Democratizing the streets

Streets of San Francisco: An unprecedented political consensus on rethinking roadways is belied by nasty clashes over how to pay for it

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The number of SF cyclists has doubled in recent years even as a court injunction has prevented the creation of new bike lanes
AYANA IVERY AND CIELLE TAAFFE GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATT REAMER

steve@sbg.com

It's hard to keep up with all the changes occurring on the streets of San Francisco, where an evolving view of who and what roadways are for cuts across ideological lines. The car is no longer king, dethroned by buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a movement to reclaim the streets as essential public spaces.

Sure, there are still divisive battles now underway over street space and funding, many centered around the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has more control over the streets than any other local agency, particularly after the passage of Proposition A in 2007 placed all transportation modes under its purview.

Transit riders, environmentalists, and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors are frustrated that Mayor Gavin Newsom and his appointed SFMTA board members have raised Muni fares and slashed service rather than tapping downtown corporations, property owners, and/or car drivers for more revenue.

Board President David Chiu is leading the effort to reject the latest SFMTA budget and its 10 percent Muni service cut, and he and fellow progressive Sups. David Campos, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi have been working on SFMTA reform measures for the fall ballot, which need to be introduced by May 18.

But as nasty as those fights might get in the coming weeks, they mask a surprising amount of consensus around a new view of streets. "The mayor has made democratizing the streets one of his major initiatives," Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker told the Guardian.

And it's true. Newsom has promoted removing cars from the streets for a few hours at a time through Sunday Streets and his "parklets" in parking spaces, for a few weeks or months at a time through Pavement to Parks, and permanently through Market Street traffic diversions and many projects in the city's Bicycle Plan, which could finally be removed from a four-year court injunction after a hearing next month.

Even after this long ban on new bike projects, San Francisco has seen the number of regular bicycle commuters double in recent years. Bike to Work Day, this year held on May 13, has become like a civic holiday as almost every elected official pedals to work and traffic surveys from the last two years show bikes outnumbering cars on Market Street during the morning commute.

If it wasn't for the fiscal crisis gripping this and other California cities, this could be a real kumbaya moment for the streets of San Francisco. Instead, it's something closer to a moment of truth — when we'll have to decide whether to put our money and political will into "democratizing the streets."

 

RECONSIDERING ROADWAYS

After some early clashes between Newsom and progressives on the Board of Supervisors and in the alternative transportation community over a proposal to ban cars from a portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park — a polarizing debate that ended in compromise after almost two acrimonious years — there's been a remarkable harmony over once-controversial changes to the streets.

In fact, the changes have come so fast and furious in the last couple of years that it's tough to keep track of all the parking spaces turned into miniparks or extended sidewalks, replacement of once-banished benches on Market and other streets, car-free street closures and festivals, and healthy competition with other U.S. cities to offer bike-sharing or other green innovations.

So much is happening in the streets that SF Streetsblog has quickly become a popular, go-to clearinghouse for stories about and discussions of our evolving streets, a role that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — itself the largest grassroots group in the city, with more than 11,000 paid members — recently recognized with its Golden Wheel award.

Comments

Someone is delusional, little more Prozac Stevie weevie? Actually Stevie property owners are assessed for street maintenance and improvements. Here's a novel thought as the roads were built with property taxes and vehicle registration fees why not have bicyclists pay registration and be required to purchase insurance. The insurance could provide proof of responsibility and pay for the pedestrians that the bicyclists like to cut off and run into. But then this is apparently how Stevie weevie and Nat Transit keep score, how many pedestrians can you run over or drag along. I guess by that metric SF MTA and Bicyclists are way ahead of the world, though that is only measure for which that is true.

Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

Steve is dead-set against asking San Francisco bicyclists to pay even $10 a year for a license fee. Which makes no sense considering that if there is an "evolving consciousness" on "connecting the movements that deal with repurposing space that has been used primarily for automobiles" then it makes sense to ask what is going to happen once there are less automobiles, with their registration fees and gasoline taxes, are around to pay for these "repurposed spaces." Who will be paying for the roads bicyclists now consider theirs once the free ride comes to an end? Is Steven's solution to simply raise automobile registration fees and gas taxes to keep paying for the free ride of cyclists in this city? Since that's usually Steven's answer to everything - higher taxes, I'm thinking it is.

Insurance should be required for cyclists. Cyclists can kill a person by running into them as well as damage property, not to mention themselves (a friend of mine in LA was hit and nearly killed on his bike on Monday - thank God the driver has insurance and they stopped or he would have bled to death on the roadway). I can't see how they can get away without insurance - which would be available for a minute amount of money.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 11, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

By the time you factor in the costs of administration, the costs of enforcement, the costs of impounding the bikes of hapless visitors from other cities, $10 a year is hardly likely to break even, let alone raise significant money. The only reason for this tax is as a punitive measure, which is ridiculous.

Same for insurance-- you may as well require insurance for walking around. Car insurance is required because the potential damage is both common and massive. Bicycles, not so much. It's true that you can get seriously injured-- but note that not even your car insurance is required to cover your own medical expenses.

Posted by Alexei on May. 12, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

So can cars drive on the sidewalks, you know, just to keep things even Steven?

Posted by Peter on May. 11, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

Yes, in large parts of SF, the sidewalks are in fact turned into parking lots, and cars can and do drive up on the sidewalk and are parked there, obstructing the passageway, and damaging / cracking the sidewalk pavement (which is thinner than the road).

So don't get too smug about all those cyclists breaking the law. Car drivers are way worse and more damaging than cyclists.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:39 am

Copenhagen and Amsterdam, for example, have hundreds of thousands of people on bikes every day and there doesn't seem to be an epidemic of people getting run over by bikes. They don't pay insurance or some "fee" to ride a bike either.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2010 @ 8:41 am

until the bill becomes due and then the requirement that someone pay a ridiculously low "fee" of $10 a year to use the roads becomes onerous.

Sorry. Nothing in life is really "free" and that includes the roads you ride your bikes on today.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 12, 2010 @ 10:15 am

I'm reluctant to feed the trolls, and I've addressed this issue before, so I'll keep this brief. Sales taxes, which bicyclists pay, are one of the main sources of transportation funding. Bike insurance is silly because cyclists rarely hit pedestrians, and when they do, there are rarely injuries. It's a non-issue designed to divert the discussion away from the fact that it's motorists who don't pay for their full impacts to the roadways, public health, global warming, and natural resource depletion.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on May. 12, 2010 @ 11:16 am

It's pretty clear that the driving (ahem) force behind this insatiable desire to tax cyclists is jealousy. Drivers are enraged by cyclists getting around town more quickly and healthily than they do, and their only recourse is to suggest that they should pay for their "privilege" of riding on the city's streets. Here are a couple of reasons why that's stupid:

1) A lot of people who ride bikes also drive, so whether they own their own car or use a car share they're already paying user fees.

2) Fees (such as the gas tax and auto registration) don't cover the full cost of road construction and maintenance to begin with, which means that everyone who pays taxes is already paying for our streets.

3) Bikes put very little stress on roads, and aren't in even the least sense responsible for their degradation. (Despite this, the SFBC and cyclists are leading the charge to report potholes to DPW, making the streets better for drivers and cyclists alike.)

4) People who choose to ride a bike rather than drive (or even take public transit) are reducing their impact on the city and, somewhat indirectly, helping everyone else out in a number of very important ways: They're reducing traffic and freeing up parking by taking cars off the street; they're reducing the amount of pollution and noise; and they're getting exercise and keeping themselves healthy, which, in the long term, has the potential to reduce everyone's health care premiums and medical expenses.

5) Their presence on the road is forcing drivers to pay attention. You may not notice it, but the city is adjusting to the mixed use of its streets. The result is lower speeds and higher safety for everyone.

6) As a consequence of spending less on transportation—AAA estimates that the average medium-sized sedan costs $9,641 per year to own, not counting loan payments—cyclists tend to have more disposable income to spend on local goods and services.

If anything, cyclists should be getting tax breaks to reward and further encourage their reduced impact on the environment and shared infrastructure. You can call us smug all you want, and you can complain about the few jerks who run red lights and endanger pedestrians until the cows come home. But the fact of the matter is that more people riding bikes makes our city a better place for everyone.

That doesn't mean that we should all ditch our cars and radically change our lifestyles. But we certainly should all consider how our transportation choices affect the city as a whole and show some respect for one another regardless of those choices. Not all drivers are maniacal speed demons; not all cyclists are inconsiderate hipsters; not all pedestrians are distracted dolts. Lose the condescending generalizations, and give people the benefit of the doubt every once in a while. We're all just running around in San Francisco trying to live our lives as best we can.

Posted by Shawn Allen on May. 12, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

Bravo!

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:41 am

"this insatiable desire to tax cyclists is jealousy."

"Lose the condescending generalizations,"

Dude you crack me up

Posted by glen matlock on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

What else can you chalk it up to, then? Given that bikes don't have nearly the impact that cars do, and that by not driving cyclists are, in effect, saving the city money, why should we be taxed? I can't think of any other reason that a driver would suggest that bikes be registered and taxed other than jealousy. I've seen motorists visibly irritated by cyclists coasting past them while they're stuck in traffic. They can call me "smug" and "self-righteous" all thy want, but the fact of the matter is that I'm doing them a favor by taking up less space on the street. Don't hate on me just because I made a smarter transportation choice than you did.

Besides, do you honestly think that the city would make a dime off even a $10 per bike registration fee? It probably costs the city more than that just to process the paperwork! And do you really think that SFPD has the resources to enforce bike registration? Why waste their time when there are clearly many more important things for them to be doing? There are plenty of laws that the cops could be enforcing to discourage reckless cyclist behavior, but making every cyclist register their bikes isn't going to change that situation. The last thing we need in this city is another bloated bureaucracy.

Posted by Shawn Allen on May. 21, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

gravity delivers an accelleration of 9.8 m/s^2

the average auto weighs 2000kg

the average person plus bicycle weighs 85kg.

force = mas times accelleration

therefore, the average auto delivers 2000 * 9.8 = 19600 Newtons while coasting

the average bicycle delivers 833 Newtons while coasting.

The automobile is able to accelerate and stop at effective rates much greater than the average bicycle, which augments the impact that the average auto has on intersections where starting and stopping are most prevalent.

This is why the street surface around intersections is so crappy, and that is why bicyclists must contend with that under pain of injury or death while motorists get to speed away comfortably.

My property taxes cover enough of street maintenance so that I can ride my bike without having to meet another onerous government burden or fee. In fact, the burden for street maintenance placed on the many of us who walk, bike or take the bus and do not own autos is greater than that which we consume by any measure. We are subsidizing motorists but the conservatives want to soak cyclists further.

Whenever its the progressives in the gun sights, big guvmint, taxation and coercion are okay with the conservatives.

-marc

Posted by who phailed fisix? on May. 12, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

Well I am not a conservative so I wouldn't know what "conservatives" feel about the things you mention.

But I do like this statement, "another onerous government burden or fee," and find the adoption of right-wing rhetoric by a self-proclaimed "progressive" to be more than a little ironic - all things considering.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 12, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

My friend worked at a morgue here in San Francisco. There were a large number of riders who came in dead due to no helmets to protect their heads. No...It may not be fashionable, but it does work. Helmets save lives. I was amazed to go through the entire issue and not see one helmet on your biker models. Please mention this in your paper.

Posted by Jim A on May. 12, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

I completely agree. Where are the helmets? The gloves? It doesn't surprise me though. Since moving to SF from Chicago I've never seen more bike riders that disregard traffic and road rules. I've also been surprised at how many people ride wearing headphones.

Posted by Graham R on May. 17, 2010 @ 10:29 am

That's a legitimate criticism, Jim, and one we've received before and considered this time around as well, but we ultimately came to a different conclusion than you. There is no legal requirement for adults to wear helmets while cycling and we consider it to be a personal decision. Yes, helmets make cycling safer, but what makes cyclists even safer than wearing a helmet are bike lanes and other road markings that prevent collisions and motorists' awareness of and respect for cyclists and their equal rights to the roadway. Helmets help after a crash, but it's better to prevent crashes. Some even argue that helmets offer a false sense of security. I'm not going to make that argument, but I will say that it should be the city's goal to create conditions on the roadways in which cyclists don't need helmets any more than pedestrians or motorists, two classes of commuters that would also be safer if they wore helmets. It's just a question of how much risk consenting adults are willing to accept, and we're not going to presume to make that decision for them.

Posted by steven on May. 12, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

wait a minute though, Steve, wasn't one of the major arguments for universal health care that preventative measures would drive down costs for everyone? So isn't requiring bicyclists to wear helmets something that would benefit all of us in terms of preventing injuries we all pay for (not to mention emergency room costs and police reports, ambulances etc) -- and therefore much more than a "personal decision"? If your argument for less cars is that the lack of pollution will benefit everyone, then won't lessening the people with brain injuries also benefit everyone? Are you also against motorcyclists wearing helmets and drivers buckling up, laws that are also in place for those very reasons? It seems a rather libertarian stance ... just wondering?

Posted by questioning on May. 12, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

A study in Britain showed that helmet-wearing riders were passed more closely than non-helmet wearing bicyclists, and that cars were less careful around them, as if the helmet made it more "OKAY" to injure a cyclist.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2010 @ 10:00 am

The onus is on the City to eliminate unsafe conditions for the legal use of its street facilities. If the City is informed that a facility is unsafe, then if that unsafe facility causes casualty for a cyclist, then the City is on the hook for damages.

Motorists are already subsidized by the vast majority of San Franciscans who do not drive, and it is the height of entitlement mixed with resentment for conservatives to insist that cyclists somehow must pay for streetscape that is democratically ours.

Didn't Ronald Reagan say that he paid for this mike? Well, cyclists paid for our space on the street, several times over.

What we've got going on here is a bunch of dried up boomers pining for their lost youth and taking out their frustrations at being played for fools for the past 30 years by conservative demagogues on those of us who were prescient enough to have seen it all coming. Your automobiles will become the affordable housing for your future.

Posted by the city's burden on May. 13, 2010 @ 9:29 am

People are safer with helmets on, but I'm very resistant to mandating their use for adults, and let me offer some context to explain why. The most recent federal statistics show there were 716 bicyclists killed in 2008, about 2 percent of all traffic fatalities. Yes, there is a public health cost associated with that (it's unclear how many of those would have survived if they had a helmet), but it's relatively small -- and statistically insignificant compared with your analogy to health insurance risk pools, which involve millions of people. Compare those 716 bicyclists killed with the 4,378 pedestrians killed in 2008, a large percentage of which probably died from head injuries. Why aren't you arguing that pedestrians should wear helmets? Because that's silly, but only as silly as the attitude that bicyclists are being unacceptably reckless when they choose not to wear a helmet.
But I do think this is an interesting debate, and I may start a new blog post thread with it.

Posted by steven on May. 13, 2010 @ 9:34 am

If you're interested in the helmet discussion, I've moved it over here: http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2010/05/13/should-bicycling-adults-wear-hel...

Posted by steven on May. 13, 2010 @ 11:49 am

Rob Anderson is an outmoded, backwards-thinking, un-life-loving, fossil-fuel drinking litigious want to be bureaucrat. He undoubtedly is old as well; the new paradigm features young, vibrant people and those that want to be. Keep your old man ways to yourself, Rob.

Posted by Jim on May. 14, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

Just love the newly decorated bike lanes - bet Rob hates them. However I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that they feature prominently in Newscum's attempt to purchase yet another sinecure where he can continue sucking on the public teat and perpetuate his grandiose, self serving arrogant ambitions.
Kinda kurious that the only painted lanes that i have yet to ride on are a few blocks of Market St, really convenient to City Hall. When will Valencia go green ?
It may only be a couple of blocks so far but it's the 'greenest' thing that has happened in this city in all the years that this miserable miscreant has been cavorting and conniving in Room 200. He's such an effete effin' weasel
Pat Monk.RN. Noe Valley

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

Most people on the USA drive, but this majority of drivers don't pay for the cost of driving so there should be found some way to make them pay more?

According to the US Census

77% of people drive to work
10.7% carpool
=
87.7% of people drive in some way to work

So those 87.7% are using up more resources than they consume in this area?

That other 13.3% are paying for everything else the government provides?

You all's slogans around this make less sense than the usual revealed non sense spouted by the cities condescending progressives.

I also find it interesting that only in this area are people required to pay the supposed "full cost" of an activity. I don't have any kids, why am I paying to help raise yours? And how does that 13.3% of us that don't drive, pay for all those prisons and schools for your kids?

And yes Steve, people who don't agree with your revealed wisdom are trolls.

Posted by glen matlock on May. 14, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

An employee at the Getty owned Pierre Hotel in New York City wondered why there were so many Germans being hired and staying at The Pierre during World War II. He called the FBI and the FBI charged J.P. Getty with Espionage; FBI File 100.1202, June 26, 1940. 2003 documents declassified by UK Warfare Ministry reveal that in Oct. 1941 the pro-Nazi Jean Paul Getty employed and lodged Nazis at his Pierre Hotel in New York City; Nazis who were involved in spying on and sabotaging Allied Forces’ war production plants. 43,000 people were killed in the UK while J. Paul Getty was in Berlin still shipping oil to Hitler five months before Pearl Harbor … December 7, 1941. As aristocrats with treasures of art were executed -- beginning in 1933 -- with the outbreak of war; Getty assiduously added to his vast collection with the Nazis.

J.P. Getty’s own words from the autobiography AS I SEE IT. …

GETTY: In 1938 I heard that the great Mensing Collection was being broken up. I immediately contacted the dealer through whom I made my art purchases in the Netherlands. Although the imminence of war in Europe had dropped the bottom out of art prices I authorised the dealer to bid up to $100,000 for Martin Looten by Rembrandt. …

It was the job of the FBI in peace and in war to root out internal enemies of the USA. After Pearl Harbor - J. Edgar Hoover personally issued approval for the custodial detention of J.P. Getty - as an enemy of the USA. Dec. 20, 1940 the New York Daily News wrote about Getty’s involvement with espionage at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. The Rembrandt hangs in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Gainsborough of Christie purchased in 1938 is at The Getty.

Posted by MACDONALDBANK1 on May. 14, 2010 @ 9:31 pm