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Posts from the Chris Carlsson Category


Train Strike!

View_of_Market_Street_during_the_streetcar_strike_of_1907_AAD_4930.jpgView of Market Street during 1907 streetcar strike (from San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library)

On Sunday BART workers might strike, throwing Bay Area transportation into chaos. It's a tiny echo of the kind of warfare that used to erupt regularly a century ago on the streetcar lines of San Francisco. 1,500 streetcar men voted to strike for an 8-hour day, leading to "Bloody Tuesday," May 7, 1907, when gunfights exploded between armed guards and men shooting from nearby vacant lots, while strikebreakers housed in United Railroads carbarns opened fire on protesting crowds, killing two and injuring 20. By the time the strike was lost in March 1908, six had been killed in the violence, 250 more hurt, and over two dozen had died in accidents on the system while it was run by scab labor.

A decade later, almost exactly 92 years ago, streetcar workers struck again:

On August 11, 1917, at 9:45 p.m., one hundred "platform men" employed by the privately owned United Railroads (URR) streetcar service in San Francisco, abandoned their streetcars near the corner of Market, Valencia and Haight Streets, rapidly tying up many of the main lines in and out of the city center. Weeks of secret agitation had set the stage for a strong, well-organized walkout.


Wreckless Riding

3669112397_e02ec6a72d.jpgPhoto by Bryan Goebel.
In 1978 I was a field manager for an environmental group's canvassing operation and was driving "my crew" in an old beat-up Volkswagon from one suburb to the next. From about 3 p.m. we'd visit every house in a given area, knocking on doors seeking donations and support, ending around 8:30 or 9. One time I was in Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill or one of those Contra Costa bedroom communities, and I did a typical San Francisco rolling stop at a stop sign in a quiet residential neighborhood. Sure enough I was stopped by a squad car and given quite a lecture on how San Francisco behavior was unacceptable out there in the 'burbs.

I remember this periodically as I roll down Shotwell in the Mission, zipping into and out of intersections with 4-way stops, always making sure I don't end up on the front hood of a car that barely hesitates as they roll through the stop signs (San Franciscan motorists are notorious for the rolling stop). I'm on a bicycle of course, taking the smaller Shotwell instead of Folsom with its bad pavement and narrow lanes, or the wider South Van Ness with its fast-moving traffic, or even instead of Harrison, which is a nice, bike-lane bearing boulevard just two blocks to the east. Some friends pointed out a few years ago that Shotwell had the advantage going north because A) it was recently paved; and B) it has 4-way stops which means a cyclist can sail down the slope into the former swamplands (from 19th to Division, Valencia to Harrison was largely wetlands before urbanization), rarely having to stop.

My cycling behavior dates back to childhood when I commuted by bike across Oakland to 6th grade, and learned the basic rule of thumb for safe city cycling: No one sees bicyclists! Therefore, to be safe, you must always make sure you are in the parts of the street where you cannot be hit, preferably away from moving cars, and not too close to parked ones either. The best, safest place to be? On the other side of a red light, where the street is mostly empty of traffic.



Is Sunday Streets the Next Critical Mass?

sunday_streets.jpgFlickr photo: Michael Bolger
Though it occurred for just four hours on two miles of streets in the Mission, this week’s Sunday Streets event has transformed the livable streets movement in some of the same ways that Critical Mass transformed San Francisco’s bicycle rights movement in the early 1990s.

“Even better than Critical Mass,” was the answer I got when I separately asked three men who had been riders on the first Critical Mass rides in 1992 how they compare Sunday Streets to Critical Mass.

“It’s more true to the original intent of most of the early Critical Mass participants--taking public  space and transforming it from an inhospitable and deadly river of steel into a convivial place where friends meet, talk, play and celebrate their community,” said Jon Winston, who was there Sunday with his family and there 17 years ago on the early Critical Mass rides. This event does what Critical Mass did, Winston said, but it lasts longer and invites a wider variety of people. "Friends meet and tarry in the street to catch up on gossip but also, lines of class and race are crossed as people mix freely and the street is returned to what it had always been for thousands of years before the automobile– a commons."

As one of the participants in the early Critical Mass rides, I saw thrilling parallels between these two events that take over the streets for just a few hours but seem to have impacts far beyond the event itself. I remembered the palpable joy of being in an unprecedented social space, a reclaiming of a violent and privatized street for public interaction.


Farming, Park Parking and Empty Promises

Victory_garden_w_city_hall_aug_08_3695.jpgThe Potemkin Victory Garden during Slow Food Nation, August 2008.

Gavin Newsom is running for President, er um, I mean Governor (you gotta take these things one step at a time). Maybe he’ll make it, maybe something will wreck his chances. It’s an interesting drama from the point of view of recent American history, as he follows in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and has surrounded himself with a retinue of advertising professionals… you know, those people who do nothing useful for society but are extremely well-paid to craft lies and deceptions and help the powerful stay on top. Newsom is a vacuous politician with no rudder or internal gyroscope grounded in any values other than what will get him on to the next stop of his political ambition. His advertisers (do they advise? I think they just advertise) are shrewd enough to keep associating the Newsom Brand with the innovative thinking and practices that are practically boiling out of political sight in San Francisco. But we cannot and should not think of him as an ally since his track record is demonstrably empty when it comes to doing what he says.

Newsom got a bunch of local press last week when he announced that he was directing his department heads to examine their city-owned surplus real estate holdings for the potential to kick-start a serious effort at locally grown urban agriculture. As a person who has—even here—promoted the idea of “One Lane for Food” I am of course glad to see the idea of urban agriculture gaining traction. But having Gavin Newsom using the idea as the buzz-of-the-week in his gubernatorial campaign is simply aggravating.


Water Wars, Past and Future!

clayton_corbett_garden_w_intersection_behind_9971.jpgNeighbors have created this triangular oasis at Clayton and Corbett in Upper Eureka Valley.

One essential way to enjoy the streets of San Francisco is to get out and walk around. We have so many amazing walks at our doorsteps. In the hills are hidden staircases, promontories and open hilltops with amazing views, and secret treasures. I'm particularly curious to dig through the layers of history wherever possible. For the last seven years I've been hiking up Liberty Hill, across Kite Hill and then up and over Market to the intersection of Clayton and Corbett Streets, just below the spot where the Pemberton Steps come down. If you've only passed this way by car, you're missing the whole show!

The intersection is quite a huge expanse of asphalt, but in plain view are some hints of what once was, and a fantastic garden that neighbors have brought to life at the point where the streets meet. To the west of the intersection is an open lot with outcroppings of chert, the ancient seabed thrust upward that makes up a good number of our hills. Somewhere beneath that hillside is a bubbling spring of fresh water, surging to the surface year round. That water is sometimes visible to passersby even now, as in this photo (below the break) showing water running out on to Clayton from the hillside.


Things Are Heating Up!

cm_june09_naked_cyclists_start_0079.jpgNew Bike Plan! Let's Get Naked and Celebrate! Critical Mass San Francisco, June 2009.

I was glad to see “We Are the World” on the ridiculously inadequate Climate Change bill that finally emerged from the corrupt U.S. Congress. Sadly, the bill could only emerge with the support of a number of mainstream environmental lobbyists in DC, who clearly have sold out to get something, anything, in the direction of addressing the climate catastrophe. Here in San Francisco there’s an inordinate amount of enthusiasm for the Bike Plan getting okayed by part of the city government, even though it’s still under an injunction, and even when that finally gets lifted, it’ll take three years to finish this Plan, one which will have relatively little effect on this car-dominated city. In some strange way the Climate Bill and the Bike Plan are eerily similar: sources of great pride to those who believe in incremental change, “the best we can do in the current political climate” to political realists, but falling way short, sorely disproportionate to the actual needs they ostensibly address. (An article in the UK Guardian Weekly June 5-11 edition “Climate Change Creates New ‘Global Battlefield’” quotes a new report from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum that there are already 300,000 deaths a year due to the warming climate, and 300 million people have already been affected!)

I’m not saying anything that most people can’t readily see if we pause from our daily frenzy long enough to think about the bigger picture. I’ll go out on a limb (barely) and say here and now that the Climate Catastrophe conference scheduled for Copenhagen, Denmark in December will fail to do anything meaningful. It’s not hard to predict, since even with a 60-vote Democratic (comedian-reinforced) Majority in the U.S. Senate, there’s no chance of a treaty being ratified that addresses the structure of the U.S. economy or the geographic arrangement of our dwellings, our transit infrastructure, or our energy use. And yet, this is simply what is necessary to have ANY CHANCE AT ALL of averting catastrophic ecological and economic collapse… funny to think that things are that stark, and hard to see if we don’t stop and look, but there it is.


Revisiting the San Francisco Freeway Revolt

Editor's note: This piece was written for Shaping San Francisco and is now incorporated into the new wiki version, your best place to research San Francisco history,

Ecology1_freeway_protest_embarcadero.jpgProtesters march along Embarcadero in early 1960s, stump of Embarcadero Freeway ends behind them at Broadway.
Photo courtesy San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

In the 1950s, the California Division of Highways had a plan to extend freeways across San Francisco. At that time the freeway reigned supreme in California, but San Francisco harbored the seeds of an incipient revolt which ultimately saved several neighborhoods from the wrecking ball and also put up the first serious opposition to the post-WWII consensus on automobiles, freeways, and suburbanization.

Fwy_NBeachIntx.jpgEarly plan for 8-lane freeway to cut under Russian Hill on its way from the Embarcadero to the Golden Gate Bridge.



Food Bad, Lawns Good? Berkeley Bureaucrats Target Transition Activist

front_of_asa_house_9657.jpgAsa Dodsworth's Home on Acton at Allston Way in Berkeley.

I got an email forwarded to me over the weekend titled "BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA HATES URBAN GARDENS" which naturally sparked my interest. Turns out to be a lot more interesting than the title even suggested. Asa Dodsworth has lived in his place on Acton and Allston Way in Berkeley for about a decade, which he owns. He's a gentle, lanky fellow who decided some years ago to plant food in his front yard and on the six-foot wide median between the curb and the sidewalk running in front of his property. He's not officially associated with Transition Towns or any of the many new initiatives cropping up (pun intended!) that are trying to find local ways to address a world out of kilter. But clearly his dedicated effort to use his small area to grow food instead of keeping it strictly ornamental or recreational is part of a bigger agenda of urban redesign and transformation that benefits us all, and sets a standard that many more of us should be working towards.

I took my bike on BART to seek out this controversial streetscape and see for myself. As luck would have it, I arrived in late afternoon and found Asa pruning some of the foliage in his median, while a cluster of folks stood around discussing not just his situation, but the also the larger dynamic associated with the overblown "crisis" of the light brown apple moth. (For a full download on this topic, go to To get to Asa's place I got off at Ashby BART and rode north on Acton until I found it, not knowing precisely where it was, but having seen some photos on-line. As I rode along I couldn't help but notice that LOTS of homes along Acton are characterized by dense foliage in the front yards, sometimes fruit trees, sometimes just a variety of thick shrubs, flowers and on one occasion at least, artichokes!


At the Edge of Commercialization: The Maker Faire

leaving_on_Valencia_9435.jpgSan Francisco cyclists leave on Valencia May 30 for the Maker Faire 20 miles south in San Mateo.

Following the siren song of the Fossil Fool, or expecting to anyway (he was very late!), I joined a surprisingly large contingent of San Francisco cyclists to ride the 20-odd miles to the Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. Gray foggy skies kept us cool as we headed out, and right away the etiquette of a Critical Mass broke down, as we separated into ever smaller groups of cyclists, broken up by the red lights.

cycling_up_bayshore_blvd_9445.jpgSouthward on Bayshore Blvd., beneath the freeways.

We headed for a bayshore route, and took Bayshore Blvd southward, zigzagging across the freeway before finally getting into the relative open of the toxic landfill that was once San Francisco' garbage dump in Brisbane lagoon. It's a nice place to ride now, presumably relatively safe for passersby, but known to harbor some of the hottest of toxic hot spots that rim the bay. We slipped under the freeway again to regroup under San Bruno Mountain's last spring greenery (we were in a sprawling Marriott parking lot), but a lot of the musical accompaniment was so far behind us that we never saw them until hours later at the Faire.


CBS 5’s Joe Vazquez Has a Critical Math Problem

critical_mass.jpgCritical Mass, March 2009. Photo by Bryan Goebel.

I got a call a week ago from the SF Bike Coalition's media person. She was looking for someone to talk to Joe Vazquez of CBS 5, a reporter who was going to do a piece on Critical Mass. I declined, having been interviewed far too often over the years, and having learned time and time again that the mass media is not going to do any favors for Critical Mass by covering it. Sure enough, the piece is now online, and you can see for yourself just how absurd the slant is. I'll give Vazquez credit for at least going on the ride, and in fact, in his sidebar piece, describing what it was like, he admits to becoming more sentient and feeling himself, instead of playing the (impossibly) neutral observer:

...along the way, I found myself unusually sentient. As a reporter, I am not supposed to feel anything while covering a story. That's how we are trained:  focus on the story.  Get it right.  Be fair.  Leave your human reactions out of the story. In this case, though, I was feeling it. My legs were sore and tired (because I haven't been on a bike in two years!)  The sunset was glorious.  Music was blaring from boom boxes on bikes... most riders were well-behaved and even polite (I watched one rider actually apologize to a car driver for tying up traffic). Critical mass is a riot, not just because it's a moving mob with a cause.  It's a riot because it's a celebration every bit as exhilarating as it is exasperating.  A true San Francisco tradition.

We can only wonder what behind-the-scenes pressure led to this new coverage. Did an editor get stuck in traffic recently? Did a local politician put them up to it? Did the station's owners get a call that a campaign would be helpful right now, in order to justify a coming attempt to control and abolish Critical Mass again? We'll probably never know. But given the ridiculous angle the main story took, it doesn't look promising. Vazquez's main point? Critical Mass "costs $155,060 in taxpayer dollars annually!"... and how does he  arrive at this bizarre number?