For a City of Panhandles! Copenhagenize it!

city_living.jpgMona Caron's rendition of 24th and Folsom after we've made a few basic changes.  (Thanks to Mona Caron for this image, originally published in the Bay Guardian in 2006.)

We’ve been waiting for years now to see some physical changes to accommodate the huge increase in daily bicycling. We did get an odd set of painted bike lanes and green bike route signs, and a significant number of bike racks for parking, before it all came to a halt due to the injunction three years ago. After perusing the much-anticipated Draft Bicycle Plan and its dense bureaucratese, full of overlapping redundant promises, I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a good while longer to see the kinds of changes that we ought to be getting.

It’s really hard to believe that after all this organizing and earnest campaigning we’ll basically end up with a few thousand “sharrows” and another batch of partial, end-in-the-middle-of-nowhere bike lanes, lanes which in any case are horribly inadequate patches on our misallocated and car-centric public streets. How is it that after almost two decades of rapidly expanding bicycling, the city’s transit priorities still treat bicycles as an annoyance that they only grudgingly are willing to accommodate? When will there be a systematic commitment to altering the streets of this city to create dedicated bikeways, separated from cars and pedestrians, comprehensively linked to provide for easy, graceful, convivial bicycling to all parts of the city?

Over at the blog Copenhaganize their basic point is summarized in two short sentences:

Each and every day 500,000 people ride their bicycle to work or school in Copenhagen. This blog highlights who they are, why they do and how it was made possible.

Forty years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now 36% of the population choose the bicycle. Copehagenizing is possible anywhere.

My mother is from Copenhagen so I’ve visited the Danish city many times. I think it must have influenced my early thinking, because it was back in 1987 when I drew up a little flyer calling for a “City of Panhandles.” San Francisco cyclists all know the Panhandle’s cyclepath as one of the real pleasures around here (granted, it would be better if pedestrians would have their own path to its side!) and the way it links to the Wiggle route between the Mission and the Haight is just icing on the cake. A city with some vision, rather than a plodding traffic planning bureaucracy that is led by a Mayor who is only interested in what is going to facilitate his election to the next office (and always blatantly biased towards car owners and the wealthy), would have already been working on converting key routes across the city to bicycle boulevards… not just car-centric streets with “bike boulevard” signs, but whole thoroughfares that are closed to cars and only open to bicycles and emergency vehicles. Going a couple of steps further, why not open such thoroughfares to horticultural design and public art? Imagine sculpture gardens, curving murals, daylighted creeks, linear food forests, vegetable gardens, benches and fountains… the list goes on. The city would benefit in so many ways through such a comprehensive conversion of space currently sacrificed to the insatiable uses of private automobiles.

It’s self-evident how much better such street spaces would be for neighbors, pedestrians, children, and cyclists. It would open space for a systematic approach to re-localized food security. For those who clamor for “green jobs” (I’m not one of them), such natural ribbons crisscrossing the city would require first a lot of major construction work, and then a great number of gardeners, farmers, bicycle mechanics, bike parking attendants, landscapers, artists, and more. Juxtapose such quality, engaging, meaningful work to the stupid jobs that pass as “important” in the financial district, or the wasted labor producing so many luxury highrises, office buildings and other pointless projects of “economic development”… Let the tourists join us in riding and walking through the garden paths of San Francisco! Let’s think about the work we do and the design of our city as a canvas on which to create something really astonishingly better than what we’re settling for now. The SF Bike Coalition should be a lot more aggressive and push for much more far-reaching and far-sighted transformations than this tepid and uninspiring Bike Plan, in order to live up to its political and social responsibilities!