Monday, June 16, 2008

City hires anti-car guru to "redesign" our streets

Tim Holt, a dedicated bike guy who always writes about bikes, is branching out, more or less. His interview with Jan Gehl in last Sunday's Chronicle doesn't mention bikes, but the fact that he and Gehl are anti-car is enough to make the point. Last time we heard from Holt in the Chronicle, he published a hymn to Critical Mass, wherein he made a vulgar, stupid analogy between the Civil Rights movement and Critical Mass and the great, anti-car bike liberation movement.

Turns out that, in spite of its $335 million budget deficit, the city can find enough money to hire Gehl's Copenhagen firm to help "facilitate" the city's anti-car policies. (We already know that the city also found enough money to maintain 10 people on the staff of the city's Bicycle Program.) We have to go all the way to Copenhagen to find qualified anti-car people? Gehl shows he has the intellectual qualifications to join the city's anti-car jihad; he apparently thinks that gridlocked Octavia Boulevard is a great achievement:

Holt: Is San Francisco on its way toward becoming what you have called a "reconquered city"---one that is actively recapturing public spaces from the car and returning them to human, pedestrian uses?
Gehl: Well, you have a good start. The reclamation of the Embarcadero for pedestrians (after the 1989 earthquake) is one example, and your replacement of a portion of the old Central Freeway with Octavia Boulevard is talked about around the world. You have one of the loveliest cities in the world, for the most part, although I have to say that your Fisherman's Wharf strikes me as one big commercialized tourist theme park.

Yes, removing the Embarcadero freeway was a win-win deal for the city, though we may also get a subway to Chinatown from the train station at a billion dollars a mile as a consequence of the deal Mayor Brown made with Rose Pak. But the problem with removing the Central Freeway in Hayes Valley is that a lot of the freeway traffic that used to travel over the neighborhood is now coming through the heart of the neighborhood on Octavia Blvd.---45,000 cars a day, in fact, according to DPT.

Octavia Blvd. is "talked about around the world"? What are people saying about it? That, like John King, it's a "triumph" and "the most urbane addition to a San Francisco neighborhood this decade"? It's not clear that Gehl has even seen Octavia Blvd; no honest person who's actually seen that street lately can really think that. 

Note too Gehl's condescending comment on Fisherman's Wharf. Maybe the city officials who hired Gehl didn't tell him that tourism is our largest industry. Gehl will fit in here real well, since he's evidently a snooty elitist like Holt and so many of the bike people in SF who to want to turn our American city into, well, a foreign city.

This summer Gehl is going "to look at four San Francisco spots---Jefferson Street at Fisherman's Wharf, Castro Street, Mission Street, and the Ninth and Irving area in the Sunset District---in hopes of making them more pedestrian friendly." People in those neighborhoods are forewarned: the elitist bike people and our city government are determined to redesign city streets to make it as difficult and as expensive as possible to drive in San Francisco.

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