Today Judge Peter Busch of The California Superior Court lifted the court’s long-standing injunction against The City of San Francisco’s Bike Plan, originally leveled in response to a legal challenge in 2006 by local gadfly Rob Anderson. The petitioners named in the suit were two bogus “coalitions” formed by Anderson and his long-time friend and lawyer, Mary Miles, called Coalition for Adequate Review (lampooned by cycling advocates for its impossibly unintentional acronym, CAR) and Ninety Nine Percent (inappropriately named despite SFMTA having estimated bicycle ridership to be in excess of 1% of San Francisco’s “mode split” in 2000, a full 6 years before the filing).
Judge Busch’s decision rejects many of the petitioners’ claims in painstaking detail. For instance, in response to the claim that the environmental impact review (EIR) failed to analyze impacts to parking:
The Court finds that substantial evidence supports the EIR’s conclusion that parking is not an environmental impact in an urban context like San Francisco. The EIR notes that, in the experience of San Francisco transportation planners, when parking is scarce, would-be drivers make adjustments to their behavior, either by parking farther away, or by not driving and reaching their destination using other modes, such as transit, or walking. (See e.g., AR 2:637) There is some evidence to support this conclusion. For example, due to constrained parking conditions near AT&T Park, scores of would-be drivers opt to take transit, walk or bicycle to games played there. (AR 16:8589-8602) While the shift from one mode (vehicles) to another mode (bicycles, walking or transit) was found to be “not quantifiable”—meaning no precise numbers can be assigned to it—substantial evidence supports the EIR’s conclusion that it indeed occurs. (Id. [compare 96% auto use for fans attending Giants games at Candlestick Park with approximately 50% auto use at AT&T Park].)
In response to Anderson’s much-touted claim that the increase in traffic congestion caused by bicycles—and more specifically, from a reduction of automotive road capacity—would result in air quality impacts:
The EIR presents a “worst case scenario” in presenting the air quality impacts of the Project on bicyclists, as bicyclists are reasonably assumed to be the receptors closest to the source of air polluters (i.e., cars). However, no violations of carbon monoxide ambient air quality standards were predicted. (AR 3:1151) Even where mobile source air toxics were expected to increase, they were still lower than current significance thresholds, and were expected to be considerably lower in the future because of the more stringent emission standards on vehicles. (AR 3:1153, see also 22:12470.) Thus, the EIR’s finding that the impacts to air quality from the Project would be less than signifiant is supported by substantial evidence.
The word is still out on greenhouse gas emissions, though, since “mode shift could not be quantified”. But this is a problem inherent in transportation modeling, and it cannot be ignored that many of the other benefits gained in shifts from automobiles to other modes clearly outweigh the concern over increases in traffic congestion. And, despite the fact that mode shift remains “unquantifiable”, the success of even San Francisco’s stunted bicycle policies in the last four years has proven that decent infrastructure can spur adoption. Build it and they will come.
This has been a long time coming, and though I’ve remained skeptical throughout the case that the City would prevail, I’m very happy that this ordeal is over. The important lesson for San Francisco (and other American cities) is that simply rubber-stamping well-intentioned policies isn’t sufficient when it comes to making significant changes to our streets. Armed with the EIR and Judge Busch’s decisive ruling, transportation planners and politicians alike can now make a clearer and more convincing case for building bicycle infrastructure in their cities, and I hope that all of the hard work that’s gone into quantifying the potential impacts of doing so will inform a more constructive discussion about these issues in the future. Knowing how things work in this city, I can’t say that I’m holding my breath; but the Bike Plan is an important step in the right direction. Congratulations, San Francisco!