Jan 20, 2012

Copenhagenize SF

Copenhageners bicycle over 1 million kilometers each day. About 35% of trips in the greater metropolitan area are travelled by bike, and this number rises to over 50% in the city's central core. Bicycle culture in Copenhagen, joined with other great bicycling cities, is truly a sight to behold. To my own surprise, most of these cities have not always been this way. If you were to travel to Copenhagen or Amsterdam during the 1960s, the streetscape would not look so different from your typical American city today. Road systems were designed to prioritize moving and storing automobiles – often at the expense of other modes of transport and public space. (The touching short film, How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths, does a great job telling the Dutch story and their transformation.) Upon realizing the dramatic impacts of the automobile on their quality of life, combined with the 1970s energy crisis and growing concerns for the environment, the Danes, Dutch, and others decided they couldn't keep going in the same direction. Behind many efforts in Copenhagen was Jan Gehl, whose philosophy of making incremental enhancements to the comfort of walking and bicycling to improve the quality of urban life has contributed to making his city what it is today.

Copenhagenization, a term popularized by Jan Gehl, is the concept of developing vibrant urban life through gradual changes to how people move about within a city – primarily by prioritizing walking and bicycling over motorized transport. This blog is devoted to viewing the process of Copenhagenization from the perspective of San Francisco. But, of course, San Francisco is a unique environment which cannot merely imitate the practices of other cities. And despite how much San Franciscans like to complain about how walking and bicycling are subpar, how frequently Muni fails, and how public space is poorly allocated, we are doing a lot of innovative things in this unique city. PARK(ing) Day was born here and cities around the world are now replicating our parklet model, SFpark is the first experiment of its kind with demand-based pricing for parking, and bicycling is booming with only very meager improvements to the City's bicycle network. While we still have a lot of work to do to match the efforts of Copenhagen and elsewhere, I think we are approaching a point where we can begin to talk about a process of SanFranciscoization occurring. Though it is difficult to place a definition upon such a nebulous concept, I loosely define SanFranciscoization as the unique changes taking place to improve the quality of San Francisco's urban life – some changes are informed by the efforts of other cities; others are more original and are being replicated around the world.

Market Street's separated bikeway, not even a year old here at Octavia Blvd, has attracted many more people to bicycle along San Francisco's main thoroughfare.

Having been born and raised in San Francisco in the neighborhoods West of Twin Peaks, I have lived through much of the transformation which has already occurred. Despite how recent many of these developments have been, I now could not imagine not having Sunday Streets, the plaza in the Castro, or Market Street's separated bikeway. San Francisco continues to follow the principles developed by Jan Gehl and "it [truly is] great to live in a city where every day you wake up and the city has become a little bit better than it was the day before." Walking in the footsteps of similar blogs, it is my hope to not only chronicle San Francisco's move towards enhanced livability, but to promote discussion of hotly contested topics, including issues of equitable mobility and proper use of the public realm. This will not serve as a regular news source, but will provide commentary and discourse of many urban topics, from big picture issues to minute happenings. I am not entirely certain of where San Francisco will eventually end up, but it should be an interesting ride!

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