When it was completed in 1998, the Duboce Bikeway Mural stood out for its length and its artistic perspective. Here was a mural that was 14 feet high and 340 feet long — almost the length of a city block. And here was a mural that, documenting a San Francisco bike journey, had soaring overhead views of the Bay Area; intimate close-up views of foliage, animals, and trails; and scenes that pivoted easily between day and night. Hundreds of people attended the mural's unveiling, where speeches were made, balloons were flown, and lead artist Mona Caron, mural organizer Joel Pomerantz, and the artwork's 100 volunteers were celebrated for finishing one of San Francisco's greatest street art projects.
Seventeen years later, the mural is still a triumph, but the vast majority of people who see it only glance for a few seconds. That's because they're riding Muni's N-Judah and J-Church lines, which pass the art going to and from the nearby underground tunnel. And the tunnel's railings obscure the mural for some of that ride. Still, says Pomerantz, the Duboce Bikeway Mural offers a daily dose of artistic pleasure — as indicated by the informal polls that Pomerantz does while he rides those same Muni lines.
“I've gone on the trains that go past the mural, and I've talked to people, giving them informative speeches about the mural — I figure that people passing want to know more,” Pomerantz says. “And I've had fantastic reactions. Yes, people occasionally get grumpy [when I talk to them], but mostly people get into it. They even sometimes applaud.”
“As a producer,” Pomerantz adds, “the main measure of the art isn't the sophistication or the style or the technique. For me, it's how much impact does it have on people's lives. And I think it has impact still.”
The best way to see the Duboce Bike Mural is on foot, by walking its entire length and noticing all the small details that make it stand out. My favorite: the flying bicyclist with goggles and Wright Brothers-like wings who's gliding sideways past the Transamerica Building. Might happen one day. Caron's and Pomerantz's mural looked to the past and to the future for its vivid inspiration. JC