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Friday, March 4, 2011

San Francycle: Car vs. Bike Violence Continues, Yet Some Say Critical Mass Is Unnecessary

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 1:30 PM

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A bit of a grab bag this week for cycling news, from bloody violence to wishful thinking to bike party successes.

Let's start with the bloody news first, because, hey, blood! This week a driver, fed up with Critical Mass, revved his engine and rammed his car through a crowd of cyclists,

flinging bikes and bodies asunder. It happened in Brazil, but it's a

situation that plenty of San Franciscans have imagined, feared, or hoped

for. And it's something that easily could have happened in California, and

nearly did back in 2007:

The Brazilian driver, who claimed that the cyclists scratched his car, fled and checked himself into a psychiatric clinic, which sounds like a good start. Police expect to move him to prison in the next few days, which also sounds fine. According to Treehugger, a totally impartial source, Richard Neis has a litany of prior citations for violent driving. Here he is, doing his thing:

He's likely to be charged with attempted murder.

So how do we feel about this? Nobody's taking Neis' side, of course, but commenters at SFist had some harsh words for Critical Mass. Said one commenter:

Critical Mass maybe had a political point a decade or two ago, but now needlessly irritates, with the possible exception of the Halloween ride.

These days we have the SF Bike Party, Sunday Streets, car free Golden Gate Park space and a growing number of new bike lanes. This is great, and I hope these things continue to thrive and improve, but I think they make Critical Mass unnecessary.

Oh yeah, hey, Bike Party! What a difference it makes when you share the road. The next one is tonight at 7:30pm, starting from McCovey Point (just south of the baseball park). Is it time to retire Critical Mass, now that Bike Party's shown us a nicer way?

Sadly, it's unclear whether the SFMTA, which is usually the last to find out about anything, actually has the Bike Party on its radar. It sent out an alert about the party in January, for the inaugural ride, but it has maintained radio silence on the subject since then. Maybe because the Bike Party is so low-impact it doesn't warrant an alert.

And our last news blip for the week concerns Fell Street, long the bane of, well, everyone. The existing bike lane is way too narrow, way too close to opening doors, and way too close to fast-moving cars.

The Mayor wants it fixed. The SFMTA Board of Directors wants it fixed. So why isn't it fixed?

Because this is San Francisco, and you know how San Francisco is. In an interview last month, Johanna Partin, San Francisco's Director of Climate Protection Initiatives, explained that removing a travel lane would trigger the California Environmental Quality Act, requiring extensive and expensive study. And removing parking spaces would cause asphalt-greedy drivers to jump up and down and gnash their terrible teeth. (That's our analysis, not Partin's.)

"We're asking the city to study these two options and do so in a timely way," said Bike Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum last month. "The Fell and Oak improvements could be implemented by late fall."

The SFMTA is skittish about setting a date for completing the work, but now the pressure is on. Projects that modify the pavement (even if it's just scraping up paint) often have to wait for the rainy season to end, so keep an eye out for changes this summer. Or maybe next summer. Or the summer after that. We've learned not to get our hopes up, so when something good actually happens, we're pleasantly surprised.

And when it finally does happen, who will we have to thank: Bike Party or Critical Mass? Or both? Or neither?


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Matt Baume

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