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Judge Issues Order Allowing Ten First-Year Bike Projects to Go Forward

Picture_4.jpgUnder the judge's order, the MTA can only install 3.7 of the 14 miles of bike lanes it had hoped to paint in the first year. Flickr photo: Doubletee
A San Francisco judge issued an order [PDF] modifying the three-year-old bike injunction late Wednesday afternoon, refusing to dissolve it completely, but allowing the "most easily reversible" projects to go forward. It means 10 of the 21 first-year Bike Plan projects -- or about 3.7 miles of new bike lanes -- outlined by the MTA can begin, and when completed, will mark the most significant improvements bicyclists have seen on the streets of San Francisco since the injunction was first issued in June 2006.

"With the huge demand for biking improvements, we're disappointed that the Court didn't completely remove the handcuffs, but we're pleased that some streets can now be improved for biking," said Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. "A three-year backlog means San Francisco has some serious catching up to do and we are eager for this dark cloud over sustainable transportation to be completely lifted."

In his order, Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch said the completion and certification of the Bike Plan EIR had "changed the circumstances," but he disagreed with the City Attorney's argument "that the proper response is to unconditionally dissolve the injunction" before the outcome of a hearing now set for June to determine if the 2000 page document fully complies with CEQA.

However, Busch said it would be "unreasonable to leave the City completely unable to advance what it has determined is an important policy initiative in light of the changed circumstances," so he modified the injunction, allowing some projects to go ahead.

"This is an important step in the right direction that enables the City to enact significant safety improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians in San Francisco," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.

The MTA issued a statement quoting Mayor Gavin Newsom, promising to begin the projects early next week, and provide a time line and schedule Monday.

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Judge Busch’s Ruling on Whether to Lift Bike Injunction Imminent

The moment San Francisco bicyclists and advocates have been waiting for for more than three years is expected any day now: a ruling on whether to lift the bike injunction. Despite indications the ordeal could drag on through spring, there is some optimism Judge Peter J. Busch will unlock the legal handcuffs and allow the MTA to go ahead and implement some of the 45 projects before a hearing to determine the adequacy of the EIR.

This afternoon, the City Attorney's office filed a brief [PDF] requested by Busch at a recent hearing on his authority to order the MTA to reverse the improvements it puts in place should he later determine the EIR -- a nearly 2,000 page document that cost $1.5 million to produce -- is not adequate:

If the court were to find that the Bicycle Plan EIR did not fully comply with CEQA, the Court, based on appropriate findings under Public Resource Code Section 21168.9(b) and after the parties presented evidence regarding the propriety and equity of such a remedy, could issue an order requiring the City to remove any bicycle facilities installed between the lifting of the Injunction and a hearing on the merits of the EIR.

It's troubling the judge would want to reverse the improvements (the City Attorney's office has constantly argued it's for the safety of bicyclists in San Francisco) but he essentially wants to make sure case law backs him up, and that he can lift injunction without first conducting the hearing requested by attorney Mary Miles. Last week, the City Attorney's filed a brief outlining which Bike Plan projects the MTA plans to implement in the first year.

The SFBC remains cautiously optimistic the judge will lift the injunction. Program Director Andy Thornley points out Busch would not have asked for the briefs if he wasn't about to offer some kind of relief.

"He wouldn't have asked for that information if he was not leaning toward giving the city a green light. It does seem very plausible that the judge will grant some if not all relief soon," said Thornley.

We'll be monitoring the court for its ruling, which could come as early as tomorrow. Follow us here and on Twitter.

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City Files List of Bike Projects Likely in First Year After Injunction is Lifted

71149281_7d618578d7.jpgFlickr photo: Thomas Hawk
The city plans to paint bike lanes in 22 locations within the first year after the Bike Plan injunction is lifted, all of which would be reversible upon a court order, according to a filing [PDF] by the City's Attorney's office today.

At a hearing on lifting the three-year-old injunction on Monday, a judge instructed the City Attorney's office to produce a declaration of the city's plans for immediate bicycle network improvements once the injunction is lifted. Rob Anderson and Mary Miles have challenged the adequacy of the city's Bike Plan EIR, and Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch is still pondering whether to let the city begin work on the bike network before a hearing sometime next spring. Based on Judge Busch's line of questioning Monday, reversibility could be key to his ruling on lifting the injunction before then.

Miles argued on Monday that the city would complete many of the planned bike improvements before then, and should be stopped from installing any bike lanes in the meantime. The document released today suggests that the city would complete only a third of the projects in the Bike Plan within the first year, and any of those projects would be reversible in the unlikely event that Busch finds the EIR inadequate.

Perhaps even more interesting for cyclists, however, are the details of the city's plans. According to the declaration, which is comprised of testimony from Bike Plan Acting Implementation Manager Damon Curtis, an MTA traffic engineer, the city can paint bike lanes on about one-and-a-half miles of street per month, on average. At most, the city could paint about 30 percent of the 20 miles of bike lanes approved by the MTA Board this summer before March 2010.

According to Curtis, the city can also paint approximately 20 sharrows per day, and can install about 5 bike racks per day. The city also plans to implement a bike sharing program and experiment with colored bicycle lanes and innovative design treatments once the injunction is lifted, the declaration said.

Any of these changes would be "completely reversible," Curtis wrote, which may make Judge Busch look more favorably on lifting the injunction before a 2010 hearing on the EIR.

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Judge Busch Could Block New Bike Lanes Through March 2010

2692066480_2b751980c4.jpgJudge Busch could partially lift the injunction for now, allowing the city to paint sharrows but not bike lanes. Flickr photo: BikePortland.org
The injunction that has hung like a pall over San Francisco's efforts to improve bicycle infrastructure for the city's growing number of bicyclists will remain for at least another ten days, and could continue in partial or full form until March 2010 or beyond. A judge today delayed decision on lifting the three-year-old bike injunction, instead ordering both the city and Mary Miles, attorney for Rob Anderson, who first sought the injunction, to submit additional materials by November 12. The judge could then lift the injunction completely, lift it partially for sharrows and bike racks but not bike lanes, or uphold it until a 2010 hearing on the city's environmental review of the bike plan.

Today's hearing came two months after the City Attorney's office filed a motion to lift the bike injunction, arguing the city had met all its legal obligations by completing an exhaustive environmental impact report (EIR) on the bike plan, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors and the MTA Board this summer. Bicycling advocates had hoped Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch would lift the injunction today, clearing the way for the MTA to begin rolling out the 45 bike projects recently approved by the agency's board.

The injunction was first implemented when Miles sued the city for failing to complete an EIR for the bike plan, which the MTA had treated as a series of discrete projects.

Deputy City Attorney Kristen Jensen argued before the court that a hearing on the adequacy of the EIR, which Miles is seeking, should be dealt with separately. "The burden shifts to the petitioners once the EIR is presented," said Jenson. "The lens through which the court must look changes dramatically."

Jensen also cited the rising number of injuries to cyclists in the past two years, which she said was unexpected even given the rising popularity of cycling, adding extra urgency to lifting the injunction. "The city has been unable for the last three-plus years to do virtually anything for the safety of bicyclists in San Francisco," Jensen said. "The city needs the ability to start making the city safer."

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Judge Busch Delays Decision on Lifting SF Bike Injunction

A San Francisco judge today delayed a decision on lifting the city's three-year-old bike injunction, and instead ordered both parties to submit briefs by November 12th on his authority to lift the injunction, and then reverse it, if he later determines at a separate hearing that the exhaustive 2,000 page document is not adequate, although that seems unlikely.

"The rule is the public entity goes ahead while the review goes on," Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch told a courtroom filled mostly with MTA representatives, reporters, SFBC staff and Rob Anderson. Busch's concerns were mostly procedural: Can he dissolve the injunction and then order the MTA to reverse bike projects if he later sides with the plaintiff's weak contentions the EIR doesn't comply with CEQA?

Deputy City Attorney Kristen Jensen argued passionately that the injunction needs to be lifted as soon as possible to make the city's streets safer for "bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists."

When pressed by the judge on what projects the city intended to go forward with immediately, the City Attorney's office replied that the MTA plans to move on painting sharrows and installing bike racks. Deputy City Attorney Audrey Williams Pearson said the MTA has determined it can paint 20 sharrows, install 5 bike racks and do 400 feet of striping per day.

The city was ordered to submit a brief on what projects the MTA plans to implement between now and when a final hearing is held to determine the adequacy of the EIR in March.

We'll have more coverage soon.
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City Attorney’s Office Files Motion to Lift Bike Injunction

bike_injunction_filing_crew.jpgStaffers for City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office deliver the massive filing to the courthouse this afternoon. Photo by Marc Caswell.
After more than three frustrating years without any major bike improvements in San Francisco, it appears what bike activists hope will be the final court showdown for the bike injunction is just weeks away. This afternoon, City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office filed a motion (PDF) to lift the bike injunction, a filing that is 15 inches thick and argues the city has met all of its legal obligations.

From the press release:

Herrera's motion argues that the completion of the environmental review underlying the original injunction, together with the growing number of bicycle-related injury accidents in San Francisco, justify dissolving the injunction. The dissolution would allow the City to move forward with the implementation of 45 separate bicycle route improvements that are intended to enhance the safety and usability of City streets for the bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists who make use of them.

A hearing on the motion has been tentatively set for September 24th at 9:30 a.m. before Judge Peter Busch.

"After years of environmental review and public participation, the San Francisco Bicycle Plan reflects an unprecedented consensus to create a City that is safer, healthier and more environmentally responsible," Herrera said in a statement. "I am confident that the exhaustive process we've now completed will finally enable us to move forward."

Andy Thornley, the program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, got a look at the massive filing, which includes all of the documents related to the EIR and Bike Plan, and was pleased the legal ordeal might be coming to an end soon.

"It's been a hell of a long time. A little while longer won't kill us, but it just feels good to finally have all of that work delivered back to the judge, and the psychological benefit of saying 'here ya go judge'," he said, adding that it's still hard to predict what Rob Anderson's attorney, Mary Miles, may have up her sleeve.

"It's certainly no time to be complacent about how this thing is going to turn out," Thornley said. "But we feel pretty comfortable that the City Attorney and Planning and MTA and all of the folks who've been working on this for so long have done a great job and made a good case...but we're not clear of this thing until the judge takes the handcuffs off."

The MTA Board certified the EIR and approved the Bike Plan June 26th, legislating 45 of the 56 priority projects, and the Board of Supervisors later followed, voting to reject two appeals. When Judge Busch lifts the injunction, the MTA has said it is ready to begin striping bike lanes and installing bike racks, though it has not released a detailed time line.