Budnick v. Anderson on “Talk of the Nation” This Afternoon

anderson.jpgTransportation 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.

After the jump, you’ll find last week’s Wall Street Journal article on Anderson and his law suit. And here, to give you a sense of where Anderson is coming from, is a choice quote from his blog:

Riding a bike in SF — or any American city — will never really be "a
safe, attractive option," regardless of the miles of bike lanes that
are eventually painted on city streets. 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.

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?


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.

Slow Pedaling

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
the review.

  • J. Mork

    I think the live internet stream will be at

  • Max Rockatansky

    I think there’s a typo in his quote – I fixed it below

    “Regardless of the obvious dangers, some people will DRIVE CARS in San Francisco for the same reason Islamic fanatics will engage in suicide bombings — because they are politically motivated to do so,”

  • Good luck to Noah!

  • Noah shouldn’t need luck — he’s got reality on his side.

    Call in (800) 989-8255 or send in a question.

  • J. Mork

    Sorry, it seems I can’t read a schedule. Aaron’s link says today’s show will be available there at 6 pm.

    My link says it starts at 8 pm.

    Here’s a page that has links to listen live:


    I tested one of them.

  • Ian Turner

    For those without audio hardware, transcripts will be available tomorrow morning at 11 AM.

  • Mr. Anderson… you disappoint me.

    Seriously, though, the biggest question is: why not do something more productive with your time?

  • =v= Debating points? If Anderson is capable of rational debate on the radio, I haven’t heard it yet. Kudos to the WSJ for publishing a fake lithograph of the guy rather than frightening the children with an actual photo!


  • I recorded a podcast of the demo in front of sf city hall


    There’s also a segment about lobbying the city pols about our sunday streets project and one about anti bike theft photo booths run by the bike coalition.

  • I respect Anderson for serving 13 months in prison as a war resistor. Like the Cap’n, I wish he’d find a more productive use for his apparently formidable talent. And he’s a non-driver! But I also blame the SF government and courts for gutlessly abetting his mindless opposition to non-automotive progress.

  • Jason

    Damn. It’s a sad day when legal protections designed to protect the environment are being used to maintain an environmentally irresponsible status quo.

    Here’s a metaphor for ya:

    The city of SF decides they want to plant a tree in an open field. They announce the plan to plant the tree. Mr. Anderson sues, because the city failed to do an environmental impact analysis of the tree planting.

    The idea that more bicycling may have a negative environmental impact is just as prima facie ridiculous as this scenario.

    His main response to this will apparently be:
    ‘Cars always will vastly outnumber bikes, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution.’

    We’ve had month after month of declining VMT in this country as oil prices have rose. It’s idiotic to suggest that car usage is a constant; immune to the basic economic concept of elasticity.

  • Ha! Did anyone else listen? After Noah Budnick cited statistics and expert evidence on how transportation is not a zero-sum game, Rob Anderson closed his remarks with “well… I don’t trust the experts.”

    So I should trust a wacko shut-in from San Francisco instead?

  • Jesus, could Lynn Neary be any more anti-cyclist? And this is NPR. Imagine if Sean Hannity were hosting this discussion.

  • eLK

    Rob Anderson says he’s a sceptic. He wants a study but says he dislikes experts and their studies.

    What a bore. Or is that NIMBY?

  • “Ha! Did anyone else listen? After Noah Budnick cited statistics and expert evidence on how transportation is not a zero-sum game, Rob Anderson closed his remarks with “well… I don’t trust the experts.””


    Oh my god this make me so mad. There is no element of the zeitgeist in the United States in this decade that infuriates me more than rampant anti-intellectualism. Why do we worship idiocy and ignorance so?

  • Rich Wilson


    When 200 economists signed a letter opposing the ‘gas tax holiday’, Clinton said “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists”. I can’t find McCain’s quote right now, but it was similar.

  • Thanks for speaking up for common sense and reality, Noah, we’re pretty sick of Mr. Anderson’s ill-gotten celebrity out here in SF, and we’re pretty sick of California’s environmental protection law being used as a cudgel by NIMBYs to obstruct bike/ped/transit improvements. For those who want to dig deeper into the lawsuit and how CEQA works as an automobility crutch, see the SFBC website archives:


    Be sure to catch this account of Rob and Mary’s earlier escapades in rural Mendocino County (north of San Francisco) where they learned how to harass environmentalists with environmental regulations (scroll to second half of article):


    I’ll be climbing in the national media cage (ABC TV) with Rob on Thursday, it’s sad to see this little man get so much regard from “news” people, as if his coalition had more than one member, but we’ll keep talking sense and let him hang himself with those bonehead quotes . . .


  • I don’t see this having much of anything to do with Rob Anderson – he’s one person who filed a lawsuit — big deal. Focusing all this attention on him draws it away from the folks who really deserve it – Judge Peter Busch and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

    Judge Peter Busch perverted justice in an extreme manner when he forced a continuation of a full injunction against any and all implementation of the bike plan – a decision that will surely go down as one of the most unforgivable and unforgettable in the history of San Francisco political corruption.

    And Judge Busch has had the support of Mayor Gavin Newsom and his staff ever since. How long before we get an environmental review? Are we really talking years, not weeks? And no city legal challenge to the injunction? It’s pure political corruption, nothing more.

    That we haven’t been able to pressure Newsom and the Supes into getting the injunction lifted is a black mark against us, and we need to do more and better to make it happen. I say we start holding Newsom accountable, since he’s the one doing the most to hold us up right now. This guy’s been skating for way too long. Yep – we need to organize better. Count me in. 😀

  • Spud Spudly

    A judge applies a law against a set of facts and it’s corruption? The info provided here fails to establish that.

    Anderson may be an undesirable weirdo but he does have the law on his side. If the city wants to make traffic changes in 240 locations then it deserves a full environmental review. In the end some kind of bike plan will be enacted, perhaps one that’s better overall than what was proposed before the full review. It’s not unreasonable to assume that while the overall regional effect of a bike plan may be beneficial it may in some local areas increase traffic and pollution. If you lived in one of those local areas you’d want to know what alternatives exist to mitigate that. It’s definitely not like planting a tree in an open field.

  • Evan

    I listened to that interview live. Was I swayed? No, not really. Rob Anderson is just another person who is exploiting both the law and the emotions of the general public. Should cities have to do an EIA if they want to install a crosswalk, because it might slow cars down and make them use more gas to accelerate again? The same could be said for stop signs and stop lights. You could even go so far as to include the construction delays that happen when you widen a road (and of course the “induced traffic” that will use it).

    I’d like to see a requirement that every car purchaser do an EIA before they buy a car. More cars means more traffic, more gas used, more pollution, etc. Anything that makes it easier to put another car on the road should be subject to the same test. What is the potential impact of choosing between a Prius and an SUV? What is the potential environmental impact of a gas tax holiday? What is the environmental impact of a mcmansion in the suburbs vs more compact living in the city? I could go on…

  • Max Rockatansky

    While the hyperbole is running high this merits closer scrutiny. I think you can argue that the judge’s ruling was incredibly poor if not outright prejudiced. How does the installation of a bike rack mandate an environmental report? I could see if he stopped parts of the bike plan but to freeze everything seems unreasonable, much like Mr. Anderson.

  • More information on Chicago’s new double decker bike parking at transit stations:


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