Yet in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, the proponents of “right now” were stopped. The Gum Tree Girls, whose fight to protect Glen Canyon went so far as to threaten to tie their children to the trees that stood in the way of the proposed freeway, were some of the first to successfully argue that the future of “right here” is more important than the urgency of “right now.”
Much has been said about the Freeway Revolts, but the throughline between this series of events, which spanned 50 years from 1948 to 1998, is ordinary people fighting against the urgency of the present on behalf of the livability of the future.
As the inheritors of the future those revolters fought for, it can be hard to imagine Glen Canyon or the Panhandle criss-crossed by freeways, but this reality was only averted through a series of razor-thin 6-5 votes at the Board of Supervisors. Modern politics is uniquely susceptible to the charms of “right now,” as power rests on the issues and alliances of yesterday, and long-range plans rarely fit within election cycles. Even so, it’s easy to wonder how nearly half of the city’s Supervisors could ever be in favor of replacing the Panhandle with a freeway or rebuilding the Embarcadero freeway that separated the city from its waterfront. Still, it took a coalition of 77 organizations, 20,000 letters, and numerous editorials to convince our leaders that the San Francisco we enjoy today was worth saving that beautiful green space at the end of Golden Gate Park.
Now, a new effort to separate San Franciscans from their parks and waterfront is underway. The siren song of “right now” calls to all those eager to shave a few minutes off of their commutes, earnest in their desire to please their loudest constituents, and dismissive of the dangers of prioritizing the convenience of today.
Yet if the angle you see the city from is located above a stroller, behind a set of handlebars, or seated at a cafe table in what was recently a parking space, the vision for the future of the city is already coming into view. COVID has led to San Francisco’s biggest streetscape changes in decades, as Slow Streets, Shared Spaces, and new pedestrian promenades along JFK Drive and the Great Highway have all revealed what tomorrow’s streets might look like.
These new public spaces have found their own proponents, as neighbors — artists, teachers, parents and small business owners — discover the many opportunities our streets present when cars become visitors and people become the guest of honor. In the same spirit as the revolters of our past, San Franciscans are now building coalitions, creating art, writing songs, signing petitions, holding rallies, and engaging in civil disobedience. They’ve yet to threaten to tie their children to trees, but if our leaders continue to bow to the pressures of right now, there’s little doubt that they will.
We are no longer threatened by a sky blocked with concrete thoroughfares, but rather a sky increasingly filled with smoke, smog, and weather that intensifies with each passing season. If we want the next generation of San Franciscans to inherit a healthy planet, not to mention the same parks, burritos and gorgeous October days that we enjoy, we need to cut our emissions to zero before today’s babies celebrate their 30th birthdays. Considering the task at hand, the efforts within any 49 square miles may be negligible, but these 49 square miles have an outsized influence. If we can make a sustainable urban future work here, we can change the angle for how others see their cities.
Despite our commitment to sustainability and the lip service we pay to being a transit-first city, it’s clear that our leaders' perspectives are still largely shaped from behind the wheel.
These leaders often speak of a need for compromise, but when it comes to our streets, there are no more compromises left that don’t compromise future generations. Our only path forward is to embrace a future that puts the movement of people over the movement of cars — not just for sustainability, but for our commercial corridors, our kids and our social fabric.
The magnitude of climate change necessitates a “spaghetti-at-the-wall” approach when it comes to finding solutions, and our streets are the best spaghetti bowl we have. Not only is our street grid a network that can readily absorb the multitude of iterative changes needed to create a truly livable city, but the exhaust from cars and trucks is our largest source of emissions. It’s a truth that no politician wants to acknowledge given the growing pains it will require, but the future of San Francisco is one where it gets harder to drive — yet easier, safer and more enjoyable to do just about everything else.aside">
During the pandemic, I became a father, so my angle has changed too. Suddenly the future is not off in the distance, but asleep in my arms. This transition has put me behind the wheel of a car more than ever before, which has made it clear how overblown the recent tales of gridlock are. My driving experience has been remarkably average, yet from behind a stroller the city can often feel treacherous.
The Gum Tree Girls fought to protect Glen Canyon from this reality. My daughter will inherit what we fight for.
If history is our guide, we shouldn’t look to politicians to lead the way. They are usually a trailing indicator of a city determined to protect the wonder that is right here against the insatiability of “right now.” The revolt against “right now” is already underway though, and it’s visible in every San Franciscan giving up some of today to create a better tomorrow.
The antidote to urgency is to go slow. Perhaps that’s why some of our Slow Streets have a mind-boggling 90% approval rating. It’s why the many mantras of slow keep getting repeated. Keep it slow. Go slo, yo. Slow is forever. The urgency of “right now” means going slow is an act of resistance.
We can’t all be heroes in this revolt — who has the time for that? But each small act counts. Slowing down for five minutes to fill out the survey on the future of JFK Drive counts (only one minute if you use this voter guide). Even the 12 seconds it takes to click twice on a pre-populated email counts. Because those in power are often simply counting the revolters before choosing sides.
Rest assured though, our heroes will show up. The revolt against “right now” is looking for more Scott Newhalls, the San Francisco Chronicle editor who gave the paper a decidedly anti-freeway stance. It’ll find them, perhaps because it’s good for business, or simply because they love biking along the Great Walkway. The revolt against right now is looking for more Sue Biermans, the outspoken supervisor who helped convince her colleagues to save the Panhandle. It’ll find them, perhaps as soon as a supervisor decides to put the quiet constituents of tomorrow — their kids — over the loudest ones of today.
If the angle you view the City from is a historic one, you might one day find yourself sitting on a bench in Sue Bierman Park, staring at the Ferry Building from a place where a highway off-ramp once stood. The view makes it easy to realize that while the monuments of speed are temporary, the monuments of slow are forever.
Luke Spray is a Cole Valley resident and the co-host of BFF.fm's Thursday morning wake-up show Roll Over Easy.
Source : https://www.sfgate.com/essays/article/san-francisco-slow-streets-freeway-revolt-16525433.php2476