Democratizing the streets - Page 4

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

"You have to be careful about that," he continued. "So my answer to your question is two-fold. We're going to look at revenue, but not necessarily tax increases. We're going to look at revenue, but not necessarily fine increases. We're going to look at revenue, but not necessarily parking meter increases. We're going to look at new strategies."

Yet that was six months ago, and with the exception of grudgingly agreeing to allow a small pilot program in a few commercial corridors to eliminate free parking in metered spots on Sunday, Newsom still hasn't proposed any new revenue options.

"The voters aren't receptive to new taxes now," Winnicker said last week. Mirkarimi doesn't necessarily agree, citing polling data showing that voters in San Francisco may be open to the VLF surcharge, if we can muster the same kind of political will we're applying to other street questions.

"It polls well, even in a climate when taxation scares people," Mirkarimi said.

 

BIKING IS BACK

It was almost four years ago that a judge stuck down the San Francisco Bicycle Plan, ruling that it should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report (EIR) and ordering an injunction against any projects in the plan.

That EIR was completed and certified by the city last year, but the same anti-bike duo who originally sued to stop the plan again challenged it as inadequate. The case will finally be heard June 22, with a ruling on lifting the injunction expected within a month.

"The San Francisco Bicycle Plan project eliminates 56 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 parking spaces on city streets," attorney Mary Miles wrote in her April 23 brief challenging the plan. "According to City's EIR, the project will cause 'significant unavoidable impacts' on traffic, transit, and loading; degrade level of service to unacceptable levels at many major intersections; and cause delays of more than six minutes per street segment to many bus lines. The EIR admits that the "near-term" parts of the project alone will have 89 significant impacts of traffic, transit, and loading but fails to mitigate or offer feasible alternatives to each of these impacts."

Yet for all that, elected officials in San Francisco are nearly unanimous in their support for the plan, signaling how far San Francisco has come in viewing the streets as more than just conduits for cars.

City officials deny that the bike plan is legally inadequate and they may quibble with a few of the details Miles cites, but they basically agree with her main point. The plan will take away parking spaces and it will slow traffic in some areas. But they also say those are acceptable trade-offs for facilitating safe urban bicycling.

The city's main overriding consideration is that we must do more to get people out of their cars, for reasons ranging from traffic congestion to global warming. City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said that it's absurd that the state's main environmental law has been used to hinder progress toward the most environmentally beneficial and efficient transportation option.

"We have to stop solving for cars, and that's an objective shared by the Board of Supervisors, and other cities, and the mayor as well," Dorsey said.

Even anti-bike activist Rob Anderson, who brought the lawsuit challenging the bike plan, admits the City Hall has united around this plan to facilitate bicycling even if it means taking space from automobiles, although he believes that it's a misguided effort.

"It's a leap of faith they're making here that this will be good for the city," Anderson told us. "This is a complicated legal argument, and I don't think the city has made the case."