Thursday, March 21, 2013

City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition versus the neighborhoods

Photo by Anna Latino for the SF Examiner

From the SF Examiner's story on Monday night's Polk Street meeting:

Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, downplayed the meeting’s significance, saying it was “really focused on merchants’ concerns” and “far underrepresented” those supporting corridor improvements. Shahum’s organization maintains that these improvements, such as dedicated bike lanes, would boost business. That idea was laughed at during the meeting.

Shahum and the Bicycle Coalition have a history of ignoring the interests of the city's small business owners on upper Market Street, on Ocean Avenue, and on 17th Street.

The folks on Polk Street could challenge Shahum's claim by having their neighborhood vote on the City Hall/Bicycle Coalition's plans for the street, like the neighborhood election the city held in the Haight-Ashbury in 2004 on the Page Street traffic circles.

Howard Chabner describes how the city handled the traffic circles fiasco:

In 2003 and early 2004, the Department of Parking and Traffic implemented a pilot project of traffic circles along Page Street in my neighborhood. The circles turned out to be a disaster for pedestrian safety, and what had been promoted as a 30-day pilot project turned into a nine-month recipe for danger. Finally, the project was terminated due to overwhelming neighborhood opposition, as evidenced by a neighborhood vote conducted by DPT: 77% against, 23% in favor. 

Although the traffic circles were dangerous for all pedestrians, they were especially dangerous for blind people, wheelchair users and slow walkers. I use an electric wheelchair. I wrote several letters to the Mayor’s Disability Council and spoke at its meetings about this issue. The Page Street circles were opposed by many disabled individuals and by staff of the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The San Francisco Fire Department also opposed them.

I travel up Page Street on the way to Kezar Stadium to jog, and I remember how hazardous it was to even jog through those intersections.

Since the city lost the neighborhood traffic circles vote, they probably see that as a cautionary tale and something to be avoided. Too much neighborhood democracy would put an end to the Bicycle Plan and other "improvements" City Hall is foisting on city neighborhoods!

After losing the vote on the Page Street traffic circles, the Bicycle Coalition was undaunted. Instead of abandoning the idea, the coalition doubled down by proposing that all of Page Street should be turned into a "bicycle boulevard":

While the traffic circles along Page St. in 2004 were rejected by residents, we believe that the circles alone fell short of making the improvements that are necessary to preserve the quality of life along this quiet street and ensure safety while also providing a high quality bicycle route. While there are no active plans for Page Street at this time, the SFBC believes this street could provide a great opportunity for an east-west connector 'bike boulevard' in San Francisco.

Like religious fanatics, the bike people and their many allies in City Hall keep coming at us. The Page Street "bicycle boulevard"/traffic circles plan lives on, tucked away deep in an appendix (page 56), labeled "Community Improvements," to the Market and Octavia Plan:

POLICY 5.5.1
Improve bicycle connections, accessibility, safety, and convenience throughout the neighborhood, concentrating on streets most safely and easily traveled by cyclists.

The entirety of Page Street has been designated a “Bicycle Priority Street,” and it should be treated as a bicycle boulevard. To the greatest extent practicable, stop signs should be removed from Page Street. Where necessary, stop signs can be replaced by traffic circles or roundabouts, as illustrated at right.

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