Budnick v. Anderson on “Talk of the Nation” This Afternoon
12:07 PM EDT on August 26, 2008
Transportation Alternatives' Noah Budnick will be on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" this afternoon at 3 p.m. EST. He'll be debating Rob Anderson, the one-man wrecking crew who filed the 2006 environmental impact law suit that stopped San Francisco from building out its citywide bicycle network.
I don't think "Talk of the Nation" is available on WNYC but you should be able to tune in via the Internet. They'll be taking callers as well.
Riding a bike in SF -- or any American city -- will never really be "asafe, attractive option," regardless of the miles of bike lanes thatare eventually painted on city streets. Regardless of the obvious dangers, some people willride bikes in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics willengage in suicide bombings -- because they are politically motivated todo so.
It's amazing that the court and 1970s-era environmental regulations have given this local gadfly such power and legitimacy, but there you have it. If you were going on national radio with Rob Anderson, what points would you try to hit?
San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?
By PHRED DVORAK
SAN FRANCISCO -- New York is wooing cyclists with
chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for
double-decker bicycle parking.
San Francisco can't even install new bike racks.
Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities
are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly
has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle
boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That's put the
brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city
works on an environmental-impact report.
Cyclists say the irony is killing them -- literally.
At least four bikers have died and hundreds more have been injured in
San Francisco since mid-2006, when Mr. Anderson helped convince a judge
to halt implementation of a massive pro-bike plan.(It's unclear whether
the plan's execution could have prevented the accidents.) In the past
year, bike advocates have demonstrated outside City Hall, pushed the
city to challenge the plan's freeze in court and proposed putting the
whole mess to local voters. Nothing worked.
"We're the ones keeping emissions from the air!"
shouted Leah Shahum, executive director of the 10,000-strong San
Francisco Bicycle Coalition, at a July 21 protest.
Mr. Anderson disagrees. Cars always will vastly
outnumber bikes, he reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists
could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr.
Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It's
an "attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf
of the bicycle fantasy," he wrote in his blog this month.
Mr. Anderson's fight underscores the tensions that can
circulate as urban cycling, bolstered by environmental awareness and
high gasoline prices, takes off across the U.S. New York City, where
the number of commuter cyclists is estimated to have jumped 77% between
2000 and 2007, is adding new bike lanes despite some motorist backlash.
Chicago recently elected to kick cars off stretches of big roads on two
Sundays this year.
Famously progressive, San Francisco is known for being
one of the most pro-bike cities in the U.S., offering more than 200
miles of lanes and requiring that big garages offer bike parking. It is
also known for characters like Mr. Anderson.
A tall, serious man with a grizzled gray beard, Mr.
Anderson spent 13 months in a California federal prison for resisting
the draft during the Vietnam War. He later penned pieces for the
Anderson Valley Advertiser, a muckraking Northern California weekly
owned by his brother that's known for its savage prose and pranks.
Running for Office
In 1995, Mr. Anderson moved to San Francisco. Working
odd jobs, he twice ran for a seat on the city's Board of Supervisors,
pledging to tackle homelessness and the city's "tacit PC ideology." He
got 332 of 34,955 votes in 2004, his second and best try.
That year Mr. Anderson, who mostly lives off a small
government stipend he receives for caring for his 92-year-old mother,
also started a blog, digging into local politics with gusto. One of his
first targets: the city's most ambitious bike plan to date.
Unveiled in 2004, the 527-page document was filled
with maps, traffic analyses and a list of roughly 240 locations where
the city hoped to make cycling easier. The plan called for more bike
lanes, better bike parking and a boost in cycling to 10% of the city's
total trips by 2010.
The plan irked Mr. Anderson. Having not owned a car in
20 years, he says he has had several near misses with bikers roaring
through crosswalks and red lights, and sees bicycles as dangerous and
impractical for car-centric American cities. Mr. Anderson was also
bugged by what he describes as the holier-than-thou attitude typified
by Critical Mass, a monthly gathering of bikers who coast through the
city, snarling traffic for hours. "The behavior of the bike people on
city streets is always annoying," he says. "This 'Get out of my way,
I'm not burning fossil fuels.' "
Going to Court
In February 2005, Mr. Anderson showed up at a planning
commission meeting. If San Francisco was going to take away parking
spaces and car lanes, he argued, it had better do an
environmental-impact review first. When the Board of Supervisors voted
to skip the review, Mr. Anderson sued in state court, enlisting his
friend Mary Miles, a former postal worker, cartoonist and Anderson
Valley Advertiser colleague.
Ms. Miles, who was admitted to the California bar in
2004 at age 57, proved a pugnacious litigator. She sought to kill the
initial brief from San Francisco's lawyers after it exceeded the
accepted length by a page. She objected when the city attorney
described Mr. Anderson's advocacy group, the Coalition for Adequate
Review, as CAR in their documents. (It's C-FAR.) She also convinced the
court to review key planning documents over the city's objections.
In November 2006, a California Superior Court judge
rejected San Francisco's contention that it didn't need an
environmental review and ordered San Francisco to stop all bike-plan
activity until it completed the review.
Since then, San Francisco has pedaled very slowly.
City planners say they're being extra careful with their environmental
study, in hopes that Mr. Anderson and Ms. Miles won't challenge it.
Planners don't expect the study will be done for another year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Miles have teamed up
to oppose a plan to put high-rises and additional housing in a nearby
neighborhood. He continues to blog from his apartment in an old
Victorian home. "Regardless of the obvious dangers, some people will
ride bikes in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics will
engage in suicide bombings -- because they are politically motivated to
do so," he wrote in a May 21 post.
"In case anyone doubted that you were a wingnut, this statement pretty much sums things up!" one commenter retorted.
Mr. Anderson is running for supervisor again this
November -- around the time the city will unveil the first draft of its
bike-plan environmental review. He's already pondering a challenge of
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