I actually do think that transportation activism will change things.
We have already seen that when you improve bike infrastructure, you get more people on bikes. Those people want better bike infrastructure, and push for more. And so on. Every win moves us further along. The process is slower with transit, and right now we seem to be moving backwards, but in general the better transit is, the more people take it, and the more people will advocate for it to be better.
I also believe, as reflected in elections, an overwhelming majority of people want bike and transit infrastructure to be better. Many people who drive would like to drive less. They just don’t see change as possible.
The Future is a big topic and so I’m limiting this to transportation in SF. I’m expecting there will be a lot of change in the next few decades, some we can predict (climate change), others we can’t (COVID is an example from the recent past) The world looked completely different a few decades ago, and will look completely different a few decades from now. The good news is that a lot can change for the good in the next few decades as well.
Also, this draft itself is limited. I have written this post many times, and every time it grows too big for anyone to read. I left out many things that are very important. The timeline is vague and arbitrary; it’s mostly to give a sense of how change can compound over time.
Car free JFK is not a big road. Nor is Page Street. They’re together a tiny percentage of the city’s overall road network. But having a reasonably safe route across the city changed everything, especially if you live on the west side of the city. A lot of people started riding bikes who never did before. A relatively small change grew the bike movement a lot.
The next few years
Our immediate goals are that everyone should be able to conveniently take the bus, comfortably ride a bike, and be safe wherever they walk. Everyone should have the choice to not drive, which I expect will result in a lot less driving.
For now, this will probably end up going block by block like we’ve been doing, unless there are major and sudden changes to how SF’s government works. There’s a lot of little projects involved here, and I have a half-complete list of them I’ll post one of these days, but in general terms, here are some shorter term goals:
- People’s Slow Streets have been implemented.
- Unfortunately we will probably be fighting for these one at a time for now, but eventually everyone will want them in their neighbourhood.
- Getting actual infrastructure changes to address the High Injury network. Do Vision Zero for real.
- We will probably start by fighting for individual intersections, but once we’ve gotten one, there’s precedent for doing it elsewhere.
- Reverse transit cuts, fully restore the same level of service at a minimum, improve speed and reliability, and expand service to currently neglected areas.
- This is hard to break down into pieces, but probably means building a large coalition of people who care about this.
- Install benches, public bathrooms and water fountains throughout the city.
- I actually have no idea how to do this, but surely someone else does.
Now that we have an adequate non-car transportation network, most people are able to replace at least some car trips with other modes of transport. People believe change is possible and that they can advocate for it. There will at this point be a lot more enthusiasm for bigger, more difficult projects, and we will have gotten better at working together to make them happen.
Some of the example projects are already being worked on, but they are still probably going to take a while. I’ll be happy if they move into the short-term project area.
- All bike lanes are fully protected with solid barriers, and the Slow Streets have concrete diverters.
- Fully pedestrianize several already pedestrian-heavy parts of the city, such as Valencia Street.
- You never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a bus, and most of the time when you take the bus, it comes often enough you don’t even think about the schedule (or your transfer).
- Get rid of the remainder of the Central Freeway.
- Municipal bikeshare?
At this point, private car usage is the exception rather than the rule, and people get annoyed if they have to drive. It becomes even harder to predict what the problems of the time might look like, or what society might be like, but I suspect they will drive people further away from expensive and resource-intensive private car ownership.
- Build the Geary Subway and also a north/south train on the west side of the city that then sweeps northwest. Insert your favourite crayoning map.
- All residential streets are slow streets. Fully pedestrianized streets in busy areas are common.
- I’m trying to think of something for bikes, but honestly all the things that bikes need aren’t particularly large or expensive projects.
- Start repurposing under-used and over-built car roads into parks. Maybe daylight some streams.
I don’t like to count on technological solutions to problems, because they may never turn up, but I am optimistic about a few things:
I think in retrospect the most transformative technology of this era will be the small electric vehicle (bike, scooter, tricycle, cargo bike, cargo tricycle, etc). They’re already more popular than electric cars. The problem with electric cars is their immense weight and the incredible amount of energy required to produce them and move them around. They are just inherently inefficient and expensive. Electric bikes don’t solve all of everyone’s problems, but right now our notion of what a vehicle looks like is stuck in the internal combustion era. As infrastructure improves, more possibilities will open up.
In the future, I expect to see a much wider range of small electric vehicles, including ones designed to carry a lot of heavy stuff.
I thought of posting about the possibility of having a public system of transporting large amounts of goods via trolley wires, analogous to public transit, and then I thought that is too out there, but then someone else posted about a similar concept. SF did once have rail in the city connecting to light industrial areas. I don’t think we’ll see that again, but trolley trucks are maybe similar?