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Posts from the "Jane Jacobs" Category

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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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Planetizen Unveils Its Top 100 Urban Thinkers

She may be experiencing an intellectual reconsideration in some
corners, but Jane Jacobs is still a beloved figure for the urban
planners and designers of Planetizen.

0433_12innova.jpgJane Jacobs (Photo: BusinessWeek)

After
a month-long online poll that saw more than 14,000 votes cast, the site
released its list of the "Top 100 Urban Thinkers" today — and Jane was
at the top. Her longtime antagonist Robert Moses came in at No. 23, nine spots ahead of current New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Other notables singled out by Planetizen readers include Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park (No. 4), Enrique Penalosa, Bogota’s former mayor and a dedicated proponent of bus rapid transit (No. 14), and Kaid Benfield, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s smart growth program (No. 42).

Check out the complete top 100 right here. Is anyone missing, or should anyone be ranked higher than they are?

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What Should We Learn From Moses and Jacobs?

There is probably no more beloved figure in urbanism than Jane Jacobs, who fought to preserve some of New York City's most treasured neighborhoods and who gave urbanists some of the field's fundamental texts. As Ed Glaeser notes in the New Republic this week, Jacobs died in 2006 "a cherished, almost saintly figure," while her principal antagonist, Robert Moses, remains popularly reviled as a villain.

3227424_t346.jpgJane Jacobs (center, in light dress) demonstrates at New York City's old Penn Station. (Photo: Metropolis)
But as American cities have outgrown their infrastructure in recent decades, and as political institutions have proven unable to muster the energy necessary to construct great projects, Moses' reputation has enjoyed something of a recovery. Increasingly, he is being actively rehabilitated in new histories and essays, of which Glaeser's review is an example.

These efforts are interesting because they manage to earn a degree of sympathy from urbanists themselves, who have grown increasingly tired of the decades required to navigate a transit line from planning stages to operation.

There is something very attractive about an individual who can drive the stakes and get the project built -- damn the politicians, and damn the NIMBYs.

But this is dangerous territory. In rehabilitating Moses and reconsidering Jacobs, it's important to be clear about where each was right, and where each went wrong.

There are many ways to interpret the clash between Moses and Jacobs: development versus preservation, city versus suburb, design for people versus design for automobiles, power versus powerlessness, and so on. To acknowledge that the balance has swung too far in one direction in one of these conflicts does not at all suggest that the balances are similarly out of whack on others.

Take, for example, one of Glaeser's principal intellectual standbys: that resistance to development slows the growth of housing supply, increasing housing costs. Glaeser says:

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