Jan Gehl Says San Francisco Must be Sweet to Pedestrians and Cyclists

jan-and-gabriel7.jpgIt’s a good day in a city’s urbanist evolution when Jan Gehl comes to town, and now San Francisco can add itself to the growing list of cities around the world that have embraced his people-first approach to urban design and planning.

Hoping to keep pace with the progress in New York City over the past two years, the San Francisco Planning Department has commissioned Gehl Architects to transform several prominent streets and public spaces in the city, starting with one of the busiest tourist attractions in the U.S., Fisherman’s Wharf. 

On Tuesday night, in front of a
standing-room audience of special guests at Pier One’s Bayside Room,
Gehl presented his general vision for improving San Francisco’s public realm. The
event, sponsored by Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Planning and
Urban Research (SPUR)
, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Livable
, and Walk SF, was the first in the new Great Streets Campaign Speakers Series, which will bring some of the world’s most remarkable urban visionaries
to the Bay Area in the coming months to share their successes and offer San
Francisco models for instituting its own vision for a sustainable and healthy city. 

Gehl is in town for a week of presentations to the public, to city agencies, and to merchants’ associations. On Wednesday, he will present the results of his firm’s Fisherman’s Wharf study to the public for the first time. The Planning Department is hopeful that his work will stimulate a larger discussion of the quality of public space among the stakeholders in the area.

John Rahaim, director of the Planning Department, noted that Gehl’s work around the world brings a cachet to San Francisco and helps "set the stage to implement pedestrian improvements and demonstration projects on our streets." Rahaim is optimistic that Gehl’s work will "start a process to implement the principles of [San Francisco’s] Better Streets Plan," the comprehensive new pedestrian and public space plan that is awaiting completion of environmental review.

Gehl was cagey when asked about what San Francisco should do to be more like Copenhagen or Paris, arguing that the study his firm has completed for the Fisherman’s Wharf project is only a preliminary analysis and not a proposal. Nevertheless, he argued that if San Francisco wants to be a "lively, attractive, safe and sustainable city [it must] be sweet to its pedestrians, sweet to its cyclists."

Photo of Jan Gehl and SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf by Matthew Roth

  • jane

    He was AMAZING. his vision is going to transform San Francisco, as long as the people that make decisions truly listen to him. Putting people first (not cars) in planning is so simple and so powerful.

    Boo on the hoser who had inane self-centered comments in the question round. It is bigger than you – get on board.

  • anonymouse

    You know what would make San Francisco’s streets better? Pedestrian crossing signals. A huge majority of intersections don’t have any pedestrian signals at all, much less fancy ones with countdown timers.

  • Ditto on the first commenter…if the location of your house is not ideal for bicycling downtown, what does that have to do with the rest of us?

    One thing the SFMTA could do is retime coordinated traffic signals to benefit bikes (12-15 mph) rather than cars (25-30 mph). As Jan Gehl mentioned, they have created a “green wave” of traffic lights for bikes in Copenhagen, toward downtown in the AM and away in the PM. Portland has done this too.

    Valencia Street would be ideal for this treatment. Mundane modifications such as signal timing adjustments can be implemented without triggering California’s infamous environmental analysis requirements, which means this could be done quickly and with minimal cost, despite the bike injunction.

  • Lots of streets to the west of SF’s city hall were made 1-way and some pedestrian crossings were banned to speed up traffic coming off of the Central Freeway. That freeway has been replaced by a pedestrian friendly boulevard, but the one-way streets and no-crossing signs remain. One obvious improvement for pedestrians and bicyclists in SF: make those streets two-way and allow pedestrians in all the crosswalks. (When I bicycle to the Civic Center BART station, I always hit a one-way street going the wrong way.)

  • Good idea on the Green Wave for Valencia, Greg, you may know that transplanted Portlander Janel Sterbentz is championing just such a thing, she’s already had traffic engineers run some timing models and it looks quite plausible, if not simple, when it happens you can thank her . . .

    And that crank who peed on our parade in the Q&A is notorious sneetch David Ferguson, he’s running for D4 Supervisor and the SF Bay Guardian just endorsed him, Sunset voters please be careful and leave that box blank . . .

    And above all, be sweet.

  • I didn’t know Jan Gehl is. I found this 10 min video that covers some of his work:


  • Dave

    Did anyone film his presentation? If so, can someone post it online?


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