The power of press pressure

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By Steven T. Jones

The power of the press can be overstated. Over two decades in this business, I've written many good words about too many bad situations and watched nothing change. So it's nice to know that a couple drums that I've beaten recently have been heard and heeded by the powers-that-be.

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We were the only media outlet actively shaming Mayor Gavin Newsom for not trying to broker a Healthy Saturdays compromise and calling out police Capt. Denis O'Leary for his punitive approach to setting fees for the How Weird Street Faire (issues I also hammered on my TV gig, City Desk NewsHour). And lo and behold, while I was off on vacation for almost a week, both men did the right thing. I'll discuss the complicated Healthy Saturday's compromise after the jump, but the latest news on How Weird is that O'Leary capitulated and brought the event fees back to last year's levels. Event organizers say he got a call from City Hall and that during their last meeting, O'Leary was calling me out by name as a troublemaker and thorn in his side (he still hasn't returned my call seeking comment). I'm so proud. Whoda thunk this Fourth Estate stuff actually works?

As a proud member of the bicycling community of San Francisco, I've had lots of conversations in the last couple days about the Healthy Saturdays compromise, about which nobody is terribly happy. True, it creates permanent car-free space and avoids what promised to be a drawn-out and expensive fight with an uncertain outcome. And given recent efforts to tarnish the image of bicyclists, it was probably good to de-escalate the conflict between cyclists and overentitled car drivers. Fair or not, Healthy Saturdays was a proposal that seemed to generate some incredibly overheated opposition.

But as many point out, this compromise gave Dede Wilsey everything she wanted (namely unfettered auto access to the museums) and you really hate to reward bad behavior. And Newsom comes out looking like he's a reasonable, diplomatic guy engaging in shared governance with the Board of Supervisors -- and someone supportive of alternatives to the automobile -- when the truth is actually the exact opposite.

Remember, San Francisco is barred by the courts from doing any bicycle projects because the city was unwilling to put the necessary resources into doing a complete Bicycle Plan, which is still up to two years from being approved. Healthy Saturdays was important, but even before the compromise I heard from bicyclists who weren't happy that so much time and resources were being focused on it, rather than completing the city's bicycle network and creating safer and more inviting system.

Other cities, including Oakland, are doing more to facilitate bicycling than San Francisco is. And now that our agenda is cleared of Healthy Saturdays, maybe now is the time to put the pressure on Newsom and the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee to commit the resources to accelerating the Bicycle Plan approval process. Only then can we claim to be making progress on one of the most important environmental issues facing the city: getting more people out of their cars.