From the Wall Street Journal, 08.20.08:
San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?Interesting article in an important national media outlet. As we marketing professionals say, any coverage is good coverage, even if it's not entirely favorable. It's always better to be noticed than ignored.
City Backpedals on a Cycling Plan After Mr. Anderson Goes to Court
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.
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.(Read more.)
I might have preferred to see more from Leah Shahum--who is intelligent, responsible, and leads a 10,000-member organization--rather than Rob Anderson, who is, as described in the article, a wingnut. But the writer did a good job portraying him as a lonely eccentric, and the article illustrates a real problem of our polity when such iconoclasts can derail sensible public policies.
The article and associated video also spends too much time with Critical Mass, which really has little relation with Anderson's lawsuit. An undeniably high-visibility event, Critical Mass as a once-monthly protest/celebration is far less significant in San Francisco politics than the everyday advocacy of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which has been truly effective at gaining significant bicycling enhancements. However, Critical Mass is an attractive subject for biased reporters seeking to malign bicyclists. The traffic impact of Critical Mass is minimal--generally causing only a few minutes delay to any individual motorist--compared to the delays routinely caused by the automotive "Critical Mass" each and every day.
Anderson's argument is, of course, ridiculous. Essentially, he's saying that narrow streets cause air pollution from vehicles stuck in traffic idling. Sooo, we should bulldoze some buildings and widen streets, Mr. Anderson? Sorry, been there, done that. And all we got was even more vehicle traffic. This case should have been tossed immediately, if not for the city's inept and sloppy defense of the bicycle plan.
The temporary delay has for the moment prevented any on-street improvements in San Francisco. But as Leah Shahum indicated at the Car Free Cities Conference in Portland, important planning and preparation work for bicycle infrastructure has continued at the city's transportation agency, and many projects will be ready for rapid implementation once the stay is lifted. And the SFBC's cultural efforts have continued: Bike to Work Day was a huge success this year, and the coalition's membership continues to surge.
Image: Rhonda Winter/San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Visit: Rob Anderson says I ride because of political motivations, Cyclelicious
Visit: Biking, walking gain in San Francisco, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Warm Planet Bikes opens in S.F., Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site