By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
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Yet this, too, is a bicycling problem Anderson's lawsuit seems poised to help fix.
Since 1997, when much of the local police force was diverted to crack down on a law-breaking Critical Mass ride, some San Franciscans have regarded cyclists as an offensive fringe group. This is true in part simply because some motorists find it irksome to have to slow down for them on narrow city streets. But it's also because some people have taken to cycling as a form of activism or counterculturalism, rather than what ordinary bike commuters like myself consider it to be: merely a healthy, efficient, enjoyable, and cheap way to get to work, take my kids to school, cart the family to the ocean in the evenings, and ride to Marin County on the weekend.
As with other types of activism in San Francisco, the radical bicycle vanguard has a reputation for smugness, lawlessness, and a confrontational attitude — kind of like someone who quits cigarettes, then makes a commotion every time she enters a smoky room.
Mainstream environmentalists have taken pains to distance themselves from tree-spiking Earth Firsters. Advocates for AIDS patients long ago shunned the radical wing of Act Up. As I've noted before, mainstream bicycle advocacy has up until now failed to perform the necessary heavy lifting of shunning its radical fringe.
Critical Mass, a monthly cyclists' parade that occasionally disintegrates into red-light-running chaos, is listed on the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's calendar of events, albeit with the disingenuous caveat that the "ride is not organized nor endorsed by the SFBC."
"We are better than motorists, by every important measure," one cyclist-convert recently wrote in a local political pamphlet, apparently unaware that most adult cyclists are motorists, too. He thoughtfully added: "Maybe you've seen me around town — and if so, maybe you've seen me blow through stop signs or red lights."
While bicyclists themselves have failed to suppress this unhelpful element, the comprehensive bike plan necessitated by Rob Anderson's suit has pushed bicycle advocacy in this direction.
That's because it's not purple-haired fixie-riders who've been meeting with merchants and neighborhood groups, but city staffers in suits. These are diplomacy-minded bureaucrats interested in taking all views into account — as required by the California environmental review process.
The results of this middle-of-the-road approach show up in the final product. One-quarter of the plan's stated goals involve corralling the law-breaking impulses of yahoos such as the aforementioned pamphleteer. The plan calls for bicycle safety education, and, more importantly, "improving bicycle safety through targeted enforcement." That's right: ticketing law-breaker cyclists as well as scofflaw motorists.
The plan calls for working with police to put a high priority on "motorist and bicyclist violations." And it even calls for working with police and the courts to create bicycle traffic school, for wingnuts who might think it's okay to blow through red lights.
The long-delayed bike plan is expected to be presented to the MTA board at the end of next month. Timothy Papandreou, assistant deputy director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, says he is confident that all 34 miles of proposed bike lanes and other improvements will be approved.
"My staff have been working day and night," Papandreou said. "I think what we're seeing is an example of a big cultural change in San Francisco."
If the Planning Commission votes to certify the court-ordered environmental study, the city attorney's office will take it before a judge, who, if all goes well, will lift the injunction. The city plans to spend between $3 million and $4 million next year on bike improvements, with a total of $14 million to be spent on the entire plan. That's a cheap way to get more types of traffic moving in the city.
Thanks to cranky bike-hater Rob Anderson, San Francisco could become one of America's most bike-friendly cities. For this I hope he always feels the wind at his back, and that his roads go downhill.