It isn’t hard to do!
This year’s third Sunday Streets, the City of San Francisco’s closing off stretches of a neighborhood’s streets to automobile traffic, and opening them to pedestrians, bicyclists, and activities for several hours on a predetermined Sunday, happened last weekend. While the series of events was met by healthy skepticism — especially from business owners — when it was first launched three years ago, any lingering doubts about its benefit to all corners of urban society were removed as soon as blocks across the city started closing down on Sundays.
And really, who would have a problem with this scene?
If you had told anyone here five years ago that local businesses would be begging to have their streets closed down to traffic more often, you would have been asked what you were smoking. Humans, after all, are creatures of habit, and for the last half century or so our modern American version of homo sapiens has become quite accustomed to hauling 3000 pounds of metal to the grocery store.
Except for this guy who didn’t get the memo:
No one alive today in the U.S. has ever lived in a non car-dominated city. Our whole environment has been shaped around the car, so it’s hard to imagine that life would even be possible without it.
Sometimes though, seeing is believing…
On Sunday, The City expanded the closures to 20 city blocks and an estimated 25,000 people turned out, riding, walking, playing, and dancing in the streets.
“This is freedom. This is liberation,” Mayor Ed Lee told Streetsblog as he strolled down a car-free Valencia Street. “Everyone’s having a great time, and I’m out here seeing how people feel and maybe generating some ideas of how we can keep more of this going.”
Well, he better get to it because people are demanding this not just 8 times a year, but maybe once a week, or Lord really have mercy on us, all the time. You know you’ve got to do something when the merchants are screaming at you to keep the bands marching and the hula hoops swinging…
The good news is that the winds have shifted so drastically that everybody seems to have forgotten how completely dreamy-eyed and inconceivable this would have sounded just a few years ago. Now this is just becoming just another day in the city, and my feeling is that whichever candidate can come up with the best plan for a Monday-thru-Saturday-Streets stands the best chance of wining in this year’s mayoral election.
David Chiu, the only current Supervisor who rides his bike to work every day, is planning on pedaling to victory…
Now before you all call me Utopian, we’re not talking about banning cars from the face of the earth. There are places and uses for cars that are good and necessary. But check this: While 40% of all trips made in the United States are two miles or less, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by walking and biking. In other words, by only going after the low-hanging short distance fruits we could easily increase the nationwide share of walking and biking trips by a factor of four:
I think our fossil fuel habit has caused us to automatically assume that anything short of being carried door to door by internal combustion engines equates a toilsome and dreary existence.
Like so many things, it’s really a matter of perception and attitude. For example, common perception dictates that we can get to our destination faster by driving. But within a city, this often proves to be a false assumption. David Chiu for example told a story at a public meeting a few weeks ago of challenging his driving colleagues to a race to work during the morning rush hour. Behold, he got there first on his bike.
Changing perception and shifting consciousness might be the most important accomplishment of events like Sunday Streets. It shows us what’s possible and offers us a look into a world we may dream of but dare not to invoke. Because really, if we did this two days ago, what’s keeping us from doing it every week? Stranger things have happened…
Part II coming up: Street Art and its Role in Creating Ecocity Culture
more pics here.