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Socially engineered city 

San Luis Obispo is telling its residents they must bike and is tearing the city apart in the process

The social engineers are coming! If you drive in SLO, or live in its neighborhoods, they're after you—unless you ride a bike.

Did you know, for example, the city spends only 50 percent of transportation funds making driving safer, more convenient, and relieving traffic congestion? Fifty percent! As Mayor Heidi Harmon put it in these pages, "We are no longer prioritizing the automobile."

In their remarkable online confession from 2015 ("How San Luis Obispo Established the Most Powerful Bike Funding Policy in the Nation,", Councilmember Dan Rivoire and Eric Meyer describe bike fanatics' conspiring to insert little things into little plans nobody noticed to slip that 50 percent limit into the new General Plan.

What we're facing is coercive social engineering: government deciding our lives lack virtue and forcing us to conform to the way an in-group imagines things should be. That's behind the attack on cars and the attack on neighborhoods, like the one I live in, which Rivoire has said is the first of many on the city's destruction menu.

I live on North Broad. To make biking "safer," the city plans to rip the heart from our neighborhood's livability.

To build physically separated cycle tracks on parts of Chorro north of 101, North Broad, and Ramona, the city will remove seven blocks of residential parking. These are already safe bike routes, with no five-year police reports of bike/car accidents. Cycle tracks are not needed.

Far from making biking safer, cycle tracks will make it dangerous. Curbside tracks crossed by dozens of driveways, each an unsignalized, often blind, intersection, place bikes in a dangerous position, made more dangerous by confinement within a cycle track from which there's no quick escape.

Cycle tracks leave bicyclists unprotected at the most dangerous points of travel, intersections. This track design has four intersections where bikes will make unexpected dangerous maneuvers—think left turns from the right curb. At Chorro-Lincoln, southbound bikes must cut a diagonal through a busy intersection of impatient freeway-bound drivers not expecting this weird maneuver.

In my block, they'll remove our parking for a northbound cycle track, but southbound bikes will remain in the traffic lane. If that's safe, and it is, why put in any cycle track?

The effects on our neighborhood will be devastating, but bike planners and politicians refuse to credit our concerns.

Some homes lack off-street parking. Others have numerous residents with cars. There is spillover from nearby student housing.

Street parking is already competitive. If most is removed, how will seniors continue to live in street-parking-dependent homes? A lot of us are asking the city, but they don't care. Rivoire told us parking on the street is illicit storage of private property in public space.

On my block, five households with disabled parking placards will lose street parking, and three of those depend on street parking. Does it occur to the city this is not merely mean, but will put the city at odds with state and federal disability laws?

Then there's garbage day. You can't put garbage in the cycle track, you can't put it beyond that in the traffic lane, and you can't block the sidewalk. So what do you do, wheel your garbage across the street? Can you visualize disabled seniors lugging garbage containers back and forth, 12 trips across streets carrying 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles, so politicians can brag about cycle tracks next election?

If there's no parking, how do we get UPS deliveries? Where does FedEx unload? What about big deliveries in semis, or moving vans, or tree trimmers with their chippers?

How do we unload groceries?

What about carpet cleaners with their hoses, or plumbers, painters, and other tradesmen?

Shouldn't a good city support its neighborhoods and nurture their residents? Shouldn't seniors be cherished rather than harassed by bike policy? Does a good city tear the heart out of neighborhoods and persecute their residents? What happened to decency, compassion, and empathy?

Underlying this harassment is the ideology that riding a bike is virtuous, that we with cars are not. In Rivoire-Harmon's brave new world this virtue loop's reversed. Rivoire declares biking's good for us. Harmon's confused: Biking saves the earth from climate change, yet she votes for awful things that destroy the earth.

The new General Plan says 20 percent of all trips in the city will be by bike, 50 percent by vehicles—that's one bike for every 2.5 motor vehicles! But planning numbers pulled from thin air seldom succeed.

Can we achieve 20 percent? Nope. Bike-centric Davis—flat as a pancake with a century-old bike culture and 100 miles of bike infrastructure—struggles to maintain a 20 percent commuter bike share, making no pretext about "all trips." Davis also eschews cycle tracks in neighborhoods. It would never do to a neighborhood what SLO proposes for ours.

If we could achieve 20 percent, would that have significant climate impact? The carbon reduction from 20 percent could be 3 percent. When bike fanatics claim hydrocarbon virtue, this piddling 3 percent is their best case scenario, but that hypothetical is wiped out by increased vehicle use (my neighbors hunting for parking, for example) and the energy embodied in cycle tracks, bollards, pavement, concrete, and bike bridges, plus on-going maintenance.

It's clear to me that city bike plans have negative hydrocarbon payback. We'd gain more by relieving congestion so traffic stops less. Of course, bike ideologues will not admit that; they'll keep repeating their virtuous fairy tale.

That's the scary political part: evidence, reasoned argument, and fact play no role in countering City Hall's brave new world of social engineering. They have the acceptable answers. We don't.

Case in point: When the City Council held a hearing on the Broad/Chorro plan last summer, close to 60 residents voiced concerns and thoughtful opposition; only a handful supported the plan. In response, Mayor Harmon said it's important to move ahead because "so many people want this."

What public hearing had she just presided over? Apparently, not the one audience members attended. Δ

Richard Schmidt is an architect and former city planning commissioner. Send comments through the editor at or write a letter for publication and email it to

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