Every Tuesday morning, we profile one of the Bay's many cool blogs in a segment we call -- BetterKnowanSFBlog. This week: I want to ride my bicycle!
By Tyler Callister
Blogger Rob Anderson is an “antibike activist.” At least that’s how the Bay Guardian recently described him. ...
But who could be against bicycles, the non-polluting, earth-friendly two-wheeled contraptions forged in the bosom of Mother Nature? And who could be against bicyclists, those valiant environmental advocates who on a daily basis place their angelic asses on those majestic bike seats and glide through the city, leaving a trail of blooming flowers wherever they go? Why do they have to endure dirty looks from evil drivers and puppy kickers? I think Al Gore is crying!
As the Guardian reported, the SF Bicycle Coalition wants new bike lanes and bike racks, and Rob Anderson has stopped them. When the Bicycle Coalition encouraged the city to pass the San Francisco Bicycle Plan (a comprehensive 400-page document that includes significant impacts like the removal of traffic lanes and street parking), Anderson and his attorney Mary Miles sued in 2006, saying that the city failed to do an environmental impact report (EIR) as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In a telephone interview, Anderson told me that whether the SF Bicycle Plan is a “good or bad idea is one thing. But the law says that at the very least you have to do an environmental study before you do it.”
The courts agreed and put an injunction on the SF Bicycle Plan until an EIR is completed. Now, the people who have to do the EIR — mostly the Metropolitan Transportation Agency — have announced that the study won’t be done until summer 2009, probably pushing any new bike lanes or other bike infrastructure off until 2010. Mother Nature, Captain Planet, and the SF Bicycle Coalition are pissed.
The Guardian is not the only publication that’s labeled Anderson with evil names like “antibike activist.” SF Weekly’s own Matt Smith has called Anderson “a busy attention-seeker” and a “cyclist-hater.”
But when I asked Anderson about these names he laughed. He may not be into bicycling himself, but he said a term like “antibike activist” is “just a journalistic cliché." The truth is, Anderson can be more accurately described as a 65-year-old man who’s too old to be caught up in political narcissism and definitely too old to hate anyone. He’s a man who spends most of his time as a caretaker to his 92-year-old mother. He’s a man who’s lived in San Francisco on and off since 1961, a total of 46 years (which may be longer than most SF bicyclists have been alive). He’s a man who proudly labels himself with all the progressive “pros”: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-environment, and pro-labor. And, most interestingly, he’s a man who commutes by foot or public transit. He hasn’t owned a car in twenty years.
So Anderson is not morally opposed to all leg-powered machines consisting of two wheels and a seat. And, he does not hate the environment, Captain Planet or the furry woodland creatures. But his outlook on the future of bicycling is either very practical or very cynical (I can’t decide). “It’s just not ever gonna be a major transportation mode,” he said. “That makes a lot of people unhappy when I say that… But it’s just not gonna happen. It’s an American city.”
Anderson points out that just 2% of San Franciscans regularly commute by bicycle. But Anderson doesn’t account for the “if you build it he will come” factor: more bike infrastructure will encourage more biking. As Matt Smith argues, it’s “incorrect to assume that the vast majority of people are always going to get where they are going by car, no matter what.” Meanwhile, bike advocates say that thousands more bicyclists have hit the SF streets recently, often pointing to one MTA study which found that there’s been a 12% increase in bicyclists in the past year.
Anderson’s blog arguments about the SF Bicycle Plan are complex and multi-faceted, and some of them probably just reflect his personal preference to not ride a bike. His writing is sometimes snarky and inflammatory (duh, welcome to blogging) and that’s probably what inspires journalists to call him names. But still, Anderson’s strongest argument holds up: the city is required to perform the EIR by law and in that environmental study the city can further scrutinize a very long document that could have a significant impact on everyone. His argument is rooted in democracy and respect for the rule of law (and in this case, it’s one of the most important environmental laws in the state). In the long run, upholding the legitimacy of environmental laws may be more important than rushing a bike plan that will only have a small impact on reducing carbon emissions compared to broader legislation to curb industrial pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. In just a couple years, when the EIR is completed and the court injunction is removed, the city will inevitably construct new bike lanes in San Francisco (and personally, I think it will inspire more people to ride bikes). But until that happens, bike advocates still have Queen, who said it best: