a lot of ignorance." Bullshit. Both cyclists and motorists know, for example, that speeding and running red lights and stop signs is against the law, but many do it anyhow.

Interesting that the report reprints page 24 from the city's latest collision report that says that cyclists are responsible for more than half their own injury accidents due to their reckless behavior. Does anyone really think that these people didn't know they were riding dangerously? Risk-taking is part of the lure of cycling for many---especially for guys, who are the overwhelming majority of cyclists in the city.

The problem in San Francisco is that the bike fad was born out of the scofflaw ethos of bike messengers---who are admired by many young dudes as barely socialized rebels on bikes---and it then morphed into an illegal monthly demonstration, now institutionalized as Critical Mass, which is also unmentioned in the report, as is the fact that city taxpayers are now paying $10,000 a month for a police escort for Critical Mass ordered by Mayor Newsom after some violent incidents back in 2007.

The report quotes the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum:
You're not going to get everyone in a class, we know that, but if you do teach enough people to behave nicely, it becomes the norm and it'll affect the small, albeit visible, minority of bike riders whose actions give the rest of us a bad name.
But Shahum had her life-changing epiphany at a Critical Mass demo, and until recently the Coalition listed the monthly disruption of commute traffic on its online calendar. It would be helpful if the Coalition would also publicly discourage its members from taking part in the traffic-snarling demonstration, but it probably doesn't want to alienate the militant, punks-on-bikes faction of the movement.
The report's extensive material about educating the public ("Bicycling and Education: Building Awareness for Safer Streets") is so naive it's hard to take seriously. The notion that bicycle safety classes can deal with the reality of the boorish behavior by many cyclists on city streets is ridiculous. Nor can safety courses really prepare would-be cyclists for the inherent dangers of riding a bike. 

The Bicycle Coalition is described as "a non-profit advocacy group, [that]promotes, educates and encourages bicycling for everyday transportation." It would be more accurate to call the coalition a special interest group. The report notes that the Bicycle Coalition gets 27% of its money from "government," but it doesn't tell us exactly how much of that money it gets from San Francisco. We know that the city pays the coalition $50,000 a year for Bike to Work Day, and that the group got $300,000 in public money---$250,000 from Caltrans and $50,000 from the SFCTA---for "community outreach" on the Bicycle Plan, though, since it had a stake in the outcome of the process, that was surely improper. 
A more thorough accounting would better inform the city about the Bicycle Coalition's role in forming city policy, especially since the MTA makes a practice of hiring people from the Bicycle Coalition. The coalition functions as a quasi-city department, even though they are a special interest group with an agenda that is not supported by a majority of city residents.
By not talking to anyone but supporters of the city's bicycle policies, the Grand Jury can ignore the significant push-back by small businesses in the neighborhoods on upper Market Street, on Ocean Avenue, on 17th Street, reaching a recent climax with the resistance to the city's bike lane project on Polk Street. All four of these projects were opposed by small businesses that resented the loss of street parking to make bike lanes.
The city's removal of street parking on Market Street between Van Ness and Octavia Blvd., over the vigorous protest of small businesses, was an example of the impact of the Bicycle Plan we used to convince Judge Warren that the city had to stop implementing the Plan until the hearing on our litigation could be held. That was when the original injunction was issued that eventually led to Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to conduct a thorough environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. 
The resistance in Polk Gulch has had an interesting effect on our elected officials, who had previously endorsed everything the Bicycle Coalition and the MTA was doing to city streets: they have been completely silent on the Polk Street project! Even David Chiu, a dedicated bike guy, who represents that district on the Board of Supervisors, has refused to support the project.
The moral of the story: the whole bike trip is a paper tiger politically. Until Polk Street, neighborhood opposition to taking away scarce street parking was steamrolled or ignored by City Hall; pro-bike, anti-car policies were seen as a green, win-win deal by City Hall and the MTA. City Hall is only now beginning to understand that these policies are not popular in the neighborhoods, that political support comes mostly from a minority in the city overall.
The report acknowledges none of this, which makes it worse than useless. It does nothing but support the very policies that are under increasing scrutiny and neighborhood opposition.
Under "Conclusions" the report sums up its utter cluelessness on the subject:
San Francisco needs to embrace the growing bicycle movement and better position itself to reach the Board of Supervisors' 20 percent mode share goal by 2020. The City has made great strides to encourage bicycling by connecting neighborhoods with bike lanes, announcing a pilot bike-share program in 2013, and providing education and outreach programs. Each day, citizens are reaping the benefits of these improvements. However, more can and should be done. Extending and promoting these programs should be a top priority.  Traffic laws for all roadway users must be articulated, respected, and enforced to make everyone feel safe. SFPD needs support from the community and its leaders to enforce traffic laws that minimize collisions and prevent fatalities.
This is stupid stuff, especially the 20%-by-2020 idea, which I've written about before. If cycling is now only 3.4% of all trips in the city, can anyone really think that it can grow 2.5% a year by 2020? Even the attempt to reach that goal would require radical changes to many city streets based on nothing but the hope that that would result in an increase in cycling large enough to justify those increasingly unpopular changes.
Aggressively pushing bicycles  is particularly irresponsible given the obvious dangers of riding a bike, the subject of a recent NY Times article. All the bike safety courses by the SFBC can't change the reality that riding a bike has intrinsic dangers, which the coalition likes to pretend are only about those devilish motor vehicles. City Hall is irresponsible in downplaying those dangers, even for children, though bikes are the leading cause of head injuries to children in the country.
This report could have been written by the Bicycle Coalition, since it doesn't question any of the assumptions underlying the city's aggressive push of cycling in the city---or its radical redesign of city streets on behalf of this small minority. The report fatuously pretends that the city can make these problematic policies work better with education and SFPD enforcement of traffic laws.
The notion that somehow the SFPD is going to solve this issue for everyone with some kind of enforcement magic is pure fantasy. That's not going to happen. The bad behavior by a large minority of cyclists will continue on the streets of the city and, like Critical Mass, is now apparently a permanent part of life in San Francisco.
The big question still to be answered: How much longer will people tolerate redesigning city streets on behalf of this small minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority of city residents?

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At 12:01 PM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

It'll probably tolerate it for as long as the 96% of the population who aren't using a bicycle to commute get organized and mobilize in the exact same way the bicycle lobby has.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rkeezy: AAA, dumbass

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

From now on, Anon, you have to put your name on your insults. Rkeezy makes a valid point, but you're too chickenshit to put your name on your lame insult.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Too long, didn't read

At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AAA doesn't lobby for auto interests? Fuck off Rob.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Too long, didn't read."

But you already have The Truth about Bicycles (Good, cars Bad), so you don't have to read anything. Besides, as I point out, the report could have been written by the Bicycle Coalition or your pals at Streetsblog.

"AAA doesn't lobby for auto interests? Fuck off Rob."

But I'm writing about a special interest group that represents a small minority---3.4%, according to the city's own numbers---dominating traffic policy in the city. And then the Grand Jury, a creature of the Superior Court, shedding no light on the subject of their report and essentially endorsing the agenda of the special interest group against the interests of a majority of city residents.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then the Grand Jury, a creature of the Superior Court, shedding no light on the subject of their report and essentially endorsing the agenda of the special interest group against the interests of a majority of city residents.

No shit. Just like they did with the Central Subway!

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Which I wrote about at the time here.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, the grand jury are idiots. Their conclusions on the Central Subway were completely wrong.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, their conclusions were pretty good on the Central Subway; they just didn't have the guts to call for the project to stop.


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