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Sorry, Sean Parker: Fighting Safe Streets With Prop L Won’t Help the Poor

We may never know why Sean Parker decided to pour tens of thousands of dollars into Proposition L, a measure crafted and funded by Republicans who want to enshrine 20th-century car-centric policies in San Francisco. With his contribution, Parker decided to amplify this “primal scream from motorists,” as the Bay Guardian put it.

Sean Parker. Photo: Sean Parker/Twitter

On Tuesday, the measure will go to voters, who will either approve an advisory measure that contradicts SF’s 41-year-old Transit-First Policy, or send a signal that they want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind us.

If Parker’s recent interview with Fortune Magazine is to be believed, his donation to Prop L was motivated by the sorely misguided belief that it will help less affluent San Franciscans:

It’s hard to figure out Parker’s own politics. His own priority is inequality. His political team – yes, he has a political team – flagged the referendum, called Proposition L, because it struck them as a hidden tax on the poor…

“I have a long-standing frustration that the only people who are significantly disadvantaged by onerous DMV regulations and parking tickets are the working poor,” Parker says.

“However,” as Fortune’s Shalene Gupta explains, ”Parker’s enthusiasm is wildly out of sync with San Francisco’s politics.”

He’s also out of sync with the growing body of research that indicates the working poor in San Francisco are more likely to walk and ride Muni than own cars.

A “Yes on L” flyer.

Fifty-three percent of Muni riders identify as low-income, according to a recent SFMTA survey [PDF]. And while there’s limited data available on the income of car owners, a congestion pricing study by the SF County Transportation Authority found that 95 percent of drivers to, from, and within the downtown area during the morning rush are from households making more than $50,000 annually.

Meanwhile, free and underpriced parking causes drivers to circle around for spots, creating traffic that slows down Muni and its mainly low-income ridership.

“It’s manipulative to say this policy supports low-income workers,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told Fortune.

Not that Prop L’s proponents care about truth or accuracy. They misleadingly tout a false statistic (erroneously reported by SFMTA, and since corrected) that 79 percent of SF households own cars, seemingly arguing for majority rule. The actual number [PDF] is 69 percent, and 41 percent own only one car, giving SF a solid car-light majority.

Most San Franciscans use multiple forms of transportation, and by making it easier to get around without a car, policies that improve transit, biking, and walking also make it easier for San Franciscans to shed the enormous costs of owning, maintaining, insuring, and fueling a motor vehicle. This can drastically lower household costs for working families, but Prop L’s proponents attack efforts to make non-driving choices more attractive.

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Watch BART Board Candidates Nick Josefowitz and James Fang Debate

The race is on for the BART Board of Directors seat representing District 8, which wraps around northern, western, and southern San Francisco. Twenty-four year incumbent James Fang faces a challenge in the November election from Nick Josefowitz, and the two debated for the first time at last week’s meeting of the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People. The video of the debate above was provided by the Josefowitz campaign.

BART District 8 is shown in orange on the left. Image: BART

BART District 8 is shown in orange on the left. Image: BART

Josefowitz, a solar power tech entrepreneur and a London-raised newcomer to SF, could be a serious contender to defeat Fang, the BART Board’s longest-running member and the only elected Republican in SF.

Josefowitz’s attacks against Fang include the fact that he is a Republican, and his record on keeping BART escalators and elevators clean and running (or not). Josefowitz has also pointed to Fang’s role in the poorly managed labor negotiations last year that culminated with a strike. Fang defended his record: the BART extension to SFO, a doubling of BART’s ridership, and consistent budget surpluses since he joined the board in 1990.

Fang, a Sunset District native, is the president of the magazine Asian Week and former owner of the SF Examiner. He continues to push his vision for “BART to the beach,” an extension through the Richmond District under either Geary Boulevard or Fulton Street (see the 22:00 mark).

Josefowitz’s platform includes a push to develop BART station parking lots into housing (5:30 and 10:00). Fang insists that BART does have such plans at all stations except Orinda and Walnut Creek (7:20), but that many residents don’t want the development.

Check out the video to see Fang and Josefowitz discuss other topics, like crackdowns on people sitting in stations (8:30) and BART workers’ right to strike (12:00).

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Streetsblog USA No Comments

#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

pfb logo 100x22

Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”

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DCCC Joins Quickly Growing Opposition to Cars-First Prop L

Prop L was slammed by the SF Democratic County Central Committee last night, via an almost-unanimous vote against endorsing the measure to “restore transportation balance” for motorists. The DCCC’s endorsements hold a lot of sway, and its resounding “no” vote on the measure was a key litmus test to see whether the Republican-backed measure would garner any sympathy from SF’s political establishment.

The SF Transit Riders Union’s Peter Straus testifies against Prop L at the DCCC. Photo: Thea Selby/SFTRU

All but one of the DCCC’s 32 members, which include six supervisors and a full roster of veteran SF office holders, voted against or abstained from endorsing the proposition. The only “yes” vote came from Carole Migden, formerly a senator, assemblywoman, and city supervisor. Current office holders who voted against it include Supervisors Malia Cohen, David Campos, Eric Mar, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and David Chiu, as well as Senator Mark Leno. Supervisor London Breed also opposes it.

Cohen and Campos, who have criticized parking meter expansions and developments without parking, hadn’t made their positions on Prop L known until now. The only supervisors who have yet to weigh in are Katy Tang, Norman Yee, and Mark Farrell.

Mayor Ed Lee hasn’t spoken up on Prop L either, although it’s funded by one of his major campaign backers, tech billionaire Sean Parker.

The DCCC joins a quickly growing roster (listed below) of endorsements from influential people and organizations in SF. The DCCC also endorsed Prop A, the $500 million transportation bond measure, and Prop B, Supervisor Wiener’s measure to tie funding for Muni and safer streets to population growth.

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New “No On L” Campaign Combats Cars-First “Restore Balance” Measure

A campaign has been launched opposing the cars-first ballot measure that claims to “restore transportation balance,” which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition L. Prop L was crafted by the SF Republican Party, and is bankrolled by $49,000 from Sean Parker, a tech billionaire and Mayor Ed Lee supporter.

Image via Facebook

The slogan of the opposition campaign is “No on Gridlock, No on L,” and its website calls the measure “a radical effort to reverse our environmental and transportation policies and to send San Francisco backwards.” The campaign is being managed by Peter Lauterborn, an aide to Supervisor Eric Mar, though Mar’s office isn’t officially affiliated with it.

Lauterborn said endorsements are still being gathered, but that it’s already backed by Supervisors Mar, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and David Chiu. No currently elected officials have come out in support of Prop L.

Since it was launched Monday, the opposition campaign’s Facebook page has gained 214 “likes” as of press time. (The “Restore Balance” page has gained 84 since April.) Lauterborn and the SF Transit Riders Union made their first presentation to a neighborhood group last night, resulting in the Potrero Hill Democratic Club voting against Prop L.

“It’s growing quickly,” said Lauterborn, an SF native who studied history with a focus in urban studies at SF State University. “I think most San Franciscans understand that while parking and traffic are frustrating concerns, that this isn’t going to help any of that. This is really putting us back to a 1950s mindset of transportation planning.”

The non-binding Prop L calls for enshrining outdated policies, like free parking, and promotes the construction of new parking garages. The proponents attack the city’s Transit First Policy, and call for “balance” as if the vast majority of San Francisco’s public space isn’t already given away to drivers to move and store private automobiles.

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Streetsblog NYC 8 Comments

What Went Unsaid at Last Night’s Debate

If you want to hear the President say "transit" on the national stage, you have to put the words in his mouth. Image: AP

At last night’s presidential debate in Nassau County, the best opening for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to talk about transportation policy came when undecided voter Phillip Tricolla asked the following question of the President:

QUESTION: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

Let’s imagine the contours of the straightforward, leveling-with-America response that never came:

OBAMA: Yes, I do agree with Secretary Chu that it is not the job of the Energy Department to lower gas prices, any more than it’s the job of the Commerce Department to lower the price of tin or cotton.

But there’s a lot we can do to become more resilient in the face of oil price shocks. We can give people real transportation choices — invest more in transit, and in making our streets safer – so you aren’t forced to burn a gallon of gas every time you need to pick up some groceries.

My administration has started us down a smarter path with the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. These programs are laying the groundwork for a 21st Century transportation system that makes our communities more productive and efficient while reducing our addiction to oil. If we make these investments, not only will we free ourselves from constantly worrying about prices at the pump, we’ll also stave off the disaster of climate change and prevent the kind of droughts and other extreme weather events that are battering America.

Feel free to add your own embellishments in the comments.

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Election Results Open Thread

Flickr photo: Steve Rhodes

The results are in from yesterday’s election – well, most of them are. The mayoral race won’t be finally called until 2nd- and 3rd-choice votes are counted, but 1st-choice results put Ed Lee in the lead at 31 percent followed by John Avalos at 18 percent.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition had endorsed Avalos as their #1 and Lee their #3. The organization is already celebrating the passage of Proposition B, the $248 million bond measure for road repaving and street improvements which met the two-thirds vote requirement after the failure of similar measures in past elections.

Are you excited about seeing smoother streets and more bikeways, or was Prop B the wrong approach? Who would you like to see sitting in Room 200? What should be the mayor’s priorities in the next four years? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Board Challengers Hope to Change Culture at BART

With the anti-incumbency narrative dominating elections this fall, it shouldn’t be a surprise that two of the longest-serving BART board directors are facing stiff competition from upstart challengers who claim they have lost touch with the electorate they serve. Far from the anti-government Tea Party rhetoric, however, the two candidates providing the greatest challenge to the incumbents are long-time bicycle and transit advocates whose common arguments are that BART needs to shift its investments away from costly extensions and focus on improving core capacity and access to stations.

Bert Hill, challenger for BART District 8

Bert Hill, challenger for BART District 8. Photo: Michael Mustachi

In BART District 8, comprising northern, western and southern sections of San Francisco, Board President James Fang faces his most significant challenge from Bert Hill, a former Bechtel administrator who currently runs his own company, Bicycle Commuter Services, and chairs the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Bicycle Advisory Committee. Fang was first elected in 1990 and is now serving his third term as president.

Hill said Fang and BART had put too much focus on extensions to the farther flung communities in the Bay Area, draining operational capacity on the core system.

“We need to grow up, not out. The bedroom communities are no longer supportable. We really need to focus on the growth that is occurring in the inner Bay Area. We need to be beefing up the inner BART, not the outer BART at this point,” said Hill.

He said BART’s primary focus from a real estate development capacity needs to shift from parking garages to transit villages, that he would push to expedite the plans currently being studied for numerous development opportunities.

According to Hill, his other priorities would include advocating for better bicycle facilities on BART trains, such as the possibility of a bike car, and BART bike sharing to reduce the need to drive to stations. He said he would work closer with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, to improve transfers and connectivity to the western neighborhoods in San Francisco

Fang defended his record at BART as his greatest asset and said the biggest issue of the campaign is job creation, which he argued BART does with extensions, managing finances to preserve operational positions, and delivering Bay Area transit riders to their destinations with superior on-time performance.

“The number one issue that every public official should be doing is jobs. How are you helping people create jobs?” said Fang. “The bottom line is are people working?”

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