Dancing in the streets



By Steven T. Jones

The Mission District was jubilant tonight, with champagne-wielding, Obama-cheering groups of celebrants roaming the streets and woo-hooing at the constantly honking cars and jingling bikes, and then finally gathering by the hundreds at the intersection of 19th and Valencia shortly after 10 p.m., where they remained for at least an hour, dancing, soaking in the moment, unmolested by police that were nowhere to be found. It was a spontaneous celebration of a historic moment by citizens of the country’s most progressive city.
“We have change,” was the chant that a young boy standing atop a van started, animating the crowd.

Anniversary Issue: Beyond the automobile




Download the the transportation roundtable discussion (DivShare)

Transportation is the linchpin of sustainability. Fix the transportation system, and almost every other aspect of the city’s ecological health improves: public health, conservation of resources, climate change, economics, and maintaining our culture and sense of community.

The region’s unsustainable transportation system is the biggest cause of global warming (more than half the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles) and one of the biggest recipients of taxpayer money. And right now, most of those public funds from the state and federal governments are going to expand and maintain freeway systems, a priority that exacerbates our problems and delays the inevitable day of reckoning.

It’s going to have to change — and we can do it the easy way or the hard way.

“We’ll get to a more sustainable transportation system. The question is, are we going to be smart enough to make quality of life for people high within that sustainable transportation system?” said Dave Snyder, who revived the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and founded Transportation for a Livable City (now known as Livable City) before becoming transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “People will drive less, but will they have dignified alternatives? That’s the question.”

That notion — that transportation sustainability is inevitable, but that it’ll be painful if we don’t start now in a deliberate way — was shared by all 10 transportation experts recently interviewed by the Guardian. And most agreed that needed reform involves shifting resources away from the automobile infrastructure, which is already crowding out more sustainable options and will gobble up an even bigger piece of the pie in the future if we continue to expand it.

“Yeah, it’ll be more sustainable, but will it be just? Will it be healthful? Will it be effective? Those are the questions,” said Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected member of the BART Board of Directors. “You can’t argue against geology. The planet is running out of oil. We’re going to have a more sustainable transportation system in the future. That’s a given. The question is, is it going to meet our other needs? Is it going to be what we need it to be?”

And the answer to all those questions is going to be no — as long as politicians choose to fund wasteful projects such as a fourth bore in the Caldecott Tunnel and transferring $4 billion from transit agencies to close California budget deficits accruing since 2000.

“Our leaders need to be putting our money where our collective mouth is and stop raiding these funds,” Carli Paine, transportation program director for Transportation and Land Use Coalition, told us. “I’m hopeful, but I think we all need to do more.”



There is reason to be hopeful. With increased awareness of global warming and high gasoline prices, public transit ridership has increased significantly in the Bay Area. And one study indicates that the number of people bicycling in San Francisco has quadrupled in the last few years.

“Look at what’s happening on the streets of San Francisco: you have biking practically doubling every year without any new bike infrastructure. I think the demand is out there. The question is, when is the political leadership going to catch up to demand?” Jean Fraser, who sits on the SPUR and SFBC boards and until recently ran the San Francisco Health Plan under Mayor Gavin Newsom, told us.

But the political leadership and federal transportation spending priorities are behind the times. Of the $835 million in federal funds administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the nine Bay Area counties in 2006-07, 51.4 percent went to maintain and expand state highways. Only 2.5 percent went for expansion of public transit, and 2.4 percent for bike and pedestrian projects. Overall, Paine said, about 80 percent of all state and federal transportation funding goes to facilities for automobiles, leaving all modes of transportation to fight for the rest.

“Historically we favor the automobile at the expense of all those other modes,” Radulovich said at a forum of experts assembled by the Guardian (a recording of the discussion is available at “It’s been given primacy, and I think everyone around this table is saying, in one way or another, that we need a more balanced approach. We need a more sustainable, sensible, and just way of allocating space on our roads.”

Yet the Bay Area is now locking in those wasteful patterns of the past with plans for about $6 billion in highway expansions, which means the MTC will have to spend even more every year keeping those roads in shape. Highway maintenance is the biggest line item in the MTC budget, at $275 million.

“We can’t pay for what we have now — to maintain it, repair it, seismically retrofit it — so why we’re building more is kind of beyond me,” Radulovich said. “We continue to invest in the wrong things.”

The experts also question big-ticket transit items such as the Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile link from SoMa to Chinatown that will cost an estimated $1.4 billion to build and about $4 million per year to run.

“There are 300 small capital projects we need to see,” Snyder said. “That’s really the answer. The idea of a few big capital projects as the answer to our problems is our problem. What we really need are 100 new bike lanes. We need 500 new bus bulbs. We need 300 new buses. It’s not the big sexy project, but 300 small projects.”

The most cost-efficient, environmentally effective transportation projects, according to renowned urban design thinkers such as Jan Gehl from Denmark, are those that encourage walking or riding a bike.

“I think Jan Gehl put it best, which is to say a city that is sweet to pedestrians and sweet to bicyclists is going to be a sustainable city,” Fraser said. “So I think focusing on those two particular modes of transportation meets the other goals of the financial viability because they’re the cheapest ways to get people around — and the healthiest ways — which I submit is one of the other criteria for sustainable transportation…. And it helps with the social justice and social connections.”



In fact, transportation sustainability has far-reaching implications for communities such as San Francisco.

“I think of sustainability in two ways,” Fraser said. “The first is sustainability for the environment. And since I have a background in health care, I think of a sustainable transportation system as one that’s actually healthy for us. In the past at least 50 years, we’ve actually engineered any kind of active transportation — walking to work or to school, biking to school — out of our cities.”

But it can be engineered back into the system with land use policies that encourage more density around transit corridors and economic policies that promote the creation of neighborhood-serving commercial development.

“If my day-to-day needs can be met by walking, I don’t put pressure on the transportation system,” Manish Champsee, a Mission District resident who heads the group Walk SF, told us.

The transportation system can either promote that sense of community or it can detract from it. Champsee said San Francisco needs more traffic-calming measures, citing the 32 pedestrian deaths in San Francisco last year. Almost a third as many people are killed in car accidents as die from homicides in San Francisco — but murder gets more resources and attention.

“There’s a real sense in the neighborhoods that the roadways and streetscapes are not part of the neighborhood, they’re not even what links one neighborhood to another. They’re sort of this other system that cuts through neighborhoods,” said Gillian Gillette of the group CC Puede, which promotes safety improvements on Cesar Chavez Street.

Radulovich notes that streets are social spaces and that decisions about how to use public spaces are critical to achieving sustainability.

“A sustainable transportation system is one that allows you to connect to other people,” he said. “Cities have always thrived on connections between humans, and I think some of the transportation choices we’ve made, with reliance on the automobile, have begun to sever a lot of human connections. So you’ve got to think about whether it’s socially sustainable. Also economically sustainable, or fiscally sustainable, because we just can’t pay for what we have.”

So then what do we do? The first step will take place next year when Congress is scheduled to reauthorize federal transportation spending and policies, presenting an opportunity that only comes once every four years. Transportation advocates from around the country are already gearing up for the fight.

“We’ve built out the freeways. They’re connecting the cities — they’re pretty much done. So what do we need to do to make streets more vibrant and have more space for people and not just automobiles?” asked Jeff Wood, program associate for the nonprofit group Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

Then, once communities such as San Francisco have more money and more flexibility on how to spend it, they can get to work on the other sustainability needs. “The key component is having all the transportation systems fully linked,” Paine said. That means coordinating the Bay Area’s 26 transit agencies; expanding on the new TransLink system to make buying tickets cheaper and easier; funding missing links such as connecting Caltrain from its terminus at King and Fourth streets to the new Transbay Terminal; and timing transfers so passengers aren’t wasting time waiting for connections.

And the one big-ticket transportation project supported by all the experts we consulted is high-speed rail, which goes before voters Nov. 4 as Proposition 1A. Not only is the project essential for facilitating trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it takes riders to the very core of the cities without their having to use roadways.

Paine also notes that the bond measure provides $995 million for regional rail improvements, with much of that going to the Bay Area. And that’s just the beginning of the resources that could be made available simply by flipping our transportation priorities and recognizing that the system needs to better accommodate all modes of getting around.

At the roundtable, I asked the group how much a reduction in automobile traffic we need to see in San Francisco 20 years from now to become sustainable — with safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians, free-flowing public transit, and vibrant public spaces. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021 and the Transit Not Traffic Coalition, said “half.” Nobody disagreed.

That may sound outrageous by today’s standards, when cars use about 30 percent of our roadways to handle about 5 percent of the people-moving (a similar ratio to how Americans constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but use more than 25 percent of the world’s resources). A sustainable, just, efficient mix would drastically beef up the operating budgets of Muni, BART, and other transit agencies, and transfer all the capital set aside for new freeways into new transit lines that would better serve, for example, the Sunset and Excelsior districts.

Alternative transportation advocates insist that they aren’t anti-car, and they say the automobile will continue to play a role in San Francisco’s transportation system. But the idea of sustainability means beefing up all the other, more efficient transportation options, so it becomes faster, cheaper, and easier to walk, bike, take transit, or rideshare (probably in that order of importance, based on the resources they consume). As Fraser said of residents choosing to drive cars, “We should make it so it’s their last choice.” *


Get yer bike on: Gas-Free Fridays start tomorrow


By Amanda Witherell

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I’ve become a happier person since I sold my Jetta and started traveling almost exclusively by bicycle. Every time I’ve driven a car in San Francisco the experience has left me frustrated, annoyed, and feeling like I didn’t get where I was going any faster than I would have on my bicycle. I’m not alone — car sales statewide are down, the big three automakers are crying poverty and just got a $25 billion loan from President George W. Bush, and according to a recent national survey by Bikes Belong, of 150 bike stores polled, 73 percent said they’re selling more bikes this year.

So, it’s fantastic to see this new initiative designed to get people out of their cars at least once a week. Launched by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, they make the case for picking the bike over the car by pointing out that 50 percent of the city’s emissions come from transportation and half of all car trips within the city are less than two miles — an easy pedal on a bicycle. Furthermore, cars emit the most pollution during the first few minutes they’re running, which means that short car trips are the worst for the environment.

“Bicyclists will also be rewarded by knowing that riding a bicycle 10-miles a day versus owning and driving will save them $8,000/year, will burn an average of 110,250 calories (that’s 35lbs of fat!), and save our city 3,500 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions every year,” states a press release from the SFBC.

They’ll be hosting warm-up stations at various locations where cyclists can grab free snacks and cups of fair-trade coffee and tea. Look for them tomorrow at:

Oct. 3rd: Market and 12th Streets, 7:30-9:30am
Oct. 10th: Valencia and 17th Streets, 7:30-9:30am
Oct. 17th: Embarcadero (between the Ferry Building and Justin Herman Plaza), 7:30-9:30am
Oct. 24th: City Hall, Polk and Grove Streets, 7:30-9:30am
Oct. 31st: Folsom and 7th Streets, 7:30-9:30am

Touching procession honors slain bicyclist



Story and photos by Kristin A. Smith

Some came on fixed gears with spotless rims, others on basement bikes with balding tires. Some were clad in safety orange, others in business suits. They came from all parts of the city, with pants rolled and lights blinking, to mourn the loss of one of their own.

Jordan McKay, 23, was shot and killed on September 17 while commuting home from the East Bay. Police are chalking the incident up to “road rage” but aren’t close to making an arrest.

Last night’s route followed McKay’s final ride through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park to 15th and Cabrillo, the site of the murder. A black and white spoke card with McKay’s picture and the words “Live. Love. Laugh. Ride.” spun in the riders’ wheels.

Man in the middle


>>More: For the Guardian’s live coverage of the Democratic National Convention 2008, visit our Politics Blog


As the Democratic National Convention was drawing to an explosive close Aug. 28, Barack Obama finally took center stage. In an address to more than 70,000 people, he presented his credentials, his proposals, and his vision. Most in the partisan crowd thought he gave a great speech and left smiling and enthused; some bloggers quickly called it the greatest convention speech ever.

I liked it too — but there were moments when I cringed.

Obama played nicely to the middle, talking about "safe" nuclear energy, tapping natural gas reserves, and ending the war "responsibly." He stayed away from anything that might sound too progressive, while reaching out to Republicans, churchgoers, and conservatives.

He also made a statement that should (and must) shape American politics in the coming years: "All across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is this isn’t about me — it’s about you."

Well, if this is really about me and the people I spend time with — those of us in the streets protesting war and the two-party system, people at Burning Man creating art and community — then it appears that electing Obama is just the beginning of the work we need to do.

As Tom Hayden wrote recently in an essay in the Guardian, Obama needs to be pushed by people’s movements to speed his proposed 16-month Iraq withdrawal timeline and pledge not to leave a small, provocative force of soldiers there indefinitely.

After a 5,000 mile, 10-day trip starting and ending at Black Rock City in the Nevada desert with Denver and the convention in between, I’ve decided that Obama is a Man in the Middle.

That creature is essential to both Burning Man and the Democratic National Convention, a figure of great significance — but also great insignificance. Because ultimately, both events are about the movements that surround and define the man.


Nominating Obama was a historic moment, but the experience of spending four days at the convention was more like a cross between attending a big party and watching an infomercial for the Democratic Party. It was days of speeches followed by drinking — both exclusive affairs requiring credentials and connections for the biggest moments.

This year’s convention saw a new constituency come into full bloom. It was called the Big Tent — the literal name for the headquarters of bloggers and progressive activists at the Denver convention, but it also embodied the reality that the vast blogosphere has come of age and now commands the attention of the most powerful elected Democrats.

The tent was in the parking lot of the Alliance Building, where many Denver nonprofits have their offices. It consisted of a simple wood-frame structure two stories high, covered with a tent.

In the tent were free beer, food, massages, smoothies, and Internet access. But there was also the amplified voice of grassroots democracy, something finding an audience not just with millions of citizens on the Internet, but among leaders of the Democratic Party.

New media powerhouses, including Daily Kos, MoveOn, and Digg (a Guardian tenant in San Francisco that sponsors the main stage in the Big Tent) spent the last year working on the Big Tent project. It was a coming together of disparate, ground-level forces on the left into something like a real institution, something with the power to potentially influence the positions and political dialogue of the Democratic Party.

"When we started doing this in 2001, there just wasn’t this kind of movement," MoveOn founder Eli Pariser told me as we rode down the Alliance Building elevator together. "The left wing conspiracy is finally vast."

The Big Tent constituency is a step more engaged with mainstream politics than Burning Man’s Black Rock City, an outsider movement that sent only a smattering of representatives to the convention, including me and my travel mates from San Francisco, musician Kid Beyond and Democratic Party strategist Donnie Fowler, as well as the Philadelphia Experiment’s artistic outreach contingent.

It’s an open question whether either constituency, the Big Tent bloggers and activists or the Black Rock City artists and radicals, are influencing country’s political dialogue enough to reach the Democratic Party’s man in the middle. Obama didn’t mention the decommodification of culture or a major reform of American democracy in his big speech, let alone such progressive bedrock issues as ending capital punishment and the war on drugs, downsizing the military, or the redistribution of wealth.

But those without floor passes to the convention represent, if not a movement, at least a large and varied constituency with many shared values and frustrations, and one with a sense that the American Dream is something that has slipped out of its reach, if it ever really existed at all.

These people represent the other America, the one Obama and the Democratic Party paid little heed to during their many convention speeches, which seemed mostly focused on bashing the Republican Party and assuring heartland voters that they’re a trustworthy replacement. But that’s hardly burning the man.

Photo by Mirissa Neff


It’s been almost a year since Burning Man founder Larry Harvey announced that the art theme for the 2008 event would be "American Dream." I hated it and said so publicly, objecting to such an overt celebration of patriotism, or for setting up a prime opportunity for creative flag burning, neither a seemingly good option.

But I later came to see a bit of method behind Harvey’s madness. After announcing the theme, Harvey told me, "There was a cascade of denunciations and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. It pricked people where they should be stimulated." He asks critics to read his essay on the Burning Man Web site explaining the theme: "It says that America has lost its way."

But he also said that the disaffected left and other critics of what America has become need to find a vision of America to fight for, something to believe in, whether it’s our Bill of Rights (pictured on Burning Man tickets this year) or some emerging manifestation of the country. "Americans need to find our pride again," Harvey told me. "We can’t face our shame unless we find our pride."

I was still dubious, since I tend toward Tolstoy’s view of patriotism: that it’s a bane to be abolished, not a virtue to be celebrated. Harvey and I have talked a lot of politics as I’ve covered Burning Man over the past four years, and those discussions have sharpened as he has subtly prodded participants to become more political, and as burners have reached out into the world through ventures such as Black Rock Arts Foundation, Burners Without Borders, and Black Rock Solar.

I’ve become friends with many of the event’s key staffers (some, like BWB’s Tom Price, through reporting their stories). This year, one employee (not a board member) I’m particularly close to even gave me one of the few gift tickets they have to hand out each year, ending my five-event run of paying full freight (and then some). I’m also friends with my two travel mates, Kid Beyond, a.k.a. Andrew Chaikin, and Fowler, who handled field organizing for Al Gore in 2000, ran John Kerry’s Michigan campaign four years later, and was attending his sixth presidential convention.

Kid Beyond and I arrived at Black Rock City late Friday night, Aug. 22, and found the playa thick with deep drifts of dust, making it a difficult and tiring bicycle trek into the deep playa where San Francisco artist Peter Hudson and his crew were building Tantalus. But it was worth the ride, particularly if seeking a great take on the American Dream theme.

Like most creations at that early stage of the event, it wasn’t up and running yet, but it would be by Aug. 24, when the event officially began. Still, even in its static state, it was an art piece that already resonated with my exploration of how the counterculture sees the national political culture.

Tantalus looks like a red, white, and blue top hat, with golden arms and bodies around it. And when it spins around, totally powered by the manual labor of visitors working four pumper rail cars, the man — a modern American Tantalus — reaches for the golden apple being dangled just out of his reach and falls back empty-handed.

It’s a telling metaphor for such a big week in American politics.

There were plenty of political junkies on the playa, including two friends who let me crash in their RV for two nights and who left the playa for Denver after a couple of days. Fowler’s sweetie, Heather Stephenson, is with Ideal Bite (their logo is an apple minus one bite) and was on an alternative energy panel with Mayor Gavin Newsom, Denver’s mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, and Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado.

"The American Dream to me is not having barriers to achievement," Stephenson told me. It is Tantalus getting some apple if he really reaches for it. Fowler said that it is "the freedom to pursue your own dream without interference by government or social interests." But, he added, "the American Dream is more a collective dream than an individual dream."

Bay Area artist Eric Oberthaler, who used to choreograph San Francisco artist Pepe Ozan’s fire operas on the playa, hooked up with the Philadelphia Experiment performers years ago at Burning Man — including Philly resident Glenn Weikert, who directs the dance troupe Archedream. This year they created "Archedream for America," which they performed at Burning Man and the Democratic National Convention. Weikert told me the artistic and collaborative forces that Burning Man is unleashing could play a big role in creating a transformative political shift in America.

"These are two amazing events that are kind of shaping the world right now," Weikert said. "A lot of the ideas and views are similar, but people are working in different realms."

Tantalus. a Burning Man installation
Photo by Steven T. Jones


Kid Beyond and I arrived in Denver around 8 a.m., Aug. 25, after a 16-hour drive from Black Rock City, cruising through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, a couple of which Obama will probably need to win in November if he’s to take the White House.

We headed into the city just as a gorgeous dawn was breaking, arriving with a few hours to spare before our Democratic National Convention press credential would have been redistributed to other journalists, who reportedly numbered more than 15,000. After arriving at my cousin Gina Brooks’ house, we showered, got settled, and jumped on our bikes to pick up our press credentials.

All week, we and others who rented or borrowed the thousands of bicycles made available to visitors used the beautiful and efficient Cherry Creek Bike Trail to get around. It cut through the heart of Denver, passing the convention and performing arts centers, which boasted a great sculpture of a dancing couple, and ran close to the Big Tent in downtown on one side and the convention hall, the Pepsi Center, on the other.

It was a great way to travel and a marked contrast to the long car trip, which felt as if we were firing through tank after tank of gas. Bike travel also proved a smart move — most of the streets around the convention were closed off and patrolled by police in riot gear riding trucks with extended running boards, with military helicopters circling overhead.

The massive Pepsi Center was less than half full a couple hours after the gavel fell to open the convention, but it filled quickly.

The broadcast media had it good, with prime floor space that made it all the more congested for the delegates and others with floor passes. Most journalists were tucked behind the stage or up in the cheap seats, and we couldn’t even get free Internet access in the hall. But journalists could get online in the nearby media tents, which also offered free booze and food.

Even though Hillary Clinton announced she was releasing her delegates to vote for Obama, those I spoke to in San Francisco’s delegation — Laura Spanjian, Mirian Saez, and Clay Doherty — were still planning to vote for Clinton on that Wednesday, although all said they would enthusiastically support Obama after that.

"It’s important for me to respect all the people who voted for her and to honor the historic nature of her candidacy," Spanjian said. "And most of all, to respect her."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tried to rally the faithful for the "historic choice between two paths for our country." She belittled the view that John McCain is the most experienced presidential candidate. "John McCain has the experience of being wrong," she said, emphasizing his economic views and his instigation of the "catastrophic" Iraq War.

There were only a smattering of protesters outside the convention center, the most disturbing being anti-abortion activists bearing signs that read, "God hates Obama," "God is your enemy," "The Siege is Here," and one, wielded by a boy who was maybe 12, that read "God hates fags." Family values indeed.


San Francisco Sup. Chris Daly was giddy when I joined him in the two-thirds full California delegation during the nominating speeches for Obama and Clinton. It was partly because he was finally an official delegate, having been called up from his role as alternate a couple of hours earlier. But an even bigger reason for his joy was that he’s a serious political wonk and just loves the roll call, the only official business of the convention.

"This is the best part of the convention, roll call. It’s cool," Daly, the consummate vote counter, told me as we watched the chair ask each state for their votes. "The speeches are OK, but this is what it’s about."

And pretty soon, this kid in the candy shop was losing his mind as we watched a series of genuinely newsworthy developments in an otherwise scripted convention: California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres was saying "California passes" rather than reporting our votes, states like New Jersey and Arkansas were awarding all their votes to Obama and causing the room to go nuts, and a series of states were yielding to others.

As the chair worked alphabetically through the states, Obama’s home state of Illinois became the second state to pass. Very interesting. Indiana gave 75 of its 85 votes to Obama. Minnesota gave 78 of its 88 votes to Obama, then erupted in a spirited cheer of "Yes we can." Daly and San Francisco delegate London Breed were on their feet, cheering, chanting, and pumped.

With Obama getting close to the number of delegates he needed to win the nomination (there was no tally on the floor and I later learned Obama had 1,550 of the 2,210 votes he needed), New Mexico’s representative announced that the state was "yielding to the land of Lincoln." Anticipation built that Illinois would be the state to put its junior senator over the top.

Then Illinois yielded to New York, and the screens showed Clinton entering the hall and joining the New York delegation. "In the spirit of unity and with the goal of victory," Clinton said, "let us declare right now that Barack Obama is our candidate."

She made the motion to suspend the vote count and have the whole hall nominate Barack Obama by acclamation. Pelosi took the podium and asked the crowd, "Is there a second?" And the room erupted in thousands of seconds to the motion on the floor. She asked all in favor to say "aye," and the room rumbled with ayes. To complete the process, Pelosi said those opposed could say no, but simultaneously gaveled the motion to completion, causing the room to erupt with cheers. I heard not a single nay.

The band broke out into "Love Train" and everyone danced.


Mayor Gavin Newsom threw a big party Aug. 27, drawing a mix of young hipsters, youngish politicos, and a smattering of corporate types in suits and ties. Although he didn’t get a speaking slot at the convention, Newsom is widely seen as a rising star in the party, far cooler than most elected officials, and maybe even too cool for his own good.

Comedian Sarah Silverman did a funny bit to open the program at the Manifest Hope Gallery (which showcased artwork featuring Obama), then introduced Newsom by saying, "I’m honored to introduce a great public servant and a man I would like to discipline sexually, Gavin Newsom."

Apparently Newsom liked it because he grabbed Silverman and started to grope and nuzzle into her like they were making out, then acted surprised to see the crowd there and took the microphone. It was a strange and uncomfortable moment for those who know about his past sex scandal and recent marriage to Jennifer Siebel, who was watching the spectacle from the wings.

But it clearly showed that Newsom is his own biggest fan, someone who thinks he’s adorable and can do no wrong, which is a dangerous mindset in politics.

Another slightly shameless aspect of the event was how overtly Newsom is trying associate himself with Obama (the party was a salute to the "Obama Generation") after strongly backing Clinton in the primaries. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his party was sponsored by PG&E (a corrupting influence in San Francisco politics) and AT&T (facilitators of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping policy).

I was able to interview Newsom about Clinton before the party. "People can criticize her, but I do think that you’ve never seen a runner-up do so much to support the party’s nominee," Newsom told me. "She’s done as much as she could do, privately as well as publicly."

Clinton’s dramatic roll call moment
Photo by Mirissa Neff


Amid all the excitement, there were scary moments for the progressives. For example, Joe Biden, accepting the vice-presidential nod, urged the nation to more aggressively confront Russia and send more troops into Afghanistan.

During one of the most high-profile points in the convention, halfway between the Gore and Obama speeches, a long line of military leaders (including Gen. Wesley Clark, who got the biggest cheers but didn’t speak) showed up to support Obama’s candidacy. They were followed by so-called average folk, heartland citizens — including two Republicans now backing Obama. One of the guys had a great line, though: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney," said Barney Smith. "The heartland needs change, and with Barack Obama we’re going to get it," he added.

Of course, these are the concerns of a progressive whose big issues (from ending capital punishment and the war on drugs to creating a socialized medical system and fairly redistributing the nation’s wealth) have been largely ignored by the Democratic Party. I understand that I’m not Obama’s target audience in trying to win this election. And there is no doubt he is a historic candidate.

Bernice King, whose father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech 45 years to the day before Obama’s acceptance speech, echoed her father by triumphantly announcing, "Tonight, freedom rings." She said the selection of Obama as the nominee was "decided not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. This is one of our nation’s defining moments."

But there is still much work to do in convincing Obama to adopt a more progressive vision once he’s elected. "America needs more than just a great president to realize my father’s dream," said Martin Luther King III, the second King child to speak the final night of the convention. Or as Rep. John Lewis, who was with King during that historic speech, said in his remarks, "Democracy is not a state, but a series of actions."


We left Denver around 1:30 a.m. Friday, a few hours after Obama’s speech and the parties that followed, driving through the night and listening first to media reports on Obama’s speech, then to discussions about McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The Obama clips sounded forceful and resolute, directly answering in strong terms the main criticisms levied at him. Fowler said the Republicans made a very smart move by choosing a woman, but he was already getting the Democrats’ talking points by cell phone, most of which hammered her inexperience, a tactic that could serve to negate that same criticism of Obama.

We arrived back on the playa at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and a Black Rock Radio announcer said the official population count was 48,000 people, the largest number ever. The city has been steadily growing and creating a web of connections among its citizens.

"That city is connecting to itself faster that anyone knows. And if they can do that, they can connect to the world," Harvey told me earlier this year. "That’s why for three years, I’ve done these sociopolitical themes, so they know they can apply it. Because if it’s just a vacation, we’ve been on vacation long enough."

Yet when I toured the fully-built city, I saw few signs that this political awakening was happening. There weren’t even that many good manifestations of the American Dream theme, except for Tantalus, Bummer (a large wooden Hummer that burned on Saturday night), and an artsy version of the Capitol Dome.

Most of the people who attend Burning Man seem to have progressive values, and some of them are involved in politics, but the event is their vacation. It’s a big party, an escape from reality. It’s not a movement yet, and it’s not even about that Black Rock City effigy, the Man. Hell, this year, many of my friends who are longtime burners left on Saturday before they burned the Man, something most veterans consider an anticlimax.

It’s not about the man in the middle, either; it’s about the community around it. And if the community around Obama wants to expand into a comfortable electoral majority — let alone a movement that can transform this troubled country — it’s going to have to reach the citizens of Black Rock City and outsiders of all stripes, and convince them of the relevance of what happened in Denver and what’s happening in Washington, DC.

Larry Harvey can’t deliver burners to the Democratic Party, or even chide them toward any kind of political action. But the burners and the bloggers are out there, ready to engage — if they can be made to want to navigate the roads between their worlds and the seemingly insular, ineffective, immovable, platitude-heavy world of mainstream politics.

"As hard as it will be, the change we need is coming," Obama said during his speech.

Maybe. But for those who envision a new kind of world, one marked by the cooperation, freedom, and creativity that are at the heart of this temporary city in the desert, there’s a lot of work to be done. And that starts with individual efforts at outreach, like the one being done by a guy, standing alone in the heat and dust, passing out flyers to those leaving Black Rock City on Monday.

"Nevada Needs You!!!" began the small flyer. "In 2004, Nevada was going Blue until the 90 percent Republican northern counties of Elko and Humboldt tilted the state. You fabulous Burners time-share in our state for one week per year. This year, when you go home please don’t leave Nevada Progressives behind! ANY donation to our County Democratic Committee goes a long way; local media is cheap! Thanks!!!"

Change comes not from four days of political speeches or a week in an experimental city in the desert, but from the hard work of those with a vision and the energy to help others see that vision. To realize a progressive agenda for this conservative country is going to take more than just dreaming.

Ed Note: The Guardian would like to thank Kid Beyond, who traveled with Jones and helped contribute to this report.

Palin’s shotgun wedding



Marry my daughter or else!

By Tim Redmond
I feel sorry for the kids.

Sarah Palin’s daughter is 17. Her boyfriend is either 17 or 18, depending on which reports you read. The New York Post, bless it, has the scoop on the dad: According to his MySpace page, Levi Johnston

boasts, “I’m a f – – -in’ redneck” who likes to snowboard and ride dirt bikes.

“But I live to play hockey. I like to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing, shoot some s- – – and just f – – -in’ chillin’ I guess.”

He also claims to be “in a relationship,” but states, “I don’t want kids.”

Too late now, Levi. If you weren’t screwing the daughter of a woman who wants to be vice president, perhaps there would be other choices. Abortion is legal in Alaska, whatever Gov. Palin thinks, and there are plenty of pregnant 17-year-olds who choose to give babies up for adoption. There might have been a chance for you to go to college, go on with your life.

But not now. These two kids will be forced to get married whether they want to or not, because that’s what the Republican Party needs them to do.

You think that happy marriage is going to last? Family fucking values.

People ride bikes


by Amanda Witherell

Record bike attendance at Outside Lands Friday night

I volunteered for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on Friday evening, valet parking bikes during the Outside Lands concert in Golden Gate Park. It was busy: Radiohead fans ride bikes. Even though it was a hustle to move all the bikes and keep the waiting line flowing, it was a remarkably smooth and stress-free experience, which I’ll chalk up to the healthful effects of cycling and a general good feeling from being around bikes. People walking by the pen of parked bikes kept commenting on how it was a sight to see so many bikes in one place.

According to a “thank you” email I got from the SFBC today all previous bike parking records were broken. We parked over 1,000 bikes on Friday night, and over 2,400 for the entire weekend. As I was riding my own bike out of the foggy park on Friday night I saw thousands more bikes locked all over the containment fencing of the festival, meaning a significant number of people cycled to the festival.

And just today the Chron noticed that more people are riding bikes.

My bike accident: The city’s fault?


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That was my first thought, sprawled on the pavement in the middle of a northbound lane on Van Ness Avenue: is this the city’s fault? Shouldn’t there be a goddamn bike lane here by now? And is the belated CEQA study that’s stalling the city Bike Plan the real antagonist here?

Here’s what happened: I was leaving a public meeting at 25 Van Ness and heading toward City Hall, just a few blocks north. The most expeditious route is to stay on Van Ness, which is horribly unfriendly to bikes, full of fast cars and funky pavement – but I was only going a couple blocks. I was riding in the far right line, but had to move out into the second lane to get around a bus stop. That left me straddling the white line between the two lanes. The pavement here, I’ll remind you, is full of potholes and cracks that like to grab the skinny, slick tires on my Univega. I swerved right, around one of these cracks, just as a car decided to accelerate past me in that right lane. The side of the car hit the side of me and we dragged along together for several yards until it passed me and I collapsed on the pavement. Fortunately, traffic behind us stopped, as did the driver of the car that hit me.

Despite exploding immediately into tears, which I’m prone to do when bitchslapped by death…

The Queer Issue


In this issue:

>>Scandalous Pride events

>>The Hot Pink List 2008: up-and-comers

>>Where to get married

>>Why not to get married

>>Charo spills the cuchi

>>Superhero tranny flushed into the ’70s

>>Visions of cruising past

>>Queercore makes a comeback

>>Once a riot grrrl, always an artist

>>Fresh Meat still breaks transgender ground

>>Lesbian pregnancy from hell

>>A gay pornocopia

>>The Busy World is Hushed

>>Apichatpong offers filmic bliss

Oh, hai, happy Pridez! Time again to lean back languidly and reflect — not just in your makeup mirror lined with curlicue lavender CFLs, but on where we are as a community. As usual, we straddle an odd queer moment. Yes, legalized same-sex marriage, California-style, is all the rage. Even my radical queer eye teared up when happily balled and chained couples streamed out of City Hall June 17. And you can bet I’ll be on the front lines fighting that awful November ballot initiative, defining marriage as exclusively between one tree and one Mormon.

Some queers want to get married (see "Tie the same-sex knot,"), some don’t ("Down with legitimacy,"). Others, like me, are simply hiding from their boyfriends. It’s yet another great diversity among us. The overall feeling at City Hall, though, besides sheer jubilance, was one of relief more than revolution. Four years ago, during the Winter of Love, rebellion — even talk of secession — crackled in the city’s air. But that scary "M" word, marriage, went the way of The L Word long ago into mainstream territory. Wedding rings were the new septum rings; now they’re just the new freedom rings. "What’s the big deal?" is the whole point.

The weird thing is that right as we’re being carried over the threshold of legal normalization, our outlaw history is roaring back in a big way. Eight years ago, a DJ named Bus Station John set out to highlight gay men’s bathhouse and hi-NRG disco heritage by playing old-school records, many of which he’d amassed from people who’d passed on from AIDS. This was a revelation to the new queer generation, raised with effective HIV meds but led to believe that gay musical history started with Madonna. It was a return of the repressed — an inspiring, AIDS-obscured swath of yesteryear suddenly came to light.

Now you can’t go anywhere without seeing mustaches, aviator glasses, and hipster variations of the clone look. The filming of Gus Van Sant’s Harvey Milk biopic Milk this winter costumed the city in pristine White Riot chic. Wonder of wonders, we even have a brand new SoMa leather bar, Chaps II, named after Miracle Mile’s infamous ’80s watering hole, Chaps — joining the great new retro Truck bar, expanded Hole in the Wall Saloon, Eagle Tavern, and Powerhouse. Take that, Internet! Queercore homeboy innovators Pansy Division ("Queercore, many mornings after,") get canonized with a doc at this year’s Frameline Film Fest. Most intel queers I know are gobbling up Terence Kissack’s recent tome, Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States, 1895–1917 from Oakland’s AK Press.

But the past isn’t just for gay men. The Fresh Meat festival has been breaking transgender performance ground since the millennium began ("Rare, medium, well-done,"). Nineties riot grrls are making strong artistic marks ("Heart shaped box," page 49), and I can’t step into a dyke bar lately without being immediately corralled into a Journey sing-along by Runaways look-alikes. The turbo-awesome current exhibition at the GLBT Historical Society (, "Dykes on Bikes: 30 Years at the Forefront," reminds us not only that boobs are still illegal, but that rad women of all shapes and colors have led us from Gay Freedom Day to this week’s Pride. And it’s no surprise that the original Daughters of Bilitis, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, were the first couple to get legally married here, 53 years after starting the first official, highly persecutable, lesbian organization.

As we move seemingly inexorably toward mainstream acceptance, it’s nice to know that the heroes of our struggle, people who did things differently, are still fresh in our minds. This year the Guardian pays tribute to the LGBT underground past and present, and raises a toast to our deliciously shameless future.


Pride 2008 events




Frameline Film Festival Various locations; see Web site for dates and times, The humongous citywide queer flick fest is still in full eye-popping effect.

Golden Girls Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, 1519 Mission, SF; (415) 690-9410, 7 and 9pm, $20. Through Sat/28. Revisit all the "gay" episodes of this classic and tragic sitcom, as performed with panache and pratfalls by gender clowns Heklina, Pollo Del Mar, Cookie Dough, and Matthew Martin.

National Queer Arts Festival Various locations; see Web site for details, Experience scandalously good spoken word, cabaret, art installations, and so much more as this powerhouse monthlong celebration of queer revelations continues.



Marriage Is Not Enough: Radical Queers Take Back the Movement New Valencia Hall, 625 Larkin, SF; (415) 864-1278. 7pm, $7 donation. Spread-eagled with one foot in the past and the other in the future, Radical Women host a forum to honor the efforts of drag queens and queers of color in 1969’s Stonewall rebellion and to discuss the docile nature of LGBT leadership in the face of poor and working-class queer issues today.

"Our Message Is Music" First Unitarian Church and Center, 1187 Franklin, SF; (415) 865-2787, 8pm, $15-$35. The world’s first openly LGBT music ensemble will kick off Pride Week with a range of music from Broadway to light classical. Includes performances by the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

Pansy Division Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF; (415) 626-0880, 9pm, $7. Homoerockit band Pansy Division plays a live set with the handsome help of Glen Meadmore and Winsome Griffles following a screening of the film Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band.


Body Rock Vertigo, 1160 Polk, SF; (415) 674-1278. 10pm, free. Incredibly energetic tranny-about-town Monistat hosts a bangin’ electro night for queers and friends featuring San Francisco’s favorite crazy DJ Richie Panic. Expect wet panties.

Cockblock SF Pride Party Minna, 111 Minna, SF; 9pm-2am, $5. DJs Nuxx and Zax spin homolicious tunes and put the haters on notice: no cock-blockin’ at this sweaty soiree.

Crib Gay Pride Party Crib, 715 Harrison, SF; (415) 749-2228, 9:30pm-3am, $10. The hopefully soothing Ms. Monistat (again!) and the irritating — in a fun way — Bobby Trendy set it off at this homolicious megaparty popular among the 18+ set, complete with a Naked Truth body-art fashion show and a T-shirt toss, in case you lose the one you came with in the melee.

The Cruise Pride Party Lexington Club, 3464 19th St, SF; (415) 863-2052, 9pm-2am, free. Hey, dyke sailor! Hike up your naughty nauticals and wade into this ship of dreams (yes, it’s a theme party) with DJs Rapid Fire and Melissa at the lovely lesbian Lex. Land, ho.

The Tubesteak Connection Aunt Charlie’s, 133 Turk, SF; (415) 441-2922, A warm and bubbly tribute to early Italo house, wonderfully obscure disco tunes, and outfits Grace Jones would die for. With DJ Bus Station John.



Same-Sex Salsa and Latin Ballroom Dance Festival and Competition Magnet, 4122 18th St., SF; (415) 581-1600. 7pm-12am, free. With $100 awarded to the winner of this fancy-footwork competition, the stakes for this event’s salsa-hot dancing surpass the single bills slipping into thong strings this week.

San Francisco Trans March Dolores Park, Dolores and 18th Sts; (415) 447-2774, 3pm stage, 7pm march; free. Join the transgender community of San Francisco and beyond for a day of live performances, speeches, and not-so-military marching.


Bibi: We Exist and We Thrive Pork Store Café, 3122 16th St., SF; (415) 626-5523, 9pm, $20. The Middle Eastern and North African LGBT community hosts a charitable happy hookah party to native tunes spun by DJs Masood, Josh Cheon, and more.

Bustin’ Out III Trans March Afterparty El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; 282-3325. 9pm-2am, $5-$50, sliding scale. Strut your stuff at the Transgender Pride March’s official afterparty, featuring sets from DJs Durt, Lil Manila, and giveaways from Good Vibes, AK Press, and more. Proceeds benefit the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee.

Charlie Horse: No Pride No Shame The Cinch, 1723 Polk, SF; (415) 776-4162, 10pm, free. Drag disaster Anna Conda presents a bonkers night of rock ‘n’ roll trash drag numbers, plus Juanita Fajita’s iffy "gay food cart" and Portland, Ore.’s Gender Fluids performance troupe.

Cream DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF; (415) 626-1409, Two levels of sexy girl energy and a catwalk to scratch your lipstick claws on, plus a Latin lounge with hip-grinding tunes from DJs Carlitos and Chili D.

GIRLPRIDE Faith, 715 Harrison, SF; (415) 647-8258. 8pm-4am, $20. About 2,500 women are expected to join host DJ Page Hodel to celebrate this year’s Pride Weekend, and that’s a whole lotta love.

Hot Pants Cat Club, 1190 Folsom, SF; (415) 703-8964, 10pm, $5. DJ Chelsea Starr and many others make this alternaqueer dance party a major destination for hot persons of all genders and little trousers.

Mr. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF; (415) 762-0151, 10pm-6am, $20. Darling promoters Big Booty, FSLD, Beatboxevents, and Big Top join forces to produce the party premiere of Pride week with DJ Kidd Sysko and Lord Kook spinning alternative techno sounds, and a special deep and dirty set from soulful house god David Harness.

Sweet Beast Transfer, 198 Church, SF; 10pm-2am, $10. Reanimate your fetish for leather and fur by dressing up as fiercely feral fauna for the petting-zoo of a party. This week, after all, is mating season.

Tranny Fierce Supperclub, 657 Harrison, SF; (415) 348-0900, 8pm dinner, 10pm afterparty. $85 dinner, $15-$25 afterparty. Total ferosh! Project Runway winner Christian Siriano hosts a four-course meal of trash-talking and looking fierce. The afterparty serves up drag nasty from Holy MsGrail, Cassandra Cass, and more.

Uniform and Leather Ball Hotel Whitcomb, 1231 Market, SF; (415) 777-0333, 8pm-midnight, $25 & $40. The men’s men of San Francisco’s Mr. Leather Committee want you to dress to the fetish nines for this huge gathering, featuring men, music, and more shiny boots than you can lick all year. Yes, sirs!



Dykes on Bikes Fundraiser Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF; (415) 626-0880, Noon. Dykes on Bikes can’t drink and drive: they need your help. A pint for you means a gallon of gas for them. Stop by before heading to the march.

LGBT Pride Celebration Civic Center, Carlton B. Goodlett Place and McCallister, SF; (415) 864-3733, Noon-6pm, free. Celebrate LGBT pride at this free outdoor event featuring DJs, speakers, and live music. This is the first half of the weekend-long celebration sponsored by SF Pride. Also Sun/29.

Pink Triangle Installation Twin Peaks Vista, Twin Peaks Blvd parking area, SF; (415) 247-1100, ext 142, 7-11am, free. Bring a hammer and your work boots and help install the giant pink triangle atop Twin Peaks for everyone to see this Pride Weekend. Stay for the commemoration ceremony at 10:30am to hear Mayor Gavin Newsom and Assemblymember Mark Leno speak.

Pride Brunch Hotel Whitcomb, 1231 Market, SF; (415) 777-0333, 11am-2pm, $75-$100. Raise a mimosa toast to this year’s Pride Parade grand marshals with many of the community’s leading activists.

Same-Sex Country, Swing, and Standard Ballroom Dance Festival and Competition Hotel Whitcomb, 1231 Market, SF; (415) 626-8000, 6:30-8pm, free. The Queer Jitterbugs get reeling at this one-of-a-kind contest that’ll shine your spurs and get you swingin’ out of your seat.

San Francisco Dyke March Dolores Park, Dolores and 18th Sts, SF; 7pm, free. Featuring music from the Trykes, Papa Dino, Las Krudas, and more, plus a whole lot of wacky sapphic high jinks.


Bearracuda Pride Deco, 510 Larkin, SF; (415) 346-2025, 9pm-3am, $8 before 10pm, $10 after. Hot hairy homos generate serious body static on the dance floor at this big bear get-down.

Bootie Presents The Monster Show DNA Lounge, 375 11th St, SF; (415) 626-1409, The city’s giant mashup club hosts a drag queen bootleg mix extravaganza, as Cookie Dough and her wild Monster Show crash the Bootie stage.

Colossus 1015 Folsom, SF; (415) 431-1200, 10pm-8am, $40. The beats of mainstream club favorite DJ Manny Lehman throb through the largest and longest, uh &ldots; dance party of Pride week.

Deaf Lesbian Festival Dyke Ball San Francisco LGBT Center, Rainbow Room, 1800 Market, SF; (415) 865-5555, 8pm, 440. Feel the music, close your eyes, and dance to the rhythm of your smokin’ partner at the Deaf Lesbian Festival’s first ever Dyke Ball.

Devotion EndUp, 401 Sixth St, SF; (415) 357-0827, 9pm, $15. This storied dance party is back with "A Classic Pride." DJs Ruben Mancias and Pete Avila spin all-classic soulful and stripped-down house anthems for a sweaty roomful of those who were there back when.

Dyke March After Affair Minna, 111 Minna, SF; 8pm-11pm, $12-$20 sliding scale. An early-ending party featuring drag queens, burlesque stars, and belly dancers ensures that beauty sleep comes to the next day’s easy riders whose love of bikes and beer rivals that of any Hell’s Angel or fratboy. Or, stick around for Minna’s ’80s night, Barracuda.

Manquake The Gangway, 841 Larkin, SF; (415) 776-6828. 10pm, $5. Disco rareties and bathhouse classics in a perfectly cruisy old-school dive environment with DJ Bus Station John.

PlayBoyz Club Eight, 1151 Folsom, SF; 10pm-3am, $10. The stars of legalized gay marriage, Obama’s candidacy, Pride week, and Black Music Month all align for this hip-hop heavy celebration.

Queen Pier 27, SF; 8pm, $45. Energy 92.7 FM brings back the dynamism of the old-school San Francisco clubs for this Pride dance-off. Chris Cox and Chris Willis headline. Wear your best tear-away sweats and get ready to get down, Party Boy style.

Rebel Girl Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF; 9pm-2am, $12. Rebel Girl brings the noise for this one with go-go dancers, Vixen Creations giveaways, drink specials, and, you know, rebel girls.



LGBT Pride Celebration Civic Center, Carlton B. Goodlett Place and McCallister, SF; (415) 864-3733, Noon-7pm, free. The celebration hits full stride, with musical performances and more.

LGBT Pride Parade Market at Davis to Market and Eighth Sts, SF; (415) 864-3733, 10:30am-noon, free. With 200-plus dykes on bikes in the lead, this 38th annual parade, with an expected draw of 500,000, is the highlight of the Pride Weekend in the city that defines LGBT culture.

True Colors Tour Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley Campus, Hearst and Gayley Streets, Berk; (510) 809-0100, 5pm, $42.50-$125 Cyndi Lauper, The B-52s, Wanda Sykes, The Puppini Sisters, and queer-eyed host Carson Kressley bring it on for human rights and limp wrists.


Big Top The Transfer, 198 Church, SF; (415) 861-7499, A circus-themed hot mess, with DJs Ladymeat, Saratonin, and Chelsea Starr, plus Heklina’s "best butt munch" contest. Will she find the third ring?

Dykes on Bikes Afterparty Lexington Club, 3464 19th St, SF; (415) 863-2052, 1pm, free. How do they find time to ride with all these parties?

Juanita More! Gay Pride ’08 Bambuddha Lounge, 601 Eddy, SF; (415) 864-3733, 3pm, $30. Juanita More! hosts this benefit for the Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial, with DJs Robot Hustle and James Glass, and performances by fancy-pants Harlem Shake Burlesque and the Diamond Daggers. Fill ‘er up, baby!

Starbox Harry Denton’s, 450 Powell, SF; (415) 395-8595, 6pm-midnight, $7 High atop the Sir Francisc Drake Hotel, the swank Harry Denton’s presents DJ Page Hodel’s patented brand of diverse and soulful bacchanalia.

Sundance Saloon Country Pride Hotel Whitcomb, 1231 Market, SF; (415) 626-8000, 6pm-11pm, $5. Hot hot bear husbands on the hoof, line-dancing for the pickin’ at this overalls-and-snakeskin-boots roundup.

Unity Temple, 540 Howard, SF; Legendary kiki-hurrah club Fag Fridays rises again with a sure-to-be-smokin’ DJ set from the one and only Frankie Knuckles, the goddess’s gift to deep house freaks and friends.

Towards Carfree Cities: Everybody into the streets!


Steven T. Jones covered the Towards Carfree Cities conference, which closed yesterday with the first Sunday Parkways, and brought back these photos and words.
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Clear the streets of cars and they will fill with happy people riding their bikes, playing games or music, strolling with their families, communing with friends and strangers, teaching children to bike or skate, and generally building community across class, racial and regional lines.

That’s a lesson pioneered during the Sunday road closures known as Ciclovias in Bogota, Columbia and other foreign cities, events that made their U.S. debut yesterday in Portland, Oregon, drawing huge crowds and rave reviews. The city’s six-mile Sunday Parkways loop connected several North Portland parks and created a healthy, fun, communal atmosphere.

Next up are New York City, Baltimore, and San Francisco, which are all working on Ciclovias planned for later this year. SF’s version, dubbed Sunday Healthways, proposes to open up more than four miles of roadways from the Bayview Opera House to Portsmouth Square in Chinatown along the waterfront for three weekends starting in August (officials tell me more details are due for release after July 4 once current permitting discussions wrap up).

There’s bound to be a backlash among the cars-first set in San Francisco once the event is publicized and underway. But as Gil Peñalosa, who developed the concept as parks director in Bogota and now promotes it internationally, said at last week’s Towards Carfree Cities conference in Portland, “The educational benefits are huge.”

Simply having a community discussion about carfree concepts – even if it means arguing about the details and scale of Ciclovias — helps people understand the environmental and social imperatives behind reallocating urban spaces, he said. In many U.S. cities, more than half of all land goes to circulating automobiles, but as Peñalosa said, “The roads are big enough for people to do many things.”
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BMX Battles: Sit the fuck down — the Sean Parker story


By Duncan Scott Davidson. Read Duncan’s article “Rise Above: The BMX Battles” here. Read his interview with Lotek’s Ian Schwartz here. Read his interview with’s Chris McMahon here.

Sean Parker is a fixture in the SF scene. He’s usually riding flat at the Clock Tower, but I give the guy props for riding everything, and doing it all well–street, flatland, dirt, skateparks, whathaveyou. Not many people can grind a handrail, ride dirt jumps, air a bowl, and roll a hitchhiker all the way down the street all on the same bike. There’s nothing he won’t hit, and he’s famous for building spots–hidden jumps, concreted Jersey barriers, the list goes on. Skaters might hate, but the fact is you’ve probably skated something Sean built. He’s a relaxed, chill guy, but he’s not going to take any shit off of anyone.

Mr. Sean Parker

SFBG: Let me just start with the basic questions. How old are you, first of all?

SEAN: I’m gonna be 33 next week.

SFBG: How long have you been in the city? Where’d you grow up?

SEAN: A little over 10 years here. I grew up in the Washington, DC area.

SFBG: Why did you get into BMX?

SEAN: I don’t know. Something about the magazines always intrigued me. And then I eventually saw Matt Hoffman do a demo in, that was in West Virgina or something. Yeah, he actually gave me my first set of handlebars. I just kind of built a bike and quit skateboarding immediately.

SFBG: Oh, so you used to skate?

SEAN: Yeah.

SFBG: How old were you at the time?

SEAN: That was from like 9 to 12, I guess, 9 to 13.

SFBG: What was it about seeing the Hoffman demo that made you think “this was so much radder than skating”?

SEAN: There was just so much more you could do, it seemed like. You could go bigger, faster. It didn’t look as frustrating.

SFBG: Did you start with flatland?

SEAN: Mostly street riding. That’s all there was where I lived at the time. They didn’t have parks or anything, so I just rode around and did wallrides and handrails and stuff.

SFBG: How’d you get into flat?

SEAN: I eventually moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was just riding around, looking for people, if there was a scene or anything, and bumped into a group of flatlanders who were really good. I was like, “Damn, I guess I’m riding flatland now.” They taught me a bunch of stuff. I learned pretty quick. I kind of just tried to do everything at once from that point.

SFBG: You pretty much ride everything, huh?

SEAN: Yeah. Anything in front of me. Behind me. I don’t know which way I’m going.

SFBG: Do you ride parks as well?

SEAN: Yeah. I just rode Alameda yesterday. I love that place. I kind of just got there by default, like I do with the Embarcadero to ride flatland. I always want to check out the parks around San Jose or Benicia or something, I hear there’s some good ones. It’s funny, I just talked to the guy from, and he’s at Benicia right now.

SFBG: I should call you up, man. I’ve been wanting to hit that park for like, weeks.

SEAN: Yeah, it’s pretty hot, I guess. I mean, a lot of people are talking about it like us.

SFBG: It’s bike legal, too.

SEAN: Oh, nice.

SFBG: What do you think about the new Potrero park opening up and not allowing bikes?

BMX Battles: SJBMX’s Chris McMahon pumps, swaps, and copes


By Duncan Scott Davidson. Read Duncan’s BMX Battles article here. Read his interview with pro biker Ian Schwartz here.

Chris McMahon, occasionally referred to in the bike scene as “Beerman,” due to an unfortunate high school football coach, runs His take on bikes being a “menace” in skateparks is that it’s not bikes, per se, it’s little kids who don’t know what they’re doing, don’t have park etiquette, and are essentially abandoned at the skatepark by parents who don’t want to pay for babysitters.

McMahon, wiped out from Dawg Aid. Photo by Daniel Porter

SFBG: What are you doing?

CHRIS McMAHON: Ah, not much. Out riding right now.

SFBG: Right on. Sorry to interrupt the session.

CHRIS: It’s cool. I actually have to help my buddy with a flat tire.

SFBG: Bike or car?

CHRIS: Bike.

SFBG: Bike? And he needs help?

CHRIS: He just needs a pump.

Footy from This includes clips from Cityview skatepark in Alameda, which BMXers helped design and pay for, but were later shut out of.

SFBG: I went to the Dawg Aid thing at Stonegate that you guys put on. There was, of course, a ton of bikes there. Was that originally a “no bike” park?

CHRIS: It definitely was and still is a “no bike” park, but we’ve never had it enforced. Never, ever gotten kicked out of there, to the best of my knowledge.

SFBG: What about Plato Arroyo?

CHRIS: We used to get kicked out of there. I know there’s still a rule, but I haven’t seen anyone get kicked out of there in awhile. There’s kids that ride there every day. But, that Evelyn lady that’s in my email, she was out there the other day. I don’t know what she was doing, exactly, but I have a feeling they’re going to be putting a fence up to keep bikes out. I talked to her about that a couple of years ago, and she never got around to getting back to me.

SFBG: In terms of Lake Cunningham, when did meetings start going down about that?

CHRIS: About the design?

SFBG: Sort of. When did they start designing it, and when did bikers get involved?

CHRIS: I think they started designing it about two years ago, maybe it was two and a half. They had an initial meeting, which no riders went to, because we weren’t informed. Two months after that, they had the initial design meeting, which I found out about just because I was looking around for information on skateboard message boards online. I got the date and time and location, and got a few guys to go to that.

SFBG: When was that?

CHRIS: I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I’m positive it was early 2006, maybe. Or maybe middle 2006. It was awhile ago. They were talking about how they didn’t really want to get bikes in there. Whoever the guy is who is in charge of the district for Stonegate was complaining about bikes in the park being a major problem, which is funny, because that’s the only people who ever rode there up, up until recently. Now there’s a lot of skaters there because they want to get used to bigger trannies for the Cunningham park.

SFBG: So who was giving the most anti-bike statements at these meetings, and where did they get their information from?

BMX Battles: Ian Schwartz — rough trannies, vibed out, lines backwards


By Duncan Scott Davidson. Read the BMX Battles article here.

Ian Schwartz is a 27 year-old-pro bike rider from Ohio. He’s sponsored by Sunday bikes and Lotek shoes, and was recently in San Francisco filming for the upcoming Lotek video. He’s a “still waters run deep” type of guy–quiet, unassuming, and never one to pop off random bullshit–he thinks about things before he opens his mouth and his outlook on the age-old skate vs. bikes battle seems right on target. On his bike, he’s one of the most creative guys out there, he rides what’s called a freecoaster rear hub, which means, in the final analysis, does better lines backwards than most people do forwards.

Work of art: Schwartz 180 lauches the stage at the De Young Museum. Photo by Brad Lovell

SFBG: Did you guys start filming yet?

Ian Schwartz: Not today, no.

SFBG: But you started already–for the Lotek video–right.

IAN: Yeah. We actually got a lot of stuff. Do you know Jesse Whaley? He was in town for a couple days. So we filmed some stuff yesterday–it was a lot of fun. Did a bunch of bombing hills and stuff like that. It was a real fun day.

SFBG: Did you hit any specific spots, or were you just cruising around looking for shit?

IAN: We did. I can’t even think of the any of the spots of we actually hit. We hit a couple. We rode the Federal Building. Around the library area.

SFBG: Did you get hassled?

IAN: No, not over there.

SFBG: I’ve heard of people getting tackled and their bikes confiscated there. Never seen it, though. I hit it myself sometimes.

IAN: Yeah. We didn’t stay there for very long, because we definitely felt like we were pusing it. It sucks, too, because that places is so cool.

SFBG: I figured you’d be into it, because it has those rough trannies, you know?

IAN: Yeah, that shit is so fun. It’s a bummer you can’t ride there. It was fun though.

SFBG: I think that since they started remodeling it, they don’t pay as much attention.

IAN: Really? I know that a couple weeks ago, Jackson and Marco and I and a few people rode the top area, which I’d never rode before. Have you ever ridden that?

SFBG: You mean the other side?

IAN: You know the biggest wall? On the top side of that wall. Like if you climbed up the wall there’s a little area up there. It’s like these weird little sheet metal pyramids. Super mellow, but little pyramid things, and banks with benches sticking out of them. Yeah, I didn’t even know that was up there. I think we actually did get kicked out, but it was a very friendly kick out. We got asked to leave, but that was after being there for a half an hour, 45 minutes.

Lotek Web video: “A Day with Ian Schwartz”

SFBG: Cool. Well, hopefully it’s a little more mellow than it used to be. I read on the Sunday site–I think this is before you went to Barcelona–you said that San Francisco is your favorite city to ride in. Why is that?

Sealed with a fest



SONIC REDUCER "Obviously I wanted to be part of this wealthy cause … whoops, I mean, worthy cause — a Freudian slip!" blurted Seal to amassed gowns and tuxes at a packed Davies Symphony Hall May 31. Well, it was pretty B&W at this, the Black and White Ball 2008. He went on to explain that he was more than glad to play the benefit bash for the San Francisco Symphony’s Adventures in Music education program, until he realized that night’s event was just a day before wife Heidi "And sometimes you’re out … in the doghouse" Klum’s birthday. "Even though it was written almost 20 years ago, I never knew what this song was about till four or five years ago," he drawled graciously, before easing into a swooningly romantic "Kiss from a Rose." The coiffed and painted debs swayed in the seats behind the stage like tropical palms, the gray-tressed oldsters in tuxes yawned as if their jaws would dislocate, and all the right — and leftie — blondes flitted to the front as if drawn to a gyrating, white-scarfed flame. The irony that Seal was putting in a high-energy set and working in an establishment-jabbing anthem titled "System" — "but you won’t get to hear it here because record companies aren’t what they used to be, but this isn’t that kind of show," according to the UK crooner — was not altogether lost on the assembled partygoers at this very establishment affair.

Still, the Grey Goose quaffing, shrimp chomping, and dance-it-up musical offerings lining the closed-off swath of Van Ness added up to a surprisingly solid good time — not to mention further confirmation of the latest urban SF curiosity: packs of underdressed, strapless-clad or micro-miniskirted, microclimate-besieged fashion victims who insist on braving hypothermia sans outerwear. Is it really that toasty over the bridge and through the tunnel?

Nonetheless I got a kick out of Extra Action Marching Band, its flag girls drooling faux-blood while chilling, kicking it iceberg-style beneath the polka-dot-lit, fireworks-bedecked City Hall. Pete Escovedo still had what it took to pull me to the dance floor and get the salsa out. Hot on the heels of Harriet Tubman (Noir), Marcus Shelby riled up Strictly Ballroom wannabes in the bowels of the War Memorial Opera House, and upstairs DJ Afrika Bambaataa turned in an unforgettable old-school hip-hop and rock-pop set, sweetly warbling, "I just want your extra time … " to Prince’s "Kiss," as a mob of gorgeous freaks mobbed the stage. Be it ever so old-fashioned and ever so obligatorily glammy, the B&WB was such a ball that I was inspired to use it as the barometer of sorts for a few other music-fest contenders.

B&W BALL BY THE NUMBERS Kilts: two. Turbans: three. Closeted waltz-heads eager to make the Metronome Ballroom lessons pay off: more than a dozen. Misguided ladies who looked like they tried to repurpose their wedding gowns as white formalwear: two. Gavin Newsom look-alikes: a toothy handful. Jennifer Siebel look-alikes: hundreds. Former hippies in formalwear: six. Men in all-white who looked like they stepped out of an alternate "Rapture" video: two. Burning Man references as City Hall was bookended by pillars of fire at midnight: two. Screeching highlights-victims upon seeing their girlfriends: more than two ears can handle. Sneaky types who looked like they’ve probably worn the same thing to B&WB every year since 1983: more than designers and luxury goods manufacturers would care to know.

HARMONY FESTIVAL (June 6–8, Santa Rosa,, including Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Arrested Development, and Mickey Hart Band) Expected Gavin look-alikes: zip unless you count the Cali boys who look early Gavin — with dreadlocks. Rich hippies with perfect hair and lavishly embroidered coats: three.

BERKELEY WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL (June 7, Berkeley,, with Dengue Fever, and Sila and the AfroFunk Experience) Expected turbans: the Sufi trance music guarantees at least a couple. Kilts: zero. Swirlie dancers: a dozen-plus.

OUTSIDE LANDS (Aug. 22–24, SF,, including Radiohead, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jack Johnson, Wilco, Beck, and the Black Keys) Expected bikes piled in the racks: a thou. Concert-goers overcome by heat: C’mon, this is San Francisco.

TREASURE ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL (Sept. 20–21, Treasure Island,, with Justice, the Raconteurs, TV on the Radio, and Tegan and Sara) Projected number of great views of SF: innumerable. Gold-trimmed "ironic" sunglasses: a gazillion. Concertgoers who discover far too late that shorts are only ideal for an hour a day: 135.

LOVEFEST (Oct. 4, SF, Ever-recyclable ’70s-style bells: a couple-dozen. Fabulous-faux hairpieces: Wigstock is forever. Swirlie dancers: you got ’em.



Eke out a few tears of valedictorianism: it’s an Absolutely Kosher explosion of untrammeled, happily eccentric talent. Fri/6, 9:30 p.m., $10–<\d>$12 Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF.


Lo-fi dust-ups coupled with folkie meanders are a–Foot Foot, flanked by the solo musings of ex-Guardian-ite Sarah Han. With Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Sat/7, 9:30 p.m., $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.


Taking a break from the sweltering, disco-imbued exotica of Quiet Village and its Silent Movie (K7), producer Matt Edwards dons his dark techno persona, Radio Slave. Sat/7, call for time and price. Endup, 401 Sixth St., SF. (415) 646-0999, *

Rise above


Also in this issue:
>>An interview with outlaw biker Ian Schwartz
>>An interview with’s Chris McMahon
>>Sit the fuck down: The Sean Parker story


I push off and head down a makeshift plywood runway, compressing as I roll over the edge and into the Technicolor graffiti of the drainage ditch. The transition between the banked wall and the flatbottom has an abrupt kink in it, enough to send you to your face if you’re caught sleeping. I take some weight off the front end and try to maintain my speed as I pump into the opposite corner and carve the far end of the ditch where there’s an over-45-degree wall that runs behind what my friends and I call the "death pit" — a gaping cutaway in the bottom of the culvert, five feet deep, filled with broken glass, and frequently used as a urinal. Since I’m at the apex of my backside carve, up a wall 10 feet above last week’s Miller Time, I’m jolted by the crackle of a loudspeaker:

"You are trespassing. Leave the area at once or you will be arrested."

My concentration shot by the sheriff’s announcement, I jump off my deck and over the chasm at the base of the bank, barely clearing the skater’s version of a Vietnam tiger pit, and land on the rough concrete beyond the edge. My board bullets straight in, though, so I’ve got to lower myself — gingerly — into the mostly dry detritus and rescue it before my friends and I jet out of the spot and into the manicured back nine of Pleasanton’s Castlewood golf course. We get to the car, throw the boards in the trunk — mine has a "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" sticker on the bottom — and head to the next spot, a ditch called the Rat Trap.

The year is 1987. I’m 16, in high school, and living with my parents in Fremont. The scene plays out over and over in much the same way: a drainage ditch, a nicely painted curb or ledge at a shopping center, the occasional backyard pool, and night sessions at the Tar Banks, a set of embankments around a loading dock with curbs at the top. It’s an underground railroad of repurposed architecture, none of it designed with a skateboard in mind but all of it highly skateable.

Taking the $4.7mil Cunningham skatepark. Video by Jarrod Allen,

Every weekend my crew hits as many spots as we can, and the constants shape up like this: urethane, aluminum, Canadian hard rock maple, concrete, and asphalt. Maybe blood, maybe beer — we’re teenagers after all — but nearly always: cops.

Skateboarding may not be a crime, but it sure as hell feels like one.

Flash forward 20 years. I’m with a different crew as I pull onto a street in suburban Redwood City, and I’m no longer rollin’ in my mom’s Plymouth Sundance, but my own truck. The other thing that’s changed is the number of wheels per head. There are four heads to eight wheels, and we’re here to ride the Phil Shao Memorial Skatepark. On bikes.

The park does not disappoint. There are a million kids trying tech ollie flip tricks around the perimeter of the park, but the bowl is what I’m about. Big and shapely with almost burlesque hips poured into her concrete, I’m in love as soon as I roll in. There are a few local bikers who have the place dialed, nonchalantly airing a few feet out and throwing the bars before heading back down the tranny. The only two skaters riding the bowl are a tall skinny teenager and his little sister, who looks to be about 10, and they have it on lockdown: lipslides on the spine, grinds, rock and rolls — everything smooth and fast. "Yeah!" I yell as they take their runs, stoked on their skills.

I know the times have changed when I see the little girl come up out of the bowl in the $450,000 public piece of silky-smooth concrete perfection, walk over to her mother, who’s posted up on a ledge, get a cell phone and make a call. Not five minutes later there are seven (I counted) Redwood City police officers converging on the bench where my friends and I are sitting. They randomly collar my buddy Scott — though I was the last one to drop in — and write him a ticket for $100. I have to admit, I’m flabbergasted.

Guess what: skateboarding isn’t a crime anymore — it’s gone mainstream. Successful companies hire lobbyists to promote the sport, and communities spend big bucks building new facilities for skaters. And now some skaters, many of them kids who never had to live in the underground world that I did, are using their legitimacy to push out the new outlaws — people who ride BMX bikes.

It’s crazy — two cultures that share so much, fighting over how many wheels they ride.

"Is that your daughter’s bike?"

The question comes from one of my coworkers, and, believe it or not, it’s not intended to be snarky. I can’t ride in public without someone saying "cute little bike," while giggling to themselves — or laughing and pointing. Seeing a six-foot-tall, 200-pound, bald-headed, tattooed white dude on a "kid’s bike" is like being passed on the sidewalk by a bear on a unicycle. At one point reactions like these would’ve rubbed me the wrong way, but nowadays, I nod and smile. Sometimes, I try to explain what constitutes a "full grown" BMX bike. While it’s got small wheels — 20 inches in diameter — the top tube, from the seat to the stem, measures 21 inches, and the handlebars are considered pro-sized at eight inches high by 28 inches wide.

Bicycle motocross, or BMX, is purported to have started in 1963 when the Schwinn corporation of Chicago unveiled the Stingray, which was basically a downsized version of the company’s balloon-tired cruiser-type bikes. Kids pretended to be grown-ups by aping Roger DeCoster and other moto heroes — launching their bikes off jumps, racing in empty fields and abandoned lots, and cranking wheelies down the sidewalks of Anytown, USA.

"It all began the way most individual sports start," motorcycle customizer Jesse James says in a voiceover at the beginning of the 2005 BMX nativity story/documentary Joe Kid on a Stingray, "kids pretending to be grown-ups, but acting like big kids."

I have been riding since I was seven. After three decades, one truism remains, and I can’t candy-coat it. I’ve got to speak it like a true BMXer: BMX is rad. It is and always has been an entity unto itself, progressing from wheelies, skids, and bombing hills to encompass myriad styles and surfaces, from streets to pools to dirt jumps to ramps to the balletic grace of flatland freestyle.

This summer, big kids on little bikes will be jumping 30-foot gaps at as many miles per hour as BMX pays homage to its racing roots at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. On June 12 in New York’s Central Park, Kevin Robinson will try to break the legendary Mat Hoffman’s record for the highest quarter-pipe air on a bike — 26 feet, 6 inches.

It doesn’t take death-defying world records, the X Games, the Olympics, or the stupefaction of squares with cameras to make BMX legit. That feeling of overcoming fear and doubt by jumping a little farther, a little higher, the rush of nailing a trick, or carving a bowl, hasn’t changed in half a century. The legitimacy lies in that feeling, behind your breastbone, and it doesn’t change as you get older. Your wrists hurt, your ankles hurt, and your back hurts, but the feeling is the same. Kid’s bike? Hell yeah, it’s a kid’s bike.

It’s not as though I was blissfully unaware of a beef between bikers and skaters that day in Redwood City. Ask any BMXer to tell you a story of friction between the two and four-wheeled sets, and it’s not going to take them long to come up with something.

"When I was 12 years old, a skateboarder threw my bike out of the bowl at Ripon skatepark," says Jackson Ratima, now 19, a Daly City rider sponsored by Fit Bikes. "He was, like, 20 years old or something."

Tim "Wolfman" Harvey, 21, another up-and-coming pro, tells a similar story about a visit to the Bay Area from his native Massachusetts, when a local skater hassled him at the Novato skatepark. "I didn’t even know anything about California. It was my first time out bike riding, period. The guy was giving me all kinds of crap, yelling at me."

Ironically, Harvey, as friendly and easygoing a guy as you could hope to meet, almost turned pro for skateboarding before an ankle injury made it nearly impossible to ollie, an essential trick in street skating. He now lives in Petaluma and is a member of the painter’s union in San Francisco, where he’s a familiar face at street spots, but now on a bike. Back then, though, he "thought California was a scary place."

The Bay Area — and SF in particular — may be the worst place for bikers seeking a vibe-free session. "I’ve never experienced hostility like it is out here," Ratima says.

Smoldering after the Redwood City incident, I began to fixate on the "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime" slogan from my youth. Originally a bumper sticker made by Transworld Skateboarding magazine in the mid ’80s, Santa Cruz Skateboards currently makes a deck with that written on it, so the skate community has gotten a lot of mileage out of being oppressed.

"Skateboarding isn’t a crime?" I’d ask myself. You’re damned straight skateboarding isn’t a crime: it’s the law. BMX is a crime. There isn’t a biker alive who rides transition who hasn’t rolled into a taxpayer-funded park and had a knee-high grommet point to the sign and say, "Bikes aren’t allowed."

Not allowed, huh? Son, I skated my first pool when you were doing the backstroke in your papa’s ball bag.

Look: I love skateboarding and always will. Both skaters and bikers are doing the same thing, copping that same feeling rolling over the same terrain. The war makes no sense.

"We have religion and race and class dividing us. I refuse to be divided by what type of wheel size I have," says Jon Paul Bail, a local at Alameda’s Cityview skatepark.

Bail, 40, is the artist and pundit behind Through the Home Project, a program run through the Alameda Unified School District, Bail helped raise $150,000 to build the park, $8,000 of which came directly from his company’s coffers. He helped design the park, and he helped pour the concrete in the park, which opened in 1999. Mixed sessions of bikers and skaters were going down for six months with minor tensions but no major incidents when then–City Attorney Carol Korade advised City Hall that mixed use was too dangerous, and shut the bikers out.

My call to Corinne Centeno, Redwood City’s Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, got off to a rough start: "I understand [the Phil Shao Skatepark] is not bike-legal, right?"

"Right. It was built as a skatepark," she replied, subtly italicizing the first syllable with her tone of voice.

"It wasn’t designed for bikes," she repeated, before adding, "but their having been prohibited from the start hasn’t necessarily kept people out." In an effort to do just that, the city is building a fence around the park, with bids currently ranging from $23,000 to $60,000.

The semantic argument — "it’s called a ‘skatepark,’ not a ‘bike park’<0x2009>" — is usually reserved for laypeople who don’t know enough about skateboarding or bike riding to see its inherent lack of logic.

Drainage ditches are not called a "skating ditches," nor were they designed for skating. Swimming pools are not called "skating pools." Yet, therein lie the roots of the modern skatepark, along with full pipes, which are based on industrial-size drainage systems also not intended for wheels. Every day skateboarders and bikers transcend these limits through creative repurposing.

Collision, and the fear of collision, is the main thing public officials cite when shutting bikers out of parks. "It’s unnerving," Vancouver pro skater Alex Chalmers wrote in a 2004 Thrasher manifesto, "BMX Jihad: Keep It in the Dirt."

"BMXers cover so much ground so quickly, especially when they’re pedaling frantically to blast a transfer, that it’s particularly hard to gauge these collisions," he wrote.

But the fact is that in any given park BMXers and skaters take different lines, and the best way to acclimate each group to the other is through exposure. If bike riders are banned, it increases the risk of collisions when a few bikers decide to chance the ticket or brave the vibe-out and ride anyway. A lot of bikers hit parks early in the morning because they don’t want to deal with hassles. During the overlap in "shifts," this leads to bewildered skaters who aren’t used to the lines a biker takes, and vice versa.

And the head-on menace is greatly overstated, largely disappearing when a park is integrated, if only unofficially. At Cityview, the police have displayed somewhat less zeal in ticketing bikers during the past few years. "They treat us like gays in the military," says Bail. "Don’t ask, don’t tell." And yet everyone manages to coexist.

At the new $850,000 skatepark in Benicia, which opened in October, integration isn’t a big deal. "From its conception, we designed it to be a skateboard park and also for bikes," says Mike Dotson, assistant director of parks and recreation. Technically, the park has designated bike hours, but since it’s largely unsupervised, there’s a mildly laissez-faire approach to enforcement. "In the very beginning there was a lot of concern about the use of both bikes and skateboards," Dotson says, stating that the park was packed the first few months. "Initially we had one or two calls on it. Since then I can say I haven’t had any calls on it — in relation to bikes and skateboards being in it at the same time or other complaints."

And there are mixed-use parks all over the world, as far away as Thailand and as nearby as Oregon: "You go to Oregon, and you can ride wherever you want," says a stunned Maurice Meyer, 41, lifelong San Francisco resident and founding member of legendary bike and skate trick team the Curb Dogs. Long Beach, Las Vegas, Phoenix, even Alex Chalmers’ hometown of Vancouver — all have parks where bikes and skates legally ride at the same time. What’s up with the Bay?

Lawyers, insurance underwriters, and city hall types may never understand how a park works. "It’s out of ignorance," Bail says. "To them it looks like chaos. To anyone who has skate etiquette — which is everyone — we all take turns."

Besides, let’s face facts: a skatepark is a dangerous place — to different degrees at different times, and for different reasons. "I swear to God, every time I go to the skatepark I see a hundred boards flying all over the place," Ratima says, "and I’ve never seen a bike go flying and land on a guy’s head." It’s not an inflatable jumpy house — it’s fun, but it’s not made out of cotton balls and your mother isn’t here. Usually.

Rose Dennis, press liaison for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, seemed baffled that someone would want to ride a bicycle inside the skatepark part of the new Potrero del Sol. Perhaps as a way of distracting me from my damn-fool idea, she kept hyping the park’s "other amenities."

I live three blocks from Golden Gate Park — if I want to play Frisbee, I’m not going to drive across town. I want to ride. When I brought up the possibility of scheduling bike-only sessions in the yet-to-be opened park, she suggested I draft a letter to general manager Yomi Agunbiade, before adding that "the facility wasn’t designed for that type of recreation."

When I (graciously, I thought) let her know that it would be not only possible to ride a bike there, but highly gratifying, she got a little heated: "At the end of the day, the buck stops with us. If one of you guys breaks your skull open and you’re bleeding all over the place, believe me, no one’s going to have any sympathy for Rec and Park if they make really nonjudicious decisions."

In other words, like a lot of city officials, she’s worried about getting sued.

But you know what? There’s actually less chance a BMXer will successfully sue the city. I give you California Government Code Section 831.7, which states the following: "Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable to any person who participates in a hazardous recreational activity … who knew or reasonably should have known that the hazardous recreational activity created a substantial risk of injury to himself or herself and was voluntarily in the place of risk."

The law lists "bicycle racing or jumping" as being a "hazardous recreational activity." It’s on a fairly extensive list, along with diving boards, horseback riding, and the ever-popular rocketeering, skydiving, and spelunking, which, as I’m sure you’ve heard, are all the rage with the kids these days — much more popular than BMX.

But the words "skateboarding," "skateboarder," and "skateboard" are not listed anywhere in the text of the Hazardous Recreational Activities law, commonly called the HRA law. In fact, the International Association of Skateboard Companies has been lobbying to get the bill amended to specifically include "skateboarding" since 1995, when Assemblymember Bill Morrow (R-San Diego) took up the issue. Morrow’s bill was rejected by the state Senate Judiciary Committee in 1996. In 1997, Morrow and skateboard association lobbyist Jim Fitzpatrick gave up on amending the HRA and instead pushed Assembly Bill 1296, which added Provision 115800 to the state’s Health and Safety Code, which states, in part and in much less forceful language — without using the word "liable," for instance — that owners or operators of local skateparks that are not supervised must require skaters to wear helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads, and that they must post a sign stating said requirement.

It doesn’t say anything about "if one of you guys breaks your skull open and you’re bleeding all over the place" while wearing a helmet, then you can’t hold the operator liable.

When I asked San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Virginia Dario-Elizando how the law might apply to the city’s skateparks, she told me, "This question has never come up. I must tell you, I’ve never even seen the rules for the skateparks — no one’s ever asked me to look at them."

BMXers are willing to compromise if that’s what it takes. In May, San Jose opened the 68,000-square-foot Lake Cunningham skatepark, built by the same design firm (Wormhoudt) as the Benicia park at a price of $4.7 million, and the place has bike hours. Like any park, there are rules. Like some parks, there’s supervision, so the rules are enforced: separate bike sessions; helmet, elbow, and knee pads required at all times; brakes required on bikes; no smoking; no songs with swear words over the park soundsystem; no bikes in the three bowls with pool coping even though they only allow plastic pegs, which are undoubtedly softer on coping than metal skateboard trucks … it’s a long list of restrictions. It’s inconvenient for guys who don’t like pads or don’t run brakes, and there’s some griping, but we’ve got our eyes on the prize: the place is amazing, with a huge full pipe, massive vert bowls, and a decent street course.

I would like skaters to realize a couple of things: skating and BMX aren’t so different from each other, at least in the feeling each gives you, right there, behind your sternum, where your heart beats.

Bikers are going to ride no matter what, just like skaters are going to skate. Legal or not, we’re not going to go away. "I got arrested for riding there when I was 14," Ratima says of the Daly City skatepark. "They took my bike and threw it in the back of the car. I just kept going every day, and finally they just gave up."

"I’ve ridden bikes on vert," Thrasher editor Jake Phelps tells me during a phone conversation. "I can ride a bike in a pool, I can do that. I’m stoked when I ride a bike in a pool. Feels hella fun to me. Catching air on a bike is awesome, no doubt about that."

This, from the longtime editor of the bible of the "fuck BMX" set. It’s either baffling or heartening. I can’t decide which. "I don’t mind people that are just regular," he says. "If they’re skateboard people or they’re bike people too, I’ll respect anybody that respects me."

That’s what it comes down to: respect. I respect the fact that skateboarders did not come into this age of skateparks easily. I faded out when there was nothing, and I came back when they were in small towns across America, and I missed all the politicos and dreary meetings. It’s time for bikers to stop feeling like second-class citizens and demand a seat at the table. In the words of Black Flag, it’s time to rise above.

Scraper success


› a&

"This is what happens when Bay Area gas goes to 4 bucks!! We cant even afford to rap about [sic]."

So reads one YouTube viewer comment for "Scraper Bike," a music video by local rap group the Trunk Boiz. Rather uncharacteristically for hip-hop, the clip includes a crew of hoodie-wearing, dreadlock-shaking young guys pedaling through the Oakland streets on their tricked-out bicycles. With zero support from radio, "Scraper Bike" became an underground hit last year, making alternative transporation cool for Escalade-obsessed East Bay youth.

"My scraper bike go hard, I don’t need no car," intones Trunk Boi B-Janky in the chorus of a song that’s so catchy it’s viral. Through Web word-of-mouth alone, "Scraper Bike" became one of the 20 most-watched YouTube videos of 2007. In March of 2008, the video was nominated for a YouTube Award, putting the Trunk Boiz in such illustrious company as Obama Girl.

With 2.5 million views and counting, "Scraper Bike" spurred a local trend now gone global, with folks from as far away as Turkey and Bavaria petitioning the Trunk Boiz to come pimp their rides. Yet scraper bikes are pure East Oakland, an homage to their four-wheel counterparts: long a fixture of East Bay car culture, "scrapers" are hoopty rides — usually ’80s-era Buicks or Oldsmobiles — made ghetto-fabulous with candy paint, huge rims, tinted windows, and booming speakers in the trunk.

Trunk Boi Baby Champ, inventor of the scraper bike, recalls his initital inspiration. "At that time I was real young and didn’t have no license or nothing," he says. "So I just wanted to take the pieces of the car and put it on a bike and mold it and shape it like that. I just took it and ran with it." In transutf8g the scraper aesthetic, not only does Champ outfit the bikes with neon colors and decorative spokes, he even wires up stereos to the handlebars and loads speakers on the rear. "That’s one of our promotional schemes," B-Janky informs me during a group interview at their West Oakland studio. "We ride around on scraper bikes eight deep, with speakers slappin’ our music."

Hustlers and entrepreneurs, the Trunk Boiz bring a whole new meaning to the Bay-slang term "out the trunk." The phrase refers to the marketing strategy immortalized by Too $hort, who early in his career famously sold music out of his car. Yet when the Trunk Boiz slang CDs "out the trunk," that trunk is less likely part of a Cutlass Supreme than a double-axle three-wheel cruiser — essentially, a tricycle on the back of which is a wooden cart painted in Oakland A’s colors with the words "That Go!"

A rather endearing sense of juvenalia surrounds the Trunk Boiz mystique. After all, their average age is about 19. As one might expect of a group of more-or-less teenage boys, songs tend to focus on adolescent preoccupations such as partying, looking fly, and getting girls. But unlike blunt rappers like Lil’ Weezy — who endlessly employs stale metaphors to describe their male members — the Trunk Boiz make sex romps sound clever. In the track "Cupcake No Fillin’," MCs Filthy Fam and NB drop double entendres, extending the concept of "cupcaking" — Oakland slang for flirting — into a confectionary ode to casual, no-strings-attached hookups (i.e., with "no feeling").

It may not be a message mothers want their daughters to hear, but the kids love it. The video for "Cupcake No Fillin’" has nearly 100,000 YouTube views, and helped expand the group’s female fanbase by casting the rappers in a loverboy light.

Given the group’s penchant for high-energy antics, the Trunk Boiz were happy to ride the hyphy train while it lasted. They even got scraper bikes into videos for the Federation’s "18 Dummy" and Kafani’s "Fast (Like NASCAR)." None other than Too $hort called Champ the day of the Kafani shoot, urging the scraper bike crew to roll through and bring some local flavor. They continue to glean game from the legendary rapper through their involvement with East Oakland nonprofit Youth UpRising, where Too $hort volunteers.

Inspired by such mentors, the Trunk Boiz have become more civic minded than one might expect of a group that raps about going "SSI" ("Socially Stupid Insane") — a track off their sophomore album, due out this summer. Not only are they involved with Youth UpRising and Silence the Violence but also with the "Ban the Box" reentry-reform efforts in Oakland as well as Bikes for Life, an antiviolence campaign launching July 13 with a ride around Lake Merritt. In August, they’ll attend the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Las Vegas, where they’ll roll down the Strip on their scraper bikes.

Fortunately, when it comes to homegrown innovation, what happens in Oakland doesn’t always stay in Oakland. *

For more on Bikes for Life, call (510) 238-8080, ext. 310.

The Bike Issue: Getting in gear


1. City Hall has a bike room. For a while I thought only a scant number of city employees rode to work because the racks out front are usually pretty barren. Then I came across a storage room in the basement, near the café, full of bikes. What an encouraging sight. It was opened a few years back by the Department of the Environment, which is tasked with many of the city’s greening chores, and is available for all City Hall employees to park their rides safely inside.

2. More than 50 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation. Despite this, 20 percent of San Francisco residents polled in November 2007 by David Binder Research said riding a bike did nothing to curb global warming. Au contraire. Bicycles emit zero greenhouse gases (although the rider emits some carbon monoxide from huffing and puffing). A car produces roughly 20 pounds of CO2 for every gallon of gas burned. Gas stations in San Francisco sell about 953,000 gallons of fuel a day. At $4 a gallon, it would take about five months’ of fill-ups to buy every San Franciscan a $750 bicycle — and that’s a nice bike.

3. Someday when you’re waiting for a BART train, take a good look at a system map. It has almost every East Bay bike trail detailed, and many of the trails connect BART stations with recreation areas. "There are a lot of great ways to get out to nature from BART," said BART board member Tom Radulovich.

4. BART is getting more bike-friendly. About 15 percent of the 580 trains now have removed seats to create special areas for bikes. (Look for the cars marked "Bicycle Priority Area.") Though some riders would like each train to have an entire car dedicated to bikes (Caltrain’s approach), a BART spokesperson told me that it would be difficult because cars are added and dropped throughout the day to handle fluctuating ridership. Soon more stations will be outfitted with bike lockers, for rent at a couple of pennies an hour with a BikeLink pass (for information, go to Later this year, the Embarcadero Station will be getting an entire storage room (like City Hall’s, and again, partially funded by the Dept. of the Environment.)

5. One BART oddity: That groove running beside the stairs at the 16th and Mission station is to wheel your bike up and down rather than carrying it. Who knew? Not me. It’s a pilot project, so if you use it and like it, let BART know by calling (415) 989-2278 and the transit agency might install some more.

6. A San Francisco Bicycle Coalition ( membership provides mad discounts, and not just at bike shops. Get 10 percent off at Rainbow Grocery and 50 cents off beers at Hole in the Wall — and that’s just the beginning.

7. Make sure you write down your bike’s serial number so it’s easier for the cops to track your ride if it gets ripped off (see "Chasing My Stolen Bicycle," 2/13/07, for more on bike theft in San Francisco). How do you find these magic digits? Flip your bike over and copy the number stamped on the bottom bracket where the pedals go through the frame.

8. Distant lands like Larkspur, Mill Valley, and Muir Woods are all much closer when you mix the bike with the boat. Marin has an amazing network of bike paths, and the Marin Bicycle Coalition ( has a map that one-ups San Francisco’s. (It shows the direction of the hills, not just the grade.) And … the ferries have bars.

9. DIY is the way forward. The three-class series at Box Dog Bikes (, which covers flats, replacing cables, and truing wheels, is cheap and goes into enough depth that I no longer feel like there are certain parts of my bike I’m not supposed to touch with an Allen wrench. Follow it up with a membership to the Bike Kitchen (, a DIY shop with tools, parts, and people on hand to help you tune your spokes. It also regularly hosts "WTF" nights for girls, queers, and transpeople.

10. Need to know how to find the bike lanes and avoid the hills? Get one of those great bike maps (available at City Hall and at bike shops) when you join the SF Bike Coalition through a free download at You can also pick them up at the energizer stations all over town on Bike to Work Day. It will help you find the best routes and navigate groovy spots like the Wiggle, which is the best route from mid-Market Street to Golden Gate Park. If you look along the sides of the streets, you’ll even see the green bike route signs that say "Wiggle." If you get lost, just look for a bike lane, which are well-marked all over town. Or follow all the other bikers.

The Bike Issue: Don’t stop


In the two miles between my home and office in downtown Boise, there are five stop signs and 10 traffic lights. On a good day, I can make the journey without coming to a complete stop.

That doesn’t happen in my car because, of course, I’m a law-abiding driver. Yet on my bicycle, it’s possible for me to cruise through all five stop signs and effortlessly cruise right on through the downtown corridor without once touching my feet to the pavement.

And in Idaho, it’s completely legal.

Although cycling commuters here often bemoan the city’s ineffective bike lane system and criticize the lack of public bicycle parking, nary a word is spoken about the state’s progressive bicycle traffic laws. Thanks to some forward-thinking state legislators a couple of decades ago, Idaho’s bike laws are the envy of cyclists throughout the country.

The concept is a simple one that allows bicyclists to keep their momentum without ever taking the right-of-way from motorists: basically, stop signs are treated a yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs. Bicycles can legally blow through stop signs as long as it isn’t another driver’s turn. And at red lights, bicycles must stop, but can proceed if the intersection is clear

"There are lots of good reasons for it," said attorney Kurt Holzer, who specializes in bicycle accidents. Aside from the fact that a waiting cyclist won’t trip a traffic light changing mechanism, Holzer said the laws are in place for safety reasons. "If you have a bike on the right side and a car wants to turn right, the law allows the bike through the intersection, through the area of conflict, so the biker can get out of the way."

Newcomers to Boise often muse that people are less defined by what they drive than what’s hanging from their bike racks. Boise’s mayor endorses the bicycle and is a regular bike commuter. Mayor Dave Bieter is often seen pedaling to City Hall on his red 1969 Schwinn Typhoon — the bike he got for his 10th birthday.

Rather than each faction exerting ownership over the pavement, cyclists should know and follow all the laws, while drivers should concede that bicycles are different from cars and should therefore be subject to different laws. Stopping at empty intersections is cumbersome for drivers and cyclists alike — but cyclists aren’t likely to kill pedestrians with their carelessness.

By drawing a legal line in the sand between cars and bikes, allowing them different rules in the same environment, Idaho’s bike laws ultimately foster a mutual respect between drivers and cyclists. In Boise it’s common to see road signs instructing drivers and cyclists to "share the road." It may be common sense advice for cyclists, but to motorists, it’s a subtle reminder that bigger shouldn’t mean better.

Rachael Daigle is a staff writer for Boise Weekly.

The Bike Issue: Behind the pack


Also in this issue:

>>10 things Bay Area cyclists should know

>>Don’t Stop: Bike lessons from Idaho


There’s a strange dichotomy facing bicycling in San Francisco, and it’s spelled out in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s "2007 Citywide Bicycle Counts Report," which features a cover photo of Mayor Gavin Newsom and me pedaling up Market Street together on Bike to Work Day two years ago.

That photo, its context, and the information contained in the report tell the story of a city that at one time set the pace for facilitating bicycling as a viable alternative to the automobile. But that city has been passed up since then by cities such as Chicago, New York, Washington DC, Seattle, and Portland, Ore.

San Francisco still has a higher per-capita rate of bicycle use than any major city in the United States, and that number has been steadily rising in recent years, even as construction of new bike facilities has stalled. The report’s survey found a 15 percent increase since the first official bicycle count was conducted in 2006.

"This increase is especially significant when viewed in light of the injunction against the City’s Bicycle Plan. This injunction has stopped the City from installing any new bicycle facilities since June 2006. Despite a lack of improvement or additions to the City’s bicycle route network, cycling use in San Francisco appears to be increasing," the report read.

It’ll take at least another year for city officials to wrap up the environmental studies on the 56 proposed bike projects and get Judge Peter Busch to lift the injunction (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07). But it’s still an open question whether San Francisco’s three-year hiatus will be followed by the rapid installation of new bike lanes and other facilities.

City officials express confidence, and there are some hopeful signs. Newsom has been focused on environmental initiatives, the MTA has beefed up its bike staff from six full-time slots to nine, advocacy groups like San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are at the peak of their numbers and influence, and all involved say promoting bicycling is a cheap, effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and traffic congestion.

"I’d be very surprised if, within six months after the injunction being lifted, we don’t see a record number of bike lanes striped," said MTA spokesperson Judson True.

Yet there are still political barriers to overcome in a city where cars are the dominant transportation option — and the first barrier is Mayor Newsom. He has yet to show a willingness to back his green rhetoric with policies that actually take space from cars, which many of the bike lane projects will entail.

"I think we have seen this mayor talk big on some environmental problems, but I’ve been disappointed that on transportation, that thinking hasn’t been turned into action yet," said SFBC executive director Leah Shahum, whom Newsom appointed to the MTA board but then removed earlier this year before her term expired, a sign of the complex and largely adversarial relationship between the mayor and bicyclists.

Newsom has been able to avoid tough decisions on bikes and cars for the past two years because of the injunction and the wait for Muni and traffic congestion studies, which are being released throughout 2008. But that’s about to change with the court’s ban on new bike projects slated to end next year. So will Newsom, who may be running for governor at the time, be willing to make controversial decisions that back up all his green talk? It’s an open question.

The common denominator in all the cities that have pedaled past San Francisco in recent years is that they’ve had strong mayors who have embraced cycling and partnered with bike advocates to change the rules of the road, often contracting them to work directly on projects.

"We’re poised for it, but will we act on it?" Shahum said of the potential for a bike boom in San Francisco. "It’s going to be a real test next summer and I think the mayor’s role is crucial."


Like many big city mayors, Newsom has become enamored of all things green at the same time that he’s trying to manage an overtaxed transportation system. He is pushing for Muni improvements and has voiced support for congestion pricing initiatives that could make driving a car more expensive.

"This trend of big city mayors focused on transportation to deal with environmental problems is spreading, and I think Newsom has caught that bug," Shahum said.

SFBC and other groups have been meeting regularly with Wade Crowfoot, the mayor’s new director of climate change initiatives, to push the bike plan work forward, create an aggressive implementation strategy, and craft new initiatives like the recently unveiled "Healthways" proposal to close down the Embarcadero to cars on summer Sunday mornings, an idea borrowed from Bogotá, Colombia.

It’s a sea change from that ride I took with Newsom two years ago, three days after he vetoed Healthy Saturdays, which would have created another day of car-free roads in Golden Gate Park. He labeled the bike advocates as "divisive," and told me his veto decision was influenced by "people in the neighborhoods who just came out in force in ways that, frankly, I didn’t expect."

Those feelings, held by the half of San Franciscans who use a car as their primary mode of transportation, haven’t gone away. Newsom’s advisers and the MTA staffers working on the Bike Plan acknowledge the political challenges in completing the bike network, which advocates say is an important prerequisite for convincing more people that cycling is a safe, attractive option.

I asked Oliver Gajda, who is leading the MTA’s bike team, whether the 56 projects he’s now working on would be queued up and ready to build once the injunction is lifted. While the technical work will be done, he said that most projects still will require lots of community meetings and negotiations.

"Some of the projects will take a couple years of work with the community, and some will take less," Gajda said. "When you discuss the potential of removing lanes or parking spots, there are lots of different interests in San Francisco that have concerns."

That’s where the rubber meets the road. Yes, everyone wants to see more cycling in San Francisco — Newsom two years ago even set the goal of 10 percent of all vehicle trips being made by bicycle by 2010, a goal that nobody interviewed for this article thinks the city will meet — but is the city willing to take space from cars?

"The public priorities are already correct, but we need political leadership to implement those priorities even when there’s opposition," said Dave Snyder, transportation policy director with the San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association.

Crowfoot said Newsom is committed to creating better alternatives to the automobile.

"The mayor is fully supportive of expanding the bike network and that will involve tradeoffs," Crowfoot said, acknowledging that some projects involve losing lanes or parking spaces to close the bike network’s most dangerous gaps. "To the extent that the bike network continues to be a patchwork, people won’t get on bikes."

But the mayor also has been fully supportive of the Transit Effectiveness Project’s proposal to reform Muni, even though he recently suggested opposition to proposed parking fine increases might mean that some TEP proposals need to be scaled back.

Skeptics also note that Newsom removed Shahum from the MTA and has appointed no one else with connections to the bicycling community since then, even though that body has sweeping new authority under last year’s Proposition A to implement the bike plan and make decisions about which transportation modes get priority and funding.

"I’m pushing for that, and we’ll see what happens," Crowfoot said of his efforts to get a complete bike network going during the Newsom administration’s reign, acknowledging that, "the proof is in the pudding."


San Francisco’s strong bicycle advocacy culture, the creation of lots of new bike lanes between 2000 and 2004, and innovations like Critical Mass and the sharrow (a painted arrow on the road indicating where bikes should safely ride) made this city a leader in the bicycling movement.

Yet it is only in the last few years, when San Franciscans have been sidelined by the injunction, that the movement really gained mainstream political acceptance and begun to make inroads into the dominant car culture of the United States, slowly and belatedly following the lead of European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

"Interest in bike-friendly policies is surging, along with the growing number of adults who are riding more. Moreover, the movers and shakers of the biking scene are often smart, always passionate, and they believe strongly in what they are doing. Even when such groups are in the minority, they often enjoy significant political success, and they should never be discounted," J. Harry Wray, a political science professor from DePaul University in Chicago, argues in his new book Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life (Paradigm, 2008).

Jeffrey Miller, executive director of Thunderhead Alliance, a national umbrella organization supporting regional bicycle advocacy groups, told us he’s pleased with the movement’s progress in recent years.

"There’s been an awakening by the decision-makers in both government and businesses that bicycling and walking can solve a lot of the environmental problems we’re facing," Miller said.

He cited Portland, Ore., Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC, and New York as the cities leading the way in prioritizing bicycling and creating systems that encourage the use of bikes, and said he was sad to see the setbacks in San Francisco.

"But advocates in each of those cities will say there’s so much more work to be done," Miller said.

Most of that work centers on changing how drivers and planners think about cities, and especially with those who see the competition for space as a zero-sum game. Miller noted that it’s good for motorists when more people are encouraged to opt for alternate forms of transportation.

"If you just get 10 to 20 percent of the drivers to use those other modes, it frees the freeways up for cars as well," Miller said. "I don’t see why we go out of our way to favor cars over every other form of transportation."

Like many advocates, he said a strong and consistently supportive mayor is crucial to change the priorities in cities.

"We have an executive leader in Mayor Daley who believes strongly that the bicycle is a big part of the solution to our environmental problems," said Rob Sadowsky, director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

"We have an incredible partnership with the city," he said, noting that the organization often works directly on city contracts to create more bicycle facilities, something that happens in other bike-friendly cities like Portland and New York. But it doesn’t happen much in San Francisco.

"There’s a real sense that we’ve turned a critical corner and things that we’re been fighting for, for years now, are in sight," said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives in New York. "In the last year, there have been some significant policy advances."

Like Mayor Daley in Chicago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has become a vocal advocate of green transportation alternatives and has been willing to stand firm against displaced drivers.

"Anything you give to cyclists is basically taken away from automobiles," White said, adding that New York officials "have not shied away from taking parking away, or even a lane on Ninth Avenue. And that shows how serious they are."

The problem isn’t just San Francisco’s, but California’s as well. It is the state’s decades-old California Environmental Quality Act that was used to stall the Bike Plan and make bike projects so cumbersome. Sadowsky said bike projects in Chicago are relatively easy to implement, with little in the way of hearings or environmental studies needed.

Oregon laws also helped make Portland a national leader, with a requirement that all new road construction include bike lanes, paid for with state funds. Yet here in the small, 49-mile square that is San Francisco, with ideal weather and a deeply ingrained bike community, many say the city could be on the verge of regaining its leadership role in the bicycle policy.

A poll conducted in November 2007 by David Binder Research found that 5 percent of residents use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation, and that 16 percent of San Franciscans ride a bike at least once a week. Even more encouraging is the fact that most reasons cited for not biking — not enough bike lanes or parking, bad roads, feeling threatened by cars — are all things that can be addressed by smart bike policies.

"If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen in San Francisco — as far as making more bicycling a reality," Gajda told us. "I really feel like we’re poised after the injunction to take it to the next level."


The SFMTA has a series of upcoming workshops on the city’s Bike Plan and network:

Central Neighborhoods May 21, 6–7:30 p.m., SoMa Recreation Center Auditorium, 270 Sixth St.

Southeastern Neighborhoods May 22, 6–7:30 p.m., Bayview Anna E. Warden Branch Library, 5075 Third St.

Western Neighborhoods June 3, 6–7:30 p.m., Sunset Recreation Center Auditorium, 2201 Lawton.

Northern Neighborhoods June 4, 6–7:30 p.m., Golden Gate Valley Branch Library, 1801 Green.


Biking is easier and more fun than many people realize, so Bike to Work Day is the perfect excuse to try it on for size. There will be energizer stations all over town for goodies and encouragement, and lots of fellow cyclists on the road for moral support, including group rides leaving 11 different neighborhoods at 7:30 a.m. After work, swing by the SFBC’s Bike Away from Work party from 6–10 p.m. at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St. For more details, visit

Concours d’Vrrroooommm


While we shine a little frowny face upon fossil fuel burning for the sake of it, we’re suckers for antique motos (and, occasionally, their riders). David Carini checked out the International Concours d’Elegance.

Classic motorcycles sprouted from the lawn of the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay on Saturday May 3 as enthusiasts, mostly old white men, drooled over immaculate bikes of almost every brand and decade.


At Legends of the Motorcycle (aka International Concours d’Elegance), an annual event in its third year, contestants enter their meticulously restored motorcycles into one of several categories, from early production models from the turn of the 19th century to modern custom bikes, and then each category is awarded prizes.

Every year, there has been a focus on a particular brand, this time honoring Italian manufacturer MV Augusta and British Norton. As judges toured the golf course-like lawn, these bikes had the chance to rumble alive as many 70+-year-old men stared like children at a new toy under the Christmas tree.

The foggy morning started in the Dainese (a motorcycle apparel and helmet manufacturer) Tent with the unveiling of new safety technology and a collaborative effort with AGV (an Italian helmet) to unveil a limited edition Giacomo Agostini helmet.


After the ruins


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ESSAY In a journal entry dated Dec. 27, 1835, from his 1840 book Two Years before the Mast, student-turned-seafarer Richard Henry Dana recorded his first impressions of the area we know as the City, while his ship, The Alert, traveled through the Golden Gate:

We passed directly under the high cliff on which the presidio is built … from whence we could see large and beautifully wooded islands and the mouths of several small rivers … hundreds of red deer, and [a] stag, with his high branching antlers, were bounding about, looking at us for a moment and then starting off …

Dana arrived in the Bay Area after one era had ended and before another began. Until the coming of the Spaniards a generation earlier, some 10,000 people, members of around 40 separate tribes, lived between Big Sur and San Francisco, in the densest Native American population north of Mexico. Despite the existence among them of as many as 12 different languages, the people collectively referred to now as the Ohlone lived in relative peace for some 4,500 years.

On his first visit, Dana predicted that the Bay Area would be at the center of California’s prosperity. When he returned more than 30 years later in 1868, he discovered that his hotel was built on landfill that had been dumped where The Alert first landed.

Then in middle age, Dana wrote, "The past was real. The present all about me was unreal." Making his way through the crowded streets where the new city he’d predicted was being built, he remarked, "[I] seemed to myself like one who moved in ‘worlds not realized.’" Thus Dana became one of the first to articulate the peculiar San Franciscan combination of nostalgia for a lost past and despair over an unrealized future.

The past and future are always alive here. On his first visit, Dana wrote in his notebook about the great city to come. But like many residents of SF today, he slept on the cold, hard ground.

In George Stewart’s 1949 science fiction classic Earth Abides, a mysterious disease has killed 99 percent of the Earth’s population; the main character, Ish, roams the City and East Bay until he finds a wife. Stewart’s book ends in a Twilight Zone scenario, as an old, feeble Ish — now the last living pre-plague American — watches in dismay while his illiterate offspring hunt and frolic like the Ohlone, wearing animal skins and fashioning arrowheads from bottle caps.

After a wildfire, Ish notices that a library has been spared. All the information is still in there, he thinks. "But available to whom?"

Perhaps the knowledge Ish once begged his children to learn can be found in 1970’s The Last Whole Earth Catalog. Its 450-plus yellowing Road Atlas–size pages contain terse recommendations of publications about plant identification, organic gardens, windmills, vegetable dyes, edible mushrooms, goat husbandry, and childbirth, while also sharing the fundamentals of yoga, rock climbing, making music with computers, space colonization, and — of course! — the teachings of Buckminster Fuller.

The initial Whole Earth Catalog sought to reconcile Americans’ love of nature and technology. In Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism (University Press of Kansas, 303 pages, $34.95), author Andrew Kirk credits its creator, Stewart Brand, with bringing a sense of optimism to environmentalism. A character in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Brand embodied the cultural intersection of acid and Apple at mid-1960s Stanford University. Kirk examines Brand’s 1965 "America Needs Indians" festival, his three-day Trips Festival in 1966, and his time riding the bus as one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

Counterculture Green correctly suggests that Brand’s utopian lifestyle has a hold on our imagination. But Brand was a leader of the counterculture, not a revolutionary. He believed that the market economy, not political change, would usher in a better world. While today’s market — at the behest of individuals — has started to demand renewable energy or sustainable growth, it also has brought us the SUV, suburban sprawl, and the highest fuel prices in history. Apple may empower the individual — or want consumers to believe it does — but at 29, Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of Superfund sites in the country.

Brand deserves credit for intuiting the peculiar "machine in the garden" Bay Area we live in today, a place perhaps more "California Über Alles" than utopian. It’s far from the postmarket SF envisioned in Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, which is set in 1999, nearly 20 years after Northern California, Oregon, and Washington have seceded from the United States to form the titular nation. A colleague of Brand’s, Callenbach bases his society on ideas from the Whole Earth Catalog, but for one major difference — Ecotopia comes into being not through the free market but through an environmental revolution. (I won’t spoil it, but here’s a hint: it starts in Bolinas!)

While Callenbach’s future sometimes resembles a mixture of the Haight Street Fair and Critical Mass, there are twists. Ancient creeks have been unearthed, and on Market Street there is a "charming series of little falls, with water gurgling and splashing, and channels lined with rocks, trees, bamboos and ferns." Ecotopians have instituted a 20-hour work week that involves dismantling dystopian relics such as gas stations. There is a surplus of food produced close to home. Materials that do not decompose are no longer used. This new world is no wilderness — it reconciles civilization and nature. Yet perhaps its most radical idea is that humans can create a utopia without help from a plague, apocalyptic war, or earthquake.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled 4.7 square miles — or 508 city blocks. It destroyed 28,188 structures, including City Hall, the Hall of Justice, the Hall of Records, the County Jail, the Main Library, five police stations, and more than 40 schools. Yet strangely, many apocalyptic tomes — including recent ones such as the speculative nonfiction best-seller The World Without Us and the born-again Christian Left Behind series — are reluctant to imagine a totally destroyed San Francisco.

In contrast, Chris Carlsson’s 2004 utopian novel, After the Deluge (Full Enjoyment Books, 288 page, $13.95), suggests the City is at its most charming when at least partially in ruins, like the old cities of Europe. In Carlsson’s post-economic SF of 2157, rising sea levels from global warming submerge much of the Financial District, yet the City adapts by serving old skyscrapers — now converted into housing — with a network of canals.

After the Deluge‘s vision of reduced work, free bikes, and creeks unearthed from beneath streets borrows from Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Yet Carlsson seems to have his most fun imagining a city transformed by ruins: take a subtle comment on the Federal Building at Seventh and Market streets. In Carlsson’s map of SF circa 2157, the monstrosity that some call the Death Star is simply labeled "The Ruins."

Similarly, the photographs in After the Ruins 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (University of California Press, 134 pages, $24.95) appear to delight in the City’s impermanence. Mark Klett presents famous images of the smoldering city in 1906 alongside carefully shot contemporary photographs from the same vantage points. Cleverly, these images are arranged in a manner that suggests the ruins aren’t just the past but also an inevitable future.

The aftermaths of SF’s earthquakes are often described in utopian terms, as if cracks in the landscape revealed the possibility of a better world. In After the Ruins, a 1906 quake survivor remembers cooperation not seen since the days of the Ohlone:

A spirit of good nature and helpfulness prevailed and cheerfulness was common. The old and feeble were tenderly aided. Food was voluntarily divided. No one richer, none poorer than his fellow man.

In an essay accompanying After the Ruins, Rebecca Solnit recollects the 1989 earthquake similarly:

The night of the quake, the liquor store across the street held a small barbecue … I talked to the neighbors. I walked around and visited people. That night the powerless city lay for the first time in many years under a sky whose stars weren’t drowned out by electric lights.

Greta Snider’s classic early ’90s punk and bike zine Mudflap tells of a utopia for bicyclists created by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Until torn down, a closed-off section of damaged Interstate 280 became a bike superhighway where one could ride above the City without fear of cars. Earthquakes are seen to have utopian potential in SF, because, like protests or Critical Mass, they stop traffic. In 1991, Gulf War protestors stormed the Bay Bridge, shutting down traffic on the span for the first time since the 1989 quake. Perhaps in tribute to the utopian possibilities of both events, William Gibson’s 1993 book Virtual Light imagines a postquake-damaged Bay Bridge as a home for squatter shanties and black market stalls.

Carlsson’s new nonfiction book, Nowtopia (AK Press, 288 pages, $18.95), explores new communities springing up in the margins of capitalist society. Subtitled How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today, it looks for seeds of post-economic utopia in places such as the SF Bike Kitchen and the Open Source software movement. According to Carlsson, these communities "manifest the efforts of humans to transcend their lives as wage-slaves. They embrace a culture that rejects the market, money, and business. Engaging in technology in creative and experimental ways, the Nowtopians are involved in a guerilla war over the direction of society."

A founder of Critical Mass, Carlsson praises the biofuels movement and bicycle culture for promoting self-sufficiency through tools. With its optimism and endorsement of technology, Nowtopia occasionally evokes the Whole Earth Catalog. Yet unlike Brand’s tome, it focuses on class and how people perform work in today’s society. Carlsson finds that in their yearning for community, people will gladly perform hours of unpaid labor on behalf of something they love that they believe betters the world.

Within today’s SF, Carlsson cites Alemany Farm as an example of nowtopia. Volunteers took over an abandoned SF League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) farm next to the Alemany Projects, farming it for several years before the City gave them official permission. "Instead of traditional political forms like unions or parties, people are coming together in practical projects," Carlsson writes. "They aren’t waiting for an institutional change from on-high, but are getting on with building the new world in the shell of the old."

Ironically, the only literature that truly envisions the complete destruction of large areas of the City are the postwar plans of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. In 1956, it began the first of two projects in the Fillmore, slashing the neighborhood in two with a widened Geary Boulevard and demolishing over 60 square blocks of housing. Some 17,500 African American and Japanese American people saw their homes bulldozed.

With their dreams of "urban renewal," the heads of SF-based corporate giants such as Standard Oil, Bechtel, Del Monte, Southern Pacific, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America reimagined the City as a utopia for big business. The language of a Wells Fargo report from the ’60s evokes the notebooks of Dana: "Geographically, San Francisco is a natural gateway for this country’s ocean-going and airborne commerce with the Pacific area nations." Likewise, Prologue for Action, a 1966 report from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association, might have been written by dystopian visionary Philip K. Dick:

If SF decides to compete effectively with other cities for new "clean" industries and new corporate power, its population will move closer to "standard White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" characteristics. As automation increases the need for unskilled labor will decrease…. The population will tend to range from lower middle-class through upper-class…. Selection of a population’s composition might be undemocratic. Influence on it, however, is legal and desirable.

This dream of turning San Francisco into a perfect world for business required that much of the existing city be destroyed. First, the colorful Produce District along the waterfront was removed in 1959, its warmth and human buzz replaced by the four identical modern hulks of the Embarcadero Center. Beginning in 1966, some 87 acres of land south of Market — including 4,000 housing units — were bulldozed to make way for office blocks, luxury hotels, and the Moscone Center.

The dark logic of the Redevelopment Agency’s plans are projected into the future in the profoundly bleak science fiction of Richard Paul Russo’s Carlucci series from the ’90s. Russo’s books are set in a 21st-century SF entirely segregated by class and health. The Tenderloin is walled off into an area where drug-addicted and diseased residents kill each other or await death from AIDS or worse. Access to all neighborhoods is restricted and even the series’ hero, stereotypical good cop Frank Carlucci, submits to a full body search in order to enter the Financial District because he lacks the necessary chip implant to be waved through checkpoints.

Russo’s nightmares have their real side today, and many dreams found in Ecotopia and the Whole Earth Catalog — composting, recycling, widespread bicycling, urban gardening, free access to information via the Internet, Green building design — have also come to pass. (There is even a growing movement to unearth creeks like the Hayes River, which runs under City Hall.) Pat Murphy’s 1989 novel, The City Not Long After, imagines these opposing visions of the city will continue even after a plague wipes out all but one-thousandth of SF’s population. In Murphy’s book, those still alive turn the City into a backdrop for elaborate art projects, weaving ribbon and lace from Macy’s across downtown streets and painting the Golden Gate Bridge blue. This artists’ utopia is threatened when an army of survivors from Sacramento marches into SF. But the last forces of America, unlike the dot-com invaders of the ’90s, prove no match for the artists, who use direct action tactics and magic to rout Sacramento in an epic showdown at Civic Center Plaza.

In Carlsson’s After the Deluge, several people enter a bar called New Spec’s on Fulton Street. The walls are covered with old SF ephemera. One character explains to Eric, a newcomer, "Its all about nostalgia, a false nostalgia." Was the City a better place before the war, before the earthquakes, or before it was even the City? So many utopian visions of the future evoke a simpler past that one wonders if believing in one is the same as longing for the other. It’s a question that would make sense, once again, to Philip K. Dick.

Perhaps no fiction about a future SF captures utopian yearning as well as Dick’s decidedly dystopian works, because his stories, though full of futuristic gadgets, are really about the ways human characters relate to them. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is set in a radically depopulated postwar SF of 2021. The air is filled with radioactive dust and the streets are hauntingly empty as humans race to colonize Mars. Main character Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to "retire" humanlike androids, yet he’s mostly concerned about his electric sheep. Because there are almost no animals left on Earth, owning a fake one helps a striver like Deckard keep up appearances.

In 1962’s The Man in the High Castle, Dick imagines life in SF after the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II. Nostalgia haunts this story, too. Protagonist R. Childan makes his living selling rare prewar Americana to rich Japanese collectors. Not much has changed in this alternate SF, though. Market Street is still a place of "shooting galleries [and] cheap nightclubs with photos of middle-aged blondes holding their nipples between their wrinkled fingers and leering." While most utopian futures look to the past, Dick’s dystopian futures are all eerily about the present.

So how does Mr. Childan deal with the pain of living in a world where Nazis have won the war? How else? "To inspire himself, he lit up a marijuana cigarette," Dick writes, "excellent Land-O-Smiles brand."

Erick Lyle is the editor of Scam magazine. His book, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City, is out now on Soft Skull Press.


Wed/9, 7:30 p.m.; $20 suggested donation (includes book, reading/discussion, and contribution to site)


1310 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2060

Careers & Ed: Pedalheads



For many of us, reminiscing to the warm spring days of childhood can be a tour adorned with dreamy bike rides through old neighborhoods or feverish races in back lot trails. But at some point, sadly, those plywood jumps crumbled, the mudholes dried up, our skinned knees healed, and ultimately, we bought cars and began our lifelong battles for parking. Well, at least some of us did. Others, such as the Oakland-based founders of Broakland Bicycles — Jason Grove, Jason Montano, and Steve Radonich — made biking their passion, zipping past the norm and into the bipedal future of urban transportation.

Handmade in Oakland, Broakland bicycles are fixed-gear bikes professionally designed to be sold for both the track and for everyday commutes. Reviving the triple-triangle frame made famous by GT Bicycles, the boys at Broakland have unleashed a uniquely Bay Area flavor of bike, complete with custom paint jobs by local graffiti artists. The old-school style and unquestionable quality of the work entrusted into these bikes dial them into that nexus where "great" separates itself from "good." But what really makes these cycles so special is the way the three unique personalities of Broakland’s classically East Bay designers shine through in their finished product.


Jason Montano, also owner and chief mechanic of upbeat Oakland bike shop Montano Velo, is the numbers guy. He tweaks the fork rakes, offsets, bottom bracket drops, head angles, and seat angles, even if you don’t know what those things are. He hasn’t owned a car in eight years.

He’s as unlikely to be behind the wheel of a car as he is behind a desk. He’s more likely to be out riding his beauties or working on bikes at the shop. He admits that he doesn’t fit the classic model of a businessowner. "I don’t wear a suit," he said. "I am who I am. But if I couldn’t live doing what I’m doing, I wouldn’t do it."

So far, so good. The shop’s been open for four years and is doing well. And the Broakland line, unveiled a little over a year ago, has been garnering great reviews.


The ridiculously talented craftsman of the Broakland crew is Jason Grove, who is also the man behind Emeryville’s El Camino Fabrications. A welder who developed and refined his skills at the Seattle aerospace juggernaut Boeing, and he’s been building bikes for almost 18 years. Armed with his TIG welder, Jason prudently fashions the Broakland frames from high-grade aluminum and titanium tubing, utilizing a technique that fills the tubes with argon during welds to ensure extra durability and a longer shelf life.

His solar-powered shop, which doubles as his studio apartment, is impressively clean. He claims that clean air helps the welds gel. Confucians claim that a clean house creates good energies that help the mind think. In that vein, Grove prides himself on putting good energy into his product. "It’s all about good karma," he said. "And I think that goes into these bikes and makes them better for it."


Broakland’s jack-of-all-trades is Steven "Stevie" Radonich. He’s the energetic hype man who makes sure that the bikes are as stylish as they are functional. Stevie, rider and art consultant for Broakland, has brought in East Bay graffiti artists Soul from the TDK crew and widely-known Goser to create custom paint jobs for these rides. Sleek marble, quintessential custom flame paint jobs, or graffiti-style lettering topped off with a beautiful finish elevate these high-end bikes beyond transportation or sport: they ascend into the realm of art.


The prices on these masterpieces start with the Street Fighter model, a traditional track bike that runs about $1,350, including a base paint job. Things get pricier as you continue to trick them out. In the past, naysayers argued that spending so much moolah on a street bike is a fool’s errand for gearheads and overgrown kids whose cash burns a hole in their messenger bags. But that was before gas hit $4 a gallon. Now it makes as much sense to shell out for a bike you love as it ever did to do the same for a car.

And these designers are making sure their products are worth it. "Our bikes have to live up to our standards," Montano said. "If we build a bike we like to ride, then other people will like to ride them too."

The Broakland crew unveiled their first design in San Jose just over a year ago at the 2007 North American Handmade Bicycle Show, the four-year-old exhibition of the nation’s top designers and bikemakers. In February, the Broakland crew set up a display, including the cream-and-magenta-marbled Meat Wagon, now on exhibit in the window of Montano Velo, at the 2008 NAHBS in Portland, Ore.

When asked what these bikes mean to him, Jason Grove just laughed. "It’s nice having a solid ride."

Check out Broakland’s designs or pick up some gear at Montano Velo, 4266 Piedmont Ave., Oakl., (510) 654-8356, or at

Editor’s Notes



A couple of decades ago, the American Civil Liberties Union sued San Francisco over the cross on Mount Davidson. The issue was pretty simple — a religious symbol on public land — but the furor was insane: critics attacked the ACLU up, down, and sideways and acted as if the separation of church and state was some form of blasphemy.

Yes: even in this tolerant, secular city, people get amazingly bent out of shape over this stuff. In fact, when I called Mission Police Station this week and asked why churches are allowed to use the middle of Guerrero Street for free parking on Sundays, Sgt. Larry Gray tried to talk me down.

"Tim, Tim, you don’t want to go up this tree," Gray, who is a charming and funny man, told me.

Sorry, Sarge, but I’m going there.

See, if you live in the Mission, it’s pretty hard to ignore. Double parking and parking in the medians is strictly illegal, and people get stiff tickets for it — except on Sunday morning, when churchgoers get a complete pass.

The churches don’t have to get permits or pay the city a fee or anything. According to Gray, there really aren’t any rules. The cops just look the other way.

"It’s a San Francisco tradition that goes back a hundred years," Gray told me. "They used to do the same thing with horses and buggies."

I know, I know, tradition and all. Last Sunday was Easter, for Christ’s sake, and I ought to give the believers a break. And on one level, it’s not that big a deal at all. The streets are still passable, mostly, although it’s a little more dicey for bikes and cars to coexist on a narrower strip of pavement. Traffic isn’t a big deal on Sundays (mostly), and if it is, people shouldn’t be driving so much anyway.

But nobody else gets to do this.

If you go to see the (secular) Mime Troupe in Dolores Park and you stick your car in the middle of the street, you get a ticket. If you drink at a (secular) bar or eat at a (secular) restaurant and you leave your car in the Valencia Street median, you get cited. You can’t double park while you run in for a (secular) cup of coffee at Muddy Waters.

So, with all due apologies to Sgt. Gray and the good people of faith, I have to ask again: Why do the churches get something nobody that else does? Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit sketchy?

I continue to get calls from people who are furious about the state’s plan to spray chemical pheromones from helicopters over San Francisco in August as a way to wipe out the Light Brown Apple Moth. Assemblymember Mark Leno and state Senator Carole Migden both are fighting it. Mayor Gavin Newsom wrote the governor this week to urge a health study before the spraying starts.

An environmental impact report is underway, but the state and the feds are calling this an emergency (the LBAM damages crops) and they’re planning to go forward no matter what.

I fear the only way to stop this is in court, with a challenge to the EIR — its timing, validity, the emergency declaration, etc. City Attorney Dennis Herrera ought to take this on. Thousands of people with young kids in the path of the spray would be immensely grateful.