Extra! Extra! Nevius and Matier Serving Up Steaming Piles of Journalism

Nevius_small.jpgC.W. Nevius. Photo: dumbeast

A couple of real stinkers over in Mainstream Medialand today.

Let’s start with Chuck Nevius’s column, which tries to argue that San Francisco will never be bike friendly. Forget the fact that San Franciscans are riding in greater numbers than ever before despite the fact that the city has implemented only one positive bicycle infrastructure component in three years. Forget the data that show one of the major impediments to increasing bicycling is lack of infrastructure. San Francisco will never be bicycle friendly because Chuck Nevius says so.

It’s really that simple. There are more words in the column, but they don’t make a better point.

Chuck: "At the core of it is a simple proposition: the wishes of the few
versus the needs of the many. There are a lot of bicyclists in San
Francisco. But there are far more drivers and public transit commuters."

It’s been a long time since that logic class in college, but this argument sounds a lot like the fallacy of the appeal to common practice,
which says that if most people do something, it must be right.

Nevius ignores nearly a century of policies that have promoted the state of automobility we find ourselves in now and makes it sound as if the needs of drivers were protected civil rights.

Trouble with cars is we now know that congestion won’t go away by widening roads and the stuff coming out of those tailpipes is not good for the planet. We have to get smart about how we use our streets and bicycles are one component (as are private vehicles) in an integrated transportation system.

In cities around the world, when bicycle infrastructure is added, more people ride. The question for San Francisco is whether the city wants to build
infrastructure and make policy decisions that support bikes and multi-modalism.
And the answer has already been enshrined in the city charter as the Transit First policy.

The problem is that traffic managers haven’t done what’s needed to make the city Transit First. Bus-only lanes are routinely blocked with cars, signal prioritization efforts have not been executed well, bus spaces need to be consolidated on many lines around the city, pre-pay boarding should be the standard to reduce dwell times, and of course the Bike Plan should be implemented (we know the injunction, the injunction). When MTA brass give up their personal parking spaces at 1 S. Van Ness or when the Mayor and the Supes give up their free parking around City Hall and in the Performing Arts Garage to ride a bicycle or actually get on Muni, then we’ll see changes. So long as they see the world from behind the wheel, we’ll have more of the same.

You’re sitting comfortably in the majority position, Chuck. If you’ve ever ridden in that small crevice between the door zone and speeding traffic and wondered why a mode of travel you’ve chosen should feel so fraught with peril, you’d empathize with the need to make cycling safer.

It’s going to look like you’re losing something because you are. The cars have the space, so if the city is going to make room for bicycles (and transit), cars are going to lose the space. This is the San Francisco of the future, not the suburbia of the past.

There are other gems in Nevius’ column, starting with his trashing of bicycle sharing in far-away places like Montreal, Paris, and Washington DC. He apparently
uses Streetsblog’s stories critical of SF’s bike sharing proposal (has anyone else has written negatively about it?) as evidence that it won’t work. Not the details of the proposal, but the fact that it "is being mocked for being too timid and small."

And of course there’s a dig at Critical Mass. What would a story on bicycling in San Francisco be without haphazardly conflating everyday cyclists with participants of this monthly event?

Matier.jpgPhil Matier. Photo: KCBS

You could probably shoot a few more fish in that barrel, but I want to move along to Phil Matier and his outrageous piece on how AC Transit and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department have the gall to enforce no parking laws in bus zones. This "drivers-are-victims" story is so deeply buried
behind the windshield perspective, I’m surprised Phil didn’t report it
from his car.

In a welcome move, the sheriff’s department has assigned 20 special units to enforce no parking laws in bus stops, an initiative coordinated with AC Transit to keep buses moving smoothly along their routes.

So how in the world is it news that deputies are enforcing the law? I guess only if the law is so routinely flouted that busting scofflaws would shake up the status quo.

Matier feigns outrage during his report that drivers stopping in bus lanes, even if they’re in the vehicle, could be slapped with a $250 ticket. He finds a stop that has a broken sign and then wonders aloud how the poor driver could possibly know that they are breaking the law?

Hmm, how about because you’re theoretically supposed to know basics like that to pass driver’s ed and get your license? How about because there are signs at every bus stop saying the same thing, in most every city around the country?

When a transit operator actually works with the enforcement entity in a city (hello MTA and SFPD?) to keep bus lanes clear, they get trashed by morons with microphones. Thanks Phil!

  • I was waiting for a rebuttal to these columns. Thank you.

  • Leah

    Nice response, Streetsblog. Thank you. Nevius seemed really desperate for controversy with this one. I honestly wonder what world Nevius is living in. I wonder if he’s the only person in the city (perhaps other than the infamous Rob Anderson) who hasn’t noticed the significant increase in bicycling for transportation in the past few years, as well as the clear increase in diversity among those biking.
    With his column today, Nevius seems to going back to the old, irrational days of questioning whether Global Warming really exists…..remember that? It’s time to catch up with the times, Chronicle……

  • Brian

    Will anyone really miss the Chronicle?

  • soylatte

    Thanks, I was wondering when you guys will post a rebuttal. What’s actually even stranger and you guys aren’t mentioning it is that the Nevius column ostensibly is about the feasibility (or lack thereof) of bike sharing in SF. I started reading and all of a sudden he started rambling about people appealing the 2nd street bike plans — WTF?

  • ZA

    Thanks for those thoughtful and supported responses.

    The real story missing in all of the arguments surrounding the BikeShare pilot in particular (including Streetsblog) is what the rental bike companies think about it. I think I know what they’ll say about a prospective competitor, but it would be refreshing to read some good old-style interview journalism on the subject.

  • excellent response! i was put off by the same thing, soylatte. the teaser on the sfgate main page was about bike sharing. a couple paragraphs in, he’s suddenly talking about the debate over bike lanes, as if it were the exact same controversy. there seems to be a big contradiction in the piece. in the 8th paragraph, he says new bike lanes would be a ‘welcome improvement,’ but at the end of the column, he’s arguging against “reconfiguring the city.” what does he mean by that aside from bike lanes? at this point, that’s what the debate is about.

    i wrote my own response here this morning:
    http://deathwishthree.blogspot.com/2009/08/cw-nevius-brings-some-more-hate.html

  • I think my favorite is Nevius’ “He insists he’s seeing more moms in dresses and businessmen in suits pedaling to work. So far I’ve missed them.” What great reporting– he could’ve, you know, gotten facts via the city’s report showing that 23% of cyclists are female, rather than pure conjecture. But then again, I’m sure he’s got deadlines to meet… I’ll make it easy for him for next time: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rbikes/documents/2008SFStateofCyclingReport.pdf

  • LOL, I balked at the same quote as marcSFBC above

    “He insists he’s seeing more moms in dresses and businessmen in suits pedaling to work. So far I’ve missed them.”

    I imagine it would be hard for Chuck to see many bicyclists during his commute by car from Walnut Creek.

  • Or perhaps he is indeed seeing them, and we should all be grateful that he’s missing them!

  • If there are more cyclists all the time in the city, why do you need the Bicycle Plan? My answer: you don’t because riding a bike in SF is a political statement and has little to do with bike lanes or safety. Nevius is a little confused, especially when he describes Andy Thornley as “eminently reasonable.” There is no “middle ground” on the bike debate; either Judge Busch is going to certify the extremely inadequate EIR on the Bicycle Plan—and turn city streets over to you crackpots—or he isn’t. “Extreme diversity” among cyclists? Not so, as the SFBC’s own surveys shows that 75% of city cyclists are you white boys.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/

  • Can I say ‘kiss my white ass’ on Streetsblog?

  • Nick

    Today’s Chronicle is going directly into my bicycle-powered shredder.

  • SfResident

    Thanks for the laugh Mr. Anderson. Keep up the crazy!

  • thegreasybear

    Rob is right–cycling is a political statement. It is a noble, healthy statement of political ideals that are gaining traction among younger generations the world over; it is a statement about the shape of things to come.

    In SF, cycling is a statement that 42,000 Americans per year should not see themselves die in or under a car; cycling is a statement that we must end the never-ending Middle Eastern oil wars and occupations; cycling is a statement that we cannot afford to treat the obesity-related diseases induced by autopian sprawl; cycling is a statement for clean water and clean air, and quieter, calmer, more sane streetscapes; cycling is a step back from the edge of a wholesale retreat from the public sphere and into 3-ton metal bubbles, within which pathological ideologies grow.

    The city is changing. The old road designs are rapidly aging. Rob: please come out of your Jesus Christ pose and stop obstructing the bike lane.

  • soylatte

    thegreasybear for mayor!

  • Jym

    =v= I tend to refer to the city’s Transit-First Policy as the city’s Voter-Mandated Transit-First Policy. After years of having this policy trashed by the media and by retrograde politicians, a strengthened version of the policy (including pedestrians and bicyclists) was put to the voters, who handily approved of it.

  • Aaron B.

    @thegreasybear: I could kiss you.

  • Michael P.

    Good to keep in mind two trends:

    (1) Decline in media revenue from car dealerships
    As the auto industry declines, newspapers will receive less money from car dealerships. (Now around $2B per year, according to the dealers. http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/NADAData.pdf) That should reduce the extreme media bias towards the auto industry here in the US.

    (2) Reduction in number of cranks through attrition
    As Gen-Xers become an increasing force in media over time, I think we’re seeing fewer old cranks writing such drivel in the media. And a decline in support for such rubbish their readership. (Not saying there is much support now for this opinion, but it should decline.)

    Two very welcome trends, I say!

  • “After years of having this policy trashed by the media and by retrograde politicians, a strengthened version of the policy (including pedestrians and bicyclists) was put to the voters, who handily approved of it.”

    “Transit first” means cyclists? City voters would be surprised to hear that. Let’s put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot and see how it would do.

  • SfResident

    Let’s put Rob Anderson on the ballot and see how well he does. Oh wait, we did. Back in 2000. And he got 106 votes. Last place. And 12,637 less than the winner.

    But keep screaming into the wind Mr. Anderson…

  • Muni’s problem isn’t the 15,000-20,000 people that bike to work everyday in SF, it’s the nearly 200,000 people that drive (not to mention commuters driving from Marin, the Peninsula, and the East Bay). That’s well over ten cars for every bicyclist every morning and evening commute. Rob, if you really cared about Muni (rather than your own ego), you would focus on finding a way to manage the cars clogging the streets of San Francisco. It’s that simple.

  • SanFranciscan

    Nevius’s opinions are such a load of crap. I know the Chron tries to have a variety of opinions, but this guy is really just a kneejerk suburbanite windbag playing me-first entitlement that I really am starting to agree that management over there is complicit by keeping him on staff. Maybe the best response is not to click on his stuff ever, since sadly, clicks sell. Or a campaign to get him out. I’d be on board.

  • Aaron B.

    Rob, sorry to break it to you, but here’s the full description of the SFMTA’s “Transit First Policy” from their website (Oh, hey! they already emboldened all instances of “bicycles” for us!):

    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/bcomm/3179.html

    And going off what Daniel said, the idea is to get more potential cyclists on bikes and doing away with their cars in the city, thereby reducing traffic (and even Muni) congestion all-around since cars take up a ridiculously larger amount of space than bikes. Rob, can you tell us about a time when your Muni bus was held up by a bicyclist? But just forget any of the times your bus has had to wait for all the passing car traffic to depart its stop – because obviously those aren’t the real problem.

  • thegreasybear

    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put 20th century autocentrism back together again. Change is constant; it cannot be held back by legal injunction.

    Tens of thousands of dedicated SF cyclists are already taking our rightful place on the shared public roadways. We’re not going away–in fact, our numbers swell every year. Even during the first two years of Anderson’s anti-bike injunction, cycling in SF increased a stunning 43%.

    The bike plan may not be necessary to grow cycling in San Francisco, but studies indicate new bike infrastructure is, in itself, sufficient. This is likely what Anderson most fears–that with the coming of additional bike lanes and parking, the pace of our ongoing ‘velorution’ will accelerate. Alas, no injunction can halt a paradigm shift, or close the generation gap between sickly 20th century autocentrism and healthy 21st century cycling.

  • Sue

    Here are two links on my blog to some activities that could balance San Francisco’s budget if laws against them were enforced:

    http://carfreetalk.blogspot.com/2009/07/bus-stops-are-for.html

    http://carfreetalk.blogspot.com/2009/07/say-what.html

    I would like to point out to Phil Matier (and I guess I’ll have to send him an email) that it is not only PARKING that is against the law in bus stop, but driving as well. Every time a vehicle pulls into a bus stop, buses — and the passengers they are dropping off and picking up — are forced into traffic, increasing the risk of collisions (let’s not use the word ‘accidents’) and lawsuits against the city.

  • P Grant

    Nice Rebuttal. Right on,

    but,

    I happen to see the Phil Matier piece. It seemed the beef, was the zone was not marked properly. Where people were getting ticketed, was a fair distance from the bus stand, and not one sign was visible beyound the stand indicating it was a bus zone. From the video, it looked to be at least a good 30 feet from the stand, appearing like its not a restricted zone to any typical driver. (unless its a camera trick). The story even had an interview from city staff why the curb was not painted. So, to me his story was was about entrapment making millions for the enforcement department, not that drivers should be allowed to stop in bus zones.

    I just wish those officers would ticket cars on 4th in SF and elsewhere blocking bike lanes and handicap access to sidewalks waiting for a spot at the gas pump. That could make good money and help public safety a lot.

  • P – Matier cherry picked the one enforcement zone with a broken sign. There are plenty of zones being enforced that have better signage.

  • @ZA, a bike sharing program has a different target audience than the bike rental companies, just like car sharing programs and the terms of the program could keep them from overlapping.

    In Barcelona, which is the only bike sharing program I’m really familiar with so there are others which have probably found other solutions that work for them, the program is only available to residents (collecting addresses lets them know where to set up more stations in the city) and the subscription is for a full year. If the program is set up to avoid directly competing with the rental companies, simply having more San Franciscans tooling around the city on bikes is going to make it more likely tourist here for just a few days will see rentals as an option to get around while they’re in town.

  • Yes, I know you bike zealots put bikes in the wording of the MTA’s “transit first” definition. But that bit of deviousness will just seem, well, devious to most people in SF, since they think of buses or streetcars as transit.

    “This is likely what Anderson most fears–that with the coming of additional bike lanes and parking, the pace of our ongoing ‘velorution’ will accelerate. Alas, no injunction can halt a paradigm shift, or close the generation gap between sickly 20th century autocentrism and healthy 21st century cycling.”

    Thanks for the Big Picture thinking, greaseball. What Anderson most fears is that our incompetent, featherbeding, politically correct city government is going to allow you crackpots to screw up traffic for everyone else.

  • ZA

    @Jamison Wieser

    The problem, I think, is that no detail has been given on precisely the management system and user-types the bikeshare pilot is intended to use.

    There are a handful of areas where even a tiny 50-bike pilot can be viable, for a while at least. However, if we get a proper Velib-like system with thousands of bikes, it will depress demand for bike rentals unless they can offer something the SF Velib bikes cannot for the Marin-visiting tourists.

  • Jym

    Rob Anderson writes:
    > I know you bike zealots put bikes in the wording of the MTA’s “transit first” definition.

    =v= Actually, “we bike zealots” (some of us, at least) were a little suspicious of those who put bicycle and pedestrian priority on the ballot. Certainly the opposition chose to hammer on the myth of eeevil outlaw bikers running down grannies and puppies rather than dealing with the substance of the proposition, and we thought that it was perhaps an intentional ploy to sink the whole thing. Instead, the voters approved it handily despite the smear campaign.

    > But that bit of deviousness will just seem, well, devious …

    =v= Any deviousness, real or imagined, would be mooted by the aforementioned smear campaign. Bicycles were front and center in the discourse, and the fine citizens of San Francisco voted pro-bike.

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