Sunday, August 02, 2015

Bill Maher: Openly Secular

Thanks to Alternet.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Something to celebrate: 50 years of Medicare and Medicaid

Thanks to Daily Kos.


Friday, July 31, 2015

To ticket or not to ticket

Ed Reiskin, London Breed, Noah Budnick

Sorting out the sense from the nonsense in the ticketing cyclists kerfuffle, I have to admit that a comment to Streetsblog last year by Upright Biker stated the issue succinctly:

Bicyclists should always yield to pedestrians. The problem is that some cyclists' interpretation of "yielding" is calculating how they can continue at speed and confidently swerve to avoid a collision. This of course makes pedestrians feel unsafe, which is why it should be a ticketed behavior. Now, ticketing failure to stop completely at an empty intersection? That's a ridiculous burden on both the bicyclist and the police (emphasis added).

Yes, well put. But if the city is really concerned about pedestrian safety on places like the Wiggle and the north path of the Panhandle, it should put city cops there to ticket cyclists who actually endanger pedestrians.

Ticketing cyclists for rolling through stop signs when there's no danger from motorists or to pedestrians may be legally correct, but you quickly get into Javert/Les Miserables territory if you insist on rigidly enforcing the letter of the law. 

On the other hand, it's hard to protect cyclists from themselves if they engage in risky behavior. Recall that the three cyclists who died on city streets last year did so because of their own negligent behavior. Ditto for 50% of the city's 2014 pedestrian fatalities.

Recall too that most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that don't involve other vehicles, and that those accidents can be just as serious as being hit by a motor vehicle.

In the beginning of his regime, Mayor Lee probably thought that supporting whatever the bike lobby wants to do to city streets was a safe political move, but the apparent growing unpopularity of the city's bike people is giving him second thoughts.

With their unerring sense of bad PR, cyclists jam up traffic on the Wiggle to only confirm for the rest of us that, yes, a lot of cyclists are buttholes.

Streetsblog thinks this is cool

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PBS Newshour gets "airy" new look

The NewsHour's new set design may have benefits not visible to viewers, but it does in fact look "light" and "airy" as the hed on this story---on the site of the designers who apparently did the work---tells us (‘PBS NewsHour’ gets airy new look). Why would a supposedly serious news program want a set that looks like a subdued version of the one on SportsCenter?

...the set makes heavy use of acrylic and aluminum for its mostly freestanding scenic elements. Those elements, which are specially coated to prevent reflections from lights and teleprompters, make heavy make use of the PBS “face” logo overlaid and cropped in a variety of ways in blue, red and yellow. Around the anchor desk, a band of panels show subtle animated graphics. The entire set, meanwhile, is wrapped in a bright white cyclorama that contributes to the light, airy feel.

Go to 7:20 on the video above to see the most annoying touch of the new design: "a band of panels show subtle animated graphics." They are overlapping crawls that are "subtle" in the sense that they aren't meant to convey information; they are just slow-moving, blurry crawls stacked on top of each other:

“It was our goal to have the design reflect many of the values intrinsic to the Newshour’s journalism,” said Eric Siegel, who led the redesign efforts. The values encompassed words such as “transparent,” “open,” “bright,” “clean” and “uncluttered,” Siegel said in an email interview with NewscastStudio ("creative newscast inspiration").

But the not-so-subtle crawls are in reality just visual clutter that only a trendy set "designer" can appreciate.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Answering a call to prayer

Is this dog Islamic or Islamophobic?

Thanks to Pamela Geller.

Working on a cure

July 26, 2015
by Dan Arel

I was kind of surprised to read a post on the Friendly Atheist blog that went after Richard Dawkins for a tweet in which he called for a feminist revolution inside of Islam.

Reading attacks on Dawkins is nothing new. Even on a fairly Dawkins-friendly site like Friendly Atheist, if he says something hurtful or wrong, it will be discussed. But this post shocked me, not only because of the implied sexism from the author, but also because of the tweet in question.

The post’s author, Lauren Nelson, takes issue with this:

Islam needs a feminist revolution. It will be hard. What can we do to help?
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 23, 2015

You might find yourself thinking, What is wrong with this statement?

According to Nelson:

For starters, Dawkins is a wealthy white Western male dictating what just under a billion women — and overwhelmingly, women of color — around the world “need” to do, with little to no context for what their lives are like.

So Dawkins cannot have an opinion on what he sees happening to women inside Islam because he is a white Western male? Apparently he cannot have an opinion on the subject because he is not a Muslim woman like Nelson is. Oh wait, Nelson isn’t Muslim. How dare she have an opinion on Muslim women!

Did I do that right?

And what does his skin color have to do with this, anyway? Last time I checked, Muslims come in all different races, much like most other religions. Sure, the Muslims Dawkins is talking about are probably overwhelmingly Middle Eastern, but why does that change the message of his tweet? He wants to help women living under an oppressive religion, and Nelson is complaining that he is white. Bravo...

This post by Nelson was more sexist, arrogant and misguided than a single letter in Dawkins’s tweet, which did nothing but claim that he believed Islam needed a feminist revolution, and that, while it would be very hard, he would like to know how he can help.

How dare he offer to help women who are often stoned to death for adultery, even when they are the victims of rape, who are subject to female genital mutilation, or who are killed by their families in honor killings. How dare this privileged white male use his position of fame to make noise and call attention to these atrocities.

No, Nelson believes that since not all Muslim women experience these acts, Dawkins is out of place.

Well, I am sorry, but Dawkins in one tweet has now done more for Islamic feminists than Nelson has done by spending her time focusing on the messenger and missing the message (emphasis added)

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The city and the Lower Haight: Stuck with the Wiggle

Jim Swanson

On Thu, Jul 30, 2015, Bike Talk wrote:

I do a bike policy podcast in LA, and we'd like to get some people in the Wigg Party and others to explain what's going on with SFPD cyclist-ticketing campaign, and the "wiggle." Can someone please contact me at
Nick Richert

My response:


Not clear why I got this email, since I'm a long-time critic of the city's bike people. As I pointed out the other day on my blog, the city is trying to have it both ways on the Wiggle, which it promotes as a quick, fast way for cyclists to get to Market Street and South of Market. The problem: It's a densely-populated neighborhood, and cyclists are now speeding through, putting pedestrians in peril. Lot of people in that neighborhood are now complaining, which in turn leads the SFPD to issue tickets, etc. Hence, City Hall has a problem: It can't ignore the issue because of the neighborhood complaints. On the other hand, City Hall has been pandering to the bike lobby for years, essentially giving it whatever it asks for.

More comment by me:

The problem the city has now: It's hard to backtrack on promoting the Wiggle, now that it's been advertised for years as a quick and cool way for cyclists to get to Market Street/downtown. Just like it's hard for City Hall to admit that riding a bike in the city is more dangerous than they and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us, which is why it has to ignore that UC study. City Hall has been aggressively promoting cycling in the city for more than ten years, which is now hard to reverse---or even modify---even as the dumb Masonic Avenue bike project looms on the horizon as a public relations debacle for the PC bobbleheads in City Hall.

Click on "The Wiggle" below for earlier posts on the issue.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"The arena needs to be located elsewhere"

Letter to the editor in today's SF Chronicle:

Traffic bottleneck

From the parking lot farthest from AT&T park it takes me from 20 to 40 minutes to get seven to eight blocks to 16th Street where the Warriors’ arena will be. This traffic bottleneck is from the ballpark, business and residents who live or work in the Mission Bay area. Also, this assumes I leave the game early to avoid the really bad traffic. I live in Marin and can no longer take the ferry as there is no parking in Larkspur. With 200 events per year at the new arena, I will have to consider giving up my ballpark seats as I cannot imagine how another tens of thousands of people will not make the ability to return to Marin anything less than a two-hour project. You can funnel traffic to accommodate the hospital, but the reality is there will just be too many cars. There are already too many cars, and fewer parking lots every year as more buildings go up bringing more cars to the neighborhood. 

The arena needs to be located elsewhere.

Robert Levy 

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Jim Morin

From Monday's SF Examiner

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dr. Seuss: Radical environmentalist

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. 
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” 

That there will be a new Dr. Seuss book published today, though the author died in 1991, is an interesting story. Even more interesting: Dr. Seuss was evidently some kind of an environmentalist whose The Lorax, published in 1971, caused controversy in Mendocino County in 1989, when The Timber Wars were raging on the Northcoast of California. 

From People Magazine in 1989:

The trouble began the day Sammy Bailey came home from school last spring. The Laytonville, Calif., second grader had just finished reading The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, the sad tale of a fuzzy little creature who loses his forest home when the greedy Once-lers cut down all the Truffula trees. A troubled and thoughtful Sammy had taken the story's lesson to heart. "If you cut down a tree," he told his father, Bill Bailey, "then it's just like someone coming in and taking away your home." 

Another parent might have been touched by his child's sensitivity; Bailey was not. The owner of a logging supplies mail-order business, he was incensed by what he saw as a flagrant attack on the livelihood of Laytonville, a tiny (pop. 1,096), single-industry lumber town 150 miles north of San Francisco. Rounding up support from other outraged parents, Bailey, 46, and his wife, Judith, 42, asked the local school board in September to remove The Lorax from the second-grade required-reading list. "Teachers...mock the timber industry, and some of our kids are being brainwashed," screamed Bailey's full-page ad in the local weekly. "We've got to stop this crap right now!"

From a Laytonville resident's newsletter at the time:

In The Lorax, Dr. Seuss makes an outstanding case against greed and reckless environmental practices. If Bill Bailey thinks the good doctor is in error, let him present a better case. Show us the book, Mr. Bailey, that will put a good face on what your friends in the logging industry are doing to our land. Instead of bullying and braggadocio, show us through intelligent argument the truth and justice of your cause.

Outside of your place of business, Mr. Bailey, you fly a large American flag, but I maintain that every time you interfere with the free dissemination of ideas, you disgrace that flag. There is much wrong with the American system and the American way of life, but one thing we can be undeniably proud of is the right to read and say and think whatever we choose. When you deny that right to our children, you strike at the heart of what is best about this country.

The only Dr. Seuss book I remember from my childhood is Bartholemew and the Oobleck, published in 1949, in which green gooey stuff rains from the sky. In retrospect this too reads like an environmental warning, though I only remember enjoying the whimsical story and the great illustrations:

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Monday, July 27, 2015

"Rough ride" on city roads

"The 25 urban regions with a population of 500,000 or greater with the highest share of major roads and highways with pavements that are in poor condition and provide a rough ride are": 

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New Warriors' arena will create gridlock

In the Chronicle this morning:

By Matier & Ross
July 26, 2015 

A city report says the Warriors’ proposed arena in Mission Bay could cause backups well beyond that neighborhood.

Most of the debate over the Warriors’ proposed arena has centered around car congestion in Mission Bay, but the city’s environmental impact report also raises the specter of “significant and unavoidable” traffic impacts all the way to the Bay Bridge.

According to the report, the 60-plus “peak” events a year at the arena — basketball games, concerts and the like — could draw more than 3,000 additional cars into the area. Most would be rolling in between 6 and 8 p.m.

About 30 percent of the arena-bound cars are expected to come from within San Francisco. More than a quarter are likely to come from the East Bay, 10 percent from the North Bay and nearly a third from the Peninsula and South Bay.

That would amount to an extra 1,000 cars coming over the Bay Bridge and another 1,000 driving up Interstate 280 and Highway 101 — all converging on Mission Bay.

The result will likely be “a significant impact” on as many as 11 key intersections in the South of Market, according to the environmental impact report.

It will also mean “significant and unavoidable” backups on the already heavily used downtown freeway ramps at Fifth and Harrison and Fifth and Bryant streets, as well as on the ramps coming off I-280.

The report also concluded that “no feasible mitigations are available” to ease the problem — at least from an infrastructure standpoint — because there’s no room to widen the freeway ramps or city streets...

Rob's comment:

You can find links to the EIR on this project on the Planning Department's website.

That darn CEQA strikes again, even though just the other day Planetizen all but announced the impending success of CEQA "reform," which will mean that creating traffic congestion will no longer be an environmental impact. Maybe those 18,000 basketball fans, concert goers, and those attending the 60+ other special events will ride bikes to the new arena.

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Bogus case against GMOs

By William Saletan on Slate:

...The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. 

The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust...


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sam Harris: Religious moderates "blinded by their own moderation"

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City Hall on the Wiggle: Having it both ways

A Wiggle sign

A comment to the previous post:

Have you heard that there will be a "protest" at the Wiggle where bike riders will show their anger at being issued traffic citations for not stopping at stop signs? "We want to make the point that, in fact, requiring cyclists to come to full stops at every stop sign is a really terrible idea for everyone on the road." The whole protest idea reminds me of children who are upset for being caught breaking the rules so they just sit down and cry. (SFCitizen has a great story about this)

City Hall is trying to have it both ways: It promotes the Wiggle as a cool, only-in-San Francisco thing, while occasionally doing a crackdown on cyclists running stop signs as they use what the city itself promotes as the quickest route downtown. 

How can the Wiggle be the best, quickest bike route if cyclists have to stop at stop signs?

And how can the city promote pedestrian safety when cyclists using the Wiggle routinely pose a hazard to pedestrians in that densely-populated neighborhood?

It can't, which means that in practice the interests of cyclists continue to trump pedestrian safety on the Wiggle. If you live on the Wiggle, you have to be extra careful crossing the street, like pedestrians crossing the north path on the Panhandle have to look out for speeding cyclists.

The city tries to muddy that safety issue by putting a green patina on the Wiggle. Hey, if you're a "progressive" you can't complain about cyclists because the Wiggle is now a "Green Corridor"!

What do people living on the Wiggle think about it? See this. Nothing has changed there since C.W. Nevius wrote about it three years ago.

The demo next week is another Morgan Fitzgibbons stunt.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Risky behavior putting bicyclists in ER


Wall Street reform is working

Thanks in large part to Elizabeth Warren and Barney Frank, one of the most important achievements of the Obama administration: the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Zombie falsehood about Bicycle Plan shambles on

Bay Area Council in action in Washington

I have to again invoke Paul Krugman's zombie idea definition: "beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die." 

Just the other day I dealt with Planetizen's falsehood about the Bicycle Plan litigation. 

Today's Chronicle has an op-ed (California can’t reach greenhouse-gas targets without CEQA reformby Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council ("The Voice of Bay Area Business"), a lobbying organization for the area's businesses and government agencies. 

Wunderman invokes the same falsehood as the progressive Planetizen:

A single individual used a CEQA lawsuit to delay San Francisco’s plan to expand its network of bicycle lanes and encourage more bicycle commuting. The lawsuit claimed the city had not sufficiently studied the negative environmental impacts of the project. Five years, several million taxpayer dollars and 2,200 pages of environmental review later, the plan finally was approved.

All three of those sentences are false. The "plan" of course is the Bicycle Plan, which was not about "bicycle commuting" but cycling in San Francisco in general. 

I've said this many times before, but let's go over it again: The city did no environmental review at all of the 500-page Bicycle Plan before it was passed unanimously by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Once your appeal is rejected by the BOS---and they always are---you must either give up or litigate.

It was an easy decision for Judge Busch to make. 

The way the city proceeded with the Bicycle Plan obviously violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the most important environmental law in the State of California. CEQA requires environmental review of any project that even might have an impact on the environment. Instead of following the law, the city claimed a "general rule" exemption for the Bicycle Plan that can only be claimed when it's obvious a project won't have any impact on the environment:

Where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment, the activity is not subject to CEQA (emphasis added).

That is, the city lied about the CEQA exemption from the start. Representatives from the Planning Department and the City Attorney's office lied during the hearing on our appeal. Of course a project that removes dozens of traffic lanes and thousands of street parking spaces from city streets "may" have an impact on the city's environment, even if that project declares the best of intentions, e.g., encouraging people to ride bikes instead of drive motor vehicles, thus benefiting the city's environment.

And the environmental impact review (EIR) that was eventually approved by the court was not of the same plan that was the subject of our original litigation.

Wunderman cites a Holland & Knight study on CEQA litigation that didn't even include our successful CEQA litigation against the City of San Francisco.

Wunderman includes this interesting point:

Another report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office also points the finger of blame for California’s high housing costs squarely at CEQA. The report found that cities in California take on average 2.5 years to complete the various CEQA analyses required to permit new infill housing, and that’s before anyone files a lawsuit that can add many more years to the process.

Wunderman is referring to page 18 of the LAO report:

Our review of CEQA documents submitted to the state by California’s ten largest cites between 2004-2013 indicates that local agencies took, on average, around two and a half years to approve housing projects that required an EIR. The CEQA process also, in some cases, results in developers reducing the size and scope of a project in response to concerns discovered during the review process.

Hence, this isn't a problem with CEQA per se but about how sluggishly city planning bureaucracies handle CEQA cases, which is not about litigation.

Naturally, many of the businesses and organizations Wunderman represents as a lobbyist don't like CEQA. Walmart---oddly, not listed as one of his clients---doesn't like to do environmental reviews before it builds a new store, and the Bicycle Coalition was outraged when the court ruled that the city had to do an environmental review of the ambitious Bicycle Plan. Like a Walmart store, however, that Plan was a project that could/would have an impact on the environment.

The National Resources Defense Council did a study in 2013 on CEQA litigation that puts the issue in a realistic context (CEQA: The Litigation Myth):

...the absolute number of cases is small, about 200 cases filed per year. The number of cases is also small as a percentage of the total civil litigation in California, which is about 1,100,00 cases per year. CEQA litigation is a tiny 00.02% of the total civil litigation. CEQA judicial enforcement is also a very small percentage of the total projects considered under CEQA. The Attorney General’s office undertook a case study of CEQA challenges in the City and County of San Francisco from July 2011 through December 2011. The Attorney General found that only 18 lawsuits were filed out of 5,203 projects considered under CEQA. Since all of these projects were located in San Francisco, they represent urban infill projects surrounded by neighbors. San Francisco has a reputation for vigorous environmental oversight whose citizens often exercise their rights through the public participation and legal system. Yet the litigation rate even for the San Francisco infill projects was only 00.3%.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beef and water

Thanks to Alternet.

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Examiner readers support crackdown on scofflaw cyclists

Readers of the SF Examiner approve of Captain Sanford's policy on scofflaw cyclists (Examiner readers react to “Park police target scofflaw cyclists” story). Letters to the editor in today's edition:

It’s good to see SFPD exercising courage to keep us safe from rogue cyclists. I was knocked down and seriously injured by a speeding cyclist who not only ran a red light but was going the wrong way! Yet there is no accountability for such actions.

Instead of attacking Capt. John Sanford Jr. of Park Station, whose goal is to keep everyone safe, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition should work with him to encourage playing by the road rules for all cyclists and publicly criticize those cyclists who endanger the rest of us.

Sherrie Matza
San Francisco

Capt. John Sanford Jr. is to be praised for courageously resisting the constraints of political correctness and taking enforcement action against the lawless, reckless, inconsiderate behavior practiced by most cyclists and endorsed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. He is doing more to achieve Vision Zero goals than all the cyclist/pedestrian activists who argue that only automobile drivers are the problem.

Anyone who walks about The City knows that scofflaw cycling is the norm, not the exception, and that pedestrians almost universally ignore pedestrian traffic control signals, often while dangerously focused on their cellphone screens and deafened by the buds in their ears.

As long as Vision Zero relies on perfection by drivers and tolerates reckless, careless, inconsiderate, scofflaw behavior by cyclists and pedestrians, it is doomed to failure.

Barrett Giorgis
San Francisco

New Park Station Capt. John Sanford Jr. is right to clamp down on scofflaw bicyclists who endanger not only pedestrians but all of us. The City, in its urban fantasy that bicyclists would one day become 20 percent of all commuters, has allowed bicyclists and the San Francisco

Bicycle Coalition to dictate policy and practice. Presently, bicyclists are only about 3 percent of commuters, despite the millions spent on making San Francisco “comfortable” for scofflaw bicyclists and uncomfortable for the rest of us. Bicyclists — with their scofflaw mentality, refusal to follow traffic laws and provocative behavior — create an atmosphere of chaos and danger. Traffic laws work on the presumption that most people would follow these laws.

Scofflaw bicyclists are the “broken windows” in traffic enforcement. Thanks, Capt. Sanford.

Fiona McGregor
San Francisco

I shouldn’t be appalled by the arrogance of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, but I am. Who do you people think you are? Are you and the cyclists of San Francisco so entitled that you’re above following the traffic laws? There are certainly more cyclists running red lights than drivers. Last I checked, bicycles are moving vehicles too. You all want to be heard and respected, but a large majority of cyclists don’t exercise common sense or courtesies.

City Hall should also insist that cyclists have and use bike horns. The coalition lobbied for bike lanes, but cyclists ride on sidewalks on streets that have bike lanes. Cyclists zoom by on sidewalks weaving in and out of pedestrians without warning. Cyclists want drivers to be more mindful of them, but the vast majority aren’t being mindful of pedestrians. And drivers can’t stop on a dime when cyclists weave through traffic. Instead of blasting the Park Station captain, you should be supporting him by reminding cyclists that they’re susceptible to injuries/death if they’re hit because they ran a red light. They hit a pedestrian, both are injured or killed.

If Vision Zero is going to be a success, then drivers, pedestrians and cyclists need to take responsibility for their safety and stop whining that the Police Department is singling them out.

Debi Gould
San Francisco

It’s about time the police ticketed scofflaw cyclists. They ride wherever they want, whenever they want. They ride on sidewalks (which is generally illegal in The City), run red lights and stop signs, etc.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is showing its true colors. The organization claims to promote safe and law-abiding cycling, but it’s obvious from their petition that they don’t. The City spends millions of dollars to give cyclists a better environment in which to ride, but the cyclists show little, if any, appreciation. The cyclists pay nothing for roadway changes aimed at making things safer, and then complain when they are cited for a violation.

The article states that 1 percent of traffic tickets are given to bicyclists. I think if you open your eyes, you will see that they commit far more than 1 percent of the traffic violations.

As to the complaint about the cost of tickets by bike messenger Santiago Campos: The City doesn’t charge you anything to ride your bicycle if you obey the law. Try it sometime.

I salute Capt. John Sanford Jr. for doing his job and not caving in to a “politically powerful” Bicycle Coalition.

Arthur P. Samuelson
San Francisco

Thank you so much for that article. Finally! I’m a pedestrian who walks all over town. Cyclists and BMW drivers are the most arrogant in The City. They always think they have the right of way. I would never challenge a cyclist, except maybe midtown. They expect rights (bike lanes), but don’t stop at red lights or stop signs and cut off pedestrians in crosswalks. Again, I appreciate your article.

Willa Crowell
San Francisco

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Flight MH370: Still missing

It's been 500 days since Malaysian flight MH370 disappeared. The search goes on. Meanwhile, Jeff Wise is blogging about the possible scenarios and getting deep in the weeds on the issue. Interesting stuff, when it isn't too technical, which is most of the time.

Liberal multiculturalists are hoping it wasn't another act of Islamic terrorism, but I bet they're going to be disappointed.

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People driving more than ever

From Calculated Risk

Some discussion at Vox and Kevin Drum: 

...the basics seem simple: the economy has finally been growing and gasoline prices have been low. That's enough to get us all back in our cars.

So was it ever the case that American young 'uns fell out of love with the automobile, which partly explained why miles traveled dipped so dramatically during the recession? That's a favored explanation among urban pundits, where Zipcars and Uber are popular and lots of people don't bother owning cars. But I've always doubted it. It really does seem to be true that teenagers simply don't care about learning to drive as much as teenagers of my generation, but for the most part that just means they learn to drive a little later. And if they live in the burbs, they need to drive, same as always. They couldn't afford it while they were living in mom's basement during the recession, but they can now, and that's why car sales are up and miles driven are up.

We still love our cars, and now we can afford to use them. That will probably continue to be true until gas goes up to five bucks a gallon again...


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Planetizen tries to rewrite city history

From Planetizen, a PC "Smart Growth" site:

LOS[level of service] is not just an esoteric traffic engineering or legal standard that fills the pages of lengthy environmental documents. It has major implications for the level of traffic analysis required for potentially every major project a city wants to undertake. Even seemingly uncontroversial projects—at least from an environmental perspective—can be waylaid by years of high level analysis and millions of dollars in additional costs. In 2005, for example, San Francisco's extensive proposed bicycle plan was challenged on the grounds that the city's environmental impact assessments under CEQA insufficiently addressed LOS effects.

For a project so clearly aimed at reducing air pollution by increasing bike-ability and getting cars off the road, it's comical that the hold-up came in the form of an environmental challenge. San Francisco's bike plan failed its CEQA technical obligations precisely because of its benefits to the environment: increased bike and pedestrian friendliness, less car reliance, and reduced pollution. Only after a decade of litigation, resulting in a practical moratorium on all bike policy development in the city, did San Francisco produce an environmental impact statement that could satisfy the required LOS traffic analysis.

Regardless of the merits of the movement to "reform" CEQA, there's no excuse for this kind of ignorance more than ten years after our litigation against the city's Bicycle Plan. The bike people and the anti-car movement---essentially one and the same---displayed this kind of ignorance soon after we got an injunction against the city in 2006 (a few samples from 2006 here and heremore recent samples here and here).

My response below---with some links added---was the only comment to a story packed with misinformation:

This is preposterous. If traffic congestion is not an environmental impact, what is?

As a party to the litigation against San Francisco's attempt to illegally sneak the 500-page Bicycle Plan through the process, I can say that this is what really happened: The city did no environmental review of the ambitious Plan!

Judge Busch's decision was an easy one for him to make. It didn't hinge on LOS but only on the fact that the city had done no environmental review of the Plan, which was clearly against CEQA's fundamental mandate requiring that any project that even might have an impact on the environment must undergo an environmental study before it's implemented. Is that requirement even controversial?

"For a project so clearly aimed at reducing air pollution by increasing bike-ability and getting cars off the road, it's comical that the hold-up came in the form of an environmental challenge."

But good intentions are not enough under CEQA---at least they haven't been until now. Every jurisdiction and developer can claim that their projects will make the world a better place. 

The reality here: If a project---as the Bicycle Plan does---proposes taking away more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 parking spaces on busy city streets to make bike lanes, obviously that will have an impact on the city's physical environment, not to mention traffic congestion, air quality, etc.

"San Francisco's bike plan failed its CEQA technical obligations precisely because of its benefits to the environment: increased bike and pedestrian friendliness, less car reliance, and reduced pollution. Only after a decade of litigation, resulting in a practical moratorium on all bike policy development in the city, did San Francisco produce an environmental impact statement that could satisfy the required LOS traffic analysis."

This is completely wrong on the facts about San Francisco and our litigation. There was nothing "technical" at all in Judge Busch's decision ordering the city to do an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan. All he had to decide is whether the most important environmental law in the state---that is, CEQA---required that the city do an environmental review of some kind before it began redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority of cyclists (only 3.4% of all trips in the city are by bicycle). He didn't even specify that the city had to do an EIR on the Plan, though that was clearly what was required and what the city did.

The city could have saved a lot of time and money---it had to pay our lawyer after the judge's decision---if it had simply followed the law in the first place. The city just thought it could get away with not obeying the law, that no one would challenge their attempted coup on behalf of the bike lobby. Wrong!

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Education First


Monday, July 20, 2015

Elizabeth Warren talks to Netroots

Skip the introductory guff and start at 3:50.

Thanks to Daily Kos.

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Cap-and-trade and the high-speed rail project

From a report by the Legislative Analyst's office:

"An additional $21 billion will need to be identified
to complete the IOS[initial operating segment]
which is about two-thirds of the total cost." 

Figure 4
Estimated Annual Capital Costs of Initial Operating Segment
(In Millions)

...In reviewing the Governor’s proposals to support the high-speed rail project, we find that the proposals raise several issues that merit legislative consideration. Specifically, we find that (1) using cap-and-trade auction revenues for high-speed rail may not maximize GHG[greenhouse gas] reductions, (2) there currently is not a funding plan to complete the IOS[initial operating segment], (3) it is unclear how much cap-and-trade revenue will actually be available for high-speed rail in the future, and (4) the HSRA[High-Speed Rail Authority] is expending federal funds while matching Proposition 1A funds face legal risks...

Using Cap-and-Trade Auction Revenues for High-Speed Rail May Not Maximize GHG Reductions 

As we discussed in our recent report, The 2014-15 Budget: Cap-and-Trade Auction Revenue Expenditure Plan, in order to minimize the negative economic impact of cap-and-trade, it is important that auction revenues be invested in a way that maximizes GHG emission reductions for a given level of spending. It is unclear the extent to which using such revenues to support high-speed rail will maximize GHG emission reductions. First, the high-speed rail project would not contribute significant GHG reductions before 2020, which is the statutory target for reaching 1990 emissions levels as required by Chapter 488, Statutes of 2006 (AB 32, Núñez/Pavley). 

This is because, as mentioned above, plans for the high-speed rail system indicate that the first phase of the project will not be operational until 2022. Second, the construction of the project would actually generate GHG emissions of 30,000 metric tons over the next several years. (The HSRA plans to offset these emissions with an urban forestry program that proposes to plant thousands of trees in the Central Valley.) 

We also note that HSRA’s GHG emission estimates for construction do not include emissions associated with the production of construction materials, which suggests that the amount of emission requiring mitigation could be much higher than currently planned. 

No Complete Funding Plan for IOS 

As mentioned above, the HSRA indicates that the IOS[initial operating segment: Merced to San Fernando Valley] will cost about $31 billion to complete. In its recent 2014 draft business plan, the authority identified a total of $10 billion in funding available to support the construction of the IOS. This level of funding consists of (1) $3.3 billion in federal funds already received and (2) $6.8 billion in Proposition 1A bond funds. The plan states that an additional $21 billion will need to be identified in order to complete the IOS, which is about two-thirds of the total cost. 

An infusion of funds from the private sector to address the current IOS funding shortfall is unlikely, given that the HSRA stated in its 2012 business plan that private sector funds will only become available after the IOS is completed and demonstrated to have a net positive operating cash flow. 

Additionally, given the federal government’s current financial situation, the current focus in Washington on reducing federal spending, and the lack of a federal budget appropriation to support the state’s high-speed rail system since 2009-10, it is uncertain at this time that any additional federal funding for the state’s high-speed rail project will become available. Thus, the state will likely be the only source of additional funding to address the $21 billion shortfall identified by HSRA. 

Unclear How Much Cap-and-Trade Funding Will Support High-Speed Rail in Future

Although the administration proposes to use revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program to help address the $21 billion shortfall, it is unclear how much cap-trade auction revenue will actually be allocated to high-speed rail in 2015-16 and beyond to complete the IOS under the Governor’s plan. As indicated above, the Governor is proposing that beginning in 2015-16, 33 percent of all state auction revenues be continuously appropriated to HSRA. 

At this time, however, the administration has not provided an estimate of projected cap-and-trade auction revenues. Moreover, it is unclear for how long the administration expects there to be cap-and-trade auctions and the availability of revenue resulting from such auctions. 

The absence of a detailed plan projecting the estimated amount of cap-and-trade auction revenue that would be appropriated to HSRA by year is problematic for two reasons. 

First, it makes it difficult for the Legislature to determine if such revenues, along with available federal funds and Proposition 1A bond funds, would be sufficient to fund the expected costs per year to complete the IOS. To the extent that there would not be sufficient revenues in a given year, the Legislature would need to identify alternative funding sources, likely from other state resources. 

Second, the absence of projected cap-and-trade auction revenues also makes it difficult for the Legislature to weigh the relative trade-offs of dedicating a fixed percentage of cap-and-trade auction revenues to high-speed rail each year (without further legislative action) versus allocating the funds on an annual basis to other programs intended to reduce GHG emissions, including programs that the Legislature deems to be of higher priority and could maximize GHG reductions in a more cost-effective manner. This is because it is uncertain whether there would be a sufficient amount of funding available under the Governor’s proposal to support such programs. 

HSRA Expending Federal Funds While Matching Proposition 1A Bond Funds Face Legal Risks. 

For the remainder of 2013-14 and 2014-15, the HSRA plans to spend about $1.6 billion in federal funds on the high-speed rail project, which require a match of state funds. 

Currently, the only state funding source available to provide matching expenditures are Proposition 1A bond funds. However, as we mentioned above, the availability of Proposition 1A bond funds has been the subject of litigation. If the federal funds are expended as planned, and the state does not provide matching expenditures, the Federal Railways Administration reserves the right to require that the state repay the federal government up to the entire amount of federal funds spent on the project. 

LAO Recommendations 

In light of the concerns expressed above, we make several recommendations intended to help the Legislature ensure that the high-speed rail project can be completed as planned, while balancing other priorities such as maximizing GHG emission reductions. 

Specifically, we recommend: 

Requiring Administration to Provide Complete Funding Plan. Given the concerns described above, we recommend that the Legislature require the administration and HSRA to provide a funding plan that identifies all the funding sources (including cap-and-trade auction revenues) by amount and year that would be used to complete the IOS. As such, the plan should detail how the administration intends to address the $21 billion shortfall identified by HSRA. The requested funding plan would help the Legislature in its deliberations on the Governor’s funding proposals for high-speed rail. 

Withholding Action on Various Proposals. Pending the receipt of the above funding plan, we recommend that the Legislature withhold action on the Governor’s high-speed rail proposals (including those proposed for CPUC and DOC). 

Weighing Options for Use of Cap-And-Trade Auction Revenue. As we recommended in our recent report on the administration’s cap-and-trade auction revenue expenditure plan, we recommend that the Legislature consider a full array of options for the use of cap-and-trade auction revenue funds to help achieve the goals of AB 32 and meet legislative priorities...(emphasis added)

Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability: A letter to the Air Resources Board on cap-and-trade and the high-speed rail project.

Kathy Hamilton's latest at on the cap-and-trade issue.

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