SF Responds to Bike Injunction With 1,353 Page Enviro Review

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San Francisco's Market Street.

Two-and-a-half years after a judge issued an injunction preventing the city from adding any new bicycle infrastructure to its streets, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the San Francisco Planning Department have released a 1353-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. 

At a cost of more than $1 million, the city has attempted to demonstrate in excruciating detail what would seem to be obvious: better bicycle amenities contribute to increased cycling and an improved environment.

Despite the significant time and money required to produce the tome, Mayor Gavin Newsom struck an optimistic note, citing the proposed addition of 34 miles of bicycle lanes to San Francisco streets — a 75 percent increase over the existing 45 miles of lanes. 

“We’ve accomplished a great deal together, but much work remains to be done to improve the safety and convenience of bicycling,” said Newsom. “I will continue to push for a better bicycling environment as part of my deep commitment to improving the health of our environment, our residents and our city.”

A public hearing on the DEIR has been scheduled for January 8. The deadline for comments is January 13. 

While Rob Anderson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that sparked the injunction, will surely continue his befuddlingly successful crusade (a couple of choice jeremiads from his blog: cyclists as a special interest wielding inordinate political power, and biking as a frivolous mode of transportation akin to skateboarding), the city assumes the DEIR will be sufficient to lift the injunction. 

“The Planning Department is confident that the DEIR fully satisfies the issues cited in the superior court's injunction and will enable timely implementation of bicycle improvements that will enhance transportation alternatives in San Francisco,” said Planning Director John Rahaim.

What this means practically is a different matter. According to Andy Thornley, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), even if the DEIR is certified by spring and the Bicycle Plan goes before the MTA board shortly thereafter, the 60 projects outlined for immediate implementation likely won't begin until the summer of 2009. 

“The Draft EIR is a very expensive bow-tie that we’re going to attach to the Bike Plan itself.  While it is a big deal, it shouldn't be the only focus. The city needs to build out the Bike Plan as soon as possible."

The injunction held that the previous version of the Bicycle Plan had not received sufficient review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Bicycle Plan DEIR identifies some potentially significant impacts as defined by CEQA affecting traffic congestion, transit operating delays, and loading activities for some project options, particularly along portions of Second Street, Fifth Street, Cesar Chavez Street, Portola Avenue and Masonic Avenue.

Though the city took considerable heat over the summer for revealing at a Board of Supervisors hearing that it had fallen behind its own schedule for releasing the DEIR, the Planning Department delivered on its promise to release it by Thanksgiving. Both advocates and critics of the Bicycle Plan will have plenty to sift through over the long weekend (and likely through the new year).

Given the timeline of up to five years for completion of the 60 near-term projects in the Bicycle Plan, it is unclear whether Newsom, a likely candidate for governor in 2010, will realize significant bicycle improvements during his last term as mayor.

Photo: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency