Bill Lieberman, new planning director for the Municipal Transportation Agency, wades into the swamp of San Francisco transit politics

"I saw what bicycles can accomplish in terms of moving people in an urban area, and what it requires to facilitate them," he said, as smiles, approving murmurs, and nods of agreement spread through the audience.

He acknowledged what a mess our system now is.

"In San Francisco it takes a long time to get around by transit. It's just plain slow. It takes forever to get anywhere," he said to more nods.

He uttered the urban planner's koan regarding walking.

"If you design around pedestrians, everything else kind of takes care of itself," he said.

And he hinted at ambitious plans for bus rapid transit.

"With bus rapid transit, we have to make it a spectacular thing. It shouldn't be just a better thing. It should be such a fantastic thing that it should attract people who don't use transit now," he said. "Frankly, I wouldn't mind charging more for it. We tend to look at one-size-fits-all. But I think we need to start looking at premium fares for premium service."

Lieberman said his job wouldn't be easy.

"I think my biggest challenge is with dealing with elevated expectations, with people saying, 'We have a new transportation planning czar who's going to fix everything,'" he said.

Actually, Lieberman's challenge is exactly the opposite. This is a city where certain elements of the political culture pillory those who would try to make the city work more efficiently.

For the rest of us, he may be the best hope we'll have at a get-out-of-jail card, and we should root for him accordingly.

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