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Bicycle group optimistic despite court injunction

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

August 10, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - At a strategy meeting Wednesday in the Sutter Street headquarters of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, boosters of the 250-page Bike Plan studied a map of the city.

Several streets on the map were highlighted pink where the plan has been implemented -- meaning wider bike lanes, new street signage and extra bike racks. The rest of the map, about two-thirds, was marked with yellow, representing where the plan has stalled.

The holdup has nothing to do with political pressure or funding, however. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors have thrown their full weight behind the proposal and the Municipal Transportation Agency has received over $1 million in grants.

The delay is the result of an injunction ordered by a Superior Court judge in June based on a pending lawsuit that challenges the plan based on the California Environmental Quality Act.

If the lawsuit prevails, it could drain at least tens of thousands of dollars from the grant pool and delay improvements to city streets, but Rob Anderson, who filed the suit on behalf of himself and two groups he helped form, says its worth the time and money to avoid any hasty mistakes.

At issue is a 35-year-old state law requiring an impact report on any plan that could adversely affect the environment. The bike plan was originally deemed exempt from that review, but Anderson disagreed and filed a lawsuit last year.

"It's bad policy," Anderson said. "Their methods aren't thorough. Computer simulations don't work. You've got to go out there and study the flow of traffic.''

But Leah Shahum, executive director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition called the injunction of the Bike Plan on the grounds of an environmental law, "ironic, at best, and mean spirited, at worst...''

At Wednesday's meeting, however, she was optimistic and outlined a five-step procedure designed to keep the Bike Plan's chain well oiled and free of debris.

Sitting next to representatives from the mayor's office and the Board of Supervisors, Shahum told a crowded room of supporters that the project will stay in the planning stages as the city attorney's office fights the lawsuit. She also said that if Anderson were to win his lawsuit, the city would be ready to administer a swift environmental review.

Anderson, a self-professed democrat and former radical, said he understands the motives behind the coalition's fight to literally change the streets of San Francisco, but he still believes the lawsuit is the right thing to go forward with.

"It's really hypocritical of the city's progressive activists to implement their plan without so much as a discussion,'' he said. "If it's really so important, do the study.''

At issue are the potential impacts to traffic and parking, Anderson said. Many of the proposed bike routes would lead to less street parking and the narrowing or elimination of lanes.

Bicyclists would also be permitted to take their wheels on light-rail trains, leading to overcrowding and safety hazards, Anderson said.

According to Shahum, The Bike Plan is designed to make San Francisco streets safer for bicyclists and, in the process, encourage more residents to convert to the cleaner, healthier mode of transportation.

The injunction was ordered in a hearing on June 16 presided over by Superior Court Judge James L. Warren, who has since retired, on the grounds that, "the petitioners have shown a substantial likelihood of prevailing...''

The lawsuit will resume in front of a different judge on Sept. 13.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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