Suit puts brakes on bike plan

San Francisco’s citywide bicycle plan has been put on hold indefinitely after a court order sent it back to the planning stages for more environmental review.

Under a preliminary injunction that was upheld Tuesday, The City can continue to plan bicycle improvements, but it may not paint bicycle lanes, install bicycle racks or allow bicycles on San Francisco Municipal Railway vehicles until it comes into compliance with state environmental laws.

A small group calling itself the Coalition for Adequate Review sued The City last year, claiming that the bicycle plan should be subject to environmental review because it makes physical changes to The City’s streetscape. They won the preliminary injunction in June. The group cited the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires public projects to undergo a review if they might alter the environment.

In order to come into compliance with CEQA, The City must either conduct an environmental impact review or become exempt from the process, according to Superior Court Judge Peter Busch.

The bicycle plan, first drafted in 1997 and updated every five years since then, consists of two documents: the “Policy Framework” and the “Network” document. The policy framework outlines city policy regarding bicycle access, including bike lanes, bike parking and allowing bicycles on public transportation. The network document maps the specific physical changes that would be made to adhere to the policy framework.

“By attempting to split these two components of the bicycle plan, and then doing a piecemeal implementation of the projects outlined and further planned in those two documents, The City bypassed a proper CEQA analysis of the bicycle plan in its entire scope,” Busch wrote in his decision. “This case does not turn on the merits of the bicycle plan,” he wrote, but rather on The “City’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of CEQA.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement that he was disappointed by the decision, but, “I am in no way discouraged from my commitment to making San Francisco a world-class city for bicycling.” Newsom said The City’s goal is to make 10 percent of all commute trips in The City bicycle trips by 2010.

“We’re frustrated,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said Wednesday. “We’ve got a case here where the environmental laws are being perverted in a way that is not helping the environment and not helping the city of San Francisco.”

The City has the option to appeal the decision, City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Alexis Truchan said, but so far, no decision has been made regarding further legal action. “We’re disappointed with the court’s order. We will consult with our clients to consider The City’s next step,” Truchan said.

amartin@examiner.com

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