Bicycles, CEQA / NEPA Issues, San Francisco

Board of Supervisors Upholds the SF Bicycle Plan EIR

faded_bikeLast 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.



10 thoughts on “Board of Supervisors Upholds the SF Bicycle Plan EIR

  1. “The EIR for a handful of bicycle lanes should not require the preparation of literally hundreds of pages analyzing traffic impacts.”

    And those hundreds of pages are just a summary of how many more studies and surveys and computer models and tests… It’s a shame we’ve spent the last three years on this when during the same time period Barcelona launched their bike sharing program (Bicing, run by Clear Channel) which as of it’s second anniversary this May was being used by 9% of the population per day.

    Posted by Jamison Wieser | 5 August 2009, 10:34 pm
  2. Jamison,

    Respectfully disagree. The bike plan as implemented will increase auto congestion and thus pollution in addition to slowing Muni bus service even more. The many are being asked to sacrifice to benefit the few.

    Posted by Missiondweller | 6 August 2009, 2:13 pm
  3. Nothing slows down Muni more than cars. Anything that takes even one car off the road will improve Muni service, save lives, and make San Francisco a better place.

    Posted by Josh | 7 August 2009, 2:38 pm
  4. Our streets reflect decades of giving preference to automobiles above all other modes. This is quite literally true from their physical form, in which we see that sidewalks have been narrowed to accommodate extra lanes, and streets have been marked and designed to promote faster motorist speeds at the expense of safety. In a place like SF, where the city limit is compact, the weather is good, and Muni not always especially reliable, bicycling is a popular way to get around the city without a car. Even as a non-bicyclist (my trips are carried out as pedestrian or transit rider), I still appreciate the value of creating dedicated space for cyclists. And I think it’s appropriate to trade street speed for safer streets.

    We should encourage people to seek modes other than the automobile. The experience of other cities show that setting aside space/providing infrastructure for bicyclists encourages more people to cycle, ultimately with the goal of setting a more appropriate balance between modes.

    Bicycling is, it’s true, not as popular as driving or transit. You could even argue that topography will pose an additional barrier in SF that is not faced in other cities. Certainly, many of us do not want to or are physically unable to bicycle. But it also seems quite clear we have not hit the limit of potential bicycle mode share in SF. Bicycle mode share has increased despite the lack of new lanes in the past few years, which suggests that demand has not been satiated.

    Posted by Eric | 7 August 2009, 3:12 pm
  5. Cars outnumber bicyclists more than 10 to 1 in San Francisco commutes (200,000 to 15,000-20,000, not counting drivers from Marin, the Peninsula, and East Bay). Like Josh said, using bicyclists as a scapegoat for slow Muni service overlooks the biggest generator of traffic in San Francisco: cars. The bike injunction was just as much about Rob Anderson feeding his ego as genuine concerns over the impact of expanding bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco (meanwhile, New York City has dramatically expanded its bike network the past few years without slowing down its buses). I’m really looking forward to when the injunction is lifted so that San Francisco can finally catch up to its peers.

    Posted by Daniel | 7 August 2009, 3:26 pm
  6. … 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.

    Hello! Did somebody here order a Regional Transportation Plan?

    Posted by Richard Mlynarik | 9 August 2009, 7:24 pm
  7. Where is the irrepressible bike/ped activist or organization passionate enough to sue DOT & Caltrans over the negative impacts of the automobile emissions, noise, wear and tear on transportation infrastructure, public space destruction and disproportionate cost benefit per dollar caused by Automobile First policies aka LOS justification schema and worst case scenario parking provision requirements?

    Posted by Chris Weeks | 24 September 2009, 9:13 am


  1. Pingback: Streetsblog San Francisco » Today’s Headlines - 5 August 2009

  2. Pingback: SF Bike Plan: The Wait Continues - Bay Area Blog - - 2 November 2009

  3. Pingback: Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies | Grist - 18 April 2014

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