The Great Streets Campaign Needs a Leader

Market.jpgHow great would a car-free Market Street be?

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) is spearheading a new initiative it has dubbed "The Great Streets Campaign," which seeks to catalyze numerous stakeholders and policy makers to transform our city streets for people.  They just sent around a job announcement for the campaign director, which you can download here (PDF).

Despite a city charter that puts transit and people first in the transportation hierarchy, and
city codes mandating Complete Streets and Better Streets treatments,
the reality is that most of San Francisco still caters fundamentally to
the private automobile.

While the failure to provide our city with quality transit and quality streets is due to numerous factors–from lack of coordination among city agencies, lack of
commitment or focus from city decision makers, and obstructive
litigation from certain community groups that resist change–the need for improvement is monumental.

The Better Streets Plan is a blueprint and toolbox for improving the livability and decency of our streets and yet very few of those prescriptions have been implemented.  

San Francisco should be leading the world in creating streets that serve as quality public spaces and build community and streets that are
safe, accessible, and welcoming to even the most vulnerable users (namely children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly), and
streets that provide balanced, multi-modal accessibility, with priority
given to transit, cycling, and walking. 

New York City has embraced livable streets principles and has made remarkable progress in the very short tenure of Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of their DOT.  We believe San Francisco can do the same, provided there is real leadership coming from Mayor Newsom. 

We wish the Great Streets Campaign great success and we hope to report on their good work in the very near future.

Flickr photo: ccoc

  • Leadership indeed. The “failure to provide our city with quality transit and quality streets” is the direct result of repeated violations of Section 8A.115 of the City Charter.

    Unfortunately the law is toothless, but someone needs to get out there and make sure that “Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety.”

  • Um this is all well and good. But tonight Fake Green Gavin just used a pack of lawyers’ tricks to raid MUNI’s funding to pay for all those pay raises he granted during the election in 2007.

    I’d love to support this but when you have both the state and now the City destabilizing MUNI funding so MUNI can’t even plan ahead properly, well, I’d say that’s a pretty big local fight to fight.

    I hate either/or. But transit is getting screwed at every single level, and worse, it’s by the people who claim to be for a “Green Planet” and other platitudes. Until there’s some stability, good ideas will be just that – good ideas – and won’t become real for the people they are supposed to serve.

  • Lee

    >How great would a car-free Market Street be?

    Not so great. Go ahead and click the link above
    New York City has embraced livable streets principles” and watch the video that points to New York City’s revitalization program. There is talk about temporarily making a car-free corridor for the but no talk at all about any permanent car-free spaces.

    Maybe 1-4% of SF rides a bike on a daily basis. In the recent French bike experiments, bike ridership has roughly doubled. So that’s 2-8% biking in SF. What about the 92-98% that would not be helped by making a car-free Market Street?

    The best way to kill the vitality of a street is to remove the traffic.

  • Lee – come on. There is no parking on Market St, and it’s not really a viable transportation artery – most in the know (actual SF residents) avoid driving on Market like the plague.

    Another comparison?

    16th St in Denver

    Note that no bikes are allowed – given the prevalence of bikes using Market I think that a bike lane each direction makes more sense here, and would attract cyclists away from nearby arterials which isn’t a bad thing. Time the lights for bikes and enforce the stoplights very aggressively to drive home the message that pedestrians are the Kings of Market to the Cyclists Queen – with timed lights the cyclists would not be so incented to run the reds – running one red just means you hit the next red.

  • All this fixation with [superlative] [infrastructure] just kills me, Better Neighborhoods, Better Streets, Better Neighborhoods Plus, now Great Streets. We’ve seen the press releases, the dog and pony shows and the coffee table book version, now show me the money to make it happen.

    The reason why the BIke Plan was delayed is that evidence was found that indicated that it was deemed politically okay for the MEA to grant the project a General Rule Exclusion.

    Until the SFBC acknowledges its role in the bike injunction instead of projecting their institutional responsibility onto others, then they will repeat the same and future improvements will be at risk. If the law is followed, then those opposed to progress have no legal toehold and progress resumes. If the law is not followed, then those supporting progress have left a toehold for those opposed. The easy answer is to not give your opponents ammo to use against you, not to whine when others use the loaded gun you’ve left on the table to blow away your project. The bike plan is delayed due to friendly fire.

    My question to the SFBC is first, what makes you think that “Better Streets” is the way to go? Was that the last thing that Planning told you was the right way to go? Doesn’t it make more sense to incrementally improve many more streets rather than perfect a handful?

    Second, if we’re going to be approving bicycle lanes at a breakneck speed between the time the injunction is lifted and bike to work day, then who will find the time to plumb the streetsmaking apparatus and why was this not done in parallel while the bike plan EIR was being done?

    Again, this approach requires capital investment in any street segments that are improved per Ross’ legislation, raising the cost per mile of “complete street” and is reminiscent of the Ahabesque fight for Healthy Saturdays as it allows the perfect to become the enemy of the good, a few boutique streets with most bike trips still taking place on deteriorated roadways.

    And to my knowledge, there is no provision for equity in BS. That is, the east side of the City provides the lions share of sales tax revenue and east side roadways take the vast bulk of 18 wheeler delivery traffic. Since Planning sees the east side as a piggy bank that keeps the Conservative C spruced up and as a development envelope to enrich developers, one can imagine that any implementation would treat pristine roadways in Newsom’s political base to the same level of investment as those in SOMA which are crumbling under the stress.

    Again, more of staff directing activism rather than activists leveraging political power to direct staff.


  • Greg P

    “The Better Streets Plan is a blueprint and toolbox for improving the livability and decency of our streets and yet very few of those prescriptions have been implemented.” You know it was just released last year and isn’t final and hasn’t yet been adopted, right? And you know that you cant turn a conceptual level planning document like that into engineered, let alone, built streets in a matter of months, right?

    But have you seen the plans for Columbus Ave? Pretty great. And technically, Cesar Chavez will be the first street where the BSP is applied. The City is moving on these things, but its not like the document gets published and we wake up the next morning to see all of our streets filled with trees and happy children playing ball in the streets as MUNI busses fly past private cars. This stuff takes time.

    Also, I think you have to give the City a LITTLE credit that they are trying to improve the coordination between City agencies (thats what the BSP is after all) and not only does changing institutional culture take time, but also planning, designing and building streets does. I’ll agree with you 100% that Gavin has talked plenty of talk and could show some real leadership on these things, though he has put some great leaders in place (John Rahaim, Astrid Haryati, Nat Ford).

    Just have a little faith, people. That and tell Gavin to work a little harder on making the departments play nicely together and listen to the innovative people in their ranks, because the biggest problem is that the bureaucratic culture fights the innovative ideas and individuals who work there, since doing great things takes more work. I think the culture is shifting though.


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