Monday, November 04, 2013

Street Fight 1

In the preface to his book, Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco, Jason Henderson declares that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, "San Francisco's experience became more relevant as inspiration and bellwether":

Expressing what some call San Francisco values, local bicyclists protested at a local BP filling station whose customers routinely blocked a key bike lane. True to form, politicians promised to make the bike lane safer, resulting in a push to have the first truly separated cycle track constructed in San Francisco. San Franciscans were making the connections that so many people in the rest of the United States refused to see, making it even more clear that this book was sorely needed.

Hence, the very first page of Henderson's book offers a distorted account of that event and falsely credits/conflates those demonstrations with the city's long-planned cycle track project on Masonic Avenue[Later: Actually, Henderson seems to be referring to the Fell/Oak bike project, not the Masonic Avenue project.]

Except for Supervisor Mirkarimi, "politicians" in fact rejected the demonstrators' demand to close the Fell Street entrance to the busy Arco station at Fell and Divisadero, since that would force its customers to enter on the already-congested Divisadero Street. Even a pro-bike, anti-car City Hall thought that was a dumb idea.

Also in the preface, Henderson throws bouquets to other long-time anti-car city activists: Dave Snyder, Cheryl Brinkman, Bert Hill, Robin Levitt, and the Bay Guardian's editor, Steve Jones, a bike guy who calls cars "death monsters" and advocates something he calls true city living.

The Introduction to Street Fight opens with another gross historical distortion, as Henderson drafts the Beats and Lawrence Ferlinghetti into the anti-car cause:

Yet in 1998, more than forty years after the infamous "Howl" incident in which he and Allen Ginsberg challenged the censoring of free speech, Ferlinghetti was honored as poet laureate of San Francisco by then-mayor Willie Brown. The poet thereupon offered a pointed countercultural critique of America's obsession with automobiles...That is, automobility was destroying the intimate, personal, and emotional experience of San Francisco as a place of inspiration and meaning.

Funny but cars evidently didn't "destroy" this city as a place of inspiration for Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, and Neal Cassady, who was even famous for his love of cars. Ferlinghetti didn't "challenge" anything; he was arrested on obscenity charges for selling Ginsberg's "Howl" at his City Lights Bookstore. He defended himself successfully in court and was acquitted of the charges. Ginsberg wasn't charged.

But Henderson is just warming up. He starts Going Deep on page 3:

For some, this contestation of automobility is about reclaiming urban spaces from automobiles, limiting their use, and, more poignantly[sic], changing cultures so that the whole concept of high-speed mobility and car ownership is deemphasized. For others it includes subtle critiques of the geography of modern capitalism and a critique of a way of life centered on unfettered hyperconsumption, the speeding up of everyday life, and competition rather than cooperation. And for the most it is about preserving the poetry of the city that Ferlinghetti idealized.

Or a not-so-subtle criticism of American capitalism. "Reclaiming"? Back to the horse and buggy or to some Edenic time when bicycles dominated city streets? 

This contempt for average Americans underlies the whole bike movement, which consists mostly of well-off young white men in cities and university towns. Henderson and the anti-car folks really hate it that average Americans want to live better, with cars, houses, and household appliances, instead of...what? Living like peasants? The bike people hate it that people in China, as soon as they got the chance, began trading in their bikes for cars.

And it's odd that a bike guy objects to "the speeding up of everyday life," since cyclists in this city are legendary for their reckless running of stoplights and stop signs as they speed to wherever they're in such a hurry to get.  

Americans clearly love the mobility cars provide, as do the people of San Francisco, where more than 460,000 motor vehicles are registered and only 3.4% of all daily trips are by bicycle. 

Henderson admits that "the debate over how to accommodate cars continues to divide the city." Actually, the debate---such as it is---is about how to accommodate bikes on the busy streets of the city. Unlike rebuilding the Central Freeway---which took years and four ballot measures to settle---City Hall hasn't consulted city voters about the plan to redesign their streets on behalf of a small minority of cyclists because it understands that it would likely be rejected:

In 2006 an anti-bicycle lawsuit, litigated by two persons calling themselves the Coalition for Adequate Review (CAR), successfully delayed the city's implementation of bicycle lanes for over four years.

Why was our litigation successful? Because the city was clearly violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that requires environmental review of any project that even might have an impact on the environment, which of course included the 500-page Bicycle Plan that had plans for specific streets in a whole volume of nothing but engineering drawings. The city's defense in court was based on an out-and-out lie---that the ambitious Plan couldn't possibly have any impact on the city's environment. 

The city's bike people have been consistently dishonest and stupid about CEQA. It was an easy decision for Judge Busch to make, as he brushed aside the city's feeble defense of its illegal conduct, but you won't find any mention of the state's most important environmental law in Henderson's book.

Tomorrow: Henderson's pseudo-intellectual discussion of ideology and the "politics of mobility."

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At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think the population of San Francisco will be in 2020? 2030? 2040?

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you propose we reduce the vehicle congestion in San Francisco?

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anonymous; the idea is to block all new development and make the city as bike and ped unfriendly as possible, and hope people (especially the kind that like bikes and walking) give up and stop trying to move to San Francisco.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Bob Gunderson said...

Vehicle congestion is the problem AND the solution, you fools.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Anonymous #1: Clearly the rising population is what is driving all of this. Why not attack the root of all of our problems - a spiraling population?

Anonymous #2: No amount of vehicle congestion reduction (i.e. make life hell for motorists) is going to stop a spiraling population. Stop that, then we can talk reasonably about lessening the number of cars on the road. Because if you don't address population problems, you're hardly even slowing the onset of the myriad of overcrowding problems.

Anonymous #3: Your sarcastic remark is an interesting analogy to the Bike Plan People's plan of making the city as motorist unfriendly as possible and Smart Growth People's plan to make the houses smaller and smaller and not commensurately cheaper. Again the problem is too many people.

We fret and we worry and we war with each other over what to do with all these people who need houses, transportation, jobs, healthcare, etc. Why don't we spend SOME time, if not a SIGNIFICANT amount of time and effort to discuss what we can do to limit our out of control population growth?

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If vehicle congestion is the solution, what problem does it solve?

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

If vehicle congestion is a problem, how does making it harder to drive in SF---taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes on busy streets---how does that solve the problem?

The city's own studies show that cyclists are only 3.4% of the city's population. Why is it okay to redesign city streets on behalf of that tiny, often obnoxious minority?

Doing that is not only a massive imposition on an overwhelming majority of city residents, if carried out as per the Bicycle Coalition's specifications, it's going to damage the city's economy.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It reduces congestion because increasing the number of bike trips reduces the number of car and taxi trips, thereby reducing vehicle congestion. You don't even need bicycle lanes on every street, which is the great part. You just need to create enough lanes to create a viable network for some people (more than we currently have) to use a bicycle instead of taking Uber, ZipCar, Lyft, or driving. This is what they did in NYC on one their busiest avenues, and there were "very minor changes in traffic volumes". And that was after they removed not one, but two travel lanes.

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's OK if you didn't realize this but increasing the number of bike trips reduces the number of car trips, so if you drive a car, you have fewer cars to have to deal with.

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rkeezy what other ways can we reduce population here? Was talking to a neighbor about this the other day and he had some ideas but not sure how well they would work. We at least need to stop building these new HUGE buildings with so much housing.

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rkeezy writes..

"Anonymous #1: Clearly the rising population is what is driving all of this. Why not attack the root of all of our problems - a spiraling population?"

Translation: The black and brown people are having too many babies. Let's stop that.

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rkeezy - simple question, how many children do you have? How many do you plan to have?

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"if carried out as per the Bicycle Coalition's specifications, it's going to damage the city's economy."

Truth. We can see that right now. The bike lanes are coming in and everything is going to hell. People are leaving in droves, and businessmen have had to resort to drastic measures to stay in business. The price of toast in a restaurant has been lowered to $4. Real estate is crashing as nobody wants to live in a city begrimed by bike lanes.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Traffic in SF is already a lot worse than it's ever been. The goofy bike projects are only going to make it worse on behalf of a bunch of assholes like you.

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The goofy bike projects are only going to make it worse on behalf of a bunch of assholes like you.

Who cares.


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