Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Polk Street fights City Hall and the safety lie

Evidently it's not just C.W. Nevius at the Chronicle who's pushing the anti-development myth about San Francisco. This morning's edition has a story with this head: "Polk Street group balks at bike lanes," followed by a statement of the myth:

In certain neighborhoods and along certain streets, it's common knowledge that any proposed development will generate controversy, opposition and, more often than not, an extended public process that may end up killing the proposal. It's the San Francisco way. North Beach is the poster child for such guaranteed instant controversy, of course, and the Haight and the Marina also come to mind. But Polk Street?

If it's supposedly "common knowledge," those pushing this lie need to come up with better examples. North Beach? Hard to think of any development controversies there, except for the Pagoda Theater and where/how/whether to remove the Central Subway drilling machine. 

The Marina? The only one I can recall is opposition to putting a restaurant on the Marina Green. The Haight? Nope. There was some opposition to the Whole Foods store at Haight and Stanyan, mainly from HANC and the bike people---the latter wanted no parking lot for the supermarket! I can't think of another controversy in the Haight, except for closing the recycling center at Kezar, which had nothing to do with development. 

But the myth/lie of the anti-development movement in San Francisco will live on, because myths have little to do with the facts.

Instead these journalists, like C.W. Nevius, seem to resent any opposition to City Hall projects. How dare these Polk Street folks oppose losing 20 blocks of parking to make bike lanes! Why don't they get with the anti-car program? Don't they want to deal with climate change?

But the most revealing paragraph in the story is about the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum:

Leah Shahum, executive officer of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the specific proposal for Polk Street has not yet been chosen but that it is likely to be limited to a shorter stretch of the street, and will focus on improving pedestrian as well as bicycle safety. The street has high rates of accidents involving cars versus both bikes and pedestrians, according to a report on the MTA website.

If it sounds like Shahum, who heads up a special interest group, is making city traffic policy, that's been the case for years. And the Bicycle Coalition gets lucrative contracts from the city and operates as if it's a city agency. The anti-car lobbying group even got a $279,000 contract to do "community outreach" on the Bicycle Plan, even though, since it had a stake in the outcome of the process, that was a clear conflict of interest.

The MTA and the Bicycle Coalition always invoke the "safety" issue, but that's often a lie, as it was at Fell and Masonic, Masonic Avenue in general, and the Fell/Oak bike lane project. Even according to the city's own studies, none of these areas have serious safety problems. 

The Fell/Oak bike lane project is all about making cyclists "comfortable" riding bikes on the Panhandle; the Fell/Masonic intersection has had a remarkably stable accident rate for years; and Masonic Avenue, for a street carrying more than 32,000 vehicles a day, has a good safety record.

Like identity politics, the safety lie lives on as what Paul Krugman calls a "zombie idea": "A proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence and should be dead---but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both."

Sign up on the Save Polk Street contact list here.

The anti-car bike movement is a national movement. Same thing is happening in Portlandia.

Update: Streetsblog, which always supports the Bicycle Coalition's agenda, attacks Save Polk Street today.

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