“From the air, streets are the largest public space in our cities. Are streets for cars or can they build community?” So began Gil Peñalosa, the keynote speaker at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards. “As the city’s most valuable asset, officials must choose: streets for cars or streets for people.”
I had read how Gil Peñalosa and other city officials in Bogotá, Colombia had improved the lives of residents by building walking and bicycling paths, even in neighborhoods without paved streets. “It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of priorities,” he said. So I had to attend the Golden Wheel awards ceremony to hear him speak. And how could I resist an opportunity to dress up and ride my bike, and hang out with like-minded bicyclists?
Dick and I hopped on the baby bullet Caltrain and rode two short miles across the heart of San Francisco to the War Memorial Opera House for our first Golden Wheel Awards benefit. We had never ridden in San Francisco’s rush hour traffic before. But because of the bike lanes that the SFBC lobbied the city hard to create, we arrived comfortably and on time. At the War Memorial, volunteers valet parked our bikes right out front.
Even though we don’t live in San Francisco, Dick and I have been members of the SFBC for years. I’ve always admired their belief that cycling should be for everyone from 8 to 80, and appreciated their hard work to make it happen. And it shows. Twenty years ago when they held their first Golden Wheels Awards, the award was given to a downtown building owner who put a single bike rack in their garage.
This year they honored BOMA, the city’s building managers’ association, who wholeheartedly supported legislation that prohibits building owners from banning bicycles from their buildings, as well as Lower 24th Street Merchants & Neighbors Association for their support of the Sunday Streets program. And five of the San Francisco’s 11 supervisors attended the Golden Awards event. That’s progress.
In his address, Peñalosa stated that cities should be built primarily around pedestrians, but very close to the pedestrians are cyclists. To him, cycling is just a more efficient way of walking. “When we build bicycle infrastructure, it shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally as important to one in a $30,000 car.”
What does “streets for people” mean to you? Would you be willing to drive slower on city streets so that others can walk or ride more comfortably? Would you be willing to ride your bicycle slower in busy pedestrian areas?