Cyclists Cheer as Judge Finally Frees San Francisco from Bike Injunction

IMG_1454.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel
After nearly four years of legal wrangling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch lifted the city's bike injunction this afternoon, freeing the SFMTA to begin working on implementing the remaining projects in the Bike Plan, and soundly rejecting the objections made by plaintiff Rob Anderson and his attorney Mary Miles.

"We are celebrating San Francisco's freedom to once again make streets safer for everyone and look forward to real improvements on the streets in a matter of days," said Renée Rivera, acting executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "This is the first time in San Francisco's history that this many bike lane projects are approved and ready to be striped. These long-awaited improvements will help growing numbers of people feel more confident, comfortable and safe when they bike to shop, to work and to play."

Busch's ruling (PDF) late today ends a long legal ordeal for the city, bike advocates and the increasing numbers of San Francisco bicyclists who have been starving for significant improvements in bicycle infrastructure. Though the city got a partial lifting late last year, the SFMTA has been held back from moving full speed ahead on innovative projects it has in the works, and very often was hesitant to make even minor improvements, fearing it would jeopardize the city's case. The agency will now be on track to add 34 miles of new bike lanes, nearly doubling the current number.

"Today is the beginning of a new era for bicycling in San Francisco," said SFMTA Chief Nat Ford. "The SFMTA Bike Program staff has been working tirelessly to prepare for this day and we are committed to doing the work needed to keep the number of bicyclists growing in the years ahead."

Mayor Newsom also issued a statement saying the city's efforts "to promote bicycling as a healthy and environmentally sustainable transportation alternative will surge."

In his ruling, Busch said he disagreed with all of Miles' key arguments and found that the city's exhaustive EIR on the Bike Plan fully complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). "The Court finds that the City did not abuse its discretion in certifying the EIR as in compliance with CEQA, nor did the City abuse its discretion by the process of approving the EIR."

In an interview with Streetsblog earlier this week, Ford said that the first post-injunction bike lanes will be installed on Townsend, Laguna Honda and North Point.

"We have a bunch of projects teed up and we'll be ready to go," said Ford.

Advocates hoped that crews would be out on the streets as early as Monday.

"The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is studying the list of projects that will be implemented and we have been looking for opportunities to make those projects better than ordinary bike lanes," said Andy Thornley, the SFBC program director. "We understand the MTA is also looking into whether to make them more than an ordinary bike lane, whether it's a buffered lane, a separated bike lane or even a cycletrack."

Thornley said the Townsend, Alemany Boulevard and Division Street bike lane projects are examples of projects "that seem to be opportune for upgrading."

"We are hoping that when these projects are implemented they are even better than we have seen in the designs."

Since a partial lifting of the injunction last November, the SFMTA, according to a press release, has "completed nine new bike lane projects, installed 1,600 shared roadway markings, installed more than 402 sidewalk bike racks and five on-street 'bike corrals." It also installed green bike lanes on Market Street and on a section of Fell Street near the problematic Arco station.

Anderson, in a comment he wrote on Streetsblog, has said he may appeal. "We'll appeal if we lose and we think there's a legal basis for an appeal."

Cyclists Cheer The News

Cyclists throughout the city cheered the news today that the bike injunction had been lifted and looked forward to the new infrastructure soon to be installed.

Brett Wingeier, a regular cyclist who stopped in the midst of a steep hill to be interviewed by Streetsblog, smiled widely and exclaimed, "It's fantastic!" Wingeier said his wife is an urban planner and he was very familiar with environmental review as required under CEQA. "The whole [environmental review] thing, it was always just a crippling amount of work that you would have to do, a huge barrier to stuff." He also questioned the motives of the plaintiff in the case, Rob Anderson. "It seemed just messed up."

Wingeier was hopeful city engineers would forge ahead with new bike lanes and other amenities, a prospect he assumed would draw new cyclists to the streets. "There are some people who will ride anyway and they will be safer. There are some people who will see better bike lanes and a more bike friendly city and people will start riding who don't ride now."

Anna Sojourner, an engineering geologist who writes and reviews CEQA reports, said her reaction was "glee." While defending CEQA and saying she made her living because of it, Sojourner said she thought she understood Anderson's mental state and said of the original lawsuit, "It was just venal, venal."

On the bright side, she also said the four year struggle to certify the Bike Plan could be "the best thing that ever happened to us."

"It's certainly going to make the application of CEQA with regards to bicycle infrastructure more clear and more robust," she added.

Lewis Schump, a cyclist who has only been riding in San Francisco for three months, knew nothing about the injunction but said the addition of new bike lanes could only be a good thing. "Right now it's pretty straight forward where the safe and easy routes are, but if there are more it will be great," he said.

Robert Lehman, who has been riding a bicycle in San Francisco since 1979 and rides ten miles round trip to work downtown, said "it was just a pretty nasty mean-spirited thing when it happened in the first place. It set the city back a whole bunch."

Lehman noted that many parts of the city suffered from inadequate infrastructure and he thought the greatest increase in cycling would come from those neighborhoods as they were connected to existing bike routes. He also stressed the need to provide more options to parents who want to ride their kids to school and day care.

"There are a lot of people I know at work and they'd probably ride if there was a safer way to do it," he said. "What's gotten built so far is really good and year after year you get more people riding and I hope it just keeps expanding."