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News + PoliticsThe battle for the Bike Coalition reflects SF's political...

The battle for the Bike Coalition reflects SF’s political divide

Should bicycle activists be part of a larger progressive movement -- or stick to a single issue and cut deals with developers and City Hall? That's what's at stake in a board election for the SF Bicycle Coalition


By Steven T. Jones

DECEMBER 17, 2015 — San Francisco is a divided city, and that political division is playing out in dramatic fashion within the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition these days. One of the city’s largest and most effective political advocacy organizations is essentially deciding whether it wants to challenge the powers-that-be — or join them.

In many ways, this fight is a microcosm of the larger one roiling the city, in which the rich and powerful, in close partnership with neoliberal politicians and organizations (with a dose of tech-sponsored libertarianism), are rapidly changing the landscape of the city (both physical and sociopolitical) as many longtime residents and the progressive movement try to fight back or just hang on.

Dueling slates of candidates — endorsed by the rival factions Save SF Bike vs. Love SFBC — are fighting for control of the nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors in perhaps the most hotly contested election in its 40-year history. Executive Director Noah Budnick also just suddenly resigned after just eight months on the job, making this an even more pivotal moment.

The current fight began earlier this year when the SFBC tried to change its bylaws to eliminate member elections of the board. The move was badly handled by Budnick and other SFBC leaders, which presented the change as solely about protecting member privacy after a previous candidate for the board asserted his right to contact SFBC members about his platform.

Budnick and the board said the only way to solve the problem was to convert the organization’s structure from member-based to having a self-selected board. For many, it was just the latest example the SFBC seeking to professionalize itself at the expense of its grassroots base and seeming more concerned with catering to wealthy benefactors than average cyclists seeking to band together to amplify their voices in the political process.

So disaffected members formed Save SF Bike to challenge the move, first by campaigning against the proposition when it went to a vote of the members, then by challenging the validity of that vote after discovering the SFBC illegally failed to notify all of its members of the pending vote. Rather than fighting it out in court, the SFBC board nullified that bylaw vote, and here we are facing a pivotal new board election.

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Two of the SFBC’s most well-known former staffers, Executive Director Leah Shahum and Program Director Andy Thornley, lead the slate of candidates endorsed by the current board and/or a new group calling itself Love SFBC. That group basically argues that things are going great at SFBC and it just needs to continue to professionalize its operations, while Save SF Bike argues that the organization needs to be revitalized and diversified to return to its core mission of grassroots advocacy.

On a more basic level, although some on both sides might resist these labels, this is a battle between neoliberalism or progressivism. That is, do you play nice with developers and city officials to meet the needs of cyclists (ie neoliberalism)? Or do you organize cyclists and other allies to demand an equitable share of the city’s transportation spending and infrastructure (ie progressivism)?

“Do you work from the inside out or the outside in?” was how Jeremy Pollock, a progressive running on the Save SF Bike slate who also works as a board aide for Supervisor John Avalos, cast the split. He said there is merit to both sides, and the SFBC has alternated between those roles at different times. But in recent years, it has been siding with the neoliberals who have come to dominate City Hall: “They’ve gone too far in that direction.”

The Bike Coalition has always had one foot in each camp. Just calling for the city to dedicate space for cycling was once a radical ask, but the organization always kept its distance from the Critical Mass crowd that directly asserted cyclists’ right to the road. SFBC would sometimes use sharp rhetoric to criticize City Hall when the cops or mayor disregarded the safety or needs of cyclists, but it never really aligned itself with the city’s progressive movement despite what many saw as their shared interests.

For example, much to the chagrin of affordable housing groups, the SFBC would sometimes cut deals with developers over bike lanes or parking in projects rather than presenting a unified front in asking for a wider range of concessions from capital. Neoliberal politicians like Supervisor Scott Wiener were able exploit that split and often pit transportation against affordable housing, helping weaken a progressive movement that cares about both.

Longtime SFBC Board member Amandeep Jawa (who is not up for reelection this time) agrees that the organization has often been torn between those outside-in and inside-out poles, usually siding with the latter. And he told me that as a progressive, he’s often been disappointed that the organization has refused to side with the progressive movement.

“I’m to the left of the Bike Coalition’s politics,” Jawa told me, noting that he’s the only board member to be a longtime supporter of and participant in Critical Mass. “I’ve been an advocate of more marching into the streets.”

But he also credited Shahum with using an inclusive strategy to grow the membership to almost 13,000 at its peak a few years ago, improve its fundraising, and increase its power and influence at City Hall. And Jawa said he believes a leftward shift would hurt the organization and the cause of cycling in city: “If we did that version of the Bike Coalition, it would be kick ass and 500 members.”

Jawa likened the dichotomy to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. “I don’t want to burn down the one in the hopes that we get the other,” he said.

His analogy, which he brought up a few times in our conversation, is an interesting one that we discussed at length, and I think there’s a telling error that he makes in his logic. Most people who use the Martin-Malcolm argument use to explain why the movement was so successful at passing the Civil Right Act, Voting Rights Act, and getting federal intervention to desegregate the South.

That is, it took militants like Malcolm X who were willing to fight the power by any means necessary before the white power structure would be willing to cut a deal with King and his nonviolent resistance movement. Jawa believes Martin is enough and that trying to bring a little more Malcolm into the Bike Coalition could hurt its influence.

But the SFBC’s influence has already been waning. Its membership now hovers around 10,000, and city leaders have defied SFBC demands on Polk Street, police reform, and other projects. Pollock and the reformers (which include two grassroots activists who have been honored with SFBC Golden Wheel Awards in recent years) say it needs to aggressively recruit a new generation of young, multicultural recruits and lure back members who have resigned in recent years out of frustration with the organization’s direction.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people that the Bike Coalition has gotten away from direct member control and it’s become too professionalized,” Pollock said.

I’ve closely covered the Bike Coalition’s evolution since I started working for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2003, writing sympathetically about the cyclist community ever since. I’m friends with Jawa, Pollock, Shahum, Thornley, and many others on both sides of this divide. I also interviewed with Shahum and Budnick for the SFBC’s communications director position last spring, but I withdrew my candidacy after getting another job and before a decision was made.

So I feel like I’ve got some insights into the situation there, despite my personal progressive bias. And I think the current SFBC leadership has fallen into a groupthink pattern that has blinded them to outside concerns. Jawa, Budnick, and others involved have gotten very defensive when I’ve been critical of the argument that the bylaw vote was solely about privacy concerns. Even though Jawa and other board members have admitted to me that the rollout of that vote was “totally mishandled” (his words) from a communications standpoint, they insist that the privacy issue was primary and that the organization would lose too many members if board candidates could contact members.

I don’t doubt that they believe this, but they also don’t seem to understand that others saw it differently, and that to them the move to suspend member elections of board members was part of a pattern of increasing top-down control of a member-based organization, and its refusal to support a progressive movement that was under attack. Even Save SF Bike’s solution to the privacy issue — giving members the right to protect their contact info by opting out of participating in board elections — was dismissed by Jawa as somehow insufficient (he’d rather remove voting rights but create some kind of mechanism for a no-confidence vote by members if SFBC goes astray).

My friend Jason Henderson is an urban geography professor at San Francisco State University and he wrote a great book called “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.” Its basic premise is that how we get around and our assumptions about government’s role in facilitating transportation is inherently political, whether we want to see it that way or not. And that the city’s main three ideological factions (progressive, neoliberal, and conservative) create shifting alliances that determine how the city regulates and funds various forms of transportation, from bike lanes to Muni lines to parking spaces. So ideology matters, whether or not we believe it does.

Neoliberals like to see themselves as practical and post-ideological, often claiming to not even understand what neoliberal means or why the label might apply to them. But neoliberalism — which celebrates capitalism and sees government’s role as simply trying to incentivize and cajole it into meeting the community’s needs — has come to dominate San Francisco City Hall in the last eight years. Progressives who believe in government regulation and social and economic equity have been cast to the margins, with the help of massive campaign expenditures by the wealthy.

What does that have to do with bikes? Well, I suppose we’ll see. But the wealthy and entitled tend to marginalize the role of bicycles in everyday transportation, preferring unfettered automobility facilitated by the government and often treating cyclists like children. Mayor Ed Lee has already promised to veto legislation by Avalos to implement the “Idaho stop,” asking police to refrain from ticketing cyclists who don’t come to a full stop at empty intersections.

“I’m not willing to trade away public safety for convenience,” Lee said, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of cyclists already ride this way everyday with a minimum of problems for any road user. Not exactly a sign of the great influence that SFBC — which supports the measure — has at City Hall.

Certainly, both of the rival board slates want to see more bike lanes in the city and greater protections for cyclists’ interests — they just seem to have different ideas about how to reach those goals, and how the organization should be run along the way.

Budnick’s sudden resignation only adds to the potentially transformative nature of this election, because the new board’s first order of business will be to hire his replacement (BTW, Budnick hasn’t said publicly why he resigned or answered my inquiries on the subject. Two board members denied to me that Budnick was asked to resign, and the furthest Jawa would go in explaining it to me was to say, “All jobs are kind of about fit, right?” explaining that the right fit is a two-way street).

How this election will fit with the political conflicts that have been roiling San Francisco is still an open question, one that we may have the answer to as 2015 draws to a close. Online voting is open to SFBC board members and continues through Dec. 30.

Steven T. Jones is former editor of the SF Bay Guardian. A version of this piece appeared on Byline.

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  1. I’ll get out of my steel shell after driving out into the country — not while I’m being buzzed by gnats!

  2. Such an attitude makes me want to get behind the wheel and run down a swarm of clueless, panting gnats.

    Fortunately, I believe in observing standards of general conduct and safety. What goes around comes around.

  3. The author writes: “Most people who use the Martin-Malcolm argument use it to explain why the movement was so successful at passing the Civil Right Act, Voting Rights Act, and getting federal intervention to desegregate the South. That is, it took militants like Malcolm X who were willing to fight the power by any means necessary before the white power structure would be willing to cut a deal with King and his nonviolent resistance movement.”

    NOT SO! De Blo gets it right: “Every success in the civil rights movement was achieved through the non-violent protests of the Reverend Martin Luther King/ Southern Christian Leadership Conference coalition. Once some folks turned to the violence, hatred, and separatism of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, progress in the movement came to a screeching stop amid riots and a backlash that brought the conservatives into power for decades.”

    In a sense, that’s indeed a metaphor for the disparity between liberals — “neo” or otherwise — and self-proclaimed “progressives” with their laundry-list of certified oppressions and their presumption that they’re uniquely qualified to recognize true “social justice.”

  4. What facts have you argued? You seem to think the realities of the SF terrain require a sociologist, or are some mystery.

  5. Only in your opinion. The point is he clarified the differences using actual facts, things that are missing from your lexicon. You should try them some time. You might like it.

  6. He clarified the differences to his own arguments detriment.

    And once again, you need to get out of your bubble and experience the parts of the city where bikes are rarely ever seen in day to day life.

  7. One who is as ill-informed as yourself shouldn’t really be using phrases such as “you don’t really know.”

    I’ve read through your comments on this thread and found nothing more than unsubstantiated opinions. This is in contrast to Jym Dyer, who actually clarified my understanding of the Idaho law and the Avalos plan.

    If you really want to persuade, I suggest you do so with real, verifiable facts rather than simply depricating assertions by others.

  8. In one breath you talk about the masses of car drivers, in the next, you tout your belief of a tiny majority who rely on cars. How about it’s not even a cars vs. bike proposition here, and you’re missing the point? If all are coexisting on the roads, they all have to be safe, and jumping signals is not the most obvious way to safety. Too many hot dogs in the bike lanes to support this now. Maybe soon. In the meantime, stop the empty rhetoric about how the whole city can rely on bikes. They can not.

  9. ‘…none of it’s as pressing as teaching general conduct and safety to bicyclists.’

    Yeah let’s squander ‘our limited resource$ for enforcement …away from preventing serious casualties done by the masses who regularly exceed SF’s 25 mph speed limit in lethal multi-ton projectiles…’

    Fact: In SF, 3 non-drivers are hit by drivers in multi-ton projectiles PER DAY.

    Signing off.

  10. Exactly the counterpoint to your dictum that most people, especially older folks, are incapable of moving under their own steam for the majority of their lives. Everyone’s abilities and needs should be considered in the design of our infrastructure and reflect that it’s a tiny minority who cannot manage without using their private vehicle most of the time.

  11. I’m not Conservative, and I’m getting the feeling you’re not actually so Liberal, but anyhoo…

    I can fully say that Bicycling is not representative of the whole city. You can go entire weeks in parts of SF without seeing a single Bicycle. I don’t need to be a sociologist to understand my own city.

    As for your proselytizing about bikes, eh, who cares. Ride a bike, it doesn’t bother me. Just keep some perspective, and stop pretending your opinions are always what’s best for “the people who live here”. You don’t really know who lives here.

  12. Good for you….and where is home and work for you?
    And why can’t you recognize your life, your health, your choices, do not reflect the abilities and convenience of everyone else, just because they suit you? You know you’re not everyman/woman. Nobody is saying don’t ride, but it would be helpful to know you represent a growing but small group, and your lifestyle mainly serves specific pockets of the city.

  13. Yeah right, none of it’s as pressing as teaching general conduct and safety to bicyclists.
    Arguing about blowing stop signs isn’t going to make them safer.

    And I’m not on SS, so no need to take digs at those who are simply because you’ve never seen half the city and think there’s a special bike route wiggle to all 48+ hills.

  14. How about this common scenario: A member of a no-or-one car family who may have several jobs/has shift work and has to get from home to work at/from underserved times /areas. Or a recent grad who may be loaded with debt/is underemployed and needs or wants to economize to get a leg up to pay for your social security/be able to get ahead of themselves economically/afford to own a home/medical care…AND should not have to pay ridiculous fines for doing the impatient drivers behind them the favor of not fully stopping at every stop sign if conditions are clear for them to slowly roll through. OTHERWISE our limited resource$ for enforcement are drawn away from preventing serious casualties done by the masses (yes masses, not occasional outliers) who regularly exceed SF’s 25 mph speed limit in lethal multi-ton projectiles, aka private vehicles.

  15. So I’m ‘old’ but if what you say is true, I must be imagining that I get about SF on one of my several bikes, including a recent acquisition, an e-bike – if I don’t want to sweat. I also have a bi-weekly delusion that I load 2 large panniers with pounds of produce from farmers markets and pedal them home, often going south from Ft. Mason on Gough St., including a notorious block from Jackson to Washington. However, what is not ever a figment, even to the non-geographically inclined (pun), is clear differences in grade particularly perceptible when one’s negotiating that terrain under one’s own power, as opposed to commandeering a V8 with one toe. So yes, there are relatively flat places and v.v. that are more or less easy to traverse. What is also true is that the less people locomote under their own power, the more likely they are to suffer under the illusion that most people are incapable of doing so for most of their lives.

  16. No, there are no flat routes to all of the cities hills. These are parts of the city that were no developed during the horse and backhoes era you reference.

    E-bikes aren’t an answer. Already addressed why.

  17. Explain. They’re not choosing to ride bikes? Then how are they reliant on it?
    If you’re saying there are people who must, and have to ride bikes and have no other choice, that’s not true (walking? subsidized muni passes?)…. but okay, if you have to ride a bike, fine. Nobody is challenging the bike riders or trying to stop it. The rules of the road is what is up for debate.

    As for so called “demographic silos”….tough. Your attempts to marginalize people you don’t know or understand is your own shortcoming.

  18. Such faith in the immutability of labels. For the record, NIMBYs are NIMBYs for lots of reasons and are of all stripes. Mostly, they want to stop, as opposed to shape, the world and many just want to keep SF the way it was when they were hot.

  19. Open your eyes to the invisible many who are not choosing to bike ride but are reliant on it. There are so many demographic silos in SF and most don’t even know they’re in one.

  20. 1. Exercise is good for asthmatics, breathing exhaust isn’t, And public transit; 2. Cargo bikes. And public transit; 3. Rehab, strengthening exercise. And public transit; 4. Speed kills. And public transit. Ref. the many other towns in the world where people manage to get about with much less use of private vehicles. And public transit.

  21. Eugenics, really? Isn’t that a bit histrionic even for SF? Who’s being ageist – and provincial – in thinking that older people cannot manage SF’s hills? And yes, there are relatively flat routes amongst the hills that, before bicycles and backhoes, were traversed by horse riders and…water. (ref: valleys) And anyway: e-bikes.

  22. When did this become a discussion about bike routes? Or a debate about them no less? It’s about the conduct and rules of the road as it applies.

  23. Good lord, no one’s “forcing a Senior to ride a bicycle up steep hills”. I may as well accuse you of forcing seniors to start driving. The argument is to take a few percent of the huge amounts of public space currently devoted to cars, and to create accessible and safe bike routes.

  24. Why wouldn’t SFPD already be focusing on the more aggressive riders? That’s policy. Giving harmless riders a pass to skirt basic traffic laws isn’t going to give the Police any more sunlight to distinguish between the bad apples. A lot of the policing must come from within, not actual policing. It’s got to be cultural.

    It’s not a major difference, but you’re right to point out Avalos Yield Law is more of a change than even the Idaho Stop proposals.

  25. Look, I’m trying to appeal to the argument that forcing a Senior to ride a bicycle up steep hills on electric bikes is somehow bettering society, or 100% clean.
    There isn’t a debate here, SF isn’t flatland, or a couple neighborhoods. It will never be a bicycle utopia.

  26. Because there’s a major difference between the Idaho Law and the Right of Way, or Yield Laws? Gimme a break.

    Anyway, you know damn well by groups, I’m speaking in broad terms of bike activists, be they ranting and raving on message boards, or formal organizations planning actions in support of the Idaho Stops, or whatever variation and name you chose to call it.

    None of this is the real issue, the real issue is that the aggressive riders out there are a problem. Once dealt with, then you’ll see greater support.

  27. @Steven – Exactly right. To present it in terms of extremes, the more able-bodied youngsters living in the flats and biking, the more resources freed up for mobility-impaired elders living in the hills. A great many more people can avail themselves of bicycles, to the benefit of all.

    (That said, I have always lived on hills and never owned a car in this city. I started biking here in my 20s and that’s a good part of the reason I’m still biking here in my 50s.)

  28. @Foginacan – Complete nonsense, unless you know of plural “groups” that I don’t know of. The SFBC mostly puts its efforts into promoting safety and lawful behavior, and it has in fact shied away from support for the Idaho Law for years. Avalos’ Bike Yield measure is actually a subset of the Idaho Law that is limited only to cases where there’s nobody else in an intersection, which is to say, it would do nothing to support the “conduct” you allude to. The SFBC does support this, to their credit.

  29. Yes, the toxicity of cheap batteries is of great concern to you, I’m sure (never mind that they’re found in every motor vehicle).

    I’m responding specifically to the point about San Francisco’s hills (“The issue is absolutely hills.”) making biking impractical. Not just for seniors, but “the asthmatic, the mom with two kids, it’s the random Joe with the bum knee”, etc.

    And, of course, there will be seniors and others who don’t find bikes practical or safe for them. Just like there are plenty of people who can’t (or shouldn’t) drive. That hasn’t stopped us dedicating enormous amounts of public space to cars.

  30. What a revelation. You still can’t envision a San Francisco world where electric bikes aren’t practical or safe for a Senior?

    Or that plopping 30 pounds of batteries (the cheap ones are toxic, btw) and gear on a bike that runs on electricity, suddenly makes someone fly up hills, and put their bicycle away once they get home.

  31. Let me put it another way, then: for under $500, you can buy a kit that makes riding up a steep hill as easy as rolling along flat ground.

  32. When people say this, I always wonder: if developers are taking the shared world and sticking their crap into it to make a buck, I assume you think it’s also true for the developers who built Richmond Specials in the 1980s? Who built ticky-tacky boxes in the Sunset in the 40s? Who built Edwardians in the 00s? Or are today’s developers special?

  33. Today, for under $500, you can buy a kit that turns any asthmatic grandmother on a bicycle into Lance Armstrong.

  34. I really love this piece.

    I don’t agree with some of the underlying assumptions about what made the original Bike Coalition so powerful — I think it was the coalition part, not just the most absolutist faction.

    That said, the co-opting of a prior coalition by a new, much more pay-to-play bunch, fueled by developer money, is a simple fact.

    What needs to be added is this: what did you think was going to happen? “Developers” aren’t stupid. They just happen to make money by taking our shared world and sticking their crap into it just to make a buck. Calling that crap “bike friendly” and “green” as a way of piecing together support for what is essentially the ruining of the city is a no-brainer, and the “progressive left” would also do that in a heartbeat to fill the city with faceless towers built by non-profits.

    IN fact, they already have. All across SOMA in particular and in Hayes Valley and the Mission and soon elsewhere.

  35. I prefer to think of myself as a post-neo liberal-prog.
    Careful branding others because they don’t mimic your social habits. Slipper slope.

    People are surfing in Ocean Beach too, it being California and all. Pretty funny.

  36. BTW, the distinction is also clearly being played out on national level between Bernie Sanders (progressive) and Hillary Clinton (neoliberal), if that helps you grasp the difference.

  37. I disagree that it’s a pejorative term; it’s a descriptive term. Neoliberals believe government should incentivize good corporate behavior with tax breaks and other tools, rather than using regulation to force behavioral changes. The approach that one favors depends on their values and willingness to fight corporate power rather than work with it in public-private partnerships. Neoliberals tend to think progressives just aren’t realistic, accepting the basic framing that capital calls the shots in political and economics. Maybe it does, but there’s no right or wrong answer here; it depends on one’s values, beliefs, and expectations. Similarly, neoconservatives differ from true conservatives in their support for a muscular military and other government-based mechanisms for achieving the world that those on the right want to see. It’s the same on the left: neoliberals and progressives may desire very similar outcomes, but we have fundamental disagreements about how to get there. But to deny this distinction or pretend is doesn’t exist means you don’t really understand the political dynamics that animate San Francisco and many other cities.

  38. Funny to hear a conservative mention “diversity”. I can’t say whether people who ride bikes in San Francisco are representative of the city and you can’t say they are not. That’s a topic for sociologists and pollsters. What I do know is that bicycle use in SF continues to increase. Given SF’s street congestion, crime (car break-ins) and parking hassles this trend will continue and the motor vehicle “lifestyle” choice will become less attractive for the people who live here or remain here.

  39. Hate to tell you, it doesn’t come up, because your fellow cyclists in your social group aren’t very diverse, or representative of this city, and the people for whom it’s a problem aren’t daily bicyclists. You know, people who can’t imagine a world where you have no reason to use the Wiggle more than twice a month.

  40. You’re replying as if I’m fear mongering. It’s simply not logistically practical, or physically possible for day to day use, for a significant portion of the city, and until you acknowledge the city doesn’t naturally lend itself to your personal choice of transportation, you sound unreasonably dogmatic and out of touch with the diversity of San Francisco itself, outside your little community.

    Why don’t you walk, Steven T. Jones? I think you should walk, everywhere. Bicycles require production, and infrastructure, and political groups to lobby on their behalf…but walking doesn’t. You and your friends should drop their bikes, and walk. I insist. I walk.

  41. I think among people who try cycling in SF hills are a minor factor, if at all. They either know routes that avoid the steepest climbs or have gearing that can accommodate steep hills. San Francisco’s hills are never an issue that comes up in conversations with fellow cyclists.

    When I drive a car the considerations are distance (usually out of town), carrying capacity, weather (I don’t start out on a bike in the rain), and time. When I ride a bike I do so because it’s less expensive, does less harm to the environment, is easy to park, and can actually be faster when traffic is especially heavy. Hills are not a consideration.

    To borrow a phrase, you are making mountains out of molehills.

  42. Oh please, you wonder why “neoliberals” have no idea why the term is used for them? It’s because it’s a pejorative term. An insult. It’s an even worse term than Rockefeller Republican because you’re insinuating that these “neoliberals” don’t believe in a strong government.

    According to Boas and Gans-Morse, neoliberalism is nowadays an academic catchphrase used mainly by critics as a pejorative term, and has outpaced the use of similar terms such as monetarism, neoconservatism, the Washington Consensus and “market reform” in much scholarly writing.[2]

  43. Thanks for your advice, AWLA, but it means exactly what I said it did. And your odd belief that more private sector development will somehow produce more support for cyclists certainly seems to fit the bill.

    adjective: neo-liberal; adjective: neoliberal
    relating to a modified form of liberalism tending to favor free-market capitalism.
    noun: neo-liberal; plural noun: neo-liberals; noun: neoliberal; plural noun: neoliberals
    a person holding neoliberal views.

  44. Foginacan, Jon, and other commenters are missing an important point: everyone doesn’t need to ride a bike to benefit from the facilitation of cycling in San Francisco. Every person riding a bike is someone not driving a car or competing for space on crowded Muni trains. So makes cycling more attractive helps everyone. Also, F, riding a bike in San Francisco just isn’t as scary or difficult as you seem to think. You should try it sometime, maybe it would improve your perspective.

  45. Right, and nobody is telling them or you they should consider walking instead.

    The issue is absolutely hills. They aren’t a myth. They exist, and they are a factor in this lifestyle you’re promoting, which really is what this is about, a lifestyle choice.

  46. Most of what you’re talking about doing wouldn’t be done with bikes in any event. The issue isn’t hills, it’s the right tool for the job and with transit improvemennts more people are using bikes for everyday chores.

    I have a neighbor — more dedicated than I am — whom I’ve seen using his bike to haul carpentry tools to work. I have another neighbor who uses one of those long wheelbase bikes for shopping. I live in a hilly neighborhood.

  47. It’s not some old trope, SF really is too hilly for bikes to play the role people here are talking.

    Great that you saw a Mother with two kids on bikes, but they’re not riding to school back and forth like that, or lugging the Costco for the month like that. When that Mother has a medical emergency with her kids, she’s not strapping a bike helmet on him or rolling him up and sticking him in a basket.

    Your experiences and abilities are yours. Please do not mistake it for everymans.

  48. Please, go invest in a dictionary. Believing it’s okay for an organization to advocate for things relevant to their stated organizational goals is not “neoliberal.”

    And coalitions can play a role in local politics. It makes the most sense for SF bikers to be a part of a coalition advocating for dense infill development near public transit–not greedy fauxgressive NIMBYs who want to protect property values and make the city unaffordable.

  49. Actually I do know the city fairly well. I’ve been cycling here since 1987 and I’ve probably seen more of it than many people who drive automobiles have.

    I don’t deny that there are people who need cars to get around (and that the Lee administration is trying its damnedest to make it more difficult for them). I have, BTW, seen mothers with two kids on their bikes.

    What I object to is the old trope that SF is too hilly for bikes. I know from experience that it’s not true and I think it’s often used as an excuse to not accommodate cycling as a legitimate form of transportation.

  50. Apologies for a personal reply, but my instinct is to think you don’t know the city that well, even after 15 years riding through it on bike you think it’s a matter of route planning. .

    It’s not just the elderly, it’s the asthmatic, the mom with two kids, it’s the random Joe with the bum knee, it’s someone pressed for time who lives near the Zoo…. a lot of us don’t live in the same bubble as the bicyclists.

  51. What are the demographics for SF and how large is the group for whom climbing SF Hills on a bicycle is out of the question? True, there are elderly people for whom cycling is out of the question, but no one begrudges them using a car or public transportation. And as someone who commuted to work on a bicycle for some 15 years I get tired of hearing that SF’s hills make it ill-suited to travel by bicycle. Anyone who says that doesn’t know how to use gears and route planning to get where they want to go.

  52. I guess it’s a red herring if you think we live in Idaho.

    Are there benefits to more people opting to ride bikes? Sure, but less so under the current traffic strategies. What we have no is a city dealing with an increasingly crazed situation that did not previously exist as it does today. Less beneficial is the refusal to admit the limitations of bicycles no matter how well the City promotes their usage.

  53. But this is a red herring. If a portion of the healthy, able population of SF that is currently relying primarily on cars started getting on their bicycles instead, everyone would benefit – including the old folks, who could cheerfully continue to drive in lighter traffic. While swearing at those two-wheeled young whippersnappers rolling through stop signs all the way, no doubt.

  54. >”Most bike routes in this city go around the hills, and most riders can make it up most hills.”

    Steven is right. Screw Grandma.

  55. Why should anyone be in a coalition with you?

    More specifically, reagrding your smug dismissal of any non-Manichean view of local bicycle advocacy: “although some on both sides might resist these labels, this is a battle between neoliberalism and progressivism …” what does anyone who does not believe in the unconditional rejection of all private development gain from alliance with you?

  56. You do realize that every success in the civil rights movement was achieved through the non-violent protests of the Reverend Martin Luther King/ Southern Christian Leadership Conference coalition. Once some folks turned to the violence, hatred, and separatism of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, progress in the movement came to a screeching stop amid riots and a backlash that brought the conservatives into power for decades.

  57. I’m sorry for your self-dislike. That’s no fun.

    I guess in my meaningless words there was enough meaning to arouse something even in such as you.

  58. Exactly this…and the political bike groups are focused on agitation, and gaining ground, rather than acknowledging the stabling blocks within their own conduct, inside the lanes, before tackling the crosswalks. At least people like yourself are saying something, without the usual cultural war dogma behind this topic.

  59. Go around the hills? People conduct their daily lives *on* those hills. They don’t have the luxury of just avoiding them.

    I’m sorry this will never get through to able bodied people who live on flatland, but San Francisco is not conducive to bicycle riding as a primary means of living for a large group of the city, and it never will be. The typical replies are simply ageist or ignorant of the landscape. It borders on Eugenics talk.

  60. Thanks for illustrating the neoliberal perspective that I discussed in my article, including denying the role that coalitions and ideology play in local politics.

  61. Most bike routes in this city go around the hills, and most riders can make it up most hills. Transportation and exercise at the same time, it’s good for the health of the body and the planet.

  62. No I do not ride as one of the clueless. I obey all lights and yield, as appropriate, for pedestrians and other bikes and motor vehicles. I do slow, but do not stop, at intersections that are clearly empty.

  63. “Are you a cyclist and do you ride in San Francisco?”

    I for one am, I find it interesting when I ride up to a stop sign and have the right of way and a bike rider cuts me off oblivious to the world. Cars may do it here and there but I can count on a bike rider doing the same about 100% of the time. They also roll past me when I’m stopping to wait my turn and screw up the whole process for all.

    Perhaps you ride as one of the clueless?

  64. People like, say, Aaron Peskin? The idea that there’s some sort of natural alliance between bicyclists and “progressives” doesn’t seem to hold water. These lines are not that clear cut.

  65. I voted for Ed Lee with his quick promise to veto the nonsensical Bike Yield Law in mind. For all the suspicion I have about him, he has his head screwed on straight. Someone needs to be the adult around here.

  66. You seem to be quite proud of yourself for some reason, all those meaningless words.

    The coalition for San Francisco Bike riders


    The bike riding coalition of San Francisco.

  67. An interesting piece for me, an elder who grew up in S.F., and is a current resident of the East Bay, a life-time bicyclist, a major bicycle advocate in yet another town and a supporter of the SF Bike Coalition.

    Like all political matters, there’s endless complexity, but I don’t think the designation of the interested parties into neoliberal, progressive and conservative is at all useful. Nor is the comparison of any of the factions to MLK Jr or Malcolm. They were radical and revolutionary. The Bike Coalition is totally corporatist.

    Making our cities truly bicycle-friendly is an enormous challenge. The fact of the matter is that the automobile/human bionic hybrid is the dominant life form in S.F. as elsewhere in the U.S. The bicycle hybrid is rara avis.

    A thoughtful, well-researched discussion of the real sociopolitics of bicycling might be very useful. Sad to say, this piece is not in the ballpark.

  68. This article greatly mischaracterizes what’s going on with the SF Bike coalition…but this quote is the kicker:

    “For example, much to the chagrin of affordable housing groups, the SFBC would sometimes cut deals with developers over bike lanes or parking in projects rather than presenting a unified front in asking for a wider range of concessions from capital.”

    So because the SFBC advocated for the inclusion of bike-related concessions and didn’t go outside the scope of what their organization is supposed to be about, they’re a terrible organization and shills for developers? Completely ridiculous.

    But more importantly: the “affordable housing groups” mentioned aren’t really affordable housing groups. They’re shills for property owners who want to obstruct every development by any means necessary–even when they have good concessions for the community and include affordable units. This is why they opposed Scott Wiener’s bill to streamline 100% affordable housing projects: because they don’t care about affordable housing, they care about obstructing all housing so their property values can increase.

    Read between the lines, folks. These people aren’t “progressive” or even left-wing. They’re fauxgressive conservatives who only care about their own self-interest.

  69. “But the wealthy and entitled tend to marginalize the role of bicycles in everyday transportation, preferring unfettered automobility facilitated by the government and often treating cyclists like children.”

    It’s amazing ideology can move mountains, or you know, allow one to pretend this isn’t a city full of hills, even on a site called 48 hills.

  70. “But the wealthy and entitled tend to marginalize the role of bicycles in everyday transportation, preferring unfettered automobility facilitated by the government and often treating cyclists like children. Mayor Ed Lee has already promised to veto legislation by Avalos to implement the “Idaho stop,” asking police to refrain from ticketing cyclists who don’t come to a full stop at empty intersections.”

    I support giving the Bike Yield Law a try and see how it works. But I don’t agree with the above statement. I know many people who are progressive, who dislike Ed Lee and are who do not own cars. And they also are against the Bike Yield Law.

    I know that everything in SF is political, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

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