They came, they saw, they burned: scenes from the 2013 Dirtbag Challenge


This is a follow-up to Keep Choppin’. You probably wanna check that (and this blog post) out first.

The go-to joke is that Alex “Koshka” Verbitsky claimed the Dirtbag Challenge — held Sun/13 at the end of Quesada Ave. — for Moldova. His 1969 CB 450 build took home not only the Coolest Bike title as voted by the fellow builders, but also the People’s Choice Award. His build was inspired by old-fashioned board-track racers, taking chopping back to its roots in the 1910s and ’20s.

Builder brothers Chris and Dan Faulkner came with two very cool bikes. Chris’ bike, the cleverly titled “Cherry Pauper,” was made from a 1976 Kawasaki for about $130. The bike completed the run to and from Pescadero, and did reliable burn-outs well into the evening. Dan’s bike made tricky use of flag colors. With its blue frame and red-and-white tank and fender, it looked like the Captain America bike from one side, but could be seen clearly as the Rising Sun flag of military Japan from the other.

Nick Murphy, from Portland, Ore., chopped a rare, automatic-transmission bike called a Hondamatic. In Pescadero, Murphy presumed his throttle cable would snap before the ride was over. But the bike held out, making it to Alice’s Restaurant and back, even though it behaved sporadically, chugging along at a snail’s pace one moment, ripping and snorting ahead the next. “There was no plan,” said Murphy. “Those carbs are doing their own thing.”

Builder Mike Finley brought a plywood-clad monstrosity all the way from San Diego. Built from a 1989 Suzuki “500 something” that had been sitting around, it looked akin to a cardboard rocket ship. Fishtailing precariously at high-speeds, the bike won the coveted Gulu Award for most lunatic bike.

Kyle Cannon showed up on a heavily chopped Kawasaki that was unrecognizable from the large sport bike it once was. The bike his son started with friends didn’t quite make it. “I wasn’t going to do it for them,” said Cannon, still proud of the young group. “We’ll finish it, though.”

Josh Stine’s bike developed electric issues on the ride but still received the Founder’s Choice Award.

Casey Anderson showed up with a picture of the bike he was working on. Oddly, he dropped out for the opposite reason of most: his build went too well. Not wanting to mess anything up, he decided not to rush things. (After looking at the photo, I couldn’t blame him.)

Julian Farnam’s futuristic bike earned the title of Craftiest, evoking compliments of symmetry, welding, and cohesive design. Turk’s thick-wheeled, sidecar “Death Racer” would have given Farnam a run for his welding, if not for one small issue. “It won’t go straight,” said Turk. “I pitched it just leaving the shop. I haven’t got to wring it out, yet.”

Brian Wright took home the Too Fuckin’ Pretty award with his sparkly, green 1981 Kawasaki KZ 650. “I’ve got an unfair advantage,” admitted Wright. “I’m retired.”

Emily Wakeman and company earned themselves “The Jake” prize for a bike that should never have set out, yet somehow completed the ride. You could tell if you were catching up to Wakeman on the ride because the smoke got thicker. She was well protected from all but the most cancer-seeking and masochistic of tailgaters.

In between the burnouts, volunteer rock bands played in the blistering sun. Butt Problems thrashed out a song about GG Allin’s dick. It was fairly well received and yielded comments from the other bands. “Butt Problems stole our idea,” said Baroness Eva Von Slut.

“I love playing the Dirtbag,” said Nate von Wahnsinn of the White Barons. “I get to play outside while people fuck around with motorcycles? Are you kidding me?”

The event was capped by “Mini Mad” Mike Cook, a stuntman from Oklahoma. He rode through two flaming walls on a mini dirtbike or pitbike.

Poll Brown led the ride in his signature black-and-white striped sweater. He and Dirtbag doc director Paolo Asuncion were hanging out, talking and filming. “We’ve got other things going on,” said Brown. “I can’t tell you about them just now though.”

We shall see what the Dirtbag hath wrought.

Live Shots: Prepping for the Dirtbag Challenge!


A look behind the scenes of the recently released Dirtbag by Vargas Films, and a sneak peak at the bikes being built for this year’s Dirtbag Challenge. Check out the full article on the Challenge, coming up Sun/13, here.

UPDATE: Check out Sam Devine’s report back and photos from Dirtbag 2013 here!

Keep choppin’


CULTURE It’s 6:35pm in Hunters Point and Poll Brown is about to be late to a documentary about himself. The puckish man from South End, Essex, and a small crew of bikers are scrambling to fix a snapped throttle cable. This is a way of life for them: always under the gun, always fixing things, always a little behind. Like a rag-tag task force, they rip a cable out of one bike and marry it to another. There’s not enough time.

At 7pm, after a hairy ride up the 101, lane-splitting between Google buses on Van Ness, Poll is inside the Opera Plaza Cinema for the premiere of Dirtbag.

“We had a bet — just between four buddies,” Brown says in the film, with his gravelly English accent. “It got to be who could build a custom motorcycle for the least money.”

And thus was born the Dirtbag Challenge, which marks its 10th year this Sunday with more rock music, BBQ, and custom motorcycles doing burnouts than is healthy for any person’s ears, lungs, cholesterol, or psyche. The rules have changed a bit since 2003, but here’s the way they currently stand: 1) build a motorcycle in one month; 2) spend less than $1,000; 3) no Harley-Davidsons; 4) the bike must complete a 60- to 100-mile ride.

The restrictions are designed to bring out the creativity and ingenuity of the builders. The first few years without the 100-mile ride rule attracted several very artistic bikes — some more sculpture than road-ready. (One year, a bike with a partially wooden frame went home in splinters.) As for the no-Harley rule, “the quintessential chopper will always be a Harley-Davidson,” explains Poll. “No matter how bad, if a Harley shows up, it still might win.”

Director Paolo Asuncion’s doc chronicles the 2009 Dirtbag Challenge. “When we started, we were going to do ‘This is about the industry’,” he says. He went so far as to interview bike-building royalty like Arlen Ness. “But by the end of filming, all those high-dollar guys didn’t really belong to the story we were trying to tell.”

Overall, the film is a fun look at a unique subculture of motorcycling. By its end, you get a sense that the Dirtbag is more than just a biker build-off — it’s an idea with a spirit behind it. Asuncion drives the point home with the final word of the film, which was met with roars of approval from the crowd: “This documentary was edited in under a month. And making this entire film cost under a thousand dollars.”

After the screening, Brown says, “I’m blown away. It’s interesting to watch something you’ve created have such a positive influence on so many people.”

Pinky McQueen, longtime organizer of the event, has one honest critique. “I realize the movie was spotlighting the builders in particular, but as far as the [Dirtbag Challenge] party goes, there are so many people who selflessly put in countless hours for free to make sure the event [goes] off without a hitch.”

A few days later, one such volunteer, Emily Wakeman, says, “The movie inspired me to just go with our skill set.” With 16 days to go until this year’s event, she and her friends have a running bike and are getting ready to mount a brake light in an old, mud-filled trombone — donated from the Great Guerneville Flood of ’86.

“We’ve spent more money on beer than we have on parts,” confesses fellow builder Shannon Jones.

In Bayview, master fabricator Turk is exactly $521 into his Yamaha-powered, side-car equipped dragster bike. He enjoys the educational side of the Dirtbag Challenge. “It shows that if you want to build a motorcycle, you can,” he says. “If you don’t know how, you can get help.”

Jason Pate is working against the clock in Fremont. Having spent around $800, he has a running bike constructed from no less than six different motorcycles. His son, Jason Pate II, says Brown was here yesterday and showed him how to clean out carburetors. Meanwhile, San Jose resident Alex “Koska” Verbisky — originally from Moldova — is at exactly $1,000. His 1969 Honda CB450 has a wacky new set of handlebars made from Suzuki shock parts and a Volkswagen camshaft.

Up in Orland, Casey Anderson, a professional chopper builder featured in the film, is about $580 into his build, converting a 1979 Honda touring bike to look like a 1928 BMW R62. Thirty minutes south through walnut and olive orchards, in Willows, Kyle Cannon’s son Michael is building a bike for credit in shop class with his pals Joseph and Jake Martin. And down the road, Josh Stine is overcoming his muscular dystrophy, building a bike he hopes he will sell to supplement his Social Security check.

It’s inspiring — a quality that’s fitting for a volunteer-run event that promotes creativity, self-expression, and self-reliance, and encourages learning and community. Participants build strange, mutant vehicles. And it all started as a small gathering of friends near the waters of San Francisco. Sound like any other event you know?

“At first begrudgingly and now gratefully, I accept comparisons to Burning Man,” says Brown.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he likes it. The biggest difference between the Burn and the Dirtbag is that there’s simply no way to throw money at the Dirtbag. Ten years in, the event is still free and no one is getting paid. Brown even recently sold his van to finance a cross-country motorcycle trip.

“If I did want to make this a money-making enterprise, the potential is there,” says Brown toward the end of the film. “[But] I’m not sure if I’m ever gonna actually do that, because that might remove the soul from it.” *


Sun/13, 2pm, free

End of Quesada St, SF

Justice for cyclists



It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.

Sarah was hit while riding her bike. Then she was wrongly faulted for the collision, despite multiple witnesses’ testimony and photo evidence to the contrary. A police officer verbally harassed her after the incident.

“The crash was awful,” she said. “But the way I was treated by the police … absolutely compounded the trauma. I was treated, at every turn, like a criminal.”

Dorie was hit from behind while biking in Golden Gate Park with her son in a rear child seat. Thankfully he was fine, but she was injured seriously enough to spend two weeks in the hospital. She was blamed for the incident, despite witnesses’ statements claiming otherwise.

And after Sandrine was hit while biking, she was treated with hostility by police officers while she lay in pain at the hospital. She was shocked to learn witness statements were not included in her incident report, which faulted her. Thousands of dollars in debt later, Sandrine says she is “disheartened and completely disgusted with the attitude and bias of the police” toward people on bikes.

Nearly 40 people spoke up last Thursday at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing into the SF Police Department’s response to traffic incidents involving people biking and walking.

The spotlight is on the SFPD after it botched an investigation last month of a 24-year-old woman who was hit and killed while biking to work on Folsom Street. Police failed to look for video footage in the area, and a police sergeant blocked the bike lane at the memorial to publicly blame the victim for her own death, while forcing bike riders into high speed traffic.

I’m sorry to say that I was not surprised by the sergeant’s “blame the victim” attitude in that recent tragedy. Nor in the dozens of cases people shared at last week’s hearing.

Sadly, we regularly hear about experiences like these: people refused incident reports, despite injuries. Reports being taken inaccurately or incompletely, time and time again blaming the person biking, despite witness statements to the contrary. And officers being ignorant of the law, such as not understanding that people can leave a bike lane to avoid an obstruction or to make a turn.

I believe our police chief when he insists that all road users should be treated fairly, but that message is not being heard by all in the force.

The chief needs to make certain that all collisions resulting in injuries are fully and fairly documented; that training is significantly stepped up to ensure officers’ understanding of bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities on the road; and, finally, that the SFPD uses a data-driven approach to focus limited traffic enforcement resources on the locations and behaviors that are most dangerous.

We are not asking for special treatment for the growing number of people on bikes, but rather fair and equal treatment for all road users.

Leah Shahum is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Chess-in defies SFPD crackdown

By Christina Aanestad

More than 50 people crowded Market Street with tables, chairs, chess and other board games Sunday for a “Chess-in,” a response to the San Francisco Police Department’s closure of a decades-long San Francisco tradition of sidewalk chess.

“We had no say in the decision,” said Marvin Boykins, a 35 year veteran chess player.

Last month, police ended the open and public chess games at Fifth and Market Streets, citing crime as the reason. A nearby shopkeeper, who declined to provide their name, told the Guardian that drug dealers sometimes use the chess tables to conceal their business dealings. There’s no doubt crime occurs around the neighborhood, which marks the intersection of the Tenderloin and SoMa. Just three doors down from the chess games, a woman stood in the doorway of a closed business holding a crack pipe. Nevertheless, chess players like Boykins say crime happens in all neighborhoods—and it’s no reason for the police to stop a decades-old tradition.

“SFPD made a very grave mistake in their administrative capacity not acknowledging the true problem—that we have nothing to do with nor do we condone [crime],” he said.

Other shopkeepers, like Phil Gatdula, manager of sustainable soul food restaurant Farmer Brown on Market Street, said he enjoyed the chess players, who encompass people from all walks of life including business owners, youth, and elders.

Many attendees of the Chess-in voiced concerns about gentrification in the city, pointing to sidewalk chess as its latest casualty. Activists with the Coalition on Homelessness said blaming the removal on crime is merely a cover for an underlying agenda.

“To suggest that a long-time community of elder chess players engaging in a fun, public event is creating a public safety issue is a thinly veiled move to push poor people from public space,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition On Homelessness.

Just days after the police kicked the chess players off Market Street, a new rent-a-bike station with gleaming identical bikes took their place. Bay Area Bike Share is a newly launched program that rents out bicycles, with nearly three dozen locations in San Francisco. Having opened in August, it’s a partnership with San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Valley transportation authorities, offering “access to shared bicycles 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for use in the cities of San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose,” according to the company’s website.

Lisa Alatorre, another staff member with the Coalition on Homelessness, sees the chess crackdown as part of a larger plan to appeal to techies and tourists in the area. It’s also no coincidence that a new shopping mall and condo development are going in right across the street from where chess players gathered for decades before the recent displacement, she said.

Josh Shadlen, 28, moved to San Francisco a few years ago as part of the second dot-com wave. Despite working within the tech industry that critics like Alatorre say is the cause of high rents in San Francisco, Shadlen spent his day sitting on the sidewalk, playing chess in the sun to support reclaiming public space. He said that while 90 percent of his colleagues don’t care about impacts they are having on the local community, he does.

Josh Shadlen, a tech dude who’s siding with the chess players.

“It seemed basically like an attack on the residents of this neighborhood and part of a plan to turn this neighborhood into fancy office buildings where maybe I might work at some point, but I don’t want that to happen here or anywhere,” he said.

Shadlen said the police should do a better job at policing rather than throwing out chess players.

Organizers like Alatorre say it’s unlikely chess will return to Fifth and Market Streets. For now, the players have moved to Yerba Buena Park. Alatorre and others are still hopeful that things could change—but they believe the political will doesn’t exist among current members of the Board of Supervisors. Asked whether she thought people would continue to gather at Fifth and Market streets to play chess next Sunday, she said, “I hope so.”

SFPD targets bikes before hearing on its anti-cyclist bias


As it prepares for this Thursday’s Board of Supervisors hearing examining allegations that its officers are biased against bicyclists, the San Francisco Police Department has quietly started enforcement stings focused on cyclists riding the Wiggle, one of the city’s most popular and heavily traveled bike routes.

I was among a series of cyclists stopped by one of two motorcycle cops on Saturday night as they stood on Waller Street waiting for cyclists to make that left turn off of Steiner, the first in a series of five turns known as the Wiggle, a key bike route connecting the east and west sides of town.

The sting operation — a term that Officer R. Scott, who stopped me, denied, although that’s clearly what it was — was like shooting fish in a barrel for these guys, given that thousands of cyclists a day roll through the stop signs on the Wiggle on their way to work, school, or errands.

Since being pulled over, I’ve heard this was part of several recent enforcement actions targeting cyclists on the Wiggle, supposedly driven by neighborhood complaints. Although Scott took down my driver’s license information, entered my information into the system, and issued me a citation — lecturing me along the way, and getting an earful from me in response — he waited to the end to tell me it was only a warning (actually, it was his partner who said that he should give me a ticket rather than a warning because of how I was expressing myself, but Scott said it was too late).

I’ve asked the SFPD a series of questions about the reasons for and goals of this stepped-up enforcement against cyclists, as well as about the timing, stats, and other information. I’ll update this post if and when I get a response.

For conservative law-and-order types, it probably doesn’t seem like there’s much to discuss here. Cyclists run stop signs, that’s against the law, end of story. But if San Francisco is going to continue to encourage people to ride bikes — with all the societal benefits that brings — it needs to take a more realistic and progressive approach to this issue.   

The California Vehicle Code Section 22450(a), which I was accused of violating, doesn’t distinguish between cars and bikes when it states, “The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.”

Unlike the traffic laws in Idaho, which do have different standards for bikes and cars and where my approach of yielding but not stopping would have been legal, California has traffic laws that are hopelessly mired in another age, before global warming, air pollution, traffic gridlock, skyrocketing automobile fatalities, and other factors caused society to rediscover and embrace bikes as a beneficial mode of everyday transportation.

And when state or federal laws have lagged behind public opinion and behaviors, San Francisco has often been at the forefront of radical reform, as we have done on immigration, marijuana, civil liberties, rent control, marriage equality, and other issues where we have refused to go along with an unjust or unrealistic status quo.

How we get around, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect for the reasonable choices that we make, belongs on that list. The number of cyclists on the streets of San Francisco has surged in recent years, and it’s the official policy of the city to favor that mode over the automobile and to work toward the goal of having 20 percent of all trips be by bicycle by the year 2020.

That probably won’t happen without many more bike lanes — and it definitely won’t happen if bicyclists are expected to stop at every stop sign. Momentum matters on bikes and they become a far less appealing mode of transportation if we’re forced to come to a complete stop at every intersection, an unrealistic approach that impedes the smooth flow of not just cyclists, but motorists, Muni, and pedestrians as well.

Sup. Jane Kim called the hearing on how the SFPD handles cyclists — which is scheduled for this Thurday at 10am before the board’s Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee — after the Guardian helped expose some truly appalling anti-cyclist bias by the SFPD.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said that cyclists will call for better training and investigations of traffic collisions involving bikes, as well as a shift in how the SFPD polices the streets. She said her message will be, “Focus limited traffic enforcement resources on known dangerous intersections and known dangerous behaviors.”

And she said the bicyclists on the Wiggle just don’t meet those criteria. “When you look at the data on the Wiggle, it’s not a high collision area,” Shahum said, confirming reports that the SFPD has done bicycle stings on the Wiggle on at least two days in the last week.

Shahum acknowledges that there are sometimes conflicts and that bicyclists aren’t angels, noting that the SFBC has recently done events on the Wiggle encouraging bicyclists to ride carefully and yield to pedestrians and motorists when they have the right-of-way.

But she that Police Chief Greg Suhr has repeatedly called for each police district to “focus on five,” using traffic data to target the five most dangerous intersections in each district. As she said, “We’re asking the police to live up to have they’ve said, over and over.”

As for changing state law to adopt Idaho’s bike standards, Shahum said that the difficult, multi-year effort just to get a weak bike buffer law recently signed into law shows that’s probably not realistic. But here in San Francisco, there’s much more we can do to encourage safer cycling and road sharing.

Weekly Picks: October 2 – 8, 2013


Among the undead.



“How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”

Who hasn’t thought about who they would want on their zombie apocalypse team, how they would escape the city, or where they would go if they got out? But that’s just the first 24 hours. What about some oh, 28 days later? What about 28 weeks? What about doing more than just surviving? The collection of workshops offered by Curiosity Atlas this fall could be the key to your happy post-apocalypse. Join Curiosity Atlas on opening night to preview such workshops as “Defending Against Multiple Attackers,” “MacGyver Night,” “DIY Herbal Apothecary,” “Aging and Collecting Beer,” “Apocalypse Baking,” and other essential skills for living the good life among the undead. The night will feature hands-on demonstrations, live performances, and human-friendly refreshments. (Nina Glasov)

7-10pm, $10

Verdi Club

2424 Mariposa, SF



The Drunken Botanist

For most drinkers, the word “booze” ignites cerebral images of fluorescently-lit bars and the night, however wild or relaxing, to follow. But for Amy Stewart, author of 2013 New York Times bestseller The Drunken Botanist (Algonquin Books), the sloppy story begins much earlier, as the plants involved evolve, grow, reproduce, ferment, and distill in the days, weeks, and even millennia leading up to liquor’s transformation. Amid overhanging vines and tropic air in the Conservatory of Flowers, Stewart will discuss these diverse herbs, flowers, fungi, and fruit that end up our cups, as well as global drinking practices, comical anecdotes, gardening tips, and some of her favorite razzed recipes. After grabbing cocktails mixed by Amanda Victoria of Lillet and Mark Stoddard of Hendrick’s Gin, don’t leave the event wasted — get your own signed copy of The Drunken Bontanist. (Kaylen Baker)

7pm, $35–$40

Conservatory of Flowers

100 John F Kennedy, SF

(415) 831-2090



Father John Misty

It’s easy for musicians to hide behind personas, but when Joshua Tillman (formerly of Fleet Foxes) stopped recording under his real name and released an album — last year’s Fear Fun — as Father John Misty, it was a moment of revelation. Contrary to the faux-sincerity that has made the revivalist strain of folk rock damn near unlistenable in the last few years, Misty embraces a vivid self-awareness that avoids the usual mix of solemn preciousness and vain humility, humorously detailing his own mushroom tripping genesis (“I’m Writing a Novel”) and possible legacy (“Now I’m Learning to Love the War”). This solo show, with support from comedian Kate Berlant, should showcase the real Father John Misty. (Ryan Prendiville)

9pm, $25–$30


333 11th St, SF

(415) 255-0333



The Wicker Man

Just to get it out of the way: Yeah, the 40th anniversary “definitive new restoration” of British cult-horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) — we shall not speak of the 2006 bee-laden remake — owes its crisp clarity to digital projection. But if the not-on-actual-film tradeoff means seeing the movie uncut, as director Robin Hardy intended, perhaps it’s worth it. A stodgy, Jesus-loving Scottish cop (Edward Woodward) is in for the shock of his life when he travels to pagan stronghold Summerisle, with residents including Christopher Lee (as flamboyant Lord Summerisle) and sexy-dancin’ Britt Ekland. The eerie folk-song soundtrack, which will presumably sound better than ever, is reason enough to catch this DCP event. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through Sat/5, 7 and 9:30pm (also Sat/5, 4:30pm), $8.50–$11

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF



WestWave Festival

Balancing ingredients and flavors is a good way to plan a menu. It seems to work in dance as well. At least that’s what the five-member panel, which chose the artists to be commissioned for the second of this year’s West Wave programs, seems to have had in mind. All the choreographers are women but they bring a huge range of tastes to their practice. Moving here after 20 years in the other dance capital, modern dancer Anne-René Petrarca is creating a quartet about the power of female energy. Anandha Ray calls her fusion piece “tribal belly dance,” remembering its birthplace in India. Gorgeous Flamenco artist Holly Shaw is translating her passion into choreography that considers the figure of the outsider. And finally, ballet dancer Casey Lee Thorne is using the kinetic power of light in her contemporary vision of an old language. Bon appétit everyone. (Rita Felciano)

8pm, $15–$20

West Wave Dance Festival

ODC Dance Commons, Studio B

351 Shotwell, SF



It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman

42nd Street Moon kicks off its 2013-2014 season in celebration of 75 years of the Man of Steel. From the songwriters of Bye Bye Birdie and Annie comes the 1966 musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman, opening this month at the Eureka Theatre. Starring Lucas Coleman as the man himself, Jen Brooks as Lois Lane, and Darlene Popovic as Dr. Agnes Sedgwick, the show follows Clark Kent/Superman as he juggles heroics and romance. With such lively tunes as “You’ve Got Possibilities” and “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” audiences are in for some riotous fun featuring one of the most prolific superheroes of all time. (Kirstie Haruta)

Through Oct. 20 (Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri, 8pm; Sat, 6pm; Sun, 3pm), $21–$75

Eureka Theatre

215 Jackson, SF

(415) 255-8207



Billy Bragg

British folk-punk rocker Billy Bragg’s debut album, Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy, came out 30 years ago. If anything, time has only strengthened his writing and resolve, as well as his social activism bent, as evidenced on the troubadour’s latest release, Tooth and Nail, on Essential Music. Fans have two chances to see Bragg this weekend in the city, one at the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park — and for others who prefer to skip the crowds and dust, you can see him up close and personal tonight, appearing with his friend Jon Langford. (Sean McCourt)

9pm, $35

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750



“Bikes to Books”

You admired the artful, informative “Bikes to Books” map, created by Bay Guardian contributor Nicole Gluckstern and local-history buff Burrito Justice, in our Sept. 11 issue. Now comes the map’s official release party. Begin with a group bike tour that visits all 12 San Francisco streets named for notable artists and authors (Jacks London and Kerouac, Isadora Duncan, etc.) with local ties. And since City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti helped mastermind the street-naming project back in 1988, it’s fitting that the party portion of the day (complete with literary reading hosted by Evan Karp) takes place in Jack Kerouac Alley, just outside the famed bookstore. (Eddy)

Bike tour: 10:30am-2pm, free

Meet at Jack London (north side) and South Park, SF

Reading: 2-4pm, free

Jack Kerouac Alley (near Broadway and Columbus), SF



Iconic Hair Movie Night

When you think of memorable ‘dos in classic horror films, who else but Elsa Lanchester comes to mind? To honor her famous style, Morphic Salon is screening Bride of Frankenstein for free as part of its Iconic Hair Movie Nights series. Watch as Dr. Frankenstein, revealed to be alive by Mary Shelley, builds a bride for his first monstrous creation. And while you’re at it, perhaps you’ll be inspired to get a shock of white in your own hair to match the leading lady! RSVP for this event at (Haruta)

Free, 7 p.m.

Morphic Salon

660 Market, SF

(415) 789-6682



Tom Odell

Singer-songwriter Tom Odell tends to capture powerful if fleeting feelings of young love and wistfulness, yet with a cheerful energy. Perhaps thanks to bouncy piano chords and Odell’s robust vocals, the British singer’s performances manage to escape the deep, tormented-soul identity adapted by many young acoustic soloists. His 2013 debut album A Long Way Down reached No. 1 on the UK Official Chart earlier this year. And the musician hit an even higher note last month when he reimagined Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” at the annual BRITs awards program to honor John as the first ever recipient of the BRITs’ Icon Award. This charming singer makes his way to the Chapel tonight, where he’ll share the stage with Australian Vance Joy. (Hillary Smith)

9pm, $15


777 Valencia, SF



Fucked Up

Toronto-based hardcore punk outfit Fucked Up has made a career of being unapologetically over-the-top. Look no further than its borderline-corny name (how can it be the first punk band to come up with that one?), its insanely ambitious concept albums, and the unparalleled insanity of its live shows. Always on the verge of taking things too far, Fucked Up flirts with that fine line between insanity and brilliance, and occupies the space between with authority. No other band can create high-minded, multi-instrumental rock operas of this magnitude and get away with it (although Titus Andronicus is sure trying). As if its fervent, fearless creativity wasn’t cause enough to go see this band (co-headlining with Terror) also know that frontperson Damian Abraham is seriously the nicest dude in the entire world. (Haley Zaremba)

With Power Trip, Code Orange Kids

7pm, $16

Oakland Metro Operahouse

630 Third St, Oakl.

(510) 763-1146



La Tigre e la Neve

Somehow, Italian screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami always succeeded in capturing beauty in his films, through the highs as well as the lowest lows of life. The third and final screening of the IIC’s series “A tribute to Vincenzo Cerami,” features actor Roberto Benigni in Cerami’s La Tigre e la Neve (2005) as Attilio de Giovanni, a besotted Italian poetry teacher. Though Giovanni’s children and students adore him, the woman of his heart, Vittoria, spurns him, leaving Italy with another poet for Iraq. When the second Gulf War erupts and Giovanni hears that Vittoria has been injured, he chases after in an attempt to bring Vittoria to safety. Expect hope, despair, laughs, and underlining it all, a sense of utter, expanding beauty. (Baker)

6:30pm, free

Italian Cultural Institute

814 Montgomery, SF

(415) 788-7142



The Babies

The Babies have been pegged as a super-band of sorts from the start, with Cassie Ramone from Vivian Girls on guitar and Kevin Morby from Woods on bass. In their latest release, 2012’s Our House on the Hill, the Babies strive to break free from their lo-fi attachments in previous bands and experiment more with country, blues, and folk elements. The Babies aren’t a side project, as much as an entirely new entity with something different to offer. San Francisco’s Tony Molina, hardcore frontperson turned “punky” indie act also plays this show. His newest record, Dissed and Dismissed, released by Melters this year, is impressive. Loaded with undeniably catchy, fuzzy tunes, the album at times harkens back to an era when bands like Guided by Voices and Pavement were king. Get some drinks and get fuzzed out in more ways than one at the Hemlock Tavern tonight. (Erin Dage)

With Alex Bleeker and the Freaks

8:30pm, $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

On the Cheap: October 2 – 8, 2013


On the Cheap listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Selector.


Nicholson Baker Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author reads from his new novel Traveling Sprinkler, featuring the same protagonist as his previous best-seller, The Anthologist.

Marty Brounstein Northbrae Community Church, 941 the Alameda, Berk; (510) 526-3805. 7:30pm, $5 suggested donation. The author speaks about his book Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust.

Cory Doctorow SF Main Library, 100 Larkin, SF; 6pm, free. The noted author appears in conjunction with “One City One Book: San Francisco Reads,” discussing his novel Little Brother.

LGBT Career Fair SF LGBT Center, 1800 Market, SF; register at Noon-3pm, free. The nation’s largest LGBT career fair unites job seekers with leading Bay Area employers.


Bob Shacochis Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author reads from his new thriller The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.


St. Vartan Armenian Church Bazaar and Food Festival St. Vartan Armenian Church, 650 Spruce, Oakl; 5:30pm-midnight (also Sat/5, noon-midnight), $1-3. Calling all Armenian food fans: this fest is your jam for authentic cuisine, with full meals available until 8pm. Also on tap are cultural displays, dancing, games for kids, and more.


Arab Cultural Festival Union Square, Powell at Geary, SF; Noon-6pm, free. This year’s theme is “Celebrating the Golden Era of Arabic Music,” so expect to see an array of traditional music (including Algerian singer Fella Oudane and Palestine hip-hop crew DAM), theater, and folkloric dance performances taking the stage. Between acts, browse a bazaar featuring jewelry, crafts, and other artwork — plus spices, teas, traditional foods, and more.

Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market Civic Center Park, Allston at MLK, Berk; 10am-6pm, free. A full day of indigenous culture, with Native California and Aztec dancers, drumming, dance contests, Native American food and crafts, and more.

SF SPCA’s 145th Anniversary Carnival SF SPCA, 201 Alabama, SF; 11am-6pm, free. Adoption fees are waived all weekend in honor of the organization’s landmark anniversary, which will be celebrated with a carnival-themed street fair. Food trucks, a Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon cast performance, and a doggie costume contest (registration begins at 11am; contest at 1:15pm) are sure to be among the highlights.

“Star Wars Reads Day!” Books Inc., 601 Van Ness, SF; (415) 776-1111. 7pm, free. With authors Pablo Hidalgo (of and Steven Sansweet (“head of fan relations” at Lucasfilm), plus movie trivia, giveaways, and “members of the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion,” which means you’re pretty likely to see at least one fantastically realistic R2-D2 rolling around.


“Bikes to Books” tour and reading For bike tour, meet at Jack London (north side) and South Park, SFl 10:30am-2pm, free. Reading, Jack Kerouac Alley (near Broadway and Columbus), SF; 2-4pm, free. Follow the “Bikes to Books” literary street map (created by Guardian contributor Nicole Gluckstern and local-history buff Burrito Justice) from Jack London to Jack Kerouac, then settle in for a City Lights Bookstore-adjacent reading hosted by Evan Karp.

“A Day on the Water” Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley Marina, Berk; 11am-6pm, free. Free waterfront music festival heavy on the reggae and classic-rock genres, with Zulu Spear, Rock Candy, Caesar Myles and the Dreaded Truth, and more.

Coit Tower 80th Birthday Celebration News conference at Coit Tower, 1 Telegraph Hill, SF; 10am, free. Party and art show, Live Worms Gallery, 1345 Grant, SF; 6-9pm, free. Celebrate the SF landmark and its benefactor, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, with a Coit Tower birthday cake in the morning. In the evening, head to Live Worms to check out artwork by muralists who worked on the original project, plus new works by San Francisco artists inspired by Coit Tower.


Lily Brett Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The NY-based author reads from her new book, Lola Bensky, about a teenage rock journalist covering London’s late-1960s scene.


Colin Winnette Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author reads from Fondly, a tale of a Texas family comprising two linked novellas. *


Brown signs bike buffer law as SF wrestles with cyclist-motorist relations


It took three tries, but cycling advocates and California legislators were finally able to get Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature yesterday on a new law requiring motorists to give at least three feet of clearance when passing bicyclists.

We criticized Brown for vetoing a similar bill in 2011 when he raised concerns about slowing automobile traffic, and then he frustrated supporters of the bill last year when his veto-prompting issue was how the new bill encouraged motorists to cross a double-yellow line to pass cyclists when it was safe to do so.

This time, the compromise that won Brown over was a requirement that drivers slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed if they aren’t able to given cyclists a full three feet because of road conditions. That’s not ideal, but at least it’s finally becoming illegal for cars to zip closely past cyclists, a dangerous, unnerving, and unfortunately too common practice.

San Francisco has become an intriguing testing ground for cyclist-motorist relations as the number of people choosing to pedal to work, play, or on errands has exploded, based on both official stats and by simply observing Market Street at commute time, which is like a mini Critical Mass everyday, or the overflowing bike parking areas in downtown buildings.

The city is also now wrestling with anti-cyclists biases in law enforcement and among some political figures, which will be the subject of City Hall hearings next month. Certainly, there is bad behavior on the roads by both cyclists and motorists, and often times poor understanding by both about the rules of the road, particularly on those dangerous “right hook” turns when motorists cross a bike lane (motorists should signal, then pull all the way to the right when it’s their turn, and cyclists should pass on their left, taking the lane if necessary), which have resulted in at least two cyclist fatalities in SF this year.

This new law provides some much needed clarity and public awareness to an important public safety issue — and it should be just the beginning of creating new laws and public education campaigns to help promote safe cycling and raise driver awareness of the need to slow down, pay attention, and share the roads. 

UPDATE: Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition, which worked on the new law, told us he expects more benefit from publicizing the new law than from police enforcing it.

“The main benefit is educational, just getting people who drive to give people on bikes plenty of space. I don’t expect much enforcement,” he told us. “There’s a heckuva lot more that we need to do to make California bicyclists safer.”

The main need he cited is more money for bike lanes, particularly those separated from automobile traffic: We ned funding to build bike networks so we dno’t need to worry about being passed at high speed.”

On the Cheap: September 18 -24, 2013


On the Cheap listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Selector.


Robert Boswell Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The author reads from Tumbledown, his first new novel in 10 years.

Tom Kizzia Books Inc., 301 Castro, Mtn. View; 7pm, free. Also Thu/19, 7pm, free, Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera; The Alaska-based author reads from true-crime frontier thriller Pilgrim’s Wilderness.

Antoine Laurain Book Passage, 1 Ferry Bldg, SF; 6pm, free. The Paris-born author reads from his French bestseller The President’s Hat, a fable set during the Mitterrand years.

Radar Reading Series SF Public Library, 100 Larkin, SF; 6pm, free. Michelle Tea hosts this series highlighting independent and underground writers and artists. This month: Imogene Binnie, Kevin Simmonds, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Katie Haegele.


“ConVerge” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF; 4-8pm, free. This month’s program features Chris Treggiari and Peter Foucalt’s Mobile Arts Platform project — “an interactive, neighborhood-generated social sculpture” — and its Mobile Screen Print Cart, which explores the history of community posters and enables the creation of new ones.

Molly Haskell Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; 7:30pm, free. The film critic discusses her new memoir, My Brother My Sister, which chronicles her younger brother’s transformation into a woman.

“Sights and Sounds of Bayview” Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St, SF; 5:30-9pm (program starts at 7pm), free. This live radio event features multi-media storytelling and music by Bayview residents and workers. Come early for a concert by Pat Wilder and Serious Business and to enjoy the monthly 3rd on Third neighborhood arts party.

“We Heart the Tamale Lady” Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF; 9pm, $5-15 sliding scale. Help Virginia Ramos, aka the Tamale Lady, get into the brick-and-mortar biz at this fundraiser, featuring tamales (duh) and live music by Grandma’s Boyfriend, Scraper, Windham Flat, and Quite Polite.


“Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company 30th Anniversary Exhibition” Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF; Gallery hours Thu-Sat, noon-8pm, $8-10. Through Nov 3. Alongside a performance series featuring the dance company, YBCA hosts a survey exhibition compiling the sets, props, moving images, and other elements contributed over three decades by visual artists and designers (including Keith Haring, Huck Snyder, and Bjorn Amelan).

Hazel Reading Series 1564mrkt, 1564 Market, SF; 7pm, $5 suggested donation. Local women writers read “daring and experimental” work.

Sukkot Shabbat Celebration Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California, SF; 4:30pm, free. As part of the JCCSF’s weeklong Sukkot celebration, “Outside In,” the organization hosts a free, all-are-welcome holiday Shabbat celebration in its atrium. Visit the web site for related events.


Sarah Clark Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission, SF; 1-3pm, free. The museum’s current cartoonist-in-residence shows and discusses her work, including current project Season Ticket Diaries, based on her experiences as an Oakland A’s fan this season.

“An Evening of Poetry and Prose” San Francisco Buddhist Center, 37 Bartlett, SF; 8pm, $5-30 suggested donation. Bay Area writers Pia Chatterjee, Genny Lim, Kenneth Wong, and Nellie Wong read to benefit Jai Bhim International, a group that provides English lessons and empowerment workshops for Indian youths of all economic backgrounds.

Friends of Duboce Park 16th annual tag sale Duboce Park, Duboce between Steiner and Scott, SF; 9am-2pm, free. Support Friends of Duboce Park, which funds improvements to the park — and pick up some sweet bargains! — at this popular annual neighborhood sale.

Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival #57 Old Mill Park, 325 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; 10am-5pm, $5-10. Also Sun/22. Over 140 artists from around the country showcase their works amid redwood trees. Plus: live music and children’s entertainment.

New Belgium’s Tour de Fat Lindley Meadow, Golden Gate Park, SF; 10am-5pm, free. This annual “ballyhoo of bikes and beer” features a bike parade and a bike rodeo, live performances, fire-jumping bike acts, and more. Beer-sale proceeds benefit the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.


Grady Hendrix and Amanda Cohen Omnivore Books on Food, 3885a Cesar Chavez, SF; 3-4pm, free. The authors present Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, filled with vegetarian recipes from Cohen’s NYC restaurant, creatively illustrated like a graphic novel by artist Ryan Dunlavey. Added bonus: Cohen will be serving Dirt Candy’s famous “Portobello mousse.” *


Bikes to books


San Francisco has been home to some of the true giants of American literature and poetry, from Jack London and Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. To honor that past, 12 streets were renamed for these and other writers on Oct. 2, 1988, and there will be a 25th anniversary celebration of that dedication coming up on Oct. 6. So the Guardian worked with writer Nicole Gluckstern, Burrito Justice, and City Lights Bookstore to create this Literary Bike Tour map that attendees will follow that day, starting at 11am at Jack London Street and concluding with a reading at 2pm in Jack Kerouac Alley. So join the festivities or just take the tour on your own. 

A bridge so far


By Steven T. Jones

Pedaling onto the Bay Bridge over the weekend, I was suspended between our industrial past and sleek present. But my ride into the future was abruptly stopped just before I reached the island.

All the experts say we should all just be happy with the world’s longest bike and pedestrian pier, and it certainly is a wondrous thing to behold, this spacious and beautiful two-mile path that pasted big grins on the dozens of faces that I rode past on its sunny first Friday in operation.

But just as the duality of riding between the old Bay Bridge and the new invoked myriad metaphors, so too did the fact that my fellow taxpayers and I just spent $6.4 billion on a bridge from Oakland to San Francisco built almost exclusively for the private automobile.

Is this the future we’ve embraced? Are global warming, economic equity, and collective responsibility such distant abstractions that we can fill this beautiful new bridge with people sitting alone in expensive, deadly, polluting, space-hogging machines?

I looked into their work-weary eyes as I rode my bicycle out from Oakland with a few of my friends during rush hour, on a path wide enough to facilitate conversations among a pair of cyclists in each direction and strolling pedestrians, six abreast. It was lovely, like we had finally arrived in the civilized, people-powered present that we Guardianistas have been working toward for decades.

And then it ended, a vivid reminder that we’re not there yet.



The past is blocking our progress, literally and metaphorically, at least for now.

The old Bay Bridge stands between the stubbed-off end of the new bike/pedestrian path and its intended touchdown spot on natural Yerba Buena Island, the conjoined twin of the artificial Treasure Island, where developers dream of building high-rise condo towers buffered against the rising sea.

Officials tell the Guardian that the path will likely be completed in early 2015, after the old bridge comes down. Then, we’ll be able to ride our bikes onto the island and cruise our way to the west side, with its beautiful views of our beloved city, San Francisco, shimmering just out of reach.

Next month, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will release its latest study of how to complete the ride/walk, examining the placement of pathways balanced on either side of the Bay Bridge’s western span, their added weight compensated for with lighter decks for the cars, all at a cost approaching a billion bucks, with a capital B.

“Everything about this is going to be hard,” MTC spokesperson John Goodwin told me when I asked about allowing cyclists and pedestrians onto the Bay Bridge’s western span, citing an array of engineering, financial, and political obstacles.

“It’s a 10-year project even if a local billionaire decides to put up the money,” Goodwin said, noting that there is no public funding identified for the project except for maybe raising automobile tolls again, which would be a tough sell to voters for a bike and pedestrian project. “It’s an uphill climb and I’m not sure it will ever reach its intended goal.”

But completing this journey is really only as difficult as we make it. Just ask local activist/author Chris Carlsson, who says that he and some of his buddies could fix the problem in a day for a few thousand dollars. All we need to do it take the righthand lane, install some barriers, done.

“The bridge is more malleable than people treat it as and we need to have this discussion publicly,” Carlsson, a founder of Critical Mass and author of Nowtopia, told us. “Let’s solve this problem today. The idea that they would open this bridge without completing this path is insulting.”

To Carlsson and others of his radical ilk, this is an equity issue, and the opening of a car-only bridge is symbolic of our societal myopia. To believers in the automotive status quo, the idea of giving up one of five traffic lanes for the final, two-mile-long descent into San Francisco makes their heads explode.

“That’s just wildly unrealistic,” Goodwin said of Carlsson’s idea, even instituted on a temporary basis, noting that the Bay Bridge handles more than 270,000 cars per day, by far the busiest state-run bridge in California.

To many modern minds, automobiles are essential to our personal freedom and economic vitality — bikes are toys, public transit is for the poor, walking is what you do in your neighborhood or on the treadmill at the gym — but San Francisco is a voter-approved “transit-first” city that supposedly gives each of these modes priority over cars.

“The idea that the five lanes of automobile traffic is inviolable is ridiculous,” Carlsson said, calling it a relic from the days before the freeway revolts of the 1950s and ’60s, when San Franciscans rejected the conception of The City as just another stop along the fast and efficient interstate highway system.

In fact, it was that cars-first vision — before it was rejected by a populist revolt — that helped lead officials to remove the passenger trains that operated on the lower decks of this New Deal/WPA bridge for its first 17 years of life, turning the whole Bay Bridge over to cars, trucks, and the occasional bus.

The era of unfettered automobility had begun, and the idea that capitalism/industrialism and the health of our world might someday, somehow come into conflict with one another also seemed wildly unrealistic.



The Bay Bridge was my bridge growing up in the East Bay, our link to the big city that I traversed while safely cocooned in the backseat of my parents’ car, windows up, car filled with what we’d later call secondhand smoke, buffered against the wilds of West Oakland as we launched over the bay.

Today, my perspective has changed and so has my access through the old industrial waterfront, which has been opened up to all by a pair of new paths leading bikers and hikers to the bridge, both short rides from the West Oakland BART station.

One starts on Maritime Street, near the Port of Oakland and the remnants of the old railyard on what the Realtors have started calling Oakland Point; the other starts on Shellmound Street right across from Ikea, best accessed from West Oakland along 40th Street, where crews were in the process of placing tall cones to protect the bike lane as we rode past.

After the trails merge, it proceeds past the yards for the government agencies set up to serve the motoring public: CalTrans and its freeway maintenance facilities, and the California Highway Patrol, which has doubled its local bicycle brigade (which had worked just the Golden Gate Bridge) to police the new path.

“Best job in the world,” a smiling Officer Sean Wilkenfeld told me as he arrived at the end of the Bay Bridge path, where a couple dozen people stood watching the new Bay Bridge and the old, which took on a ghostly feel as we hovered next to its newfound lifelessness.

Personally, I really like the new Bay Bridge, with its elegant modern architecture and unobstructed bay views. But some of the friends and strangers that I chatted up there at the end of the line disagreed, singing the praises of the old, industrial, seismically unsound original.

“The new bridge is beautiful, but in some ways I like the old bridge better because you can see its functionality,” Joel Fajans, a physics professor at UC Berkeley, told me.

Conversation among the cyclists turned to our beautiful new path and its untimely end. “What a dream come true to have a bike path on the Bay Bridge. I already wrote to my representatives about completing the route to San Francisco,” said Kurt Vogler, a 47-year-old environmental consultant from Oakland who rode the bridge with Fajans.

That was the phrase that everyone used, this notion of completion, conveying the sense that we’re somehow stuck between where we were and where we should be, suspended between the old and the new, waiting to catch up.

“I think it’s beautiful. It’s an engineering marvel, a miracle,” Garris Shipon, a engineer from Berkeley, said halfway through his bike ride on the Bay Bridge. “I’m glad they launched with a bike path at all, and I hope they finish it because I’d love to ride all the way across.”




The San Francisco-Oakland Bay and Golden Gate bridges were built at the same time, started in 1933. But the Bay Bridge — the industrial, utilitarian bridge connecting The City to its biggest, most diverse nearby population centers — was done first. The tall, pretty one — with its Art Deco flourishes and tourist appeal — took longer.

On its opening day, the Golden Gate Bridge was filled with pedestrians, while the Bay Bridge hosted its first traffic jam as it was unveiled, “with every auto owner in the Bay Region, seemingly, trying to crowd his machine onto the great bridge,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

It’s been the same story ever since, with cyclists and walkers crowding onto the Golden Gate daily, salty winds howling through their hair, while travelers on the Bay are caged behind steel and glass.

But not anymore. In fact, it’s far more pleasant to ride on the Bay than the Golden Gate, where the bike path is narrow and cluttered. Now, it’s the golden one that seems to belong to another age, with the Bay Bridge designed to be personally experienced.

“It’s really a spectacular excursion,” Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, told me. “I was taken by surprise by what fun it is to be on a bike on that bridge.”

But the stirring sensation of riding or walking the Bay Bridge only accentuates its main shortcoming; at least the noisy, harrowing Golden Gate Bridge goes all the way across.

“We just spent $6 billion on that,” Fajans said, gesturing to the new Bay Bridge, “and you’re saying we can’t spend a little more to complete the bike lane? That’s not fair.”

Goodwin and others say that motorists paid for the new Bay Bridge with their tolls, but Fajans calls bullshit, noting that BART passengers pay more than drivers for a round trip across the bay without buying exclusive access in the future.

In this age of austerity, with government funding for transportation projects drying up and people reluctant to raise their own tolls or taxes, it’s hard to do what’s needed. That’s one reason cycling advocates take what they can get, such as an expensive western span proposal with one of two paths reserved for maintenance vehicles to smooth the automotive flow.

“If we have to sell it to the public to increase tolls, we’ll have to show that it benefits everyone,” Rivera said.

Completing this path, somehow, is a top priority for the cyclists.

“It was a little tough to get people’s attention on the western span for the last couple years, but now is the time,” Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told us.

Neither director seems willing to embrace Carlsson’s radical approach of simply seizing a lane.

“Like Chris, we feel strongly about equity on the bridge,” Rivera said. “At the same time, it needs to function smoothly as a bridge and I would be concerned about it bottlenecking at Treasure Island.”

Carlsson rejects the neoliberal approach of begging for scraps as we ride into a future that simply can’t continue to be dominated by automobiles. He says the Bay Pier must not rest there for another decade.

“Both bike coalitions have a resistance to appearing anti-car,” Carlsson says, “so they aren’t willing to say the obvious thing.”

Carlsson talks about the Bay Bridge as part of the free Shaping San Francisco lecture series at 7:30pm, Sept. 11, Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics, 518 Valencia, SF.










Kim calls for hearing on how SFPD investigates cyclist fatalities UPDATED


UPDATED In the wake of revelations of shoddy and insensitive police work related to the Aug. 14 death of 24-year-old bicyclist Amelie Le Moullac, who was run over by a commercial truck driver who turned right across her path as she rode in a bike lane on Folsom Street at 6th Street, Sup. Jane Kim today called for a hearing on how the SFPD investigates cyclist fatalities.

The issue has lit up the Bay Guardian website with hundreds of reader comments after we wrote a series of blog posts and our “Anti-cyclist bias must stop” editorial, including our revelation that the SFPD failed to seek surveillance video of the crash even as its Sgt. Richard Ernst showed up at an Aug. 21 memorial to Le Moullac to denigrate cyclists and make unfounded statements about the fatal collision.

Police Chief Greg Suhr later apologized for Ernst’s behavior and the flawed investigation and said that surveillance video unearthed by cycling activists led to the conclusion by a police investigation that the driver who killed Le Moullac was at fault, according to Bay City News and SF Appeal, which also reported on Kim’s call for a hearing.

As we reported, motorists are rarely cited in collisions with cyclists or pedestrians, even when there’s a fatality involved and the motorist didn’t have the right-of-way, which appears to the case in Le Moullac’s death. The District Attorney’s Office, which did not immediately return a call from the Guardian, is considering whether to bring criminal charges in the case.

UPDATE: We just heard from DA’s Office spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman, who said, “The San Francisco Police Department has delivered a preliminary investigative package and we are in the process of reviewing it to determine what additional investigation is necessary.”

UPDATE 9/5 5pm: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum says she welcomes Kim’s hearings, which are long overdue. “We’re really thankful to Jane for bringing this forward,” Shahum told the Guardian, saying she hopes the hearing results in changes to how the SFPD investigates cyclist fatalilties. “We want to make sure there is ongoing accountability.”

She also said the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has indicated to SFBC that it is working on near-term and long-term improvements on both Folsom and Howard streets, where cyclists in bike lanes must regularly contend to drivers cutting them off. The city does seem committed to a significant pilot of better bikeways there.”

Meanwhile, as the San Francisco Examiner reported today, Le Moullac’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the driver who killed her, Gilberto Oriheaula Alcantar, as well as the company that he was driving for, Daylight Foods Inc., alleging that he was negligent in driving too fast and failing to pulled into the bike lane before making a right turn from Folsom onto 6th Street.

Memorial for cyclist marred by SFPD harassment


A memorial and informational event this morning at the 6th and Folsom corner where a bicyclist was fatally run over by a truck last week was marred by a tense and unsettling confrontation with an SFPD sergeant who showed up to block the bike lane with his cruiser, lecture the cyclists, and blame the victim.

The event was organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to raise awareness of the incident and that dangerous intersection and to call for the city to make improvements. It included friends and co-workers of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, who was riding in the Folsom Street bike lane on the morning of Aug. 14 when an unidentified delivery truck driver turned right onto 6th Street, across her path, and ran her over.

SFPD Sgt. Dennis Toomer tells the Guardian that the department has completed the traffic incident report, information from which can only be shared with the parties involved, but that the investigation of the fatality is still ongoing and will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review once it’s done.

But SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum said that SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst, who showed up at the event a little before 9am, had already drawn his own conclusions about the crash and showed up to make his apparent disdain for “you people,” bicyclists, disturbingly clear.

Shahum said that she tried to be diplomatic with Ernst and asked him to please move his patrol car out of the bike lane and into an available parking space that was right next to it, saying that it presented an unnecessary hazard to bicyclists riding past.

But she said Ernst refused to do so for almost 10 minutes, telling the group that he has “a right” to leave his car than and that he was “making the point that bicyclists need to move around” cars parked in bike lanes, according to Shahum’s written account, which she prepared to file a report about the incident with the Office of Citizens Complaints.

“He then told me explicitly that he ‘would not leave until’ I ‘understood’ that ‘it was the bicyclist’s fault.’ This was shocking to hear, as I was told just a day ago by Commander [Mikail] Ali that the case was still under investigation and no cause had yet been determined,” Shahum wrote.

And apparently Ernst didn’t stop at denouncing Le Moullac for causing her own death, in front of people who are still mourning that death. Shahum said Ernst also blamed the other two bicyclist deaths in SF this year on the cyclists, and on “you people” in the SFBC for not teaching cyclists how to avoid cars.

“I told him the SF Bicycle Coalition does a significant amount of safety work educating people biking and driving about sharing the road, and that I’d be happy to share more information with him. I again urged him to move his car out of the bike lane. He again refused, saying it was his right and he wasn’t moving until I ‘understood,’” Shahum wrote.

Shahum said there were multiple witness to the incident, including three television reporters who were there to cover the event.

“In addition to the Sgt’s inappropriate and dangerous behavior of parking his car in the bike lane and blocking safe passage for people bicycling by, it was deeply upsetting to see him unnecessarily disrupt and add tension to what was already an emotional and difficult time for many people who lamented this sad loss of life,” Shahum wrote.

Asked about the actions and attitudes expressed today by Ernst, who we could not reach for comment, Sgt. Toomer told us he “cannot talk about personnel issues.”

Compounding Ernst’s insensitive and judgmental approach today, it also appears the SFPD may have failed to properly investigate this incident, which Shahum and the SFBC have been tracking closely, and she said the SFPD told her that there were no video surveillance tapes of the collision.

After today’s event, SFBC’s Marc Caswell decided to check in at businesses on the block to see if they had any video cameras aimed at the intersection, and he found an auto body business at the intersection whose workers said they did indeed have revealing footage of the crash that the SFPD hasn’t requested, but which SFBC today delivered to investigators.

“He had the time to come harass us as a memorial, but he didn’t have the time to see if anyone had footage of this incident. It’s very unsettled,” Shahum told us.

Whoever was ultimately at fault in this collision and others that have injured or killed bicyclists in San Francisco, today’s confrontation demonstrates an unacceptable and dangerous insensitivity and animosity toward bicyclists in San Francisco, which was also on display in the comments to the post that I wrote last week about the incident.

It’s fine to debate what happens on the streets of San Francisco, and you can even harbor resentments toward bicyclists and believe that we deserve your ire. But when you endanger people’s lives to make a point, or when you threaten violence against vulnerable road users, then you’ve gone too far.

Yes, let’s talk about what happens on the roads and how to improve behaviors, but let’s not forget our humanity in the process.  

Tragedies remind us to pay attention and share the roads


A pair of tragic news items involving bicyclists in San Francisco — one cyclist a victim, another a perpetrator — illustrates the need for all of us to slow down, pay attention, and safely and respectfully share the roadways of this crowded city.

The victim of yesterday’s fatal collision between a truck and bicyclist at Folsom and 6th Streets — in which the motorist turned right across the path of cyclist in a bike lane, but was inexplicably yet not surprisingly not cited by police — was today revealed to be 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac.

Meanwhile, 37-year-old cyclist Chris Bucchere was today sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and three years probation after pleading guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter after last year trying to beat a red light at Castro and Market streets and fatally striking elderly pedestrian Sutchi Hui.

“Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists must share the road in a responsible way because there are dire consequences when traffic laws are disregarded,” District Attorney George Gascon said today after Bucchere’s sentencing.

Both of these incidents were sad for all concerned, and they should remind us to be responsible and attentive travelers, a lesson that we could all use. Everyday on my bike commute home, I see motorists running red lights or darting heedlessly around obstacles, risking people’s lives to save seconds of their days; cyclists impatiently edging their way past pedestrians; and pedestrians stepping out into traffic without looking around them, often because they’re absorbed by their smartphones.

We’re all guilty of bad behavior on the roadways at times, myself included, so I’m not going to presume to stereotype any particular group of road users (I’ll leave that to the trolls). But when we hear about terrible tragedies like these, it’s good to take a moment to reflect on our own behavior and do what we can to civilly share our civic spaces, particularly when wielding the deadly weapons of a fast-moving bicycle or an automobile moving at any speed.  

Pedaling slowly


With San Francisco bicycle rental companies such as Blazing Saddles and Bay City Bicycle Rentals and Tours having bike fleets numbering in the thousands, why does the new San Francisco bike share program only have 350 bikes? And can that really be effective?

In August, San Francisco and a handful of other Bay Area cities will join the ranks of the dozens of cities in the country that have bicycle share programs, although most are more robust than ours. For example, New York City’s bike share program offer 6,000 bikes.

Sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and bankrolled by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with more than $7 million, the program will bring 700 bikes to the region — half of which will make their way to San Francisco.

In the following months, San Francisco could be allotted 500 total bikes. For the initial launch, 35 bike share stations will be spread throughout the city, and when the bicycle count rises, the number of stations will jump to 50.

MTC spokesperson Sean Co told us that most of the money for the program goes to the cost of the bikes themselves. Each bike costs $5,000, is outfitted with tracking technology, and is expected to last 10 years. In addition to being high-tech, all bike share bikes are unique to Alta Bike Share Systems, and require special tools to be taken apart, another factor in the high price tag.

The rest of money goes toward the stations and fees for a consultant that helps run the program. Co believes that the membership fees alone will make up for the over $7 million spent on the program. But that’s assuming the program isn’t a flop, which some fear it could be given the anemic number of bikes being offered.



New York City’s bike share, Citi Bike — financed completely by Citigroup Inc. with no public funds — launched in May with 6,000 bikes and 300 stations. That program is already approaching a million total rides. Chicago’s Divvy bike share system started off with 750 bikes at the beginning of July and will increase to 3,000 at the end of August.

Kit Hodge, deputy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is one of the people who says that 350 bikes just isn’t enough for San Francisco. “The city and SFMTA have estimated that it would take 3,000 bikes to have an effective bicycle share,” Hodge told us. “We definitely are pushing for more bikes.”

But San Francisco’s bicycle share may get the thousands of bikes that some believe it needs. The Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution that calls on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Department of Public Works to have a much larger system by 2014.

“Five hundred bikes isn’t enough for a citywide bike share,” Sup. Scott Wiener, who sponsored the resolution, told us. “If you look at other cities with a large population and a lot of people biking, bicycle share stations have to be heavily concentrated in many different areas. With the 500 bikes, other areas of the city will be excluded.”

But critics like Wiener and Hodge may not have taken into account that this program is only a trial run, with enough funding to last a year, according to BAAQMD representatives.

BAAQMD Director of Strategic Incentives Damian Breen told us the program is just the right size: “We feel the pilot is appropriately sized. I don’t think we’ve limited ourselves at all. This is to test the waters and see what it can grow into.”

Breen also thinks that mainly focusing on San Francisco for the Bay Area-wide bicycle sharing program would be unfair to other cities. Unlike other bicycle sharing programs, such as New York City and Chicago, San Francisco’s bicycle sharing system is just one part of a regional program that includes Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose.

“This stage of the program is to see what works and what doesn’t,” Breen said. “Maybe the bicycle share might be used more in the suburbs than in San Francisco. When you do something regionally you have to take all cities and all outcomes into account.”

When asked if the bicycle sharing program would have increased the number of bikes in San Francisco if there was additional funding, he said no.

“I think obviously all partners would have liked the program to be bigger in certain areas,” Breen said. “Whether or not it would have been bigger in places like San Francisco, if there was more funding, I cannot say.”

Breen says BAAQMD will consider corporate sponsorship for the bike share once the initial money from the pilot runs out.



The possibility of more stations and bike share rides in the city isn’t appealing to Blazing Saddles bicycle rental company owner Jeff Sears.

“If stations are placed in areas like the Fisherman’s Wharf, or North Beach, people may be tempted to use bike share instead,” Sears said. “But, we’ve been assured by the BAAQMD that that’s not going to happen.”

Breen says the service is directed at residents who commute, and may need the bike for that “last mile” of their trek.

“This is different than bicycle rentals, which are usually meant for a day of riding,” Breen said. “They are designed for 30 minute use — the main audience is folks who are looking for that last mile after they get off of Caltrain or BART.”

Breen went on to say that areas with bicycle sharing programs also saw bicycle renting programs go up as a whole. But Jeanne Orellana of Bay City Bicycle Rentals and Tours believes otherwise.

“We absolutely feel that it would affect business,” Orellana said. “We wish that it would coexist with our business, but other cities with bicycle sharing programs have seen bicycle rental shops close down due to the competition.” A scenario similar to what Orellana imagined played out in Miami Beach, Fla. Unlike the program in store for the Bay Area, Miami Beach’s DecoBike offers pricing plans for residents and tourists, and many of the tourists find themselves choosing the bike share over rental shops in the area, causing business in bicycle rental shops to reportedly drop 40 to 50 percent. Wiener acknowledges the reservations that Orellana and Sears hold about bike share, but he said that both options can coexist in the same city. “They’re two completely different markets,” Wiener said. “I understand the concerns that they have but comparing bike sharing and bicycle rental is like comparing apples to oranges.” And the BAAQMD, SFBC, SFMTA, and Wiener all agree on one thing: Tourists choosing bike share over bicycle rental companies just doesn’t make sense economically. Renting a bicycle for a day at Bay City Bicycle Rentals and Tours is $32. Taking a bicycle out for the day at the bike share comes at a heftier price. For $9, customers can get a 24-hour subscription with unlimited 30 minute rides from station to station. But after those 30 minutes are up, fees get added. A 31- to 60-minute ride costs $4, and each 30-minute increment after that costs $7, which can build up to over $150 in a day if the bicycle is not returned to a station. In the meantime, Orellana hopes that consumers will make the right decision for themselves. “I trust and hope that many people will do the math and find that bike share isn’t cheaper for exploring the city,” Orellana said. Co said that more than 300 people purchased memberships for the Bay Area bicycle share 24 hours after memberships were up for grabs a couple weeks ago. BAAQMD is pleased with the results, and viewed it as a good turnout. The official launch date has not been released, but its infrastructure is now being put into place with its imminent launch.

Sadik-Khan and her groupies urge bold action on the streets of San Francisco


San Francisco and our timid Mayor Ed Lee could learn a few things from New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan — who became a national hero to urban cycling advocates while being villified by some in NYC — have quickly created hundreds of miles of new bike lanes and the nation’s biggest bike sharing program.

That was the enthusiastic (if more diplomatically worded) message delivered on June 20 during the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s annual Golden Wheel Awards, where Sadik-Khan gave the keynote speech to a large, rapt crowd. She was introduced by SFBC Director Leah Shahum and Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin, who almost upstaged Sadik-Khan and one another in their calls for San Francisco to take more aggressive action.    

“Cities need to try new things on their streets and public spaces,” Shahum said, echoing the message Sadik-Khan regularly delivers. “We need to try new things and we need to do it now.”

It was a message that became a mantra, as she repeated it again and again, urging the city to do more experimentation on the streets and less long analysis. Part of that is slowing down cars to “actually prioritize the safety and health of our citizens on every street in the city.”

Shahum and Reiskin both admitted being star-struck by Sadik-Khan, with Reiskin saying his intro was “like my teenaged daughter introducing Brittany Spears.” Shahum said she’s often guided by the acronym WWJSKD: What Would Janette Sadik-Khan Do?

Reiskin, a regular cyclist, told the story of moving to New York City in 1991, selling the last car he owned (cue the applause by the large crowd of cyclists), but that he didn’t bring a bike because at that time, the common thinking was, “Who’d be crazy enough to ride a bike in Manhattan?”

But in just the last few years, Sadik-Khan has led the transformation of New York City into one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. “If she can do that there, why can’t we do that here?” Reiskin asked, later adding, “It’s phenomenal what’s happened there.”

He called Sadik-Khan a cross between famed urbanist Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, who was responsible for more public development projects than any New Yorker. “She’s got the Jane Jacobs sensibility, but getting shit done like Robert Moses,” Reiskin said.

When Sadik-Khan took the stage, humbled by an introduction that she said could only be followed by turning water into wine, she gave credit for her accomplishments to the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and the “unbelievable political courage” it took to build 350 miles of bike lanes in six years despite sometimes strong opposition.

In the process, Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan started an alternative transportation arms races of sorts, prodding Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, and other cities to also beef up their bike infrastructure. “I think it’s great that there’s this national competition on who can be the greenest,” she said, later adding, “The future of cities is the key to our planet.”

She showed slides of various streetscape improvements that she led, often replacing lanes of parked cars with protected cycle tracks, including along tony Prospect Park, which she called, “the most controversial piece of land outside the Gaza Strip” for the backlash and lawsuits it sparked.

“When you push the status quo, the status quo often pushes back on you,” she said.

What has given Sadik-Khan such rock star status in the urban cycling world is her willingness to tough out the criticisms and let the results speak for themselves, noting that if some idea doesn’t work, it’s usually fairly easy to undo. Yet she arrived armed with stats showing her approach works, for both bicyclists and the business community.

She fought through arguments that cycle tracks along 8th and 9th avenues would hurt business, and she said those same businesses report a 50 percent increase in revenue since they went in three years ago. Same thing on 1st Avenue, where commercial vacancies dropped 47 percent. Citywide, 70 new bike shops opened during the recession to serve a burgeoning population of cyclists in the city.

She also talked about her latest and greatest innovation, the CitiBike sharing program that offers more than 6,000 bikes at locations densely spread along the bike network throughout the city, all with no public funds involved. “We think density is destiny in this instance,” she said. By contrast, San Francisco has taken years to launch its anemic bike-sharing program with just 350 bikes.  

Sadik-Khan called bike sharing “a gateway drug” that encourages more urban cycling in cities around the country, with all the environmental benefits that creates. Her studies have shown the new bike network and sharing program have added an average of 15,000 new cyclists to the city each day, and that it’s become a major tourist draw.   

Some of her slides also showed how elegant some of the improvements have been, from the cycle tracks to the bike racks that have sprouted up all over the city. “We brought good design into the public realm,” she said, encouraging San Francisco, with his reputation for innovation and good design, to do the same thing. “You have such design talent in San Francisco and I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”

But as Sadik-Khan and Shahum both repeatedly emphasized, it takes bold political leadership that is also pushed by civic groups like SFBC and the public in general, prodding on timid elected officials. As Sadik-Khan said, “People are way far ahead of public officials in understanding what works.”

Indeed, two days later on the streets of San Francisco, bike activists demonstrated that reality, staging an amazing Bicycle Music Festival that drew thousands of people to Golden Gate Park for a day of music from its pedal-powered stages.

Then, from 5-6pm, a colorful crowd of more than 1,000 people mounted their bikes and followed lounge singer Jason Brock on a bike-pulled stage that wound through the city to the next stop for the festival in the Mission District, a sort of musical, organized Critical Mass that produced big grins on everyone involved.

Led by key festival organizer Fossil Fool and his Rock the Bike comrades, and taking a cue from Sadik-Khan and fervent supporters that she’s developed here and across the country, perhaps it’s still possible to create a parade that our leaders can be persuaded to step in front of.