Can Critical Mass be saved?

December 22, 2009

San Francisco’s Critical Mass, the rolling gathering of bicyclists that has become a familiar enigma of the last Friday of every month, is in a fight for its soul.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005. Photo by Flickr user Charles Haynes used under Creative Commons license.

Chris Carlsson, a thinking man’s bicycle activist who is a Critical Mass participant from way back, has a thought-provoking article on StreetsblogSF about what’s happened to San Francisco’s incarnation of this international form of transportation protest.

My own opinion of Critical Mass is no secret. I think it has long outlived its utility as a means of changing either private minds or public policy. It doesn’t even seem like very much fun anymore, with the promise of pointless confrontation with random motorists apparently the major attraction to some riders.

But Carlsson and his colleagues at the newish San Francisco Critical Mass web site aim to change all that, giving context to Critical Mass and offering advice on how to ride in it without being a big jerkface.

Cyclists will have a great chance to put these ideas into action in the Critical Mass ride this Friday, Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.

Read more about the efforts to revitalize Critical Mass on StreetsblogSF, and visit the San Francisco Critical Mass web site.

Follow Tom Prete on Twitter.


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My Muni express bus story published on Spot.Us

March 16, 2009

Crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us has published my story on Muni’s express bus service!

For years, a lack of information left Muni in the dark about what it was doing well, what it had to improve and what its riders actually needed. But a proposed shuffling of resources following the Transit Effectiveness Project, a massive systemwide study, would add more frequent service and extend routes on some express lines serving city commuters. …

Julie Kirschbaum, manager of Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, says there also are other reasons why Muni doesn’t run more expresses. One is that although they might seem to be highly efficient – buses fill to capacity and swiftly transport full loads of passengers all the way across town with a minimum number of stops – there are some hidden costs to express service. …

Shrinking transit funding from the State of California and the City of San Francisco – as well as the federal government’s preference for funding buildings and equipment, rather than operating costs – will have an effect on Muni, including potential hits to vehicle maintenance, which would reduce Muni’s reliability systemwide.

And budget problems will have an impact on the TEP. “We do expect the budget challenges to slow the implementation of the TEP,” says Muni spokesman Judson True.

In 2008, an idea emerged to charge riders who pay cash fares an extra dollar to board express buses, but the proposal petered out. True said there’s still a chance the SFMTA might decide to pursue an express-bus surcharge again.

“Once an idea is out there it never really goes away. … It’s still out there as an idea,” said True.

In fact, the SFMTA Board is scheduled to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year at a meeting Tuesday morning, March 17 — including the possibility of raising express cash fares. According to documents prepared for the meeting, Muni could gather an additional $1.4 million by raising the fare for all cash-paying express riders by $1.

Either way, because the TEP is focused on ways of doing business and on redirecting existing resources, Kirschbaum says she thinks the TEP’s recommendations for improved express service will remain largely intact: “Because the TEP service plans are resource-neutral, we’re still looking forward to implementing the TEP route proposals.”

I’ll post the rest of it here soon, but in the meantime please see the story by visiting http://spot.us/stories/76.

In related news, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meets Tuesday to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year, including the idea of charging some riders an extra dollar to board express buses. The SFMTA meets at 2 p.m. in Room 400, San Francisco City Hall.

While you’re at Spot.Us, be sure to check out the other stories and ideas there. Spot.Us has brought to light some good old-fashioned journalism, using new methods of publication and funding.

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David Chiu elected president of SF Board of Supervisors

January 8, 2009

First-term Supervisor David Chiu has been elected president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, one of the most powerful political posts in the city. Chiu, who took the oath of office earlier Thursday, was elected by his

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu. Chiu was elected in November 2008 to represent District 3. He took the oath of office on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 and was elected president of the Board of Supervisors by his colleagues the same day. Photo from David Chiu campaign Web site, votedavidchiu.org.

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu. Chiu was elected in November 2008 to represent District 3. He took the oath of office on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 and was elected president of the Board of Supervisors by his colleagues the same day. Photo from David Chiu campaign Web site, votedavidchiu.org.

colleagues in the eighth round of voting. Chiu replaces Aaron Peskin both as president of the board and as supervisor for District 3, which is composed largely of the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods.

Chiu’s Wikipedia entry

Chiu’s page on the City and County of San Francisco Web site

Former colleague Marisa Lagos’ article on Chiu’s election as board president

Chiu’s campaign Web site

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Observations on San Francisco’s November 2008 election, part 2

November 10, 2008

More good stuff from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s post-election analysis of the Nov. 4, 2008 election with Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics, plus a couple of my own comments (See part 1 of the observations here). This round includes Prop. 8, Chris Daly’s role as bogeyman, the next president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Ron Dudum’s future:

Prop. 8 aftermath. The victory of California Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment withdrawing the right to civil marriage from gay men and women, has been deconstructed a million ways to Sunday already. Various analysts have offered their opinions: Prop. 8 won because African-American voters are more conservative on social issues than the electorate at large, and they came out in great numbers to vote for Barack Obama; or Obama is partially to blame because he wasn’t vocal enough about opposing Prop. 8 (and he said he was personally opposed to gay marriage); or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom didn’t campaign against it actively enough; or Newsom was too visible and became a negative factor; or the anti-8 campaign just screwed up by being fractured in the beginning and missing out on key fundraising opportunities.

Whatever the explanation, both Clemens and Latterman said that support for gay marriage seems to be increasing by about one percentage point per year, and they expected to see the issue on the ballot again.

Clemens said he believed that the next time gay marriage appears on the ballot, supporters of gay marriage won’t rely on a paid-media campaign of television ads and mailers. Instead, they’ll do something like what the Obama campaign did with its vast pool of volunteers. That is, the campaign will be fought in the field, with supporters of gay marriage (probably including as many straight supporters of gay marriage as they can find) going door to door and talking with individual voters.

Alex Clemens, David Latterman and Gabriel Metcalf discuss the outcomes of the Nov. 4, 2008 election at SPUR.

Alex Clemens, David Latterman and Gabriel Metcalf discuss the outcomes of the Nov. 4, 2008 election at SPUR.

My own guess about the fate of gay marriage in California is that the legal challenges to Prop. 8 will go on so long that a measure seeking to undo it will hit the ballot before all those challenges are resolved. If that’s within two years, I’d bet the new anti-8 proposition will lose, but in just a few years longer a subsequent proposition spelling out a constitutional right to civil marriage for gay men and women will win. After that, a few measures seeking to replicate Prop. 8 will come up, but will lose, before supporters decide to direct their money elsewhere.

Regarding the impact the victory of Prop. 8 may have on Newsom’s ambitions to be governor of California, Clemens said that while it may have a negative effect now, a few years down the line it may be good for Newsom to be seen as the father of gay marriage in California. “Four years from now,” said Clemens, “it will be a badge of honor.”

Daly done as a demon? District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly’s days as an effective bogeyman for opponents such as the Apartment Association, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and others seeking to bring the city’s moderate and conservative voters to the polls may be done, according to Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics.

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Observations on San Francisco’s November 2008 election, part 1

November 6, 2008

On Wednesday I attended the post-election analysis SPUR hosts after each San Francisco election, and as usual I picked up a couple of interesting pieces of information. Some of them are items that are transitory and likely to change as early as Friday, when San Francisco election officials are scheduled to do their first re-ordering of votes for local offices under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find many of them interesting and useful. This is only a taste — more to come in a later post.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. As of lunchtime Wednesday, the San Francisco Department of Elections still had about 100,000 votes left to count. Even divided by SF’s 11 districts, that’s enough that it could still affect some outcomes, particularly in close district contests where the total number of votes cast is somewhere around 15,000 to 18,000.

Patriotic hipsters? Gabriel Metcalf, director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, summed up the unique quality that the Barack Obama candidacy for president brought to the entire November election season: “Never did I think I would be walking down Valencia Street and hear hipsters singing the national anthem.”

It’s just a jump to the left. According to David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics, some San Francisco supervisor districts have experienced a significant shift, becoming more liberal. Latterman, along with Prof. Richard DeLeon of San Francisco State University, produces the Progressive Voter Index, a measurement on a scale of 0 to 100 of how “progressive” — or liberal — parts of San Francisco are. The PVI is relative only to other neighborhoods in the city and doesn’t measure how progressive areas are in comparison with any areas outside of San Francisco. Latterman says that some neighborhoods, including District 1 and, most notably, District 11, have become significantly more progressive than they were two years ago.

Dems halt slide. According to Latterman, the Democratic Party increased the number of voters registered under its banner by about 2 percent this year. That’s a pretty good bump for the Dems, particularly in light of the fact that they had been steadily losing voters over the past few elections, as more and more people registered as “decline to state” voters.

GOP registration down again. While the Democrats added voters this time, San Francisco Republicans (yes, they do exist) continued to lose registered voters.

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Making sense of San Francisco’s Nov. 2008 election

November 5, 2008

If your head’s in a spin trying to take in the results of yesterday’s election and you live in San Francisco, take a long lunch this afternoon and pop over to SPUR’s post-election analysis. Expert political numbers man David Latterman and the witty and astute Alex Clemens will explain what happened at the polls yesterday — and how it fits into the context of local electoral politics.

The focus of SPUR’s election analyses usually is on San Francisco, but this time it’s certain to include discussions of the state and federal elections as well.

This regular event has grown over the years into a required piece of post-election analysis for everyone interested in San Francisco elections, so expect a crowded room along with unique insights.

It starts at 12:30 p.m. and runs to 2 p.m., tacking on an additional 30 minutes this time to handle the huge ballot. Five bucks for non-members and free for all SPUR members. San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, 312 Sutter St. at Grant Avenue (an easy walk from BART or the Muni Metro, with limited bike parking right out front). Note that this event takes place not in SPUR’s offices, but rather on the second-floor meeting room of the World Affairs Council.

SPUR

David Latterman’s Fall Line Analytics

Alex Clemens’ Barbary Coast Consulting


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The election’s over — now what?

November 4, 2008

Obama will be the next president of the United States. California Proposition 8 looks to be headed for a win (as of this writing, by about 6 percentage points). San Francisco will have a couple of new supervisors, and a bunch of new laws and policies.

But what does this all mean? Can new officeholders actually do the things they promised in their campaigns? Starting Wednesday, Nov. 5 I’ll analyze selected election results and their potential impacts. Stay tuned.