This weekend, San Francisco was treated to a visit by Enrique Peñalosa, the livable streets visionary who spearheaded a transportation revolution as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia by championing ideas like car-free streets, bus rapid transit, and protected bikeways. Peñalosa, who now professes his vision to city leaders worldwide, spoke at Sunday Streets in the Mission and at a SPUR forum.
Sunday Streets, of course, was inspired by Peñalosa’s Ciclovia program, which opens many miles of streets every week.
“Why is it so special? Why is it so magical?,” Peñalosa asked during a speech on Valencia Street. “It’s like a ritual of reconquering the city for human beings… it’s always fun to do the things that we are not allowed to do.”
In thinking about how cities use street space, Peñalosa emphasizes the importance of equity and democracy as a rubric. “Road space is one of the most valuable resources a city has,” he said. “San Francisco could find oil or diamonds underground and it would not be as valuable. The question is how to distribute this road space between pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport, and cars. There is no technical way of doing it. There is no legal way of doing it.”
In San Francisco, like most cities, the vast majority of street space is devoted primarily to moving and storing private automobiles. In many neighborhoods, even the sidewalks are used for parking — an absurd situation Peñalosa took on as mayor in Bogotá.
“Sidewalks are much closer relatives to parks than to streets,” he said. ”To say that on a sidewalk, there is enough space to park cars as well as for people to walk by, is equivalent to saying that we can turn the main park or plaza into a parking lot — so long as we leave enough space for people to walk by.”
Many of SF’s battles over re-allocating street space for people focus on maintaining car parking. To that, Peñalosa says, ”We should remember that parking is not a constitutional right.”
Peñalosa pointed out that there’s no other piece of personal property for which the public provides free space for its storage. When someone buys a refrigerator, for example, the public isn’t obligated to provide a kitchen.