At times, San Francisco can be a strange and frustrating place to live…but not for the reasons one might normally think of. It’s a place that prides itself on tolerance, which in this city is just another way of saying ”anything goes”. This local cultural attitude descends directly from the gold rush era during which the city exploded from a sleepy little Franciscan missionary village into a metropolis. Then, as now, San Francisco was a place of escape where people came to pursue new ideas and dreams. Under the prevailing cultural banner of “anything goes”, the only thing NOT tolerated is opposition. In San Francisco, opposition = intolerance, particularly when the person or group opposing something is in the minority.
This cultural milieu is not limited to moral or ethical issues. It extends into the realm of public policy. In that regard, San Francisco is a bastion of the “I Know What’s Best for You” attitude. The list of special interest groups who direct public policy from behind the scenes is endless. One recent example can be found in my area of the city.
In the densely populated, 49 square mile limits of San Francisco, real estate agents learned long ago to identify as many distinct neighborhoods as possible. The latest Wikipedia article on this topic lists 113 unique neighborhoods in San Francisco. Now imagine “anything goes” in each of these areas and then consider what it must be like to govern and develop public policy in such an environment. I live in Crocker Amazon, which ranks right up there with some of the most neglected neighborhoods in the city. I say this because as a “working class” community, we don’t receive the attention or services extended to those areas that are more economically depressed. Here’s a map showing the “heart” of our community, with the red dot marking one of the busiest intersections.
As you can see from the map, the community was designed to funnel most northbound and westbound traffic through the intersection of Naples and Geneva Streets. It is also the access point for the one bus line that services this part of the community. Here’s a photo of what the intersection used to look like – facing towards my neighborhood. Note that there were two traffic lanes and one right turn lane on the outbound side and two inbound traffic lanes.
Under the old configuration, traffic flowed reasonably well, as outbound vehicles had access to turn right, left, or to cross the intersection. The inbound side could accomodate two vehicles at a time and provided easy access for the bus (entering from the right).
Several months ago, unbeknownst to much of the community, the Pavement to Parks Alliance (PPA) began building what it called the “Naples Green” in the wide median on the south side of this intersection. As typically occurs in San Francisco, it can be assumed that “community input” was reserved for like-minded civic organizations and others who had sufficient political clout to potentially derail the project. One thing is certain, individual residents of the neighborhood like me were never consulted. Here’s a photo of what the intersection looks like today.
To be sure, the new “parklet” is a visual improvement over what used to exist. However, it has had a horrendous impact on traffic. The outbound side has been reduced to one traffic lane and one right turn lane and the inbound side now has only one wide lane. The outbound side routinely backs up one block and it can take 2-3 times as long to make one’s way through the intersection. Cars frequently block the inbound corner (parking or waiting to enter the gas station), thus delaying the bus’ entry into the neighborhood.
According to PPA’s website, ”Naples Green was designed to provide neighborhood beautification, new green space, traffic calming improvements and a safe and enjoyable environment for residents to host and accommodate neighborhood events and activities” [emphasis added]. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine people wanting to host an event in the midst of idling cars, exhaust fumes, and all the traffic noise; particularly when there is a huge park and playground only two blocks away.
Of course, in San Francisco, the opinion of people like me doesn’t really count. Why? Because if I oppose such a “noble and worthy” project, I must be an intolerant, carbon-guzzling, anti-ecology, pave-over-the-world person whose opinion is irrelevant. That’s why there are others “in the know” who can decide what is best for me and for our city. Nevertheless, I don’t understand why I’m not comforted by the thought that someone else is making decisions for me. Would you be?