Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leah Shahum

Over the years, I've made 71 posts on this blog that have been about or quoted Leah Shahum. Anyone who writes about traffic in the city has had to reckon with Shahum's soundbites in the media, as she relentlessly pushed bicycles, bike lanes and the Bicycle Plan, and, just as important, promoted anything that makes it harder and more expensive to drive a motor vehicle in San Francisco.

Just reading her message to the Bicycle Coalition's membership about leaving nicely illustrates her mindset, since it's clotted with the hyped-up language of the special interest group lobbyist that she has been for the last 12 years: Shahum is "awestruck" at the number of people riding bikes in the city; it's been "a tremendous honor" to lead the SFBC, which will now be looking for an "extraordinary" new leader; San Francisco is "poised to become a truly great place for bicycling"; she is "tremendously proud" to have worked with the coalition's members, and she has "enormous faith" in the future of the organization, whose staff has "a level of passion and savvy that is unparalleled"; she will be with us until the end of the year, "continuing to increase and improve great bicycling in our city"; she urges the membership "to keep it up! You're making a tremendous difference."

She can't turn the hype machine off long enough to write a simple letter.

Like a lot of lobbyists, she can push her agenda too hard, like when she rationalized violence by cyclists during Critical Mass:

Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said this entire story has been one-sided and it overshadows the everyday dangers of biking in the city. "We've got a totally unacceptable rate of bicycle and pedestrian deaths and injuries in this city and that should be the real story," Shahum said.

For years the Bicycle Coalition listed Critical Mass on its online calendar, albeit with a disclaimer. They wanted to have it both ways: pander to militant cyclists without taking responsibility for any violence or disrupting commute traffic on the last Friday of every month. A typical calendar entry:

Critical Mass! Fri., Apr. 29 6pm Justin "Pee-Wee" Herman Plaza, Foot of Market St. Join hundreds or thousands of other cyclists---remember---we are not blocking traffic---we ARE traffic!

The accompanying weasly disclaimer:

Events not officially sponsored or organized by the SFBC are marked with an asterisk. We post events that might be of interest to our SF area members; we do not necessarily endorse any particular group or perspective you may find represented here.

Shahum herself had her life-changing bike epiphany at a Critical Mass demo.

She and city cyclists claim they aren't anti-car, but they see that as an important part of pushing bikes in the city: if cycling is to advance, motorists must be punished. Shahum supports Congestion Pricing, an idea that polls show is unpopular in the city (When the Chronicle did a story on the latest poll, it didn't mention the Congestion Pricing numbers!) And she supports punitive traffic and parking fines because that will supposedly encourage people to give up driving and start riding bikes.

The Coalition's Andy Thornley made anti-carism explicit way back in 2005: "We've done all the easy things so far. Now we need to take space from cars."

Creating parking for those wicked motor vehicles must also be discouraged. Shahum opposed the parking garage under the Concourse in Golden Gate Park, even though it was a gift from Warren Hellman and the city's rich people, and it's made it easier for families, the elderly, and the handicapped to visit the park. Why can't they ride bikes?

After getting the city to eliminate metered parking spaces on upper Market Street to make bike lanes, she lectured small business owners who objected to losing customer parking about how they had to accept "change."

Shahum invoked to an Examiner reporter what I call the Valencia Street Lie to justify taking away 200 parking spaces to make protected bike lanes on Polk Street. 

Shahum tried to spike a Bay Citizen story about how the city and the Bicycle Coalition tried to take away street parking to make bike lanes on 17th Street like they did on Ocean Avenue.

Shahum was furious when we got a judgment against the city's ambitious Bicycle Plan under the most important environmental law in the state, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Was she lying or was she just being stupid when she then made a lot of dumb comments about CEQA? Not easy to tell when a lobbyist talks to the media.

Shahum's vision for the streets of San Francisco: "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you'd let your six-year-old ride[a bike] on them."

When two cyclists were killed in Cupertino by a motorist who apparently fell asleep, Shahum rushed out a press release to show that cycling wasn't really dangerous: " truth, not bicycling is far more dangerous than bicycling." Not true for those two people. One thing you can be sure of: If you don't ride a bike on street with traffic, you won't die that way.

Speaking of traffic accidents, Shahum told the Bay Guardian her plans for the future include learning how to prevent them:

“In order to implement Vision Zero, we’re going to need funding to replace our obsolent[sic] traffic infrastructure that valued speed over safety...It’s at the valuable crossroads of injury prevention and sustainable transportation,” Shahum said. “I’m excited to take Vision Zero to the next level, not just in San Francisco, but around the nation.”

If Shahum is so interested in preventing traffic injuries on the streets of San Francisco, why hasn't she commented on that December, 2012, UC study that found that the city was radically under-counting cycling accidents? The answer to the question is obvious, but here it is anyhow: because it shows that riding a bike in this city is a lot more dangerous than she and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us for the last 12 years.

And, incredibly, the Coalition and City Hall have been encouraging city parents to put their children on bikes in San Francisco. (Shahum doesn't have children, but Ed Reiskin does.)

One wonders about the timing of Shahum's exit. The Coalition claimed not long ago that it had 12,000 members, but now Streetsblog tells us that membership now is only "more than 10,000."

Maybe Shahum is getting out of town just in time, before all the chickens come home to roost: declinimg Coalition membership, the UC study, the restoring transportation balance initiative, and the Masonic Avenue bike project that was pushed by a long campaign of lies by Leah Shahum and the Bicycle Coalition.

Perhaps the anti-car bike movement in San Francisco has peaked like it has in Vancouver and Portland.

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