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Car Culture

Car-Free Lombard Street, Filled With People, is KPIX’s Vision of “Chaos”

KPIX reporter Brian Webb, live at ground zero, with car-free mayhem in the background. Image: CBS-KPIX
CBS reporter Brian Webb, live at ground zero for car-free mayhem. Image: CBS-KPIX

Last weekend, San Francisco's world-famous crooked block of Lombard Street saw most of its car traffic disappear as part of a month-long trial, opening the street up for people. The SFMTA's goal is to eliminate the gridlock caused by tourist drivers who queue up for blocks to cruise down the street.

To KPIX, SF's CBS affiliate, however, this scene was nothing but "chaos," a move that clearly "backfired" by filling the street with people:

Tourists found a way around Lombard Street’s first weekend closure by walking straight through it. Lombard’s been turned into a pedestrian path. Closing the crookedest street in the world to tourists was supposed to give residents a break, and some privacy. Instead, they got chaos.

Thank the heavens we have reporter Brian Webb to expose the atrocity of tourists walking down the middle of Lombard, without fear of cars. To hear it from Webb, these folks are all out-of-control mavericks exploiting a loophole. A really big loophole.

Whether this sort of asinine reporting can be attributed to Webb's inability to understand the purpose of the project, or a newsroom desperate to concoct a controversial narrative to drive ratings, we may never know.

The project was never intended to "drive tourists away," as Webb states. By all other accounts, the trial made Lombard a far more enjoyable attraction for those not in cars -- the vast majority of visitors on the street. It went exactly as planned.

SF Chronicle columnist John King wrote up a more realistic assessment of the event, noting that "it began with unexpected smoothness." A mother from Portland, visiting with her son, parked their car to walk on the newly-opened Lombard and told King, "Getting out of the car might be a good thing, considering all the food we're eating."

A few minutes after the road closure signs went up, the crowds of visitors began filling the snaky brick void - strolling, taking photos, enjoying the spacious counterpart to the block's cramped sidewalks.

"This gives us an opportunity to enjoy it more," smiled Dean Speer, a visitor from Alabama who had strolled over from Fisherman's Wharf with his daughter, Amanda, and his son, Sam.

As we've written, unfettered car access is typically equated with "access" in news headlines and our everyday lexicon. That might explain why KPIX apparently calls the enjoyment of Lombard without cars pandemonium. Webb's smoking gun appears to be footage of a driver honking at people to clear the way, apparently so he or she can get to their private driveway (since local car traffic is still allowed on the block). A motorist interviewed by reporters called the pilot program "a joke," even though it was initiated by her neighbors.

If this is "chaos," then the constant threat of being run over by motor vehicles must be "order."

Who will restore order? Image: CBS-KPIX
Who will restore order? Image: CBS-KPIX

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