The Wigg Party: Building Community to Create a Sustainable Wiggle

Photo: Bryan Goebel

One link in the global movement for localization and environmental sustainability is taking shape in the form of a growing community in one of San Francisco’s increasingly treasured natural valleys: The Wiggle. Morgan Fitzgibbons and Clint Womack co-founded The Wigg Party in early 2010 to address on a local level planetary crises such as peak oil and climate change.

“The Wigg Party is a community organization and social group focused on making the community that uses and lives around the Wiggle a leader in transformation towards sustainability,” Fitzgibbons said in a recent interview.

The Wiggle is perhaps best known as the flattest connection between the central east and west areas of the city for people who walk and cycle. It’s a valley that runs through the Duboce Triangle and Lower Haight neighborhoods to connect Upper Market Street to the Panhandle via a series of alternating turns, carrying a growing amount of bicycle traffic to and from the western neighborhoods.

Over the past year, the Wigg Party has organized community gathering events around efforts such as promoting more sustainable practices for local businesses and residents as well as building community support for a transformation of safer streets along the route.

Wigg Party co-founder Morgan Fitzgibbons on the Wiggle. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Fitzgibbons envisions a future Wiggle that is treated as a “sacred” and important place, complete with a gateway welcoming travelers at the Duboce bikeway entrance as they pass through a quiet neighborhood that is welcoming to bicyclists and walkers, and where food grows and people gather to socialize and eat on community-oriented streets.

He feels that vision is shared with others like writer and Streetsblog contributor Chris Carlsson and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, whose new Connecting the City bikeway campaign includes a safe, continuous Wiggle route. “We’re all tapping into it, and it’s pretty exciting,” he said.

The Wigg Party aims to put a stronger focus this year on building a coalition of neighborhood groups and business interests in support of improvements such as the SFBC’s envisioned separated bikeways on Fell and Oak Streets, and is pushing for a safer Duboce and Church intersection, said Fitzgibbons.

The Party’s Wiggle Transformers Working Group keeps in contact with members and leaders of neighborhood associations such as those of Upper Market, Alamo Square, NoPa, and Lower Haight as well as organizations like the SFBC to maintain a cohesive show of support while lobbying for changes to the SFMTA. Fitzgibbons noted there’s great interest in exploring the art and tourism opportunities in the Lower Haight community.

“Wigglers” can also be found actively taking part in community events that provide the chance to exhibit transformed street space. Last year, The Wigg Party re-purposed spots along Fell Street for a Park(ing) Day tea party and held a Sunday Streets parade and after-party when it came to their neighborhood. The group also includes founders of the San Jose and San Francisco Bike Parties.

Other efforts include promoting the use of local and more sustainable foods, services, and products. The group helped bring an international program called Carrotmob to the neighborhood, in which a local business promises to devote a matched percentage of their profits on a chosen day towards projects that reduce their environmental impact. Patrons can then “mob” the business on that day knowing the profits will be invested toward that goal.

In October, NoPa’s Matching Half Café earned well over the amount needed to purchase a bicycle trailer, larger reusable storage containers, and committed to using organic milk and more local food.

Carrotmob at Duboce Park Cafe. Photo: Jenny Sherman / ##http://www.examiner.com/environmental-news-in-san-francisco/carrotmob-san-francisco-photo##examiner.com##
Carrotmob at Duboce Park Cafe. Photo: Jenny Sherman

The Wigg Party also collaborates with the Hayes Valley Farm, a public lot cultivated by the local community to grow food where a Central Freeway on-ramp used to be. There, the group holds regular “Fresh Produce Share-With-Alls” where they distribute otherwise wasted food collected from farmer’s markets around the city.

Other opportunities provided by the group include “re-skilling parties” in which members can learn anything from bike maintenance to sewing to making cheeses, skills Fitzgibbons says will be necessary in a more resilient culture. Members are also forming community local food events such as a house-to-house “Urban Eating League” evening featuring dishes cooked by various chefs.

New projects already in the works by Wigg Party leaders include a local currency for the shopping districts around the Divisadero and Haight Street corridors, similar to the one created in Bernal Heights known as Bernal Bucks. A local currency would be intended to create incentive for local spending by offering an appreciated value accrued with their use, said Fitzgibbons.

Wigg Party Attendees discuss ideas and plans. Photo: Jenny Sherman
Wigg Party attendees discuss ideas and plans. Photo: Jenny Sherman

Since its inception last year, the group has held regular monthly “Wigg Party Party” meetings where members gather to discuss ideas, organize projects, socialize and often go on late-night outings along the Wiggle to promote the group and add creative decorations using chalk on the streets.

At the first Party of 2011, some twenty young, enthusiastic people met at Fitzgibbons’ and Womack’s NoPa home to explore what the Wigg Party was about and discuss plans for the year with the aim of further engaging families and businesses in the community to promote awareness of the group and its goals. An evening of socializing and live music followed, with dozens arriving to enjoy the fun, social part of building a community movement.

Although it can be challenging to keep a social group focused on orchestrating a major cultural shift with sometimes uncooperative city officials and leaders, Fitzgibbons remains committed to pursuing his vision.

“We don’t have all the answers, we don’t know where the universe is going,” said Fitzgibbons. “So our purpose is to create sustainable culture so that people can live in the future and potentially know those things we don’t know.”

“2011 is going to be the year of synergy in sustainable San Francisco. A lot of things have to come together, but we’re going to be figuring out how to identify our friends and soldiers in this great fight to really achieve some big goals,” he said.

Wigg Party members celebrate a successful Backyard Gardens Work Party. Photo: Jenny Sherman
Wigg Partiers celebrate a successful Backyard Gardens Work Party. Photo: Jenny Sherman
A "Fresh Produce Share-With-All" at Hayes Valley Farm. Photo: Jenny Sherman
A "Fresh Produce Share-With-All" at Hayes Valley Farm. Photo: Jenny Sherman
  • Clutch J

    As the 19th-century Whigs’ leaders (from Clay to Lincoln) were quite dedicated to public works– canals, railways, roads, etc– the name is quite appropriate.

  • Great piece Aaron! If people want to know more about us or get involved you can check out our website at http://www.wiggparty.org or our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/wiggparty. You can also follow us on twitter @wiggparty.

    Our one-year anniversary Wigg Party Party is coming up on February 11th. The Wigg Party Party is our monthly meeting where we discuss everything that’s going on in the organization and then party! We’ve got a big lineup of musicians we’ll announce soon so stay tuned!

  • Great to have the Wigg Party active in the North Panhandle and other neighborhoods for community building. Very positive and enthusiastic.

  • Nick

    Do they have specific, concrete examples of how they would like to change the Wiggle?

    If not, then I would respectfully ask that they not put any more chalk along the route. No more platitudes or promises. Just get something done.

    Some ideas for the route:
    -Giant sharrows. As in the sizd of a Giant’s footprint.
    -Eliminate the STOP signs and install traffic circles (a trial with soft-hit posts here might work this time around. Page Street anyone?)
    -Curbside bike lanes on Oak and Fell this year.
    -On street bike maps for tourists to gawk at.
    -Bike racks outside residential homes.
    -Curbside planters and gardens.

  • Lauryn

    Nick-those are some great ideas. The wigg party focuses on a number of initiatives to enhance the community around the wiggle in addition to improvements to the route itself; community building events, sustainable business initiatives re-skilling workshops for community members and local food services are a few of the things mentioned in this article. The Wigg Party works collaboratively with other  orgs/agencies/coalitions and businesses to advance this type of work.The chalkings on the wiggle are an opportunity to build awareness about this young but quickly growing organization.

    It sounds like you have some great/ambitious ideas on what you would like to see transformed. As a wigg party member I definitely encourage you to attend one of the meetings. We’re always looking for more passionate change agents to join the good fight. 

  • Nick

    One more way to improve the Wiggle:
    -Solid double-yellow lines the entire route.

    I don’t have time to advocate for these changes. If the SFBC or the Wigg group won’t take it upon themselves, who will?

  • TK

    I’ve gotta agree with Nick there. Can we just try to focus on one concrete thing at a time? I can’t believe more people don’t complain about the lack of a clear connection between the Panhandle and EB Wiggle, for example. I’ve lived here for 10 years and I finally figured out that Panhandle–>L on Baker–>R on Hayes–>R on Divis–>L on Page is the least painful (and harrowing) route, at least in my opinion. In other words, why isn’t some way to get EB on Fell or Oak priority #1?

  • TK –

    It is a top priority for this year in Connecting the City.

    For now, it might seem intimidating, but I think it’s relatively easy to take the lane on Oak, since that stretch is downhill and the signal timing sort of keeps the platoons of car traffic tamed.

    But what I like to do is take Page all the way, if you live near Stanyan or west of that.

    Otherwise, Panhandle > L on Baker > R on McAllister. McAllister seems to be another favorite route for many riders, being the less steeper and having lower car traffic and smoother pavement than most other continuous streets in the area, although you do have to share with leapfrogging 5 buses. But I’d say give it a try until Oak gets a bikeway.

    Fulton one block over does have bike lanes, but the grade and poor road quality doesn’t work for me.

  • Hey guys,

    These are some really great suggestions regarding what we can do to improve the Wiggle. We, in fact, have brought up most of these suggestions in conversations with SFBC for their Connecting the City and with MTA directly. People who have lived long enough in this city certainly understand that these kinds of changes don’t happen over night, and they don’t happen without a strong push from the community. We are currently, and for the past year and a half, leading that push along with SFBC. Things are going to start falling this coming year.

    You’ll also soon see the effects of decisions that we’ve already won on behalf of Wiggle riders. We were a part of the conversations around the Duboce and Church redevelopment that’s going to coincide with the replacement of the track, and we got MTA to agree to paint the bike lane between Church and Fillmore green, something they weren’t going to do. We also got them to install padding in the rails to make it harder for bicyclists to get their tires stuck. These changes will also take a little bit of time to materialize, as the bureaucratic process is still far too slow to make the changes we desperately need.

    The only way to fast-track these things is to all band together and demand them. We promise we have concrete ideas and actions coming soon, but we need your help to make them materialize.

  • sfjeff

    I like the idea of a gateway at the Market street end, at the beginning of the Wiggle. I live near there, and frequently see tourists on their rental bikes coming up Market, knowing they have to take a right somewhere to find the route that will take them west (most often to GG Park I assume). Some find it no problem, others unwittingly ride past the turn off, and others stop and stare at their maps or ask people like me for directions. So a well marked gateway would be a plus, and if it was some sort of physical structure it could be aesthetically pleasing while adding another visual cue for drivers and others that bikes are deserving of good infrastructure.

  • My hat is off (metaphorically speaking) to the Wigg Party. It is a real, grass-roots Transition organization that will help San Francisco evolve and prosper as we approach the next few (I fear) difficult decades. I like that they are focusing on issues beyond transportation; I like that they are improving the livability of their neighborhood by trying to de-emphasize cars and emphasize the glory and utility of the Wiggle. Not everything they do may succeed, but trying things out, seeing what works, consolidating successes and trying again, is extremely useful.

    I too think the Wiggle should be a route where bikes have precedence and cars are only polite guests. I often wonder if our streets and laws were designed for bikes, not cars, what would things look like?

    I usually only ride a short portion of the Wiggle on Scott Street, but last week I had occasion to ride all the way across the city from the Richmond to SOMA just after sunset. So going east on the Wiggle (everyone else seemed to be going west), after dark, and unfamiliar with the exact route, I had a bit of a hard time figuring out where to make all the turns. At night the little green signs are hard to see. Big lines and arrows on the pavement would have really helped me. And the tracks at Duboce and Church! Oh my goodness. And then when I got to Market Street and wanted to get across, what was I supposed to do? I ended up using the crosswalks.

    Part of what I love about San Francisco is the creativity, energy, and willingness to experiment. The Wiggle community seems to have the vision and the energy to transform their neighborhood in ways that may result in a very useful template for other neighborhoods and other cities.

  • Sprague

    As someone who lives near the Wiggle and rides it rather often, thank you to the Wigg Party for promoting the route and working to improve it. From the point of view of a cyclist and a local resident, it would be great if some of the Wiggle would become more bike friendly and less car friendly.
    Reducing through automobile traffic and then reducing the number of stop signs along parts of the route (like at the intersections of Steiner and Waller, Waller and Pierce, and Page and Scott) would allow for cyclists to both legally and efficiently pedal the Wiggle. (Of course, Idaho stop legislation for the entire state would also be welcome, but that is another issue.) Reducing the use of Scott Street as an alternative traffic sewer to Divisadero makes for walking along it (at the Wiggle) during rush hours unpleasant. Furthermore, when I pedal the Wiggle along Scott Street heading south during rush hours (or even at 3:30 in the afternoon), with my nine year old daughter close behind, the volume of cars is intimidating and incompatible with a bike friendly street (since southbound Scott just has sharrows and no bike lane).

  • Tdhaggerty

     I like to take Page all the way too.  My fear is that an impact to the flow of auto traffic on Oak St. will dramatically increase the amount of traffic on Page, which will I will like much less.

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