Breed Defends Record on Safer Streets for Biking; Plus: Other Supes Respond

Supervisor London Breed has issued a statement explaining her Twitter comments yesterday on safer streets for bicycling which led her to delete her account. Breed had responded to an inquiry sent out by Twitter user Patrick Traughber to every city supervisor and a few other city officials, asking, “In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to creating safer streets for bicycling in San Francisco?”

Supervisor London Breed on Bike to Work Day. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/8723284665/in/photostream/##SFBC/Flickr##

In her initial answer, Breed cited “the bad behavior of some bicyclist,” which led several people to respond in protest. Breed tried to clarify that she’s “not blaming anyone,” and that she’s “been fighting to help make streets safer for all,” but then shut down her account minutes into the discussion. Breed has a record of making abrasive comments on Twitter, arguing with constituents and getting press attention for it.

In her written statement, Breed defended her record of standing up for street redesign projects like Masonic Avenue and Fell and Oak Streets in the face of anti-bike vitriol. Here’s what she had to say:

I suspended my account because I realized twitter can be extremely time consuming and it’s too hard to have nuanced policy discussions in 140 characters. I want to take some time to think about how I use this medium in the future.

With respect to the bike exchange, my record is clear! I have been a consistent and effective advocate for bike projects in our city. I got the Oak and Fell bike lanes implemented well ahead of schedule. I led the effort to fund the Masonic Blvd project which includes dedicated bike lanes, and I’ve voted for every bike project that’s come before the Transportation Authority, including the popular bike share program just implemented in our city.

My point was not that I think bicyclists’ behavior should be an impediment to new projects. My point was bicyclists’ behavior is the complaint I hear most often from those who oppose the projects. So as a practical matter, those behavioral concerns — whether you think they’re accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong — make it harder to get new projects moving, harder to win public and political support. But that absolutely has not, and will not, stop me from fighting to win that support.

I’ve faced a lot of fire, a LOT of fire, over the Masonic blvd project and I’ve stood strong in my support. That’s my record. So it does bother me to see Masonic supporters criticizing me over a twitter post. But it is my fault for being unclear about a complicated topic on an inappropriate medium. That is why I am taking a break from that medium.

Breed deserves a lot of credit for supporting those safety improvements. And judging by her statement, she doesn’t think that policymakers should decide whether San Franciscans get to have safer streets based on the perceived behavior of people who use a particular mode of transportation.

Traughber’s question on Twitter yielded responses from a few other supervisors and District Attorney George Gascón, offering a glimpse into those officials’ understanding of how to make streets safer (or just how willing they are to respond to tweets).

Supervisor John Avalos nailed the answer. Though he ran on a pro-bike platform in the most recent mayoral race, he hasn’t been the most active supe on bike issues since, and it’d be great to hear more of this on the board:

 

 

 

Supervisor David Campos didn’t do too badly either:

Campos didn’t respond, however, to Traughber’s follow-up question: “How about infrastructure. What’s the obstacle there?”

Next at bat, Supervisor Scott Wiener:

 

And finally, an answer from DA Gascón, who seems to believe that dangerous streets are just an inevitable consequence of population density, though as Traughber pointed out, some cities like New York are leaping ahead of SF in implementing protected bike lanes and street redesigns to improve safety, despite being much more dense. The key difference is in political will.

Officials who were prompted by Traughber but didn’t respond: Mayor Ed Lee, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Supervisors David Chiu, Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, Jane Kim, Mark Farrell, and Norman Yee.

  • Anonymous

    It is becoming more and more clear Gascon is an apologist for the biased and deadly status quo.

    That idiot Bucchere was held responsible for his collision–and so was each and every San Francisco bicyclist, who faced a stern public lecture from D.A. Gascon. And what is Gascon’s “message” to Amelie LeMoullac’s killer, or the hundreds of other motorists who kill and injure San Franciscans annually? What “message” is Gascon sending to those who are most responsible for causing the most harm to the most road users? Oh, it’s not the motorists’ fault–it’s society’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault. “Everyone needs to use more caution.”

    The bias Gascon represents and promotes is literally killing us.

  • Anonymous

    I think Supervisor Breed’s explanation given above is sound and well thought out. Yeah, her twitter post was bad news. But I think we should give her some space. She’s right that twitter is not the right medium for full or nuanced policy discussions. And she’s been a pretty awesome supporter of cycling/safety infrastructure. Deeds, not ill-considered tweets, should be what streetsblog readers should base their judgements on about her or other politicians, once the dust has settled.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree. And we do need to bear in mind one of her main points, which is that we bikers risk antagonizing potential allies when we ride recklessly and ignore the rules.

  • Anonymous

    Bobster1985, I think the supervisor is probably reconsidering the validity (or lack thereof) of her original point. As many have pointed out before, objecting to the behavior of a entire minority group (blacks, truckers, cyclists, etc.) is not a logical way to discuss whether said group should receive social benefits, equal protection of the law, rights, etc. I wish you and other fellow cyclists would at least stop advocating for cyclists to be a model minority. And if you cannot give up this tired and illogical trope, why not simply apply it to your own self (I assume you probably already do), and be content with setting a personal example?

  • Anonymous

    I am still of the mindset that if you want to be a Supervisor, and you want to be effective, you need to rise above the fray we see today. That means at a minimum having a tightly controlled twitter account that is a controlled message. At best you have a more transparent modus operandi like Avalos and Wiener, but maintain a considered approach.

  • Anonymous

    Avalos, Campos, and Wiener advance to the next round with great answers that clearly show a deep understanding of urban bicycling. Gascon, you don’t advance with that terrible answer. I’m encouraged to see a bunch of supes who “get it”, yet discouraged that the DA is still so anachronistically car-centric in his thinking that he thinks density (!!) is the greatest barrier to cycling. WTF? It’s the other way around: density is exactly where cycling shines! Traveling by automobile, on the other hand, fails miserably in density.

    As for Breed, she’s doing some good damage control and I appreciate that. And her response posted in this article is encouraging. But again, you don’t hear Avalos, Campos, or Wiener “accidentally” make such remarks because I believe they have a much better understanding of the plight of the urban cyclist. Anybody who’s truly tuned-in to cycling would never make such a comment, accidentally or not. It’s like people who truly don’t believe they are racist and don’t understand why that racist comment they made is got everybody irritated. It’s because they actually are racist, even if it is unintentional.

  • Anonymous

    After 15 years of riding the streets of San Francisco, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that bad cyclists really only antagonize the worst enemies of cycling in general, who are already beyond reaching.

    The Bucchere incident really showcased this, when the topic would come up in conversation a lot of very angry voices would fire up, but in the end, they were angry about that specific incident and particular incidents they were exposed to, and then they would ask me “Have you been riding all the way to work a lot?” and I’d ask them about their dog.

  • Anonymous

    Solid.

  • Kind of like:

    – “Everyone in San Francisco is a homeless bum who smells bad.”
    – “What? Most people have homes and maintain reasonable hygiene.”
    – “No way. I just passed 16 bums over by Civic Center. Bottom line: people in SF need to bathe more.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m advocating for cyclists to be responsible and considerate. And to recognize that we need allies. The fact that so many people complain about cyclist behavior indicates that some of us need to clean up our own act. That is not illogical, it’s reality. Let’s not be in denial here. Just because we’ve been marginalized doesn’t give us the right to behave badly on the streets. Most cyclists are considerate, but we all get blamed for the actions of a thoughtless few.

  • Easy

    I don’t even believe “bicyclists’ behavior is the complaint I hear most often from those who oppose the projects”. From attending many a community meeting, the most often complaint is that car-centric people are not willing to give up even a small percentage of the free parking spots in order to allow people to have safer travels.

  • Yeah, and we all need to bathe more.

    BTW, the thoughtless few aren’t reading this.

  • Anonymous

    Also, I believe the majority of people don’t have such a feeling of bicyclists. I think most people are ambivalent. They may be unaware of what it’s like to be a cyclist, but I think most people are not against cycling. It’s just the vocal minority who turn up at meetings and right on sfgate.com comment boards that make it look that way.

  • I think Supervisor Breed has been there when it counts for moving SF in the direction of sustainable urbanism, in the face of bullying thuggish behavior. Proof is in the pudding, and she gets the highest marks.

  • @Easy – Basically I think the precious parking spots are the self-interest and the source of fear. Railing against bicyclists is just the excuse.

  • gneiss

    To all those haters who don’t believe that people on bikes get traffic tickets, I offer you this evidence. This was the scene on Waller Street this evening. Evidently, Supervisor Breed got the word out to the local police to go “bust some heads”.

    Notice that at this time, there was hardly any car traffic and very little pedestrian traffic it being about 7 PM. Perhaps they might focus there energy on drivers who fail to turn right properly? This week my wife witnessed a pretty awful right hook on Valencia between a car and a man with a trailer bike that could have ended badly for the child on the bike, and she was almost right hooked on Market and Church. Why aren’t the police focusing on actual dangerous incidents rather than harassing people who ride bikes?

  • 94103er

    Not to mention, what he’s saying pretty much makes no sense. Well, it makes sense if we travel back in time to the 1950s when population was increasing in cities and more people were buying cars. But in the modern world, you see cities like NYC and Vancouver getting even denser and traffic moving more slowly (and car ownership decreasing). In other words, those cities are getting safer and more pedestrian-/bike-friendly. What’s the difference? Giving a crap about the rule of law (and better traffic engineering).

  • chauncey graves

    I agree with London: it’s too hard to have nuanced policy discussions in 140 characters.

  • Anonymous

    Amen! She should be applauded for stepping back from that stupidifying platform. The lesson we should all be learning from this fiasco is that twitter is an unreliable, reductive medium — really, nothing but a series of soundbites. The medium is the message, and this medium is poisonously limiting.

    This is probably about the closest we’ll come to seeing any politician in SF speak out against the tyranny of twitter.
    (-278)

  • bourbon

    It was evident before the apology that that’s what she meant. The problem is that she’s blaming cyclists for the perception that others have of them. The onus and focus should not be on them. Instead, she could have said something along the lines of “vitriol/bias against cyclists, anti-cycling prejudice, etc”.

  • Anonymous

    I (perhaps incorrectly?) interpreted those comments to mean motorists who are illegally driving and parking and turning in the bike lane. Perhaps I am naive.

  • Anonymous

    Gascon fails on just about every metric a DA should be measured. Hope he isn’t re-elected.

  • Anonymous

    I lived in Copenhagen, which is about equally dense as San Francisco, yet it was safer to be a bicyclist there than any suburban or rural part of California. Gascon is an idiot.

  • Anonymous

    No, but you can say that the people and politicians of San Francisco are too tolerant of deviant anti-social behavior like shitting on the street, running stop signs, or parking in the bike lane. SFPD, the DA and the BOS need to grow a pair and enforce laws equally across the spectrum and with much more vigor.

  • If you have a dumb law that is universally ignored for good reasons (cyclists have to stop at stop signs even when no one is there), the solution is to change the law, not crack down with better enforcement.

    The point about homeless people is you won’t make a dent in the problem by exhorting the non-homeless to bathe more. Kind of like:

    – “You cyclists need to ride safely, take your turn, and yield to pedestrians.”
    – “Almost all of us already do.”
    – “Yeah but, you cyclists need to ride safely, take your turn, and yield to pedestrians.”

  • Breed, Campos, Avalos, Wiener, and all the pro-bike commenters of course refuse to face the real issue in SF: redesigning busy city streets for a small minority of cyclists to the detriment of everyone else that uses city streets.

    And what happened to all this wimpy politicians on Polk Street? Funny how none of them has yet to announce an opinion on that project.

  • Anonymous

    When police do stings on drivers it is usually for blatantly illegal behavior like drunk driving or failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. If they are to perform a similar sting operation against cyclists on the Wiggle the least they could do is have a pedestrian walk back and forth across the street and just ticket the cyclists who fail to yield.

    The police are probably responding to resident complaints about cyclists buzzing pedestrians, which does happen quite a bit on the Wiggle and is a real problem. However, I doubt those same residents care much at all when a cyclist rolls through an empty intersection.

  • Anonymous

    I thought the real issue in SF was the utter lack of decent bagels.

  • Anonymous

    Supervisor Breed supports bike improvements, but doesn’t want to be seen as being pwned by bicylists, so she needs to criticize them a la Bill Clinton and Sistah Souljah.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong. There are plenty of cyclists who honestly believe that the running of a stop sign by someone else is why we can’t get a bike lane. They aren’t very smart.