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Posts from the "Jack Fleck" Category

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Dangerous Rincon Hill Intersection Finally Getting the City’s Attention

Drivers ignore the signs and routinely block the crosswalk and speed at the intersection of Harrison and Main streets. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

On December 10, 2004, Katy Liddell had just stepped off the N-Judah with a sack of cleaning supplies and was walking to her Portside apartment at Harrison and Main in Rincon Hill, when she noticed a cadre of emergency vehicles surrounding the intersection. As Liddell drew closer, she saw something that horrified her.

“I saw a tarp covering a body in the middle of the street,” Liddell recalled. “I found out that one of my neighbors had been hit and killed.”

The violent force of a big rig truck had thrown 63-year-old Beverly Kees out of the crosswalk, killing her. Kees, a popular SF State journalism professor who had recently retired, lived across the street from Liddell in the BayCrest Towers. The dog she had been walking was also hit and injured.

“Beverly saved his life. She saw the truck coming and she picked him up,” said Debi Gould, Kees’ friend and neighbor and owner of the dog who was with her when she died, a rat terrier mix named Harp. As Gould tells it, Kees, who lived two doors down, had been told by her doctor that she needed to walk more. She asked Gould if she could walk Harp one day, and the two formed a close bond.

“She started walking him to the point where he loved being with her, and instead of a couple of times a week, it ended up being every day that I went to work,” said Gould, a retired flight attendant who also walks a lot and feels like pedestrians in San Francisco “are considered an inconvenience.”

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Jack Fleck on Market Street, Muni, Global Warming and Traffic

Jack_Fleck_.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel.

What does San Francisco's retired top traffic engineer think about Market Street, Muni and global warming? We sat down with Jack Fleck recently for an extended interview. The 62-year-old retired last week after more than 25 years with the former Department of Parking and Traffic and the current San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

Fleck expounded on a number of topics and his answers offer some insight into his thinking over the years as the city's lead traffic engineer.

On cars and driving:

As a student I started connecting all these problems with the automobile and the first one was related to the urban riots, I mean the fact that at that time equal housing laws didn't exist. So, African Americans were pretty much confined to the inner city, at the same time the freeways were crisscrossing the cities and making them much less livable, destroying neighborhoods and creating noise and pollution and all of that, and they became like pressure cookers and they exploded, and so the inner city blight and the white flight were something I paid a lot of attention to in the '60s. But then also reading Jane Jacob's book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," and how she contrasted Robert Moses, who was the big freeway builder. His vision of how the freeway was always good versus the reality, and not just freeways, but parking lots and widening streets and all the things that she talked about to create the fabric of a city and the way that the automobile was part of the problem. It wasn't like that was the only problem, but that was something she talked a lot about and I learned the word 'livability' I think from Don Appleyard when I took classes at Berkeley. I went to grad school in City Planning at Berkeley.

So that sort of struck home as that's what I want to do, make cities livable and I don't know that it was really a word that was used a lot until more recently, but it does make sense. That's from all the days that I've been involved in this is trying to make this city a better place to live. But then there were other problems with cars obviously, the wars for oil and I think I learned the word ecology in about 1969, it was the first time I heard that word. I was like 'oh, that's a good one', because air pollution, oil spills which obviously are still a problem. So all of that sort of compounded to make me much more anti-automobile, but still, I was like 'yes, cars are still convenient and people love cars.' I was never a person that loved cars like they were my baby or something, like some people their whole identity is caught up in their cars and that's still true today, but they are very convenient to get around and so it's a love/hate thing.

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Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck Looks Back at 25 Years of Shaping SF Streets

Jack_Fleck_1.jpgJack Fleck, who retired yesterday after 25 years with the SFMTA, has been pondering the city's streets from his 7th floor office above Van Ness and Market Streets. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on the past, present and future of traffic engineering in San Francisco. 

Jack Lucero Fleck remembers his teenage years as a sputnik, the kind of kid who was as "nutty as a slide rule," loved math and science, and knew he was headed in that direction. It was the summer of 1965, and living in Peoria, Illinois, the same town where US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood grew up, Fleck couldn't quite peg what he wanted to do in life. And then there were the Watts riots.

"I got kind of interested in, 'well, what caused that? Why were people burning down their neighborhood?'," Fleck, 62, explained during a recent interview. "I decided I would go into civil engineering because I liked to do math and science and engineering and I would combine it with city planning to make cities better places to live, so people wouldn't want to burn them down."

For the last 25 years, Fleck, who retired yesterday from his job as San Francisco's top traffic engineer, has had a hand in almost every major transportation project in San Francisco, from the demolition and boulevard replacement of the Embarcadero and Central Freeways, to helping in the design of the T-Third line and Central Subway, to crafting a controversial proposal to remove the bike lane at Market and Octavia Streets.

He has sometimes been the bane of transit advocates for defending post-World War II traffic engineering orthodoxy favoring one-way street networks, such as those that roar through neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa. While some advocates have been working to dismantle some of the one-way arterials, Fleck, who became lead traffic engineer in 2004, is a firm believer in them. Still, those advocates and transportation professionals who have worked with Fleck (none we contacted would go on the record with their criticisms) say he has been a true professional and easy to work with.

"His views are very progressive and he's very environmentally conscious," said Bond Yee, the interim Director of Sustainable Streets at the SFMTA who has been at the agency four years longer than Fleck. "He epitomizes what the new generation of transportation professionals is becoming. He's a little bit ahead of his time."

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