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The last couple of days saw some great news for Bay Area pedestrians and all those who enjoy car-free European-style city centers.

As John King reports in yesterday's SF Chronicle, Center Street between Shattuck and the UC Campus in Berkeley is poised to become an oasis for urban living. After literally decades of going through an elaborate planning process and jumping through every last hoop there finally seems to be consensus among all the powers that be that having a one block pedestrian plaza with parts of Strawberry Creek daylighted will be beneficial to all residents, both human and non-human. Kudos to the diligent and tireless advocacy and footwork by Ecocity Builders' Kirstin Miller and Richard Register, and hooray to landscape architect Walter Hood who came up with a plan that everybody likes.

Writes John King:

Hood fuses ecological symbolism and smart urbanism. He understands that a seductive urban space can be a catalyst that makes the future come alive.

On the other side of the bay, Rachel Gordon's Cafes get more sidewalk under North Beach plan in today's Chronicle calls attention to a new plan that will convert curbside parking spaces on Columbus Avenue in the heart of North Beach into Cafe seating:

"It's the city formally saying that they want to convert space now used just by cars for other activities," said Rachel Hiatt, senior transportation planner for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

The project is expected to get the green light after the authority's governing board - made up of San Francisco's 11 supervisors - reviews it in two weeks. I think what's most encouraging about these projects and shows just how far we have come in the last 10 years is the support they get from local merchants and businesses. I remember not too long ago when the mere mention of car-free zones drew almost apocalyptic reactions from business owners who insisted that their customers would simply stay away unless they could drive right up to the store. This is what they say in 2010:

Hanna Suleiman, who owns Caffe Greco on Columbus near Vallejo Street, is eager to get started. "There are a lot of merchants in North Beach who would like to see this happen. Having more sidewalk tables will bring more people to the neighborhood, make it even more lively," he said.

The idea that pedestrian zones would be bad for business is, of course, just that — an idea. And you can't even blame people when they've never seen car-free commerce. That's why pilot projects like Sunday Streets or the Market Street closure are so important and advocates like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition or Livable Streets who push for them play such a huge role in transforming our cities. I mean, do these guys sound like they're longing for the good old traffic days?

Suleiman was one of a handful of North Beach restaurateurs who participated in a daylong trial in September in which they could place extra tables and chairs in the parking space in front of their businesses. "People loved it," he said.

Caffe Roma, down the street, also participated in the one-day test run. "My business was up 30 percent," said the owner, Anthony Azzollini. "Talk about economic stimulus."

So congratulations to all those who've worked for so long so tirelessly on showing that what's good for the environment is good for the wallet, and most importantly, good for the soul. Of course, the struggle to change everything from our perception to our infrastructure is far from over. These two victories are not certain yet, and — if and when they are — will only be small milestones in a much larger race to re-imagine the way we live together. But more seeds are being planted every day, we just have to make sure we water them.

I'll leave you with a few European street scenes from my trip last year.

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crossposted at A World of Words

Originally posted to Ecomusings by Sven Eberlein on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 05:18 PM PST.

Also republished by Ecocities Emerging.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If Berkeley can come to an agreement on something (18+ / 0-)

    anyone can!

    Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

    by citisven on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 05:13:17 PM PST

  •  This probably would have been a better... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BYw, citisven

    ...DK Greenroots than my diary.

  •  This makes everyone richer. (9+ / 0-)

    Really.

    They've shown that open spaces -- and park spaces -- in a city where all walk and commune together outside of their cars lowers the sense of poverty that people feel and the sense of division between rich and poor.

    I heard former Bogota, Colombia Mayor Enrique Penalosa talk about what he did in that city, increasing park spaces, taking cars off the curbs where people had grown accustomed to parking them (at expense of pedestrian walkways, etc.  And Bogota became a hell of a lot more liveable, accessible, and happy a place as a result.  He pointed out it's just something you have to do, that there will always be people who argue that more cars means more convenience.  

    Anyway, thanks for this.  I am sitting in SF now.  I live in Berkeley. I am always on that street, Center.  And somehow I missed all of this.

    •  I went to Walter Hood's presentation (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, BYw

      a couple of weeks ago, and that was the first time I saw what's going to be happening there. It's hard to believe that this could be done, but that's also the beauty of it, that we can really make any change if only we put our minds to it. Without the determination of a handful of visionaries it wouldn't be happening, but I'm pretty sure everyone is going to LOVE it. If you have a minute and feel inspired, call your council person and tell him/her that this is cool, it's not quite over the finish line yet and every voice helps.

      Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

      by citisven on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 06:29:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  love the pedestrian plaza (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, BYw, citisven

    in Berkeley - how wonderful.  Why don't we do that in more of our cities?  It would help the businesses and like you said, help our souls.  Ah, the European streets and fussgangerzone - if only we could start to recreate something like that here.  Maybe we would stop being so close minded if we actually got out of our cars and had to interact with one another more often.  

    •  The first steps are always the hardest (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tmo, ybruti, BYw, greenmama

      but I guarantee you that once more of these happen and people see how cool they are and how it benefits everyone it'll get easier to do them in other cities as well. Once planners and citizens can go to their council members and tell them "Look, this is how it works in City XYZ" it'll happen everywhere. I still don't know what's taking so long, it's just that old habits are hard to break.

      Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

      by citisven on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 06:32:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Love it too... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      miss SPED

      But, it's one block.  Is it going to make much difference?  I mean, it will for me (I'm on that very block almost daily), but it's not really going to change the city.

      Disability Rights Advocates -- Fighting for justice for disabled veterans

      by mwk on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 08:49:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  police, fire, sanitation, utilities, deliveries.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    debedb, Alexandra Lynch

    ....it's all nice & well to say "let's get rid of the evil automobiles," but has anyone given a moment's thought to how public service & utility vehicles are going to get access to properties in the middle of those blocks?  

    In Europe and Japan there are tiny little vehicles designed for that purpose.  Anyone planning to put those into the city budgets in Berkeley and San Francisco?  

    Will the people who have homes and shops along these streets have to roll their refuse & recycling bins out to the nearest intersection where large trucks can get through?  And who's going to do it for the folks who are older, disabled, etc....?

    Will they have to walk their groceries in from blocks away or a central parking lot?  After dark?  In the pouring rain?  

    Will there be increased bus service?  24-hours, 7-days?  

    Has anyone given thought to any of this mundane practical stuff, or is it all about the picturesque view of something vaguely old-world?  

    •  Umm (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, Alexandra Lynch, BruceMcF

      Have you ever been to any of these places?  Walk their groceries in from blocks away?  This isn't suburbia we're talking about here.  These are very, very densely populated areas with abundant shops in walking distance and frequent transit service.  People walk their groceries in from a few blocks away now, but they do it from the grocery store not from their cars.

      I don't think you have any conception of what these areas are like and what residents would want (i.e. more pedestrian-friendly, and more transit-friendly neighborhoods).

      Your point about the fire and utility services is also beside the point.  There are already lots of narrow streets in SF, and neither the SFFD, PG&E or Sunset Scavenger has any trouble serving The City.

    •  Yes, it's all been considered (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raines, bronte17, BruceMcF, Louisiana 1976

      As I wrote, the Berkeley plan has been in the works for years. So yes, there will be access for everything from deliveries to fire trucks and cops. Every merchant on Center Street has been interviewed several times, every department in the city of Berkeley has looked at and signed off on the plan. It's not a romantic notion but a well thought out plan. You can check it out here. I'm not as familiar with the SF project, but believe me, nothing gets signed off here without all the things you mention carefully considered.

      Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

      by citisven on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 08:52:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks citisven--hurrah for this idea (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        citisven, miss SPED

        Especially in a city like San Francisco, which wants to be more European, HOSTS plenty of European visitors, and IS pretty European, as a culinary and touristic capital.  San Francisco is NOT a great place to own a car, although I think some mathematicians once created a controversial theorem showing that it was actually possible.  We always need to think and rethink the redesign of our city, and pedestrian-friendly zones need to be paramount in that thinking.

        MUNI's budget (MUNI runs the buses and streetcars that serve San Francisco, for those of you not from here) needs to be refreshed, of course, in order to serve these places.  But I think that if business is up x0% in the restaurants in these areas, then tax receipts from tourism might eventually cover that?

        Kudos!  And sorry I missed the tip jar too.

        "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

        by Villagejonesy on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 09:00:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  no worries (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          miss SPED, Villagejonesy

          thanks for checking in, Vj. That is a really good point about the tax receipts, I hadn't thought about. That would be such a perfect double-bonus if increased revenue from a pedestrian zone could be funneled into public transit projects. I say Yes to that!

          Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

          by citisven on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 11:56:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah! (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            citisven, miss SPED

            And... I do have to admit that I love my city.  :D)  And such a big part of it is our food.  Doesn't matter how much money you have (well, to an extent... though the burritos cost twice as much as they do in San Jose, where the Mexican food is better...), you're having a beautiful day in a cafe with some brunch, before you take a walk around the city.  The idea of making it an even more pleasant place to take a walk just gets me in a good mood.  See you around the City!

            "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

            by Villagejonesy on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:07:18 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, I love it here. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              miss SPED

              What part of the city do you live in? I'm in the Mission and we have some pretty cheap burritos. Cancun on Mission @19th has the $4 super veggie!

              My dream is that eventually Market Street will be a pedestrian zone...

              Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

              by citisven on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:24:48 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Oh, Market street is a NIGHTmare! for driving (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                beach babe in fl, citisven

                I was actually in downtown until December, and then got a temp job in San Jose.  So I moved down to San Jose, and then (can you guess?) got a temp job in San Francisco, of course.  But not with a long-term lease yet, so I'm waiting to see where I find permanent work before I settle.

                Have you tried Taqueria la Mexicana, at Market and 16th near Dolores?  Mm!  Hearty, sloppy, cheap and great.

                In San Jose, if you go down there, here's the list:

                BEWARE of the awful Chalateco.  There is NO excuse for bad Mexican food in San Jose, California.  This chain has got to close.

                But:

                For Burritos:
                -Los Cazadores, on Lafayette Boulevard, by the 7/11 under the Montague Expressway overpass near 101.  The guy who told me about it kissed his fingers, "mwa!" and he was right.  Don't forget the green sauce.
                -Royal Taco, Montague Expressway, just west of the 680 Freeway near Milpitas.  Their salsa has this curious, not very spicy, but fantastic vegetabley taste. Very unique salsa. Great burritos and enchiladas, too.

                For shredded beef tacos:
                -Santa Fe Taqueria, White Road between Story Road and East Hills.  Great beef.
                -La Victoria Taqueria, 4th and San Carlos Street, by San Jose State University.  The Orange sauce comes by the bottle, if you want to buy some (and you should).

                For Tortas:
                -La Casita Chilanga, 1199 S. King Road, at Story Road.  In addition to great tortas, they have Distrito Federal specialities like Huaraches, which I'd never had before going there.
                -La Victoria (see above).

                That's what I've got for now :D)  Hope you make it down here to try them at some point!

                "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

                by Villagejonesy on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:36:41 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  oh my god (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  beach babe in fl

                  thanks so much, I love people who are passionate about their Mexican food! I'll definitely copy that info down for the next time I get down there.

                  As for SF, there's a couple of great blogs all about Mexican food. One is http://www.burritoeater.com - very fun. I personally like La Taqueria at 25th and Mission, they don't put rice in their burritos which I like. Also, Papalote at 24th and Valencia, if you wanna go a little healthier. Super tasty though, it's one of my staples. I haven't tried La Mexicana, but I'll check them out. We're truly lucky in the Bay Area, so much great food from all over the world!

                  Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

                  by citisven on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:51:50 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  You bet! (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    beach babe in fl

                    Heh, yes, I am passionate about food of all kinds.  I love this show Check Please, Bay Area, with the beautiful Lorraine Bracco.  They have three ordinary people on, and each picks a resto they like.

                    Our food is really incredible.  I think everyone should go to Boulevard and have their crab-and-avocado salad, and I think Pat Kuleto should have a statue when (God forbid) he ever passes away.

                    Our Thai food is outrageous!  San Francisco and San Jose both have incredible Thai.  Thai Stick, and a bunch of other places downtown, is good.

                    The Indonesian food, too--Borobudur, at Jones and Post (across the street from Thai Stick) was great.

                    I like La Taqueria, I've been there.  I know I've been to Cancun, but it's been a while.  But I'll try Papalote, thanks!!

                    This is a good thing--recommendations galore!  :D  Thanks!

                    "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

                    by Villagejonesy on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 01:24:06 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

    •  Your questions are answered in the link ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, citisven, miss SPED

      ... which is clearly the most relevant link. "who came up with a plan that everybody likes."

      If you look at the policy appendix, Emergency Vehicle, delivery vehicle, and drop off access are clearly considered, and nobody who bothered to look would need to ask, "Has anyone given thought to any of this mundane practical stuff, ..."

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 01:33:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for another wonderful diary Sven :) (0+ / 0-)

    so sorry I'm late to rec and tip I've been away from the net for a few days. I love San Francisco and SF food and hope to do a MM diary on SF veggie food sometime soon. I'm trying to visualize Market St for pedestrians Wow cool!

  •  late tip/rec here, too. nt (0+ / 0-)

    "You go from the right, I'll go from the left and I'll meet you at K Street." Cenk Uygur

    by polar bear on Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 11:58:16 AM PST

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