Comments on Department of Parking and Traffic Hearings, January 1994

While Critical Mass continues to build (human) steam and make connections and provide a monthly good time, the city is slowly beginning to respond. In early February a 2-year process led to a public meeting with the Department of Parking and Traffic at 777 Valencia in which a proposal for a bike-friendly Valencia corridor was presented. The plan was created by the DPT in conjunction with Peter Tannen (the cityís lone bike representative/advocate) and Lucinda Means of the SF Bike Coalition and the representative on the supervisorsí SF Bicycle Advisory Committee. Over 50 people turned out for the hearing, about 30% churchgoers who feared the loss of their free parking in the center median during Sunday services and funerals, and most of the rest were concerned bicyclists.

The plan as presented involves spending some $285,000 to remove the 5-foot center median and its traffic signals, install new modern "mast-arm" stoplights, and divide the freed 5 feet of space by adding 1 foot each to the center lanes and 1.5 feet to the outside right lanes. No striping or dedication of specific space for bicycles was included in the original plan. Many of the bicyclists who spoke at the public meeting lauded the intent of DPT to begin providing real improvements for bicycle transit in the city, but as Steven Bodzin of the Bike Coalition put it, "this is a car plan, not a bike plan." By spending dedicated bicycle money on stoplight upgrading and unnecessarily adding space to the center lanes, this plan actually improves Valencia as a car thru-way, giving bicyclists a measly 18" additional space along the same old inadequate sides of the road.

Suggestions for a dedicated bike lane as is common in European cities were dismissed as unrealistic, largely because no consideration is given at all to reducing the number of lanes of car traffic, nor to reducing the amount of curbside parking along the corridor. DPT, in its response to worried churchgoers about lost parking, pointed out that there are two city-owned garages within a half block of Valencia which are both underutilized. Valencia Street merchants naturally want to retain as much curbside parking as possible, but a plan could be developed wherein the same number of parking places was preserved, while eliminating one lane of traffic (either north- or southbound), making Valencia similar to Polk Street, with a dedicated two-way bike lane between the parked cars and the curb.

There is some serious controversy amongst bicyclists about whether or not to support dedicated bikeways, some arguing that the only way large numbers of people will start bicycling is if they are provided a safe and sane grid of routes around the city. Others hold the odd notion that if the city provides some dedicated bike improvements it will be accompanied by a ban on bikes in other parts of town (or at least, many drivers would begin to resent the presence of bicycles in non-bike specific areas). In any case, a real transformation of city transit priorities toward bicycling and mass transit will involve a great deal more than mere infrastructural developmentóit will require a cultural transformation as well, something Critical Mass is already a big part of. Motorists will never take bikes seriously until we begin to fill the roads, enforce our rights to move around as freely as autos, and promote a grid of traffic-calmed, bike priority routes throughout the city. Anything less, of which the current Valencia Corridor plan is a good example, will actually lead to the self-defeating dynamic of spending oodles of money on a bad plan that will supposedly promote bicycling but will actually have no effect at all, and in the end traffic planners will point to it and say, "see, we told you, people just wonít ride bikes no matter what we do." The Bicycle Advisory Committee wants bicyclist input and you can still have some influence on what will happen. The BAC is reachable through the city government or call the SF Bike Coalition at 751-BIKE for more information on how to get involved.

— Chris Carlsson, February 1994

Critical Mass is so popular that the City knows it canít shut us down. What they might try instead is to officialize it, then tell us we canít have a permit unless we start later and stay out of downtown.

Donít fall for it. Critical Mass is not a parade. The only difference between today and any other day is that weíre all riding together. Someday the whole city will look like this at 5:05 p.m. and commuters donít need permits.

Critical Mass works because doing your own thing together is more fun than doing it alone. If The City starts trying to trump up a bogus organizing body or tells the police to take authority for the route, or any other funny business happens, assert your individuality. Make a detour with ten or twenty of your friends, create your own mini Mass. and ride around the area until you run into other like-minded groups. Eventually we will all get back together for a fun time at the end of the ride.

The Department of Parking and Traffic discussed Critical Mass and what to do about it at their last meeting, but so many fine bicycle riding citizens attended that they will have to hear more statements at their November 1st meeting at 5:30 in City Hall.

Surprisingly, instead of the usual denunciations and threats to cut off bike project funds unless this "sophomoric prank" ends, the commissioners seem to be angling toward an officially controlled Mass, with police input, preannounced routes and parade permits, approved by the city.

The overt aim is to reduce congestion, but since Critical Mass has always worked to minimize delays for legitimate traffic by looping off Market Street so busses can pass and letting pedestrians walk through the ride, its hard to imagine any good could come from giving up our independence.

Drivers on the commission wonít want to admit it but delays have always been caused by Mass being slowed by motor vehicle congestion. In fact, last month the looping technique almost failed when cars stopped by road construction forced us to cut the loop short and filter through the gridlock before getting on with the ride.

Since Critical Mass is indistinguishable from an ordinary commute in a world full of bicycles, change has to come from downtown auto traffic rather than the Mass. If DPT limited the number of single occupancy vehicles downtown, we would all move faster.

A good first step would be to close Market Street to private cars and install a transit priority signal system*, thus benefiting pedestrians, mass transit and bikes. Once this is done, discussion of further congestion relief measures will be possible.

*Transit Priority signals automatically turn green when sensors detect an approaching bus or light rail vehicle.

November 1994

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