1998 Bay Bridge bike ride called for rail and bicycle access

by Jason Meggs, co-founder, Bike the Bridge! Coalition

Yesterday (September 10, 1998), at approximately 9 a.m., at the tail end of the commute, approximately 20 cyclists mounted the Bay Bridge at the east end. The riders sported brilliant banners and flags and a 50-foot long, 15-foot high, five-bike-long sculpture of a train on a suspension bridge calling for "ACCESS NOW!"

A two-page press release with detailed information regarding the reasons for the protest was widely distributed to approximately 20 media sources, most of whom ignored the information. The top items were: accomodate heavy rail on the new east span; make the new bike path comfortable and permanent; and above all, provide immediate access by restriping the Bay Bridge to have a 7-8 foot bike lane.

The mass media instead chose to falsely report that the riders had blocked traffic for hours. There was precious little mention of the cyclists' call for heavy rail capacity on the bridge, despite the press releases and the large suspended four-piece train banner which floated over the riders.

This false charge by media ignored the following information:

(1) The riders were traveling at approximately the same speed as motor traffic on the bridge when they merged, and were using space on the bridge more efficiently (as a bus or train would);

(2) The riders encountered no prohibitory signs and so were on the bridge legally;

(3) The CHP and CalTrans over-reacted and blocked off the lane behind the riders as well as the lane adjacent to the riders;

(4) Motorists on the bridge showed tremendous (5-1) support for the bicyclists, with many thumbs up, fists in the air, waves, honks, whoops, and other cheers;

(5) The CHP, working with SFPD tactical units and the SF County Sheriff's Department, blockaded the Fremont exit and the Transbay Terminal off-ramp for upwards of half an hour while performing the illegal mass arrest of the riders and some innocent bystanders who had actually been driving an

Other information which the mass media ignored:

(a) The MTC has suppressed the voices of many hundreds of groups and individuals calling for a properly-designed, permanent, and complete (shore-to-shore) Bay Bridge path;

(b) The MTC and Caltrans have broken their promise to take action on designing the second half of the bike path as soon as AB 2038 (Migden) was passed;

(c) Bicyclists subsidize all these exclusive and detrimental motorist facilities. Bicyclists helped pay for the bridge, and continue to pay for the "free" tow service, the retrofit, and more through taxes and other sources;

I know that it's hard for bicyclists to see us falsely vilified once again in the corporatist-controlled media, but please bear with the facts and do your best to educate the public that there is another side of the story and that if the mass media had any fairness it would have told it.

It's interesting that KGO-7 (who are infamous for their hateful coverage of the attack on SF Critical Mass by SF Mayor Brown in July 1997) was the only camera allowed near the arrestees, and that the cameraman turned his
camera away from me when I tried to give a statement about getting "three bridges for the price of one." They didn't want our side of the story, just scenes of bicyclists being arrested. Far in the distance, beyond three car lengths of side-by-side police cars, which were a considerable distance from the ramp, was a bank of reporters and camera people (four large cameras were there). Maybe they would have been interested in the real story had they been allowed to get close to the arrestees?

The CHP helped cover up the story by arresting several independent individuals who were taping the riders from an SUV, reportedly arrested because the camera person didn't have press credentials. So another source
of the real story disappeared. And despite the presence of multiple helicopters, which clearly showed traffic moving freely in the other lanes, media used very little helicopter footage of the actual ride (e.g. Channels 4 and 5).

Also, from the reports of people listening to the radio coupled with the riders' experience: despite the fact that the KGO traffic-radio helicopter was waving in a friendly manner to the riders, and was stating that the bikes were riding with traffic in the far right, that there was a lot of motorist support and that traffic was moving around the riders comfortably, the trafffic reporter in the studio--not witnessing the event--insisted on ignoring this information in order to say that the riders were blocking traffic and angering motorists..

Every media story I've heard of so far (except KPFA) played up the "angry motorist" side without discussing the big picture, which is namely:

(a) The bicyclists didn't significantly block traffic (they were traffic);

(b) The everyday backups are a result of poor and/or corrupt planning which encourages sprawl and creates congestion--the exact opposite of what the bicyclists were advocating for (blame MTC/ Caltrans, not the bicyclists);

(c) EVERY DAY is a BART strike for bicyclists.

It's funny, there was a systemwide failure on BART at the time of the ride; the Caltrans bike shuttle was full (14 riders) and had probably bumped riders, the AC Transit bus with a rack was full of bikes. Yet the news media couldn't pick up on the fact that this was the first anniversary of the Bay Bridge ride (September 10th, 1997) on the third day of the infamous BART strike.

Even when the transbay tube was shut down due to smoke later that day, which was a top story (and even as we got in trouble in our packed cell because some moron managed to light a cigarette), the media still failed to look at the big picture of how fallible our transportation system is.

Please write letters to the editors of these papers, call the teevee and radio stations, and complain that they're encouraging yet more intolerance and violence against cyclists (who already get quite enough of that) while falsely reporting on our serious regional transporation crisis.

chronletters@sfgate.com The San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Examiner
The San Francisco Examiner
The San Jose Mercury News
KGO Car Radio
KGO Channel 7 television
Keeshak@kgo-tv.com KGO Channel 7 "I-team"
Channel 4 television
Channel 5 television
Channel 2 television
The San Francisco Bay Guardian (has done good reporting)
East Bay Express (prints letters)
San Francisco Weekly (prints letters)

Be sure to include your address and phone number. Be sure to write separately to each paper or station.

Also, please call District Attorney Halinan and ask that the charges be dropped against the bicyclists and that an order be issued for the return of all confiscated bicycles and cameras. Tell him that the CHP has a pattern of false arrest of bicyclists on bridges that is now well documented, and it's time to refuse to cooperate with their abusive tactics:

District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, San Francisco (415) 553-1751

Media known to have misrepresented the story:

KRON-4 (quite bad)
KGO-7 (real bad)
The San Francisco Chronicle (plus really bad hit-piece editorial)
The San Francisco Examiner
KGO radio (really bad)

The best reporting heard of yet was KPFA. We expect that the Bay Guardian will do a right-on story. We hope that Free Radio Berkeley will continue to broadcast because we need alternatives to this corrupt mass media. "Bring back Bicycle Liberation Radio on 104.1 FM!"

And until the media gets it right, and until our demands are met, there will certainly be a need for more protests.

Jason Meggs
Bike the Bridge! Coalition

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