Friday, August 22, 2008

San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution

As seen in the WSJ online. Article by Phred Dvorak:

SAN FRANCISCO -- New York is wooing cyclists with chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for double-decker bicycle parking.

San Francisco can't even install new bike racks.
Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That's put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.

Cyclists say the irony is killing them -- literally. At least four bikers have died and hundreds more have been injured in San Francisco since mid-2006, when Mr. Anderson helped convince a judge to halt implementation of a massive pro-bike plan.(It's unclear whether the plan's execution could have prevented the accidents.) In the past year, bike advocates have demonstrated outside City Hall, pushed the city to challenge the plan's freeze in court and proposed putting the whole mess to local voters. Nothing worked.

"We're the ones keeping emissions from the air!" shouted Leah Shahum, executive director of the 10,000-strong San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, at a July 21 protest.

WSJ's Phred Dvorak reports from a Critical Mass event in San Francisco, a monthly bike ride that draws hundreds of cyclists. She talks with bikers as well as disgruntled drivers.
Mr. Anderson disagrees. Cars always will vastly outnumber bikes, he reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It's an "attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy," he wrote in his blog this month.

Mr. Anderson's fight underscores the tensions that can circulate as urban cycling, bolstered by environmental awareness and high gasoline prices, takes off across the U.S. New York City, where the number of commuter cyclists is estimated to have jumped 77% between 2000 and 2007, is adding new bike lanes despite some motorist backlash. Chicago recently elected to kick cars off stretches of big roads on two Sundays this year.

Famously progressive, San Francisco is known for being one of the most pro-bike cities in the U.S., offering more than 200 miles of lanes and requiring that big garages offer bike parking. It is also known for characters like Mr. Anderson.

A tall, serious man with a grizzled gray beard, Mr. Anderson spent 13 months in a California federal prison for resisting the draft during the Vietnam War. He later penned pieces for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a muckraking Northern California weekly owned by his brother that's known for its savage prose and pranks.

Running for Office

In 1995, Mr. Anderson moved to San Francisco. Working odd jobs, he twice ran for a seat on the city's Board of Supervisors, pledging to tackle homelessness and the city's "tacit PC ideology." He got 332 of 34,955 votes in 2004, his second and best try.

That year Mr. Anderson, who mostly lives off a small government stipend he receives for caring for his 92-year-old mother, also started a blog, digging into local politics with gusto. One of his first targets: the city's most ambitious bike plan to date.

Unveiled in 2004, the 527-page document was filled with maps, traffic analyses and a list of roughly 240 locations where the city hoped to make cycling easier. The plan called for more bike lanes, better bike parking and a boost in cycling to 10% of the city's total trips by 2010.

The plan irked Mr. Anderson. Having not owned a car in 20 years, he says he has had several near misses with bikers roaring through crosswalks and red lights, and sees bicycles as dangerous and impractical for car-centric American cities. Mr. Anderson was also bugged by what he describes as the holier-than-thou attitude typified by Critical Mass, a monthly gathering of bikers who coast through the city, snarling traffic for hours. "The behavior of the bike people on city streets is always annoying," he says. "This 'Get out of my way, I'm not burning fossil fuels.' "

Going to Court

In February 2005, Mr. Anderson showed up at a planning commission meeting. If San Francisco was going to take away parking spaces and car lanes, he argued, it had better do an environmental-impact review first. When the Board of Supervisors voted to skip the review, Mr. Anderson sued in state court, enlisting his friend Mary Miles, a former postal worker, cartoonist and Anderson Valley Advertiser colleague.

Ms. Miles, who was admitted to the California bar in 2004 at age 57, proved a pugnacious litigator. She sought to kill the initial brief from San Francisco's lawyers after it exceeded the accepted length by a page. She objected when the city attorney described Mr. Anderson's advocacy group, the Coalition for Adequate Review, as CAR in their documents. (It's C-FAR.) She also convinced the court to review key planning documents over the city's objections.

Slow Pedaling

In November 2006, a California Superior Court judge rejected San Francisco's contention that it didn't need an environmental review and ordered San Francisco to stop all bike-plan activity until it completed the review.

Since then, San Francisco has pedaled very slowly. City planners say they're being extra careful with their environmental study, in hopes that Mr. Anderson and Ms. Miles won't challenge it. Planners don't expect the study will be done for another year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Miles have teamed up to oppose a plan to put high-rises and additional housing in a nearby neighborhood. He continues to blog from his apartment in an old Victorian home. "Regardless of the obvious dangers, some people will ride bikes in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics will engage in suicide bombings -- because they are politically motivated to do so," he wrote in a May 21 post.

"In case anyone doubted that you were a wingnut, this statement pretty much sums things up!" one commenter retorted.

Mr. Anderson is running for supervisor again this November -- around the time the city will unveil the first draft of its bike-plan environmental review. He's already pondering a challenge of the review.


Tyler said...

oh fuck you who does this ass hole think he is

Tyler said...

I also wanted to add I have been to San Francisco several times and all thought they don't have they extensive subway system of New York because of their elevation changes they make up for it with numbers of bus routs and as I recalled during working days the high volume bus lines ran less than 5 minutes apart making public transportation quick and efficient. Owning a car in San Francisco is as unnecessary as owning a car in New York. To think that the California Supreme Court would even consider calling in this Environmental bullshit to hinder and stop the construction of new bike lanes is ridiculous. With gas prices on the rise even if the environmental impact is small the quality of public spaces could be greatly improved having less cars on the roads and with less cars would lead to less traffic congestion and would in time save money for road repairs and make traveling by car my efficient by default, because less cars equals faster travel time and less idling at lights leading to less gas consumption and less pollution produced.

In Conclusion to Mr. Anderson


beardsarefun said...

He's the SF equivalent of Nolen; a loud mouthed, fat ass, garbage bag of cottage cheese, living off a stipend who has nothing better to do than sit at home, surf the internet, and cause trouble with his uninformed narrow minded ass.

Andrew said...

I don't think the insults really help, and they are not relevant to the issue. While I disagree with the assertion that bikes cause air pollution, I think it is good that the program should have some sort of environmental review.

As someone who cycled round SF all the eight years that I lived there, and have always used bikes or public transport as my main means of transportation, I have to say that the cycling community in San Francisco needs to get its house in order. I was horrified by the way that cyclists routinely broke traffic laws, putting both themselves and others in danger, often potentially fatal danger. I understand why people don't stop at stop signs, but the situation needs to be fixed rather than just breaking the law. There need to be a few cycling freeways with separated lanes and priority at intersections, and some of the painted bike lanes need to be physically separated. Separate traffic lights for cyclists might make sense. San Francisco needs to come up with a scientifically validated way to make cycling safer and more attractive, and this should take into account the likely reduction in car traffic that is going to result from ever-increasing energy costs. At some point during the process of implementation, the police need to be mandated to enforce traffic laws on cyclists. All will benefit.

beardsarefun said...

Actually Andrew, you are right. Some of the comments were random inside comments that don't belong on here. I apologize. Thanks for your comment though. You have some very well thought out ideas and I whole heartedly agree with all of them. Its a very frustrating battle (for lack of a better word) that cyclist are waging for better solutions to coexist with cars. Chicago is experimenting with elevated bike lanes and Portland has bike lane traffic signals in place. I feel like cycling is already an attractive transportation alternative for a growing few but with safer and more widely understood solutions (easy to follow routes and rules), its sure to appeal to more and more people, even the less adventurous types. The environmental benefits are very important to me and I feel the good will outweigh the bad.