Last night, Mary Miles of the Coalition for Adequate Review appealed the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. The Board of Supervisors unanimously denied the appeal and upheld the FEIR as accurate, adequate, sufficient, and complete. The Board also unanimously passed ordinances amending the General Plan and Planning Code to support the Bicycle Plan, incorporating the consistency and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) findings adopted by the Planning Commission and SFMTA Board.
After an initial unsuccessful attempt at stalling the decision, Ms. Miles offered the substance of her appeal. Unfortunately, the oral argument adopted a blanket bitter tone that failed to truly engage the EIR in an especially nuanced way. Dismissing the Bicycle Plan as a “fuzzy mishmash of so-called actions,” Ms. Miles then characterized the EIR as an “utterly incomprehensible morass of compounded, cut-and-paste, cross-referenced, encoded … somethings, that say nothing.” She also accused the environmental document of omitting the most critical elements, like cumulative analysis, alternatives analysis, and mitigation measures.
It does no so such thing. The FEIR — which, per Amit Ghosh, cost over $900,000 to prepare — is more than 2,000 pages long. It contains thorough Level of Service (LOS) analysis, which details the impacts to traffic and transit of the proposed improvements and alternative options, studied at intersections throughout San Francisco; and these impacts are also compared to the no-build scenario. (Of course, some of us like to think of impacts like “degraded LOS” instead as “calmer, safer streets.”) To the extent that the FEIR appears repetitive (or “cut-and-paste,” as Ms. Miles called it), that characteristic was essentially forced upon the document by Ms. Miles herself, because the City quite consciously aimed to produce a complete and adequate document that could survive future legal attack.
The FEIR’s approach of documenting project alternatives is indeed atypical; but this atypical structure reflects the somewhat atypical nature of the Bicycle Plan — which is not a single, unified project, but rather, is a collection of conceptually related, yet divisible, bicycle improvement projects. The FEIR clarifies significant impacts, along with appropriate mitigation measures where possible; indeed, it takes no chances, in order to ensure that the court injunction is lifted. Ms. Miles will certainly continue to challenge the Bicycle Plan, by asserting that the City’s latest certified environmental document is inadequate. But we hope that the court will declare the FEIR to be in compliance with CEQA, so that we can finally end the court-imposed moratorium on all bicycle infrastructure improvements that was mandated by the injunction secured in 2006.
Still, Ms. Miles’s appeal was correct about one thing. This FEIR is indeed more complicated than it should have to be. The EIR for a handful of bicycle lanes should not require the preparation of literally hundreds of pages analyzing traffic impacts. The fact that the City has basically wasted an immense amount of time and money performing torturous analytical somersaults, just so that it may legally implement an environmentally-beneficial transportation policy, is unfortunate. It clarifies a failing of the underlying law, and it demonstrates that we are overdue in replacing the outdated, auto-centric LOS analysis with a more sensible Auto Trips Generated (ATG) measure — or a similar standard that more accurately reflects the City’s transit-first policy, by acknowledging that there are more important impacts to document than motorist speeds. This and other reform of CEQA will play an important role in achieving AB 32’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California, by streamlining environmental review for desirable transportation projects and good urban infill development. A world in which the EIR for a bicycle lane network is more difficult to prepare than the EIR for a suburban strip mall is a world that has not truly committed itself to reducing driving and emissions.
There’s much more that could be said here about the Bicycle Plan EIR and appeal, so my apologies for the somewhat thin post today. I was live-tweeting fast and furious for a few hours straight while watching the Board meeting, and was just too tired at the end of it to write a more detailed post. You can check out my Twitter feed for a reverse chronological transcript of the meeting. (The Twitter feed also includes tweets from two other appeals heard earlier in the Board meeting, discussing the Drew School expansion, a project that proposes to demolish a historic structure containing three rent controlled units located on the cusp of the former Western Addition redevelopment area, and replacing it with a new school assembly building.) Or, you can check out entries filed under the hashtag #sfmtg, which, for now anyway, has the bike plan tweets starting near the top of the page. (For more bike plan-related tweets, see also @ThePublicPress, @sfbc, and @StreetsblogSF.)
In any event, we should at least celebrate this latest milestone in the prolonged struggle to get San Francisco’s bicycle infrastructure caught up to the 20th century.