How come so many posts on San Francisco lately? Let’s make it official: The Open Planning Project will be launching Streetsblog San Francisco in January 2009.
After interviewing many highly qualified candidates during last month’s RailVolution conference, we’ve hired Bryan Goebel as the site’s editor and Matthew Roth as full-time reporter. Bryan is a veteran journalist, radio reporter and active San Francisco Bicycle Coalition member. Matthew recently moved to the Bay Area from New York City where he worked for Transportation Alternatives as director of the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign and spearheaded efforts to curb government employee parking abuse. In addition to support and overhead provided by TOPP, San Francisco Streetsblog will be funded by a generous donation from Jonathan Weiner, a bike-commuting, Muni-riding software entrepreneur and a grant from the Wallace Global Fund.
In talking with Bay Area livable streets advocates over the last few months, it’s become clear that there is a tremendous latent demand for the kind of "Streets Renaissance" we’ve seen get underway here in New York over the last few years. Bay Area cyclists are deeply frustrated over the legal injunction that has ground development of the city’s bike infrastructure to a complete halt. Transit advocates see the city’s crowded, sluggish Muni system locked in stasis, with progress on critical projects like the Geary Street bus rapid transit line held hostage by powerful neighborhood NIMBY’s and the transit system’s own bureaucracy. As in New York City, San Francisco seems happy to allow big real estate developers to cram as many parking spots into their projects as possible — even when it contradicts the city’s own guidelines. The city’s rapidly disintegrating mainstream media outlets, of course, barely cover any of this.
It’s not all bad news though. San Francisco has launched what is likely to be the nation’s most innovative, high-tech, congestion-busting parking reform program. This summer’s Sunday Streets event (which got the green light after advocates showed Mayor Gavin Newsom our Ciclovia Streetfilm) was a popular success. And the city has hired Danish urban designer Jan Gehl to start rethinking San Francisco’s streets and public spaces. Newsom’s administration is saying lots of the right things lately. Wade Crowfoot, the mayor’s director of climate protection initiatives, really seems to get it when it comes to livable streets. Yet, many San Francisco advocates still question whether Newsom, who has his eye on the governor’s office, is more interested in results or headlines. In private, they often refer to him as "Mayor Press Release." It’s clear to me that San Francisco could really use the daily focus on transportation policy, the intelligent online discussion forum, and the occasional kick in the pants that Streetsblog has been known to deliver. We look forward to working there.
But let’s also be clear about our place in all of this: Streetsblog isn’t just going to roll in to town sprinkling new bus rapid transit lines, bike lanes and a car-free Market Street in its wake. Sure, we hope to break some big stories and play an important role, but as it has been in New York City, Streetsblog is ultimately only as effective as the advocacy community it is part of. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, with its 10,000 members (nearly twice as many members as Transportation Alternatives in a city one-tenth the size of New York) is one of San Francisco’s most powerful political organizations. Tom Radulovich at Livable City has been successful in pushing an innovative parking reform agenda among other important issues. Walk San Francisco is keeping an eye on pedestrians. And groups like SPUR and TranForm are addressing the regional transportation and planning issues. Streetsblog will be covering the work of all of these organizations and providing an online forum for their members to discuss the issues.
We’re also well aware that we’re not the only blog in town. The Bay Area is blessed with a number of outstanding transportation blogs: Chris Carlsson’s Nowtopian, Transbay Blog, San Francisco Bike Blog, The N-Judah Chronicles and The Overhead Wire are some of my favorites. We look forward to joining their blogrolls and making San Francisco a better city for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.