Mayor Lee’s Doctor Prescribes “Balanced Diet” for San Francisco Streets

A rendering of the plan for Second Street. Image: DPW

Mayor Ed Lee has appointed his personal physician, Dr. Barbara Peñalosa, as San Francisco’s first Transportation Administrator.

In her new role, Peñalosa will have an unprecedented amount of authority over SF’s streets. As her first order of business, she has vowed to put city streets on a “balanced diet” by devoting at least 50 percent of street space to walking, biking, and transit by 2020.

Lee said he created the position for an expert to take “balanced” stances on politically challenging issues such as removing car parking to implement life-saving measures.

“Barbara has always been there to advise me on transportation policy, as have all my doctors,” Lee said in a statement. “They’re the experts. They have so many issues to balance, and I just want to make sure I embrace a very strong balancing process.”

Peñalosa’s appointment “reflects our commitment to Vision Zero,” Lee added. “Barbara will ensure that our investments in pedestrian and bicycle safety are balanced with the convenience of other road users. I have absolute faith that she can balance our city’s streets into balance, just like she balanced my diet.”

Peñalosa’s first priority as SF’s transportation czar, she said, is to re-purpose street space to “provide safe, affordable, and efficient options for San Franciscans” to get around in a city where streets are “overwhelmingly dominated by private automobiles.”

“For too long, an alarming and unhealthy amount of our city’s public space has been reserved to move and store cars at the expense of a safe environment for people,” said Peñalosa. “Like a healthy diet, our city must balance how its streets are used. If we’re serious about improving our city’s public health, we can’t have so much space devoted to parking and car traffic while so few streets provide real safety.”

With the vast majority of curb space in San Francisco used for car storage, parking is one of the “low-hanging fruits” that’s “ripe for re-use,” said Peñalosa. Placed end-to-end, SF’s on-street parking spaces would stretch longer than the California coastline, and 90 percent of that space is given away for free at all times.

“Imagine if even a quarter of that space were used for wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, or dedicated lanes for a more reliable Muni,” said Peñalosa, adding that she would also mandate a major expansion of SFpark meters so that parking spaces are priced according to demand, “just like nearly every other commodity.”

The failure to implement life-saving interventions to the greatest extent possible is “transportation malpractice,” said Peñalosa, borrowing a phrase from Dr. Rhajiv Bhatia, a pedestrian safety researcher who was forced out of the SF Department of Public Health last year.

“We know what we need to do to really cut traffic injuries,” said Peñalosa. “We can’t waste any time in treating the patient.”

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