Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fix Fell Group Ends Protests, Leader Reflects on Impact & Activism

Stuart Matthews at BP/ARCO protest earlier this year

Weekly demonstrations attracted 10 to 100 individuals upset with oil spill and oil addiction

Fell traffic problems prior to additional traffic calming measures

Last spring when the country was reeling from news of the environmental disaster in the Gulf, local advocates for sustainable living organized the first of many weekly protests outside the BP/Arco service station at Fell and Divisadero. The activists named their group Fix Fell and announced their intent to continue the protests until the BP oil spill was stopped and the city designed a much safer westbound bike lane on Fell between Scott and Divisadero. Every Friday afternoon demonstrators appeared on the Fell sidewalk with signs calling for an end to oil addiction, protection of the country's natural resources, and a re-thinking of how the cheaper gas at Arco helps create a traffic maze that endangers bicyclists. On several occasions protesters blocked motorists from entering Arco. A few clashed with the station owner and police arrested several.

The oil leak has now been capped, and the city installed several traffic and bike lane changes that were in the works before the protests began. Nearby neighborhood associations, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and individuals had pushed for safety improvements at Fell and Divisadero for several months prior to the bike lane improvements. Fix Fell's protests added to the review -- and criticism -- of the changes. Few observers have been wholeheartedly satisfied with the current traffic design, but an initial study suggests some improvements have resulted. Although Fix Fell members believe the street remains dangerous for cyclists, they ended the protests after 14 weeks.

BIKE NOPA interviewed Stuart Matthews, one of the leaders of Fix Fell, last September about the group's intentions and viability. I asked him recently to explain why the protests stopped. His reply follows. Matthews also reflects on the realities of taking direct action -- a term activists have employed for 100 years to protest political, social and environmental injustice.
I have been appealing, through actions and words, both written and
spoken, for more folks to get involved in direct action. Direct action
can't be sustained when only five people are willing to risk arrest and
deal with the legal consequences.
People in a privileged class - whether it is white, middle/upper class,
male, American - need to take more responsibility for their class's
destruction. Folks in our city and around the world suffer because of
our excesses, and we need to use our privilege for good and make
sacrifices to work to fix the destructiveness of our culture.

So, what I am saying, is that we will continue to work on this issue,
and there will probably be more direct action. But we could do so much
more if more folks felt compelled to take their responsibilities to the
world seriously.
We all have better things to do - that is true. Myself, for instance, I am busy taking care of my Mom, protecting civil liberties at my day job, and taking care of myself. If we had more folks in our movement that were willing to do the things that are needed, it would be a lot easier to keep our protests going at a high level.
BIKE NOPA asked Matthews about the accomplishments of Fix Fell. He believes the greatest impact of the protests have been to influence the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) and the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).
The SFBC has launched their Connecting the City campaign, with its
first priority being Fell/Oak, and their vision for Fell and Oak is a
good one. They didn't consult us on this, so I can't know for sure how
much of an impact we had on this, but I can't imagine it is a complete

The MTA has been paying more attention to the problems in that area (Fell Street between Scott and Divisadero), although clearly they haven't made any additional changes since the various paint treatments that they did.
For the future, Matthews anticipates a return to more visible advocacy.
The shift to behind the scenes stuff basically means that this is all
we, as a group, can afford (as far as time/energy) to take on right now.
In the new year we will be implementing an updated strategy and should
be able to invest fresh energy in it. It'll include more street
actions/direct action.
For additional stories on Fell Street changes and advocacy, search BIKE NOPA for Fell ARCO.

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