Lawsuit by virulent antibicycle activist halts all pedaling projects
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Bicycle projects in San Francisco — from the ambitious Blue Greenway initiative to new bike lanes to the simple shared-lane arrows, or "sharrows," that have been painted on some roadways — have been shut down by a preliminary injunction that Judge James Warren signed as one of his final actions before retiring.
The ruling is part of a lawsuit brought by Rob Anderson, a 63-year-old dishwasher, blogger (whose District 5 Diary regularly blasts the "bike nuts" and "anticar activists"), and failed District 5 supervisorial candidate. Anderson and two groups he formed — Ninety-Nine Percent (referring to those who he believes don't ride bicycles) and Coalition for Adequate Review — last year sued the city over its Bicycle Plan, arguing that it should have received more rigorous environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Unless the injunction is overturned, city officials are prohibited from making any physical changes contemplated by the plan until completion of a trial that's set to begin Sept. 13. The Bicycle Plan, which California cities must update every five years to qualify for certain public funds, was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor last year.
City officials and bicycle advocates were shocked by the scope of Warren's ruling. "This is big. It's means nothing new for bikes for probably the next year," said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "It's pretty strict, even worse than we feared."
Beyond the prohibition of "installing bicycle lanes on any street in San Francisco named or described in any part of the plan and its maps" and a range of other physical changes, the ruling says the city can't pursue plans to allow more bikes on public transit. Anderson and attorney Mary Miles didn't get everything they wanted, such as an end to the city's "educational or training programs, enforcement activities, or promotional activities," but that was small consolation to city officials.
"We're disappointed with the injunction and we disagree with Judge Warren's conclusions," said Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office. Dorsey said the lawsuit and injunction defy the spirit of CEQA, as well as its specific exemptions for bike lanes on public streets. "Bikes are already allowed the use of all the streets in San Francisco."
But Anderson said the Bike Plan should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report before being approved, rather than a finding of exemption from such review, as the board ruled.
"This is not about the contents of the plan itself. It is about the process," Anderson told the Guardian.
But Anderson's arguments go well beyond process and bureaucratic details — instead they are driven by what appears to be deep animosity toward the bicycle community, which he has expressed on his blog and in public comments during city meetings.
"I think cycling in the city is dangerous and foolish," Anderson told us. "It's irresponsible for the city to encourage an inherently dangerous activity."
Despite that danger Anderson said he doesn't believe the city should be building bike lanes or pursuing other safety measures because only a very small percentage of city residents will ever ride bikes. He said that bicyclists are nothing but "an elitist special interest."
Anderson refused to identify who's helping to fund his suit or other members of his organization, except to say it's a "small group" that mostly drives cars. (Anderson said he relies mostly on public transit and walking.) Although he said he believes in global warming and decries traffic congestion, he doesn't believe bikes are a reasonable form of alternative transportation.
"It's a progressive fantasy. Bicycles are not the answer to any problem. This is America, not Amsterdam. There are big cars and lots of them," Anderson told us.
Yet city officials remain uniformly committed to promoting bicycling.
On June 23, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a public statement saying, in part, "Despite Judge Warren's preliminary injunction, I remain committed to making San Francisco a national leader for bicycle transportation. Our goal is to increase the number of bike trips in the city to reach 10 percent of all trips by 2010. My administration will do everything within our power to reach that goal." SFBG