Tale of two transportation agencies


The Mayor on Muni small.jpg
While the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s politically intimidated leaders have allowed public transit funds to be used as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s personal piggy bank, the city’s other major transportation agency has been quietly advancing plans to improve traffic flow and make drivers pay their full costs (thus encouraging alternative forms of transportation such as bikes and Muni).
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority — which administers transportation projects for the city and is governed essentially by the Board of Supervisors, albeit with Sup. Jake McGoldrick as chair and Sup. Bevan Dufty as vice chair — held a quarterly press breakfast this morning. McGoldrick, Executive Director Jose Luis Moscovich, and SFTA staffers detailed the agency’s progress on Bus Rapid Transit plans for Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue (which would decrease transit travel times by 30 percent), $20 million worth of signal upgrades and pedestrian improvements along dangerous 19th Avenue, and congestion pricing initiatives that will be coming forward this summer.
“We are at a very important moment in terms of national transportation policy,” Moscovich warned, describing ongoing efforts in Washington D.C. to set new standards for how federal transportation funds get allocated over the next 30 years. Are you listening, Mr. Mayor? It’s time to stop playing games and start working with other city leaders and our congressional delegation to build a 21st century transportation system for San Francisco.

Supreme Court: Go, dykes, go!


Today the US Supreme Court refused to consider the extremely odd request by a Dublin lawyer to strike down the trademark “Dykes On Bikes,” awarded to the San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contigent (you know, the many miles of hot revvin’ lezzies that kick off the Pride parade each year), because the trademark was “hostile to men” and that the phrase was “immoral and disparaging.”

Ride on, sister girlfriend

When reached by the Chron, the lawyer, Michael McDermott, described Dykes on Bikes as “an anti-male hate riot.” Ha! A higher appeals court had rightly ruled earlier that the phrase “had no effect on men.” I would give my left Christian LaBoutin to read those court transcripts.

This is actually an odder story than one would think: I seem to recall that the Dykes on Bikes actually made a concerted effort to be referred to as “The San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent” a few years back, right around the time that the US Patent Office declined its request for a Dykes on Bikes trademark, because the patent office found the term “dykes” to be disparaging to lesbians. The patent office later rethought “based on reviewing more evidence” (like maybe thousands of dykes telling it not to tell THEM what’s disparaging), and awarded the trademark.

I love the Dykes — I tear up every time they pass. And they can call themselves whatever they want (they’ll always be known as “Dykes on Bikes” no matter what happens, anyway.) But, while proud, I do have one beef. Do we really want the Pride Parade being led by a cloud of carbon exhaust fumes? When will Pride go green? (I am SO gonna get my gay card revoked for suggesting such a thing, but hey — it’s 2008. And I’m a member of the Mikes on Bikes contingent.) It’ll be interesting to see if the “green” in Pride remains the beer sponsorship money.

Meanwhile, gun it for freedom, hot dykes of the world!

UPDATE: I have just been informed by a dyke in the know that her bike gets 41 mph, and that participants are very respectful and don’t rev up until the parade is officially starting. Vroom!

Don’t accept Bike Plan delays


EDITORIAL The way city officials are describing the situation, it’s going to be another 18 months at least before San Francisco can add even a single bicycle lane or road stripe or put in a single new bike rack. That’s because a lone nut who thinks bicycles shouldn’t be on the city streets sued San Francisco and forced it to do an environmental impact report on its Bike Plan. And that report has been delayed and delayed again as city planners have been unable to complete it.

That’s infuriated some advocates, including Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano — and for good reason. The San Francisco Planning Department seemed to have no problem whatsoever forcing an EIR on the 55 Laguna Street development project onto the fast track, but the Bike Plan … that’s just creeping along.

And in the meantime, bicyclists and pedestrians continue to be run down at some of the most hazardous intersections in town, particularly Fell and Masonic streets and Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. City figures show that Fell and Masonic is one of the most dangerous places in town for pedestrians and bikers; the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports that at least eight collisions between cars and bike — all of them causing injury to the rider — have occurred at the intersection since April. It’s not an acceptable situation, and with a little creativity, the city ought to be able to do something about it.

The lawsuit, brought by blogger Rob Anderson, claims the city failed to do a complete EIR before approving its Bike Plan. That’s put everything — even the restriping of pavements for safer bike lanes — completely on hold.

In a sense, it’s absurd to have an environmentally positive change — a city policy promoting bicycling — held up by environmental law. But the California Environmental Quality Act and the way the city is interpreting it still have roots in the era when automobile traffic was considered the most important form of urban transportation.

For example, CEQA requires cities to evaluate how projects would impact traffic — and San Francisco has always used a yardstick called "level of service," or LOS, which refers to the number of cars using a particular intersection and the speed at which those cars can proceed. If a project slows down car traffic beyond an acceptable level, there’s an environmental impact that has to be addressed.

But that’s a backward analysis; the city’s job shouldn’t be to find ways to facilitate more cars on busy streets. And it allows bizarre interpretations: if, for example, the addition of a bike lane on a street reduces the available space for cars, that ought to be looked at as a positive environmental step; the city interprets it as a negative impact.

State senator Carole Migden has discussed legislation that could exempt bike plans from CEQA, and while we’re nervous about any exemptions to the state’s premier environmental law, that might make some sense. But it might not even be necessary.

San Francisco’s city planners are still looking for ways to accommodate cars — all of the city’s development policies are based on the assumption that the number of private vehicles in San Francisco will increase over the next 10 years. An assumption like that leads to mandates for more parking, wider roads, and (maybe) fewer bike lanes.

But there’s nothing in the law requiring the pro-car approach. The Planning Commission could simply adopt new rules that define the level of service on streets differently. Instead of tracking how many cars go through an intersection, the city could track the number of people — including people on foot, people on bikes, and people in buses — and made a determination that pedestrian and bike safety and the quality of the travel experience for non–car users is as important as the degree of auto traffic.

That simple change would render much of the Anderson suit moot: new bike lanes, for example, would no longer be a potentially adverse impact. The city could move forward with much of its bike plan, now.

CEQA doesn’t require cities to accept public safety hazards — and the law clearly creates exemptions for situations in which lives are at risk. Mirkarimi has proposed legislation to change the LOS system, but it has languished; the supervisors need to move on it if the city planners won’t. You don’t need an EIR to tear down a freeway that’s about to collapse — and you shouldn’t need an environmental review to fix the most dangerous intersections in the city, including Fell and Masonic. City planners should simply define those hazardous sites as imminent dangers to public safety and immediately start changing the traffic lights, rerouting cars, and redefining bike lanes to put an end to the carnage, now.

Protecting air quality, by car only


Now this is truly outrageous: a local blog called Bikescape has unearthed a Bay Area Air Quality Management District memo banning employees from using bicycles while carrying out their duties of promoting clean air. The memo states, “While biking to work is an option that the District supports, employees are not to ride their bikes in the course of their work duties. The potential for serious injury is much greater when riding a bicycle than driving a car in the event of an accident.”
And the potential for dirtier air is much greater if even our air quality officials are required to drive cars.

Shelf help



WISH LIST My family of origin is so nuclear that on smoggy days a mushroom cloud can be seen above the suburb where my parents still reside. During the holidays we gather there to rehearse and stage the roles we will alternately perform and resist in the ensuing year. While Dad tracks holiday cards sent and received on an Excel spreadsheet, Mom dons a pair of felt antlers and holes up in the kitchen. As for me, I revert to fatigued, endless reading, as if by some cruel law of repetition I have returned to that sullen moment in junior high when my only friend suddenly became popular, leaving me with nobody but books as my companions. Without intervention, I might remain in this half-hypnotized state, rereading Flowers for Algernon until the world outside grows dim, like a dream I can barely remember. This year, however, I’m readying myself with an eclectic batch of new books, books that make me want to participate instead of turning into a listless blotch of angst. These titles provide critical frameworks for dissent, suggest avenues for engagement, and probe cultural blind spots — generating new aesthetic possibilities along the way.

I, for one, like to kick off the holiday season with a powerful dose of well-researched feminist analysis, supplied this year by Susan Faludi in The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Metropolitan Books, 368 pages, $26). It’s akin to taking vitamins to ward off the winter cold that’s going around the office. I read some Faludi, I ask my brother to help out in the kitchen. Faludi argues that a highly gendered mythology reasserted its virulent hold over the national psyche (as writ large by the national media) in the wake of Sept. 11. Drawing from an abundance of sources, she parses out the myth: strong male heroes rescue helpless girls, feminism is dismissed as a frivolous and dangerous mistake, and cowboys and manly men rise again to keep the home soil safe. In debunking this overblown narrative, Faludi demonstrates that it doesn’t actually help those it valorizes, nor does its rehearsal expedite an increase in national security or political accountability.

Investigating the symbolic construction of identity and myth from the angle of art, Tisa Bryant’s Unexplained Presence (Leon Works Press, 167 pages, $15.95 paper) takes up "black presences in European literature, visual art, and film." Fusing criticism, film theory, and fiction with a keenly poetic ear, Bryant reenters cultural artifacts to open up these symbolically loaded but structurally silenced or backgrounded characters and motifs. Her stories trace the ways in which black subjectivity is distributed or denied within pictures and plots, between viewers and artworks and artists, and in acts of conversation and debate, of queer identification or refusal to see. What is most remarkable is how Bryant transforms these elisions into acts of imagination, restoring or reconfiguring partially glimpsed subjects via fleet and surprising sentences that traverse the distance between representation and meaning.

Renovating symbolic systems can be hard work, and nothing restores a fatigued body and mind like making changes to the physical infrastructure — such as sawing through your drainpipes to divert "barely used" household water from sewers to gray-water systems for gardening and washing clothes. Sexily linking the macro to the micro, the locally grown junta known as the Greywater Guerrillas has expanded its how-to know-how into Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground (Soft Skull Press, 416 pages, $19.95 paper), a collection of essays that examine the global plight of water misuse and attendant broad-scale ecological impacts. I don’t think it undermines the gravitas of the issue to mention that portions of the book are a sheer pleasure to read, especially when editors Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, July Oskar Cole, and Laura Allen (illustrations were supplied by Annie Danger) detail their efforts to "disengage from the water grid" by taking plumbing into their own hands.

What James Kochalka takes into his hands in American Elf Book Two: The Collected Sketch Book Diaries of James Kochalka (Top Shelf Comics, 192 pages, $19.95) is his life, tidbits of which he transforms into daily diary comics. Visually and verbally, Kochalka risks a silly, reckless sweetness — a sampling of titles includes "Romance of Life" and "Everything was fine until the old wakey wake." The strips are also a little bit perverted and weirdly honest, as Kochalka’s elf-eared stand-in catalogs a receding hairline, farty dairy hangovers, and arguments with his beloved and salty-mouthed wife. As the pages and days pile up, the effect is infectious, such that, while under the diaries’ spell, I began to sense secret fissures of creative potential and magic in the mundane flow of everyday life.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Terry Hope Romero, and the army of flavor lovers they run with have changed the landscape of vegan cooking. In Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (Marlowe and Co., 336 pages, $27.50), Moskowitz and Romero draw inspiration from a variety of international cuisines, without making any claims to authenticity. The resulting recipes (mole, saag, and lasagna, to name a few) are adventures in surprising flavor combinations. A helpful foreword details how to stock a vegan pantry, and tips offered alongside the easy-to-follow recipes instruct on where to find specialty items or how to organize your cooking tasks — advice that, as an unskilled, distractible cook, I found particularly useful. An appendix of menus ranges from rich party foods to low-fat and easy-to-prepare options.

Printed in large type, so it’s easy to read when splayed open next to a bicycle, the repair-manual portion of the illustrated Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance, by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark (Microcosm Publishing, 256 pages, $12), builds from the ground up. Starting with the ethics and rewards of skill sharing, it moves on to detail parts, tools, and instructions for system-by-system checkups and repairs. The book’s second half comprises reprinted issues of the Chainbreaker zine, originals of which were lost when zinester Jackson’s New Orleans home flooded after Katrina. The zines complement the how-to portions with a wider view of the bicycle’s cultural impact — e.g., the role of bikes in the women’s clothing revolution, the democratizing potential of this low-cost form of transportation. Note: the book hits shelves in February, but aspiring bike enthusiasts can order it now at

And to come full circle … Sherman Alexie’s first young adult (and graphic) novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown Young Readers, 240 pages, $16.99), reminds me that a return to YA reading can be the opposite of mind-numbing — when undertaken with a book that’s emotionally spring-loaded, linguistically gymnastic, and devastatingly funny in turns. Drawing from his experiences growing up, Alexie tells the story of Junior (a.k.a. Arnold True-Spirit Jr.), a comic-drawing Indian kid who leaves his reservation to attend an all-white high school. Between racism at school and conflict with friends on the reservation, Alexie nails the ups and downs of a young artist learning to navigate by his own radar, amid competing claims from family and a sometimes encouraging but often deviously indifferent world. Ellen Forney’s inspired illustrations channel Junior’s manic, tell-it-like-it-is sensibility and provide a visual anchor for Alexie’s loquacious narrator.

Step it Up!


Tomorrow! Go to Dolores Park at noon and for the National Day of Climate Change. Woo hoo!

March or ride in the parade of bikes and electric cars and other great, green stuff that’s going down to UN Plaza. Carole Migden, Aaron Peskin, Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi are going to be there, as well as mayoral candidates Quintin Mecke, Josh Wolf and Chicken John Rinaldi.

According to the press release, “UN plaza will be transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere complete with a Recycle That! art show filled with recycled and reclaimed art, the Sustainable Living Roadshow’s Conscious Carnival, a carbon-eating generator from the Chlorophyll Collective and smoothies made on a solar powered van. Participants will call for real political leadership on global warming, and will ask San Francisco’s political leaders to pledge to the following:

Put a moratorium on new coal and nuclear plants
Cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050
Create 5 million new green jobs conserving 20% of our energy by 2015
Get back on track to meet San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan

This is a national event, started by super-eco-friendly-guy Bill McKibben, but San Francisco’s event tomorrow is extra-special because we’re pushing an anti-nuke future, despite the kinder, gentler image that nuclear power plants have been getting lately.

Here’s a fun/gross fact: every year vehicles in San Francisco emit more than 16,000 tons of nitrous oxide (nastiness that makes ozone). The Mirant peaker power plants that everyone’s in a tizzy to shut down emit 92 tons.

Hmmm. The take-away = quit driving. Vote yes on Prop A!

Meet the Candidates: Michael Powers


The Bay Guardian is profiling the candidates for the 2007 elections. We’ll be updating this entry as more information comes in. Post your thoughts or comments below.

Mayoral candidate Michael Powers


“As a candidate for Mayor it is my intent to accomplish the following tasks for my fellow residents. I will:

*make Muni free and introduce a community bicycle program with 10,000 bikes
as in Paris.

*protect our city’s skyline through slow growth rather than our present program
of Manhattanization.

*lower our crime rate by increasing the number of police officers we have on our
streets by use of Lateral Transfer hiring and insisting that sworn personnel are not
wasted on administrative duties.

*use our bike program to allow the homeless to become its supervised labor pool
in bike maintenance, thus teaching them a trade.

*encourage the promotion of Harvey Milk’s birthday as a national holiday.”

Visit the Guardian 2007 Election Center for updates, more interviews, and 2007 election news.

Only Cool Kids ride bikes


Digging this hot vid dashing past the usual car worship culture with some pretty fly wheels (and considering that Cool Kid producer Chuck came from near Detroit — big ups Mount Clemens — that’s saying something):

Cool Kids, “Black Mags”

Another fave from a wee l’il bit ago, wherein the bikes clearly beat down the cars (and hey, also from tha D!):

DJ Rolando aka Aztec Mystic, “Knights of the Jaguar”

More parking = more cars = gridlock


I attended a Transportation Authority workshop last night on its new Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study (which, among other things, might recommend a fee to drive downtown, just like London, Rome, and Stockholm have) — and I came away more convinced than ever that San Francisco is screwed if downtown greedheads fool people into approving Prop. H and defeating Prop. A.
Ours is one of five U.S. cities selected to collectively receive almost $1 billion in federal money to study and implement ways of reducing traffic congestion. Why? Because we’re the second most congested downtown in the country after Los Angeles. Preliminary studies show traffic congestion cost San Francisco $2.3 billion in 2005 (in delays, fuel, health impacts, and slowed commerce), congestion consistently ranks as people’s top concern in surveys, traffic has slowed our transit system to a crawl, congestion roughly doubles travel times, and half our city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cars. And if Prop. H is approved, there will be unfettered new parking construction, putting up to 20,000 new cars on our clogged roads, according to the Planning Department. This is madness!
I’m baffled why the Chamber of Commerce supports this because the evidence is clear it will hurt business (perhaps they’re just blinded to reality by their slavishly doctrinaire devotion free markets and hatred of all things government). Study after study shows that more parking draws more cars, and in our built-out city, where there’s no room for creating more lanes, that means more traffic congestion. And therefore slower Muni, which will cause more people to want to drive or ride bikes, which will cause even more congestion — a feedback loop that leads to gridlock. C’mon everybody, think about this stuff for a second because it isn’t rocket science. You can support more traffic or better transit, your choice.

Green City: Reaching critical mass



GREEN CITY Fifteen years ago this month, San Franciscans mobilized for the first Critical Mass, an unpermitted monthly bicycle parade and social protest that has subsequently been exported to cities around the world.

The movement formed in the streets as the Commuter Clot, just a handful of bicyclists seizing their stretch of pavement together. Among them rode former bike messenger Jim Swanson, whom many credit with coining the name Critical Mass, a reference to the traffic-controlling power achieved when enough bicycles join a ride.

Two months into the project, Swanson watched Ted White’s short film The Return of the Scorcher. The surreal footage of bicyclists in China fording intersections inspired Swanson: "When there was enough of them, they crossed and took over the road."

Thus, in September 1992, the autonomous and leaderless collective known as Critical Mass was born, picking up momentum — while enduring an often rocky relationship with the city and its motorists — ever since.

On Sept. 28, around 6 p.m., thousands of bicyclists are expected to convene around Justin Hermann Plaza for the 15th anniversary ride, just as they do on the last Friday of every month. Each rider brings a unique cause and perspective to the ride. Swanson wheels out his 1965 blue Schwinn Tandem each month and makes it a regular date with his sweetheart and friends.

Longtime rider Joel Pomerantz focuses on the political undertones of the event. "For me, the ride is about community. It’s an opportunity for people to take over public space that is usually destructive to the community," he told the Guardian.

During Critical Mass, riders change the use of street space and establish bicycles as the dominant form of transportation, taking control of every intersection they encounter, at least for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes the mass to pass.

Bicyclists in San Francisco have also attained critical mass in other ways, with more and more residents realizing the environmental, health, safety, and monetary benefits of trading the gas pedal for a pair of pedals. The 35-year-old San Francisco Bicycle Coalition now boasts a peak membership of 7,500, and the city has the highest per capita membership in the Thunderhead Alliance, a national conglomeration of cycling and walking advocates.

According to the Urban Transportation Caucus’s 2007 report card, automobiles and trucks account for 50 percent of San Francisco’s carbon emissions, a major cause of climate change and respiratory ailments. "Simply reducing the number of driving vehicles will be the biggest thing in reducing carbon emissions and improving people’s health. Bicycling comes up as the most cost-effective way to reduce private vehicle trips," SFBC director Leah Shahum said.

Some groups want to take big steps toward furthering that trend. For example, San Francisco Tomorrow is pushing a plan to ban private automobiles on Market Street. But for now the city is prevented by a court injunction from undertaking bike-friendly projects after a judge found procedural flaws in how the current Bicycle Plan was approved (see "Stationary Biking," 5/16/07).

Carla Laser, founder of the San Francisco Bicycle Ballet, said getting the plan back on track is also essential to minimizing bike-car conflicts: "The striping of bike lanes is an example of how the Bike Plan educates the public on how to share the streets. Drivers can clearly see that the city actually supports bikes on streets and is willing to give them a nod of space with the stripes. Every street is a bike street."

That’s especially true for Critical Mass, a situation that can cause tensions between motorists and cyclists and fuel a backlash toward bike riders seen as overreaching into the realm of automobiles. Yet Critical Mass remains more popular than ever, and it only seemed to grow larger a few months ago, when the San Francisco Chronicle publicized some motorist-cyclist clashes (see "Did Critical Mass Really Go Crazy?," SFBG Politics blog,, 4/4/07).

Yet as the event becomes a popular rolling party, some longtime massers have started openly wondering what’s next for those looking to send a serious message about minimizing dependence on cars.

As transportation activist and former SFBC executive director Dave Snyder told us, "I’m looking forward to the next public phenomenon in San Francisco that inspires a humane use of public space, as Critical Mass was to so many people."

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to

Bikes are traffic too


OK, so I’ll admit that my main reason for this blog post is to shove a certain irrational, poorly written, anti-bike intern’s post off our front page, where it will hopefully become just a bad distant memory (BTW, said intern, who goes by the pseudonym Lotto Chancellor, also goes by Chris Demento and can be contacted at He’s a kid who’s still learning how to transform a petty, ill-informed rant into legitimate commentary, but after re-reading his piece and talking to him this morning, I do want to address a serious problem raised by his perspective and the flawed points he tried to make.
As one commenter noted, bicycles are traffic, as entitled under state law and local policies to that lane as cars are. We also occasionally take entire lanes because that’s what safety dictates — it’s just not safe to ride in the door zone of parked cars — not because we’re simply idiots or assholes. Our intern tells me that he’s scared to ride bikes, so he doesn’t understand these realities, and he’s not alone. That’s why so many of us feel a need to assert our rights, sometimes aggressively, because attitudes like his, and the driver impatience and aggression that flows from this attitude, threatens not only our lives, but also the attractiveness and viability of a form of transportation that — whether or not this kid thinks we’re being sanctimonious — really is one of the most environmentally beneficial simple choices that any of us can make.

Green City: People versus death monsters



GREEN CITY Pedaling or walking along a Panhandle pathway is the essence of green, a simple act of sustainable living and connection to a natural area within an urban core. It’s a calming, transformative activity — at least until you get to Masonic Avenue and the telling words painted on the path: "Death Monsters Ahead."

The death monsters, a.k.a. automobiles, that bisect this three-quarter-mile-long green runway into Golden Gate Park would be jarring even if traffic engineers had made that intersection the best it could be. Instead, it’s closer to the opposite — dangerous, illogical, and frustrating for all who must navigate it, a testament to what happens when the primary intersection-design criterion is moving cars rapidly.

After getting word of a rash of bicycle- and pedestrian-versus-car accidents at the Masonic-Fell intersection in recent months, Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reinitiated (two years ago, it was the same story) a voluntary crossing-guard program on Saturdays and weekday evenings and lobbied City Hall to finally do something.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi took up the cause, announcing at the June 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, "I find it simply unacceptable that the city has ignored the problem to the point where a volunteer program has become imperative. Traffic safety is a baseline city responsibility."

Mirkarimi is asking the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has responded to years of complaints about this dangerous intersection with only minor and ineffective tinkering, to finally make a substantial change. He and the activists want a dedicated signal phase for pedestrians and bikes and a dedicated left-turn lane for cars coming off Fell.

It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to see what’s wrong with this intersection. Cars trying to turn left onto Fell from busy Masonic regularly get stranded by a red light and are stuck blocking the crosswalk. Even more dangerous is when bikers and walkers cross on their green light only to find cars — which also have a green light — turning left from Fell Street, cutting across their path.

The problem is vividly illustrated with too much regularity. I can still picture the female bicyclist who flipped through the air and crumpled to the ground a few feet from me after getting hit hard by a motorist. It was almost three years ago, but it remains a vivid, cautionary memory.

I was riding my bicycle west on the Panhandle trail, even with the motorist. Our eyes locked, his anxious and darting, and I knew he might try to cut me off, so I slowed. Sure enough, the driver made a quick left in front of me and hit the bicyclist coming from the opposite direction, who assumed that the green light and legal right-of-way meant she could continue to pedal from one section of parkland to the next. Instead, she joined a long list of Fell-Masonic casualties, to which attorney Peter Borkon was added May 19, a few days shy of his 36th birthday.

Borkon was on his road bike, training for the AIDS Life Cycle ride, when he cautiously approached the intersection, slowed, and unclipped from his pedals. When the light turned green, he clipped in, crossed into the intersection, and then, he says, "I was run over by a Chevy Suburban."

He was hit so hard that he broke his nose and gashed his face on the car, an injury that resulted in 15 stitches, and was thrown 10 feet. The fact that he was wearing a helmet might have saved his life, but he nevertheless went into shock, spent a day in the hospital, and is still waiting for the neurological damage to his face to heal.

How dangerous in that intersection? When I asked the MTA for accident statistics, a response to the criticisms, and a plan of action, public information officers Maggie Lynch and Kristen Holland first stonewalled me for two days and then said it would take two weeks to provide an answer.

Maybe Mirkarimi will spark a change, or maybe the MTA will just keep doing what it’s always done: plod along at a bureaucratic pace with tools ill suited to an evolving world that must do more to facilitate walking and bicycling as safe, attractive transportation options, even if that means delaying the death monsters.*

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to

Fix Newsom’s bad budget


EDITORIAL Annual budgets can seem wonky and impenetrable, but they’re perhaps the most important statements of a city’s values and priorities. That’s why it’s critically important for the Board of Supervisors to make significant changes to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $6 billion spending plan, which is out of step with what San Francisco should be about.

Ideally, this month’s budget hearings would be informed by an honest and open discussion of what Newsom proposed in his June 1 budget, how it affects residents and Newsom’s political interests, and where the board might want to make some changes.

Unfortunately, both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner have failed to offer a substantial analysis of the budget; instead, they’ve focused on sensational headlines about whether the mayor has used cocaine, personality conflicts between Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly (including a pair of over-the-top hit pieces on Daly in the June 23 Chron), and misleading spin coming from Newsom’s office and reelection campaign.

But there’s plenty of good budget analysis out there, thanks to the work of city agencies such as the Controller’s Office and the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Analyst Office, nonprofits like the People’s Budget Coalition, smart citizens like Marc Salomon, and reporting by the Guardian‘s Sarah Phelan ("The Budget’s Opening Battle," 6/20/07) and Chris Albon ("Newsom Cuts Poverty Programs," 6/20/07).

What that analysis shows is that the mayor’s much-ballyhooed "back-to-basics" budget — which prioritizes public safety, cityscape improvements, home ownership programs, and pet projects such as Project Homeless Connect — would make unconscionable cuts to essential social services and affordable housing programs, rely way too much on gimmicks and private capital to address public needs, and offer almost nothing that is innovative or befitting a progressive city at a crucial point in history.

Some specific examples and recommendations:

Newsom’s 4 percent cut in the Department of Public Health budget — which his appointed Health Commission took the unusual step of refusing to implement because the fat has already been trimmed away in previous budgets — is unacceptable. It would slash substance abuse treatment, homeless and HIV/AIDs services, and other programs that would simply be unavailable if the city didn’t fund them. The board should fully restore that funding and even consider providing seed money for innovative new programs that would help lift people out of poverty. Only after the city fully meets the needs of its most vulnerable citizens should it consider cosmetic fixes like expanded street cleaning.

• The budget should strike a balance on cityscape improvements that is lacking now. Contrary to the alternative budget proposed by Daly, which would have cut the $6.6 million that Newsom proposed for street improvements, we agree with the SF Bicycle Coalition that many streets are dangerous and in need of repair. It’s a public health and safety issue when cars and bikes need to swerve around potholes. But the $2.9 million in sidewalk improvements could probably be scaled back to just deal with accessibility issues rather than cosmetic concerns. And we don’t agree with Newsom’s plan to add 100 blocks and $2.1 million to the Corridors street-cleaning program, which already wastes far too much money, water, chemicals, and other resources.

As we mentioned last week ("More Cops Aren’t Enough," 6/20/07), the police budget doesn’t need the extra $33 million that Newsom is proposing, at least not until he’s willing to facilitate a public discussion about the San Francisco Police Department’s mission and lack of accountability. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi (a progressive who is strong on public safety and even clashed with Daly over the issue) was right to recently challenge the terrible contract that Newsom negotiated with the cops, which gives them a 25 percent pay increase and asks almost nothing in return.

Newsom’s housing budget would move about $50 million from renter and affordable-housing programs into initiatives promoting home ownership, which is just not a realistic option for most residents and represents a shift in city priorities that serves developers more than citizens. Some of that change is specific to a couple of big owner-occupied yet fairly affordable projects in the pipeline for next year, but the budget also does little to address the fact that we are steadily losing ground in meeting the goal in the General Plan’s Housing Element of making 62 percent of new housing affordable to most residents, when we should be expanding these programs by at least the $28 million that the board approved but Newsom rejected. Similarly, the board should keep pushing the Housing Authority to apply for federal Hope VI funds to make needed improvements to the public housing projects rather than supporting Newsom’s Hope SF, which purports to magically turn a $5 million expenditure into $700 million in housing — as long as we accept the devil’s bargain of 700 to 900 market-rate condos along with the public housing units.

Finally, there are lots of little items in Newsom’s budget that could be cut to find funding for more important city priorities. Don’t give him $1.1 million to hassle the homeless in Golden Gate Park or $700,000 for his New York–style community court in the Tenderloin.

The bottom line is that a progressive city should not be pandering to the cops, punishing the poor, and polishing up its streets when so many of its citizens are struggling just to find shelter and make it to the next month. Newsom has forgotten about the ideals that the Democratic Party once embraced, but it’s not too late for the Board of Supervisors to correct that mistake. *

The Queer Issue


Click below for Pride goodies:

Our complete Pride event listings

Flaming creators: Emerging queer artists who rock our world

Flipping for Pride: Cheerleeding is so gay

Commitment slut: To bed or to wed? A bi girl explores her options

Rainbow retirement: LGBT seniors face the challenge of aging gracefully

Back to the future? Doing the queer time warp

“Out Ranks”: LGBT Historical Society explores queer life during wartime

Are you ready? Can you handle it? The cheers for the dancing Brazilian drag queens, the jeers from the God Hates Fags contingent, the tears welling up in your eyes when the PFLAG contingent marches by? Of course you are. It’s Pride time, and you really have no choice in the matter, do you? For one brief period of time, any objections anyone has about your fabulous queer life are swallowed by the all-engulfing throat of gay love. Gulp.

And what comes out the other end? Questions. What do you have in common with all these people — the leathermen, the trannies, the engaged, the homeless, the activists, the Wiccans, the dykes on bikes, the acrobatic Sunset Scavengers? What basic experience could you possibly share with (you know he wouldn’t miss it) Gavin Newsom?

The marvel of it all, for one. The world’s in a dark, dark place right now, and, as usual, it’s up to us — those hilarious, endlessly creative gays — to come to the rescue, to create a sequined supernova in the black hole of current events and show, yet again, that love unites the world and conquers all. Sigh. Well, if someone has to do it, it might as well be us — it sure as hell ain’t gonna be the politicians or the religious, right?

I’m telling you, we should unionize. Aside from all the overtime, the least the straights could do is give us dental.

Release the rainbow doves! (Marke B.)

More cops are not enough


EDITORIAL There was a telling trio of events June 13 that illustrated what’s wrong with the current debate over public safety issues in San Francisco and why real police reform is needed before we spend $33 million to bolster the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department, as Mayor Gavin Newsom is proposing.

Newsom and his supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall to blast a proposal by Sup. Chris Daly to remove from the budget an extra class of police cadets (which the SFPD will have a hard time even filling, given its recruiting problems) and make other changes, denouncing the supervisor for supposedly endangering city residents.

It was shrewd yet shortsighted politics for Newsom to grandstand on public safety. But it was also demagoguery. Newsom is playing to people’s fears, pandering to the Police Officers Association, and hoping that people won’t notice how little he’s done to actually make San Franciscans safer, something that simply dumping more cops into a dysfunctional system won’t help.

The murder rate has soared under Newsom, who never followed through on his promise to "change the culture at the SFPD," content to let this deeply troubled agency manage itself. Newsom opposed the requirement of police foot patrols, helped kill violence-prevention programs, watered down an early-intervention system for abusive officers, and sabotaged an innovative community policing plan. Instead, he simply throws money at the department, tells us how deeply he cares, and calls that a commitment to public safety.

On the evening of June 13, San Francisco once again experienced the price of this lack of leadership when four young men were shot in the Friendship Village public housing complex in the Western Addition, which the SFPD had promised to regularly patrol. To bring the tragic point home, there was another shooting at the same spot the next morning.

"Today I’m all over the mayor and all over the police chief and all over city agencies to give me a detailed plan," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told Bay City News. As well he should be. For all its resources, the SFPD has yet to work with the community on a comprehensive plan for keeping it safe.

The SFPD’s wasteful overkill by cadres of do-nothing officers gets displayed for all time and again: at peace marches, street fairs (particularly last year’s Halloween in the Castro, where hordes of cops standing around doing nothing failed to catch the guy who shot nine people), and now Critical Mass, where the 40 cops who accompany it seem to have no plan for managing the event and refuse to even take reports when cars hit bikes.

How are more cops going to help this problem? What we need is real reform, but unfortunately, Newsom and his allies keep trying to give this department more authority and resources without asking for anything in exchange.

Case in point: a charter amendment by Sup. Sean Elsbernd that was heard June 13 at the Police Commission meeting. In the name of reducing the commission’s disciplinary backlog and improving officer morale, Elsbernd proposed gutting civilian police oversight by handing the police chief much of the power now held by the commission and the Office of Citizen Complaints. The proposal was blasted by the OCC and the American Civil Liberties Union as a giant step backward.

Elsbernd tells us he’s working with those groups to maintain civilian oversight while accomplishing his goal of allowing the commission to focus on big policy issues rather than individual disciplinary actions. We’re not sure that’s possible without the establishment of a new body or substantially more resources going to the underfunded OCC.

But we do share his goal of creating an open, public dialogue about the SFPD within an agency that has the authority to implement reforms. Newsom has been unwilling to facilitate a frank public discussion of the SFPD’s practices, where they can be improved, and how much money the department really needs to do the job we want it to do.

Maybe the Police Commission, under progressive new chair Theresa Sparks, is just the place to talk about real police reform. *

The Queer Issue: Pride event listings





“Out with ACT” American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary; 749-2228, www.act-sf.or. 8pm, $17.50-$73.50. ACT presents this new series for gay and lesbian theater lovers, including a performance of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid and a reception with complimentary wine and a meet and greet with the actors. Mention “Out with ACT” when purchasing your tickets.

“Queer Wedding Sweet” Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California; 438-9933, 8pm, $36. The JCCSF presents the West Coast premiere of Queer Wedding Sweet, an “exploration of queer weddings and commitment ceremonies through stories, song, juggling, and comedy.” Featured performers include Adrienne Cooper, Sara Felder, Marilyn Lerner, Frank London, and Lorin Sklamberg.


“Queer Cabaret” Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; (510) 841-6500, 8pm, $15-20. Big City Improv, Jessica Fisher, and burlesque dancers Shaunna Bella and Claire Elizabeth team up for an evening of queer performance celebrating Pride. Proceeds will go to the Shotgun Players’ Solar Campaign.

“Tea N’ Crisp” Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; (510) 841-6500, 8pm, $25. Richard Louis James stars as gay icon Quentin Crisp in the Shotgun Players’ production of this Pride Week tribute.


“Here’s Where I Stand” First Unitarian Church and Center, 1187 Franklin, SF; (415) 865-2787, 8pm, $15-45. The world’s first openly LGBT music ensemble will be kicking 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. Concert also takes place same time on Sat/22.

“Thursday Night Live” Eagle, 398 12th St, SF; (415) 625-0880, 1pm, $10. Support Dykes on Bikes at their 30th anniversary Beer/Soda Bust and catch these glitzy vixens as they share the stage with Slapback.

Veronica Klaus and Her All-Star Band Jazz at Pearl’s, 256 Columbus, SF; (415) 291-8255, 8 and 10pm, $15. The all-star lineup features Daniel Fabricant, Tom Greisser, Tammy L. Hall, and Randy Odell.


“Glam Gender” Michael Finn Gallery, 814 Grove; 573-7328. 7-10pm. This collaboration between photographer Marianne Larochelle and art director Jose Guzman-Colon, a.k.a. Putanesca, kicks off Pride Weekend by celebrating San Francisco’s queer art underground.

Pride Concert Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission. SF; 7 and 9pm, Copresented by the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, this 29th annual Pride concert promises to be a gay time for all.

San Francisco Trans March Dolores Park, 18th St and Dolores; 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.


Queer Stuff Pride Talent Showcase Home of Truth Spiritual Center, 1300 Grand, Alameda; 1-888-569-2064, 7:30pm, $8. This showcase features the music of Judea Eden and Friends, Amy Meyers, and True Magrit, plus the comedy of Karen Ripley.


Dykes on Bikes Fundraiser Eagle, 398 12th St, SF; (510) 712-7739, 1pm. Twilight Vixen Revue will perform at the beer bust at the Eagle. 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/24.

Mission Walk 18th St and Dolores, SF; (503) 758-9313, 11am, free. Join in on this queer women’s five-mile walk through the Mission.

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.

“Remembering Lou Sullivan: Celebrating 20 Years of FTM Voices” San Francisco LGBT Center, Ceremonial Room, 1800 Market, SF; (415) 865-5555, 6-8pm, free. This presentation celebrates the life of Louis Graydon Sullivan, founder of FTM International and an early leader in the transgender community.

“Qcomedy Showcase” Jon Sims Center, 1519 Mission, SF; (415) 541-5610, 8pm, $8-15. A stellar cast of San Francisco’s funniest queer and queer-friendly comedians performs.

San Francisco Dyke March Dolores Park, Dolores at 18th St, SF; 7pm, free. Featuring Music from Binky, Nedra Johnson, Las Krudas, and more, plus a whole lot of wacky sapphic high jinks.


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 at Eighth St, SF; (415) 864-3733, 10:30am-noon, free. With 200-plus dykes on bikes in the lead, this 36th annual parade, with an expected draw of 500,000, is the highlight of the Pride Weekend in the city that defines LGBT culture.



“Gay Pride in the Mix” Eureka Lounge, 4063 18th St, SF; (415) 431-6000, 7-9pm, no cover. An intercollegiate LGBT mixer in an upscale environment, with drink and appetizer specials available. Alumni from Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools, Stanford, MIT, and UC Berkeley welcome.

Hellraiser Happy Hour: “Pullin’ Pork for Pride” Pilsner Inn, 225 Church, SF; (415) 621-7058. 5:30-8pm, free. The Guardian‘s own Marke B. will be pullin’ pork and sticking it between hot buns with the help of the crew from Funk N Chunk. You might win tickets to the National Queer Arts Festival, but really, isn’t having your pork pulled prize enough?


“A Celebration of Diversity” Box, 628 Divisadero, SF. 9pm-2am, $20. Join Page Hodel for the return of San Francisco’s legendary Thursday night dance club the Box for one night only, sucka!

Crack-a-Lackin’ Gay Pride Mega Party Crib, 715 Harrison, SF; (415) 749-2228. 9:30pm-3am, $10. Features live stage performances and, according to the press release, “tons of surprises.” I’m not sure how much a surprise weighs, so I don’t know how many surprises it takes to add up to a ton. It’s one of those “how many angels fit on the head of a pin?” things.

“Gay Disco Fever” Lexington Club, 3464 19th St, SF; (415) 863-2052, 9pm-2am. I can’t figure out who does what at this event. Courtney Trouble and Jenna Riot are listed as hosts, and Campbell and Chelsea Starr are the DJs, which I guess makes drag king Rusty Hips “Mr. Disco” and Claire and Shaunna the “Disco Queens.” It takes a village to raise a nightclub. That’s a whole lotta fabulousness under one roof.

“Girlezque SF” Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF; 9pm, $10-15. This supposedly sophisticated burlesque party for women features the erotic stylings of AfroDisiac, Sparkly Devil, Rose Pistola, and Alma, with after-party grooves by DJ Staxx. Hopefully, it’s not too sophisticated &ldots;

Pride Party Lexington Club, 3464 19th St, SF; (415) 863-2052, 9pm-2am, free. Make this no-cover throwdown your first stop as you keep the march going between the numerous after-parties.


Bustin’ Out II Trans March Afterparty El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; (415) 510-677-5500. 9pm-2am, $5-50, sliding scale. Strut your stuff at the Transgender Pride March’s official after-party, featuring sets from DJs Durt, Lil Manila, and Mel Campagna and giveaways from Good Vibes, AK Press, and more. Proceeds benefit the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee.

Cockblock SF Pride Party Fat City, 314 11th St, SF; (415) 568-8811. 9pm, $6. DJs Nuxx and Zax spin homolicious tunes and put the haters on notice: no cock-blockin’ at this sweaty soiree.

“GIRLPRIDE” Sound Factory, 525 Harrison, SF; (415) 647-8258. 9pm-4am, $20. About 2,500 women are expected to join host Page Hodel to celebrate this year’s Pride Weekend, and that’s a whole lotta love.

Mr. Muscle Bear Cub Contest and Website Launch Party Lone Star Saloon, 1354 Harrison, SF; (415) 978-9986. 11pm, $19.95. Join contestants vying for the title of spokesmodel of Muscle Bear Cub. The winner receives $500 cash and a lifetime supply of Bic razors. Don’t shave, Bear Cub! Don’t you ever shave!

Uniform and Leather Ball SF Veterans War Memorial, 401 Van Ness, Green Room, SF; 8pm-midnight, $60-70. The men’s men of the Phoenix Uniform Club want you to dress to the fetish nines for this 16th annual huge gathering, featuring Joyce Grant and the City Swing Band and more shiny boots than you can lick all year. Yes, sirs!


“Old School Dance” Cafè Flore, 2298 Market at Noe, SF; (415) 867-8579. 8pm-2am, free. Get down old-school style at the Castro’s annual Pink Saturday street party, with sets from DJs Ken Vulsion and Strano, plus singer Moon Trent headlining with a midnight CD release party for Quilt (Timmi-Kat Records).

Pride Brunch Hotel Whitcomb, 1231 Market, SF; (415) 777-0333, 11am-2pm, $75-100. Honor this year’s Pride Parade grand marshals: four hunky cast members from the TV series Noah’s Arc; Marine staff sergeant Eric Alva, the first American wounded in Iraq; and Jan Wahl, Emmy winner and owner of many funky hats.

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” San Francisco Design Center Galleria, 101 Henry Adams, SF; (650) 343-0543, 8pm-2am, $85. Bump your moneymaker at this all-lady event. Incidentally, the performer who brought “Puttin’ on the Ritz” back to popularity on early ’80s MTV was none other than Taco.

“Queen” Pier 27, SF; 9pm, $45. Energy 92.7 brings back the dynamism of the old-school San Francisco clubs for this Pride dance-off. Peaches and Princess Superstar 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, $10. Rebel Girl brings the noise for this one, with go-go dancers, Vixen Creations giveaways, drink specials, and, you know, rebel girls.

“Sweat Special Pride Edition” Lexington Club, 3464 19th St, SF; (415) 863-205, 9pm-2am, free. DJ Rapid Fire spins you right round round with a sweaty night of dancing and grinding.


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

“Gay Pride” Bambuddha Lounge, 601 Eddy, SF; (415) 864-3733, 3pm, $25. Juanita More! hosts this benefit for the Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial, with a DJs Derek B, James Glass, and fancy-pants New York City import Kim Ann Foxman. It also includes an appearance from silicone wonder Miss Gina LaDivina. Fill ‘er up, baby!

“Pleasuredome Returns” Porn Palace, 942 Mission, SF; (415) 820-1616, 9pm, $20. You have to get tickets in advance for the onetime reopening of the dome in the Porn Palace’s main dungeon room. When you’re done dancing, visit the jail, bondage, or barn fantasy rooms and make that special someone scream “Sooo-eeeee!”

Green City



GREEN CITY I spent my undergraduate years at a microscopic liberal arts college set in the shadow of a national park on an island in Maine — a remote idyll where people abhor locking their doors and you can almost smell the Atlantic whale migration when a southeastern wind blows.

The college is overtly environmental and so small it’s possible to practice what’s preached: food is grown on the school’s farm, students cycle around on communal bikes, ceremonies strive to be zero-waste. My graduation in 2000 was the largest the 31-year-old school had ever hosted, and all 97 of us stood in a haphazard row listening to keynote speaker and hobo musician Utah Phillips. After Phillips counseled us on how to avoid becoming a "blown-up" (his word for a bloviating grown-up), my friend Dan turned to me and said, "When I came to this school, I was, like, ‘Aah, here’s my tribe.’"

I had the same feeling a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Urban Alliance for Sustainability. Maybe I’ve finally found my people. In the 18 months that I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve watched global warming go from a marginalized theory to a universally acknowledged threat. That’s triggered a lot of hyperactivity about how to be green, which seems more commercial than communal. Companies are setting up booths to hawk magic elixirs, but carbon offsets seem about as realistic as get-out-of-jail-free cards. They don’t really shift what actually needs seismic adjustment: the bottom line in your life.

The UAS is different. This is a group with the serious intention of living what it believes. On top of that, it wants to help you do the same.

The organization’s basic mission is so simple it seems like it must have been done already — be a clearinghouse for all the environmentalist activity in the Bay Area. The Web site lists events, and the hotline answers questions, but the coolest thing the UAS is doing is using the delicious blossom of technology to connect people who really ought to know each other by now.

For example, the group tracks members’ addresses, and when it has enough in the same area, it facilitates a potluck so everyone can meet and discuss how to green their streets. As someone who’s participated in some funky social networking experiments, I think this is simply brilliant. In a world rife with a cruel suspicion of strangers, city living can be hard duty, and trust hard-won. This is kind of like finding your tribe.

Membership isn’t free, and in the interest of full disclosure, the UAS just gave me one after I expressed interest in it while working on another story for the Guardian. But the group is a cooperative, and kicking in gets you discounts to events and something called a sustainability consultation. Mine was a meeting I approached with suspicion. Remember: I went to a hippie school where the Earth Day piñata was full of natural cotton tampons. I already ditched my car and store my quinoa in old yogurt containers. What could this guy tell me about sustainability?

But this was much more than I expected. Kevin Bayuk sat in my yard for two and a half hours, and we discussed practically every aspect of my life — what I eat, how I get around, what I read, how I take care of my health. His suggestions were realistic, and he reminded me of things I let go of back when I ripped up my rural roots. I hadn’t even considered composting here, but he told me where to get a worm bin and offered me some worms from his to get started. He knew what kinds of edible plants could grow in the shade under the jasmine in my garden and the cost of a permit to rip up the sidewalk to grow food.

People often move to San Francisco because this is a city that can handle them. The uniqueness of the citizenry and the genuine desire to do good are what I love most about this place, but there are things I deeply miss about where I came from — the smell of freshly turned dirt in the sunshine, the shimmer of uninterrupted moonlight on water, the silence in the absence of cars. But I love this place, and I’m not going anywhere. Those things are just going to have to come to me. *

Green City, the Guardian‘s new weekly environmental column, will be a mix of staff-written stories and contributions from experts and provocative thinkers. Submissions may be sent to

Bikes rule!


Newsom and me on bikes.jpg
Me and Newsom at last year’s Bike to Work Day
By Steven T. Jones
San Franciscans pedaled past an important milestone during yesterday’s Bike to Work Day: on the morning commute along Market Street, bicycles outnumbered cars for the first time. Traffic engineers counted 647 cyclists riding eastbound on Market near Van Ness from 8-9 a.m., or 54 percent of the total traffic. That number was also a 27 percent increase over last year’s bike tally. Bike advocates were thrilled with the turnout and further elated when Mayor Gavin Newsom, fresh off his ride to City Hall, announced his Bike SF 2010 Milestones. He promised to shepherd the bike plan to completion next year and ensure it studies 50 projects, including some key missing links in the current network. And to reach the plan’s goal of 10 percent of all vehicle trips being by bike by 2010, he promised to create 20 new bike lanes by then, reduce bike collision injuries by 50 percent, and to actively support so-called LOS reform, which could exempt many new bike projects from needing detailed environmental studies. It was a big day for bicycling and great first step to making San Francisco the greenest big city in the country.

Bikes rule!


Newsom and me on bikes.jpg
Me and Newsom at last year’s Bike to Work Day
By Steven T. Jones
San Franciscans pedaled past an important milestone during yesterday’s Bike to Work Day: on the morning commute along Market Street, bicycles outnumbered cars for the first time. Traffic engineers counted 647 cyclists riding eastbound on Market near Van Ness from 8-9 a.m., or 54 percent of the total traffic. That number was also a 27 percent increase over last year’s bike tally. Bike advocates were thrilled with the turnout and further elated when Mayor Gavin Newsom, fresh off his ride to City Hall, announced his Bike SF 2010 Milestones. He promised to shepherd the bike plan to completion next year and ensure it studies 50 projects, including some key missing links in the current network. And to reach the plan’s goal of 10 percent of all vehicle trips being by bike by 2010, he promised to create 20 new bike lanes by then, reduce bike collision injuries by 50 percent, and to actively support so-called LOS reform, which could exempt many new bike projects from needing detailed environmental studies. It was a big day for bicycling and great first step to making San Francisco the greenest big city in the country.

Moving the bike plan forward


EDITORIAL It’s an odd year for Bike to Work Day: San Francisco is in the middle of an ambitious plan to improve the city’s bicycle infrastructure — and it’s utterly stalled. The city can’t add a single new bike rack, can’t add a single bicycle route sign, can’t take a single step to improve bike safety, and can’t move forward on any of the 60 projects that are in the hopper. Every single transportation improvement that involves bicycles is on hold for at least a year.

For that you can thank Rob Anderson, a dishwasher and blogger who thinks bikes are unsafe in the city and recently wrote on his blog that "if the Bike Nut Community (BNC) gets its way on city streets, traffic in the city will be made unnecessarily worse for everyone, with more air pollution as a result, as motorized traffic idles in traffic jams, squeezed into fewer lanes after the BNC creates bike lanes by eliminating traffic lanes and street parking."

The lone antibike nut filed a lawsuit claiming that the city’s bicycle plan lacked adequate environmental review, and in a departing slap at San Francisco, Judge James Warren signed off on an injunction blocking all bike improvements just before he retired. Now the city has to complete its entire plan — at least another year’s work — then complete an environmental impact report (EIR) on it, and then return to court to get the injunction lifted. It’s costing money and time, and it’s making it harder for what should be a safe, healthy, pollution-free method of transportation to pick up more adherents in what ought to be the nation’s most bike-friendly city.

But there’s not a lot anyone can do about Anderson and his pro-car crusade (yes, he says very clearly on his blog,, that he’s pro-car and that "cars are a great invention, and they are here to stay"). In another year a judge will toss out this ridiculous injunction, and the city can get on with its planning.

But it’s critical right now that city hall not sit back and wait. The bicycle plan needs to be funded, and the project planning needs to continue moving forward at full speed, so that when the EIR is completed and the city is allowed once again to implement new programs, the projects will be ready to go. This lunatic lawsuit shouldn’t give Mayor Gavin Newsom an excuse to defund bicycle programs for the next year.

The truth is, thousands of additional people have begun to ride bikes to work over the past few years, and that’s had nothing but a positive impact on the environment. Bikes can and should be a central part of the city’s transportation infrastructure. That’s the lesson for Bike to Work Day. *

Stationary biking



This year’s Bike to Work Day, set for May 17, comes as San Francisco’s cycling network lies dormant in a court-imposed coma. The city isn’t allowed to make any physical improvements to promote safe bicycling until late next year at the earliest, more than two years after the injunction began. Yet that setback could be followed by the most rapid expansion of bike lanes in the city’s history.

At issue is the San Francisco Bicycle Plan and its stated goal of making "bicycling an integral part of daily life in San Francisco." City resident Rob Anderson and attorney Mary Miles don’t share that goal — particularly when it translates to taking lanes and parking spaces from cars — and they challenged the plan in court last year after it won unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Ironically, this environmentally benign mode of transportation was attacked under the state’s landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires detailed studies of projects that might have impacts on the environment and measures that can be taken to offset those impacts.

City officials and bike advocates were shocked last June when Judge James Warren — in his final ruling before his retirement — issued a sweeping injunction against bike projects in the city, which was upheld and reinforced when Judge Peter Busch heard the case in September.

The judges found that city officials had taken an impermissible shortcut around CEQA by claiming the bike plan was exempt from its strictures. As the plan was being developed, some bike advocates and city officials had called for more resources to be put into doing the detailed studies CEQA calls for, and that’s what now appears to be happening.

"The good thing about the lawsuit is it is forcing the city to do the traffic analysis that it should have done with the bike plan and it reveals the absurdity of our interpretation of environmental laws," Dave Snyder, the former executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), who is now a planner with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, told the Guardian.

Now city planners and consultants are preparing environmental impact reports (EIRs) on up to 60 proposed bike projects in the city, which will be queued up and ready to begin once the bike plan is approved. "The projects can be approved all at once," Snyder said.

At least, that’s what could happen if the city’s political leaders don’t lose their will to create a more bicycle-friendly city.

Oddly enough, it was the vague, feel-good nature of the plan that created all the problems.

Cities are required to have a bike plan, updated every five years, to qualify for certain state funding. San Francisco did its first plan in 1997, and in 2001 transportation officials and bike advocates set out to develop an updated version.

From the beginning, there were divisions between those who wanted to focus on completing the bike network with ready-to-go projects and those who wanted a more comprehensive and innovative plan laying out policies for education, enforcement, safety, new traffic models, integration with public transit, and everything else associated with cycling.

Responsibility for developing the plan was shared by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the San Francisco Planning Department, and the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, with significant input from the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the SFBC, and other groups. For reasons of expediency, the decision was made to focus on a relatively vague plan, one that made all sorts of high-minded statements and offered lofty goals.

The plan was presented as an effort to radically transform the roadways to make bicycling a more attractive option, but it didn’t include the detailed transportation analysis needed to support that effort — nor did it draw any conclusions about which car spaces to give over to bikes.

"The plan makes no decisions…. The plan has no measurable objectives anywhere in it," Snyder said, noting that the vague nature of the final product was the reason it was so uncontroversial. "Anytime anything passes unanimously, you know you didn’t ask for enough."

Andy Thornley was chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee when work on the plan got under way and now serves as program director for the SFBC, which was heavily involved on outreach for the plan. SFBC officials were shocked by the injunction but said the city should have devoted more resources to the project.

"It was a logical outcome to the city’s undercommitment to the bike plan," Thornley said of the lawsuit. "There wasn’t the commitment from the mayor on down to doing this right."

"We had discussions about what it means that the plan doesn’t have any benchmarks," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SFBC and a member of the MTA board. Sure, it had the goal of having 10 percent of all vehicle trips be by bicycle by the year 2010. "Only later did we realize that the 100 pages behind it didn’t support that goal."

MTA public affairs managers wouldn’t allow the Guardian to speak directly to Oliver Gajda, the main staffer on the bike plan then and now. They required questions in writing and answered the one about lack of city support for the initial plan by writing that "the court’s decision was not based on resource issues."

Newsom’s press secretary, Nathan Ballard, also resisted admitting that the city did anything wrong, responding in writing to a written question by saying, "Actually, the City moved forward drafting and implementing this bike plan quite ambitiously, even though there was a risk it would be challenged in court."

Yet it was clear to all involved that doing the traffic analysis and other work would have headed off the injunction.

"Dave Snyder was always an advocate that the bike plan should be a bike plan and lay out what we’ll see for bicyclists," Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, told the Guardian. "But the decision was made to do a bike plan in the abstract, not laying out specific routes."

Nonetheless, bike advocates say they’re happy with the commitment that city officials are now showing. "Now we’re clearly and unequivocally doing a bike plan," Radulovich said. "To some degree, the city has had to commit itself."

Bevan Dufty, chair of the Transportation Authority’s Plans and Programs Committee, has been demanding that bureaucrats report to him regularly to show progress on the plan.

"I think the fact that we’re seeing them regularly trotted out before the committee is a good thing, because it makes them hit their benchmarks," he told us.

Dufty also overcame the MTA’s restrictive approach to public relations and facilitated our interview with Peter Albert, who took on the job of deputy director of planning for the MTA 10 months ago.

"Right now we’re just looking to do the environmental review to clear the bike plan," Albert told us.

He said that staff and consultants are now going through 60 proposed projects to determine what their environmental studies will entail. Later this month that work will be presented during a scoping meeting, at which planners and advocates will decide whether some of the more complex projects will be eliminated from the plan.

"Our goal is to make sure this is as solid an environmental review as possible. We don’t want to deal with any more legal issues," Albert said. "I feel right now there is a huge will to have this done correctly."

Yet advocates have a slightly different view of that political will, particularly given the projection of completed EIRs by July 2008, followed by the approval process, and maybe more court fights.

"We’re not crazy about the timing, but the scope is good. We’ve moved to projects that we’re planning to do," Thornley said. "So, in a backwards way, the commitment has come to the plan from the gun of the injunction."

"But we have real concerns about the timeline and scope getting shrunk," Shahum said. "Our fear is that we’ll go from 60 projects down to 16."

That’s because the plan will now look at the physical changes to roadways that are bound to get controversial once neighborhood groups grapple with the idea of losing traffic lanes or parking spaces.

"You’ve got a lot of people who are afraid of NIMBY opposition, and that goes from the mayor and the supervisors to the bureaucrats working on the plan," Shahum said. She added that the political leadership of San Francisco is more supportive of bicycling than it’s ever been, "but you still have to work really hard for them to do the right thing in the end."

"Why did it take four years to get the Valencia Street bike lanes?" she asked, noting that the project has proved to be an unqualified success.

"They changed Valencia Street, and nothing [bad] happened, so that opened them up a little," Radulovich said of city officials. But only a little. "There is still a certain ad hoc quality to what they’re doing, rather than being standards-based in how streets are designed."

City policy regarding bike projects — which the Planning Commission will revisit this summer when it considers changes to how it interprets traffic level-of-service (LOS) impacts under CEQA — is that anything that slows car traffic is considered a significant environmental impact that requires extensive study and mitigation.

"It’s imperative for them to fix the way they do CEQA," Radulovich said. "LOS reform would help us in future projects."

Radulovich said that most California cities were built with a focus on automobiles before CEQA was even approved. Yet the law now requires expensive and time-consuming studies before those spaces can be converted to use by public transit, bicycles, or pedestrians.

"That’s why, in some ways, CEQA has become an impediment to making us environmentally sustainable," Radulovich said. "It’s turned into a tool that slows down the taking of spaces back from cars."

While the detailed EIR work is being done, Albert and others say the city is still committed to doing bicycling planning work, applying for grants, and making sure San Francisco can move forward quickly once the injunction is lifted. "We’ve been set back, but we’re not stopped," he told us.

"The current injunction is frustrating because we want to be moving forward with bike improvements each month. While we cannot make physical changes such as bike lanes and bike racks, planning and design are continuing," Ballard said, also noting that the Mayor’s Office is doing regular conference calls to ensure the bike plan moves forward quickly.

"I and the bike advocates are pushing to use this time to do the planning work so we’re ready to go once we have an approved plan," said Sup. Chris Daly, the only regular cyclist on the Board of Supervisors. Once the injunction is lifted, he said, "You will have the most rapid striping of bike lanes in the history of the city." *

Mass response


By Steven T. Jones
Last night’s Critical Mass was big — a population that was also swelled by way too many cops — but other than that, it was pretty normal. As usual, there weren’t any major incidents. As usual, the atmosphere was festive. As usual, the only aggressive behavior that I saw came from overentitled car drivers. These basic, predictable facts seemed to surprise the writers at the Chronicle, who apparently actually believed their own bicyclists-gone-wild bullshit. So once they finally went on a ride, we were rewarded with the headline “Critical Mass pedals politely through S.F.”
Yet the real problem remained, the one the Chron still hasn’t been able to comprehend. My friend Tim got his bike run over by a car last night simply because it was in the path of an impatient motorist who was trying to drive into a crowd of bikes. And as usual, despite the 40 cops on the ride, the police refused to take a report or get involved. Critical Mass is many things to many people, but one of those things is an assertion of our rights to the road, which we’re legally entitled to whether or not we have the blessing of the Chron, the SFPD, and the rest of this city’s power structure.

Perfect storm for Critical Mass


By Steven T. Jones
It’s a beautiful day for a bike ride! And San Francisco’s daily newspapers are helping set the scene for the biggest Critical Mass ride in years. The latest promotion was the screamer headline on the cover of today’s Examiner, “Critical Mass veterans make push for civility.” The article was far better than the Chron coverage has been, although it did erroneously note that CM intends to stop at red lights, which has never been part of the deal. All that would do is slow the mass down and place cars in the center of it, which isn’t good for them or us (remember, the woman who got her car window broken last month freaked out over being “swarmed” by bikes, which would happen over and over again if a crowd of thousands of bikes kept getting broken up by stoplights). My only concern tonight is with the anger being expressed toward CM among online commenters in places like SFist. But I and others will be out there documenting what happens, so check back to this blog to see how it all went.

Small Business Awards 2007: Solar-Powered Business Award


Going to a mechanic can be like paying a visit to a dentist. Sometimes it feels like they’ve done more harm to your grill than good. Needless to say, it can be a chore to find a good one. Bless your stars and garters that the steady-handed masters at Berkeley’s Oceanworks, which specializes in repairing Japanese cars, are the preeminent green and reliable mechanics around.

Since the current incarnation of the shop opened in 1991, it has developed a reputation for being affordable, trustworthy, environmentally thoughtful, and, most of all, competent. Words wished for in, but not always associated with, the world of automotive repair.

When you step into owner Angus Powelson’s small office, little details reveal that his West Berkeley shop departs from the typical automotive garage. Rather than Popular Mechanics, recent issues of the New Yorker rest on the coffee table, and the good old pot of coffee has been replaced by an antique-looking Italian espresso machine. Sure there are the smells and sounds found in any other garage, but this is about as bohemian an auto shop as you’re going to find.

It’s not only the decor that makes this place so great: Oceanworks consciously does all it can to limit the damage it causes to our beautiful bay biosphere. Upgraded in 1997, the garage receives roughly 75 percent of its power from the reflective solar panels that you see soaking up the rays on the roof. In the office the key word is reuse. Envelopes, boxes, plastic bags, Ziplocs, and cardboard continually find new raisons d’etre. The small amount of paper that is not reclaimed goes into the blue bin, along with any cans and bottles, and is sent off to the recycling yard.

In the garage the story is the same. Coolants get reused and engines are built from salvaged parts. Scrap steel and aluminum are either recovered or recycled. Salvageable car parts are sorted and stored for a chance to live again. When Powelson first took over Oceanworks, the garage filled a six-cubic-yard waste can daily. Today the can is three cubic yards and rarely gets full.

It seems hard to believe, but this mechanic and his shop tread as lightly as possible. Powelson may change oil and rebuild motors for a living, but his dedication to environmentally conscious auto repair is rivaled only by his commitment to traveling by bike as much as possible and using his truck only for work-related tasks.

While the outfit specializes in foreign cars, it’s also thinking ahead. Oceanworks deals in Swift bicycles, those nifty folding Xootr bikes that are superlightweight and can be readily stored without nuisance. "Anything to get people out of their cars," Powelson says. (Chris Jasmin)


2703 10th St., Berk.

(510) 849-1383