San Francisco Bike Plan Faces Environmental Opposition

Published January 21, 2010

A three-year injunction against the city of San Francisco has been partially lifted, giving city officials authority to proceed with some improvements and expansions of the city’s Bike Plan.

The project, intended to help the environment by reducing automobile traffic in the city, remains in jeopardy pending a June court decision, however, because of legal challenges regarding environmental concerns.

3,000-Page Review Required

In 2005, city officials passed a plan to create 34 miles of bicycle lanes, complete with bike racks, signs, and color-coded, painted lanes. Opponents, however, claimed the city had not conducted a proper environmental review. Just months after its passage, the plan’s implementation ground to a halt when a judge ordered the city to conduct a thorough environmental review.

“The judge told the city we had to prepare an additional environmental review. We did. It took three years and was 3,000 pages,” said Kate Stacy, a deputy city attorney.

Suit Still in Place

After the additional environmental review, the city’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approved the Bike Plan. Legal proceedings, however, continued.

On November 25 the San Francisco Superior Court found in favor of the city’s efforts and ruled the Bike Plan could go forward, but with conditions.

“The court will not dissolve, but will modify the existing injunction on the following conditions. Pending hearing on the return, the city may proceed with those projects within the Bicycle Plan that are least intrusive and most easily reversible should it turn out the city has not satisfied its [environmental] obligations for some reason,” the court order stated.

Stacy said another hearing is pending in June, once the judge has had time to review and analyze the 3,000-page environmental assessment.

Written statements provided by Kristen Holland, public relations officer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency–the government body that formulated and oversees the Bike Plan–indicated some path improvements are due to begin immediately.

City Pushes Bicycling

“The SFMTA is poised to make San Francisco the preeminent city for bicycling in North America,” Nathaniel Ford, SFMTA executive director, said in a written statement.

Opponents of the Bike Plan are concerned its full implementation will contribute to traffic problems that cause air pollution.

SFMTA reports bicycling in the city has risen 53 percent since 2006 even though the bike path improvements have been blocked. With the court’s go-ahead to improve the paths, bicycling should increase even more. According to Holland’s written statements, “bicycling activity increases by an average of 50 percent after a bike lane is added.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a reporter and writer from Northern Virginia.