The Faulty Assumptions Behind Supervisor London Breed’s Bike Tweets

Screenshot from Mike Sonn

In response to a Twitter inquiry this morning about what she deems to be “the “biggest obstacle to creating safer streets for bicycling,” D5 Supervisor London Breed blamed “the bad behavior of some bicyclist” [sic]. She then argued with several Twitter users before suddenly deleting her Twitter account.

Mike Sonn got a screenshot of the initial tweet “in case she deletes it” (quick thinking), as well as [update below] some of Breed’s follow-up tweets. Breed said that she was just being honest, and argued that when she goes to community meetings about street safety, “they’re all about bad biking behavior,” which she has trouble defending.

The underlying assumption in this argument is that cycling is an activity for a distinct class of people, rather than just a way of getting around. According to this way of thinking, the city cannot implement proven redesigns that make streets safer for the general population until this “class” exhibits suitable behavior. Imagine if you applied the same logic to car infrastructure: No highway or garage would ever be built until we sorted out all the speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving that kills thousands of Americans each year.

Lumping “cyclists” together as a class fails to consider the large number of San Franciscans who say they’d ride a bike more if streets were made safer. The perceived bad behavior of some people who already ride bikes should not dictate whether we make streets safer for mothers, kids, and all San Franciscans.

It’s very disappointing to hear this sort of nonsense from the supervisor who took credit for expediting the installation of the protected bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets. That (still incomplete) project has provided a safer, more inviting route for District 5 residents who might otherwise feel too intimidated to hop on a bike.

As for the actual barriers to safer streets for bicycling, a more accurate answer would be the lack of political leadership at City Hall to stand behind street safety redesigns and prioritize funding for bike infrastructure.

Update: Commenter murphstahoe posted his record of his Twitter conversation with Breed following the initial tweet:

London Breed – bad behavior of some bicyclists

murphstahoe – I see you are starting your “I don’t want to be re-elected campaign early”

London Breed – so do you want me to lie like most politicians?

London Breed – I’ve been fighting to help make streets safer for all

murrphstahoe – I want you to know what you are talking about before you speak, unlike most politicians

London Breed – I appreciate that

And Sonn provided a screenshot of more follow-up tweets from Breed:

  • Guest

    Parody account… *sigh*.

  • Guest

    Aww… still made my day!

  • Anonymous

    I would like to think that Streetsblog, even its comments section, is above ad hominem attacks.

  • bourbon

    I like how her two options are saying something idiotic or lying. There’s no option of thinking more thoroughly about an issue and coming, honestly, to a less idiotic conclusion.

  • Anonymous

    So now Streetsblog in its entirety is responsible for what one anonymous commenter has posted?

    It’s this wrongful attempt to blame an entire group for the purportedly bad behavior of the few that is at issue in this thread.

  • Anonymous

    Very good point. Her response is basically a false dichotomy.

  • Anonymous

    Streetsblog uses Disqus and can absolutely moderate abusive comments. I’m saying that I think they should.

  • geoff

    Not on Harrison St between 16th and 24th. And today I watched someone run a light on market and run into the paper boxes while serving to miss a pedestrian.

  • mikesonn

    They’ve worked closely with her and will continue to.

  • mikesonn

    Housing will be out into the old off ramp spots and Hayes valley is one of the premiere neighborhoods in SF now.

  • Anonymous

    Wait. You missed the memo. You are supposed to say that the cyclist didn’t even care about the pedestrian, not that the cyclist swerved to miss the pedestrian.

  • Actually Octavi Blvd is less congested than the former freeway since it’s tied into the street grid. Urban freeways are classic examples of bad mobility design that work for no one while diminishing intensity, livability, and value of neighborhood they mangle.

  • Anonymous

    Autos wrenched the streets away from landaus and broughams. You want to g back to horse-drawn carriages?

  • It is true that opponents of bicycling point to bad behavior of some, and do so very frequently. It’s a completely invalid argument, though.

    When we look at bad motorist behavior we consider it as the actions of individuals. Traffic engineering factors in a certain amount of bad driving and law enforcement factors in a certain amount of lawbreaking. Hell, there’s a whole parallel body of law for traffic infractions with its own court system, just to deal with the large quantity of those cited for the more egregious examples of this lawbreaking.

    Given that, and given the far greater social problem that motorists present, it makes no sense to give them that much leeway but expect 100% compliance from 100% of the bicyclists on the road.

  • Anonymous

    Bicyclists have no idea how despised they are by everyone else. That is because they go around in a massive cloud of self-regard and self-congratulation for singlehandedly reducing greenhouse emissions, improving their cardiac health, yadda yadda yadda. Meanwhile, they treat pedestrians and traffic laws with the casual disregard that they accuse motorists of.

    London Breed gets this. This was her Sistah Souljah moment when she spoke truth to the power of the bicycle contingent.

  • @p_chazz – Don’t you ever get tired of posting complete nonsense?

  • Anonymous

    What is nonsensical? Horse-drawn vehicles were the cars of their day.

  • Mario Tanev

    Doyle drive it’s also funded by sfcta with prop k sales tax in San Francisco.

  • Sprague

    Bus stop elimination (for example on Hayes Street but also, more significantly, along the route of the former line 26 Valencia) has resulted in many new parking spaces. I think that one can conclude that the biggest beneficiary of Muni’s service reductions have been motorists…

  • Don Marshall

    Bicyclists and not cyclists?…fine…let us be specific then. Car-motorists, truck-motorists, and big-rig-motorists have no idea how despised they are by bicyclists and anti-oil activists. Car-motorists, truck-motorists, and big-rig-motorists are bullies of the road–they hog the road with a spoiled and impatient attitude at anything getting on their way. They represent the pathetic materialism zombie brainwashed by the system of oil (like a zombie moving around in a coffin box)–but ready to explode at anything and ready for road kill hit-and-run when provoked or when they can get away with it.

  • justin

    You’re preaching to the choir, and Save Polk Street, Rob Anderson, and the driver who just almost killed you aren’t interested in what you have to say. Instead, they’re watching lots of cyclists break lots of laws and complaining to their supervisors about it. We don’t get to play victim if we refuse play by the rules.

  • mikesonn

    You use the word “we” but I don’t think you know what it means.

  • Anonymous

    The real story here is that twitter is an idiot box on which only stupid, inane messages can be communicated. Intelligent people should just ignore it. The bike guy should not be “tweeting” people and then pretending this is some sort of serious conversation. Neither Breed nor any other politician should be responding to juvenile messages on twitter. Anyone who communicates on twitter should be considered a moron.

    And finally, let’s have the press stop reporting (“re-tweeting”?) the crap that passes through twitter. Go out and get some real news, you lazy bastards!

  • Anonymous

    I expect to see you on Market Street daily, preaching to the scofflaws. GOD HATES RED LIGHT RUNNERS!

  • justin
  • Anonymous

    All hail the All Powerful Bike Contingent!

  • I checked the wiggle video. They sent out a TV crew to report on bicyclists behaving badly and were unable to find a single bicyclist that failed to yield to a pedestrian. Fail.

  • mikesonn

    That PBB is one of my favorites. The “pedestrian” they interview is complaining about cyclists and in the background every car is rolling the stop sign.

  • Anonymous

    Before cars, most people living in cities got around by walking and then streetcars and bicycles. Horse-drawn carts and carriages were mostly used for hauling goods and rich people.

  • Anonymous

    Sooooooooo many drivers do not follow the rules of the road on the streets of SF. I find it ironic that their number one complaint is that cyclists are breaking the rules. I constantly see cars speeding, running stop signs, failing to yield, etc all multiple times per day, every day. This is just silly – a significant number of pedestrians are not being killed in SF due to bikes.

  • @justin – Preaching to the choir beats condescending to the heathens any day. Did you happen to notice the little mental leaps there, glossing “some bicyclist[s]” to “lots of cyclists” into “we?” That’s the problem I’m referring to.

  • Look at all the cars doing California stops, parking in the intersection, buzzing pedestrians, etc. at Duboce and Steiner:

  • justin

    By “preaching to the choir,” I meant “I agree with you 100%,” and I’m sorry if it came across as negative. My point is that your words are lost on the bike haters, but their complaints will still be entertained by the city and influence policy (see London Breed’s statement today).

    By “we” I mean bicyclists are interchangeable to non-cyclists, just like idiot drivers are interchangeable to us cyclists. If I smash a driver’s mirror while riding, he is more likely to harass *you* because you have a bike between your legs. Likewise, OUR reputation/credibility/support is undercut when WE have so little respect for laws that apply to everyone. London is very clear about this.

    See the video I posted below — I think you’ll agree that “lots of cyclists” break the law at that intersection, in front of busloads of voters and taxpayers.

  • justin

    what does it mean?

  • mikesonn

    It means you aren’t ever actually on a bike.

  • justin

    I’m glad you said this — interesting that I argue bicyclists breaking [arbitrary, unfair] laws undercuts our own self-interests, pitting the public against us, and I’m marked as a troll. A politician with a great complete streets record ***tells us why*** it’s hard for her to get bike improvements through, and she is attacked.

    This hyper-sensitive, emotional defensiveness and blame-the-other is very unbecoming of a small minority (bicyclists) who wants something (street space) from the vast majority (drivers). @p_chazz:disqus and @Mike both nailed it.

    If only we could use this energy for bickering for something productive (I am guilty as can be)

  • Anonymous

    Drivers are not ‘the vast majority’ in San Francisco. Where do you really live?

  • Anonymous

    The mistake I think you are making is assuming that the bike haters are coming to their conclusions based on a logical response to real-world circumstances. In truth, everyone on a bike could follow traffic laws 100% and the haters would still find ways to despise their presence and argue against infrastructure and safety improvements. The tit for tat, better behavior for better facilities bargain is just a fallacy, and a delay tactic for taking any real action.

    If we really want to change the dynamic what we have to do is simply get more people on bikes, so that cyclists are no longer such an easy-to-dismiss “out group” that others don’t identify with. This will happen with improved infrastructure which feels safer to a wider demographic (not just primarily young men who are already willing to assume more risk and therefore also prone to riskier behavior), with an expanded bike share program which makes it easier for the average person to try biking for transportation, and by getting more elected officials and decision makers on bikes, even for the occasional trip. Good behavior is the outcome that will follow from better facilities, better laws, and more nuanced education and enforcement, and not the other way around.


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