By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
"Once you get in, you won't be able to get out," explains Denis Remond, the mayor's Cabinet adviser for traffic and parking. "Drivers will be forced to stay on arterial streets."
Motorists have been outraged since the closing of the Voie Georges Pompidou; one filed a fruitless lawsuit to end the closure. Delanoë's right-wing opponents call his anti-car efforts "infantile." But troop morale remains strong.
"What we want is to favor public transit, the metro, buses, and bicycles," says Serge Arnold, chief of the transit department. "As it stands, 94 percent of our city's street space is dedicated to automobiles, yet only 25 percent of the people here drive cars. We want to balance the equation a little."
Back out in the cold, three blocks from the Centre Georges Pompidou art museum, I ask Simbault how many of the proposed 41 kilometers per year of exclusive bus lanes have been built so far this year.
"Only 15," he laments. Building the bus barriers has meant gaining the approval of the national police, which patrols Paris yet doesn't answer directly to the mayor. Officers do, however, hear the complaints of angry motorists. The chief has dragged his foot in expediting the no-car lanes, Simbault says.
"It's a matter of prodding and negotiating," he explains. "One has to be very delicate in order to get things done."
And so it will be in San Francisco. Muni's as-yet-unreleased X Plan admits that it won't be financially or politically possible to connect the city with a network of rapid-transit bus lanes in one fell swoop. Rather, Muni proposes installing bus-only lanes along major transit corridors piecemeal, as an interim step to building streetcars and subways. Ultimately, the plan says, San Francisco's transit system may include subways from Caltrain to BART, along Geary Street, and through Chinatown to North Beach.
Light rail trains would service Geary, Van Ness, Mission, Geneva, Ocean, 19th Avenue, the Embarcadero, Fillmore, Potrero, and San Bruno. Muni riders would be hastened through the South of Market and Hunters Point areas via bus-only lanes with raised-platform stops and Muni-controlled traffic lights. The plan proposes returning trolley service to the Fort Mason Tunnel, which once connected the Marina and Fisherman's Wharf neighborhoods.
The result would likely be fewer car lanes along some streets. Some parking spaces might be eliminated. But it would also mean that the present state of affairs -- in which it's far swifter to take public transit to the S.F. Financial District from Richmond, Calif., than from the Richmond District -- would become passé.
Currently, commuters living in the city's perimeter regions take cars to work, because it's much faster than the bus. In my vision, the one I saw in the X Plan, this all changes. Bus lanes could reduce a trip from the Richmond to downtown by 20 minutes, extending by a mile or so the zone within which it's quicker to take a bus downtown. Put bus lanes along other major arteries and thousands more people begin taking the bus. Downtown becomes less congested. San Francisco becomes a walkable city again.
Muni will publicly release its X Plan in January, which is, by happenstance, a time of citywide cosmic transit convergence. Rescue Muni, the activist group that successfully backed the ballot measure Proposition E, which will merge Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic this spring, has just drafted its own proposal for transit expansion, which also recommends building physically separated bus rapid transit lanes along major corridors. Rescue Muni Executive Director Andrew Sullivan tells me the group may next turn its sights to backing some of the X Plan's expansion goals.
City CarShare, the nonprofit short-term car-rental agency, has expanded twice as fast as planned. It now has 13 stations around the city and 1,000 members, with plans to expand further. I and thousands of other San Franciscans can now walk four blocks and step into a $2.50-per-hour car.
Most members of the Board of Supervisors have said they support expanding the city's system of bike lanes. Some have even expressed interest in revising the Planning Department's ridiculous policy of gauging development impacts on city streets based on the concept of a "level of service" for car traffic that includes no such "level" for bicycles, pedestrians, or buses.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin will soon propose legislation to allow in-law units to be converted to apartments without requiring an additional parking space. Now, planning rules require a new parking space for every apartment built.
Muni and the city are seeking funding for the Central Subway, which would extend light rail service north from King Street along Third Street, Geary, Stockton, and Clay to serve Moscone Center, Union Square, and Chinatown. BART is working on an extension to San Jose, an airport BART line is under construction, and transit bureaucrats are studying a new rail link across the Bay Bridge. An automated fare system for all the Bay Area's transit operators is also in the works.
If all these things happen, according to my vision, San Francisco will be embraced by magic. Ever more people will abandon their cars; they will walk, bicycle, and take the bus. San Francisco streets will become more than mere autobahns; they will again be public spaces. Along Van Ness Avenue, now a barren no man's land, people will stroll on their way to work. At traffic signals, they won't merely wait for the light to change. They'll be on foot, and some will be fixed in conversation, others in some phase of a prolonged goodbye. If there is a vendor at the corner, people will cluster around him.