Golden Wheels of Change

07 Jun

“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?

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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


3 responses to “Golden Wheels of Change

  1. Ken from Northumbria

    June 8, 2012 at 12:28 am

    It’s all about state of mind and it needs large well known cities like SF to lead the way and maybe spark some change in other communities around the world, give a bit of support to those who are already trying.
    There are so many vested interests in keeping the streets for cars that it will take a long time and a lot of willpower to change it, but a step at a time……..
    Once people realise that they don’t have to live life at such a speed, that they can enjoy taking things at a more relaxed pace, that a bit of forward planning enables cycling instead of driving…….we have become lazy, jumping in the car at the last moment is easier than planning & leaving earlier, and all we have to do is throw off the reins of that laziness.
    Holland is a great model, but its not just the infrastructure, also the stae of mind that needs to be copied.
    Here in the UK its a strange mix, half the cyclists get the idea, the others seem to be just car drivers transferred to bikes!
    Personally I do drive slower and I do ride slower near pedestrians, but mutual respect isn’t always forthcoming.
    All we can do is lead by example…………and applaud those that make an effort to come to our side……….. 🙂


    • ladyfleur

      June 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      Ken, you nailed it. It’s attitudes as much as infrastructure, a lesson I learned in Austin, Texas where drivers would move to another lane and drive around you on 3 lane one-way streets. You could feel the difference instantly.

      And yes, well known cities like Paris and New York and London and San Francisco will lead the way. Holland and Denmark have the know-how more than anyone, but when the world’s most admired cities do it, it has more impact.

      I agree with you about many bicyclists having the same priorities and attitudes as motorists: don’t slow me down, I have the right of way! Not model behavior.

      It does require re-framing the criteria for what an ideal trip is. I could easily have a 20 minute commute in my car, but I choose to take the train with my bike, which takes about 50 minutes. Many people would think I was wasting time, but I see it as 25 minutes of low-key, mind-clearing exercise, plus 15 minutes of triage of my work emails on the train before I get into the office and social media on the way home. There’s no wasted time by my accounting.

  2. Vicki

    June 9, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I agree with both your comments here, nut also want to add that in streets wehre there are fewer or no cars, and there are bikes and pedestrians, the feel of the streetscape changes so much! It is a much more pleasant environment to be in. who would want it any other way. I do change my riding when I am around pedestrians, I slow right down and am very polite to them but they do not always reciprocate I am afraid, there is a need for some change of thinking to take place.


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