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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