San Francisco ready to implement long awaited bicycle plan

State superior court expected to lift four year injunction

The US city of San Francisco, California is preparing to implement its Bicycle Plan following the anticipated removal of an injunction placed on it nearly four years ago by the San Francisco Superior Court. The injunction has been partially lifted, allowing the city to begin non-environmentally evasive bicycle lanes improvements.

Several streets are now in the process of building and improving existing bike lanes including Beale, Howard, Otis, Mississippi, Scott, Clipper, John F. Kennedy Drive and Seventh Avenue. Furthermore, the San Francisco Superior Court has allowed for the addition of bike racks and create bike boxes.

“The injunction has thawed but most of the actual bike lane projects are stuck and the city has to wait until the judge takes the handcuffs off all the way,” said Andy Thornley, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s program director. “These ten improvements are short with one, two or three block segments of a previous 45-mile [72.5 kilometre] bike network. We are filling in gaps and upgrading pieces of that existing network.”

The original San Francisco Bicycle Plan was introduced to the City of San Francisco in 2005. It was revised to add onto to one that was adopted in 1997. It included adding 55 kilometres of bike lanes, marking 120 kilometres of on-street bike routes with "sharrows", thousands of new sidewalk bike parking racks, on-street bike parking corrals, programs to boost bike access to transit, bicycle-related planning and enforcement policies and programs for bicyclist and motorist education. It also included the improvement of 60 existing bike lanes.

During the process of seeking approval from the San Francisco Superior Court, the City of San Francisco bypassed a lengthy environmental review conducted by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a California statute passed in 1970 to institute a statewide policy of environmental protection. The San Francisco Superior Court permitted the project on the grounds that bicycle lanes and improvements were not environmentally evasive and instead helpful to creating a healthier community and environment.

Later that year, the City of San Francisco was sued by the Coalition for Adequate Review and Ninety-Nine Percent, who felt the City of San Francisco did not conduct a thorough CEQA review, which by law, all organizations introducing a new plan for the city must perform. A portion of the review looked at how a city-planned project would affect traffic flow, because parts of the proposed bike lanes would remove traffic lanes and parking spaces along some corridors.

“The people who sued the city made a case that the city didn’t do a big enough environmental review,” Thornley said. “Because of the way the state law and CEQA works, ‘the cranks’ made a compelling case and because San Francisco did not do an adequate review, the judge said we could not go forward with the plan until a deep environmental review was done. So in the last three years, the city has carried out a ridiculous review in depth.”

More bike lanes are in store for San Franciscan cyclists

In 2007, the San Francisco Superior Court halted the San Francisco’s Bicycle Plan until the lawsuit was settled. Furthermore, an injunction was temporarily set in place until the City of San Francisco completed the CEQA review.

The City of San Francisco completed the CEQA review last summer and it is currently being looked at the San Francisco Superior Court. In November, the San Francisco Superior Court allowed the city to implement only non-environmentally evasive projects until it has completed a thorough reading of the CEQA review.

“In June of 2009, the city came back with the CEQA environmental impact report, that was thousands of pages and cost approximately one million dollars to produce,” Thornley said. “The city has gone back to the court with all this review and the court said they would look though the entire report and it will take another six to nine months.”

This coming June, the Superior Court is expected to make its final decision on the removal of the injunction, however, that decision will be determined following its full review of the CEQA report. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has already adopted the 2009 San Francisco Bicycle Plan. If the injunction is lifted, Thornley expects the project can be complete in as little as three years.

“The bike riding population increased 53 percent since the injunction started,” Thornley said. “We are optimistic that if we can increase cycling in the city with our hands tied behind out backs, imagine what we can do with the injunction lifted.”

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