San Francisco Car Coalition Pushes for Complete Network of Driving Lanes

Olivia Gamboa
Jan 10 · 6 min read

In an announcement earlier today, the San Francisco Car Coalition revealed that they are taking one last stand. Noting that they have been compelled to drive in fewer places and at slower speeds in a city that is increasingly focused on transit, walking and small personal electric vehicles like scooters, the SFCC intends to mount a quixotic campaign to try to get the city to go back to prioritizing private vehicles.

In their official statement, they decry the state of San Francisco’s streets: “We are tired of having to drive so slowly because of all the speed bumps. Some of our lanes are laughably narrow. Sometimes they just end abruptly. In some places, we don’t have roads at all. We are sick and tired of actually getting tickets for parking on the sidewalk. The city has made it physically impossible to park in the bike lane. We won’t stand for this anymore.” Citing a progressively more stringent congestion pricing policy, entire traffic lanes given over to transit and active transportation and the drastic expansion of pedestrian-only space in the downtown area as barriers to them being able to drive as fast and as frequently as they once were, drivers are hoping that their pleas to bring back a car-first city are heard by San Francisco officials.

Many pinpoint the moment when the tide began to turn as 2020, when JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park was made permanently car-free. Many SF streets quickly followed suit, and the mode share for active transportation and transit use skyrocketed as these modes became faster and safer than ever before. Notes one anonymous source who laments the days where drivers were allowed to commute through Golden Gate Park at high speed: “We really had it good there for awhile, with the city actually letting so cars drive and park for free in a city park. In a park! Next to children walking and riding bikes! Nowadays that would be like smoking cigarettes in a cancer hospital!” He continued, “Once the park started going car-free, people unfortunately started to see how great it could be to have a quiet, safe roads where people were prioritized. They started to understand all the things they were giving up.”

When reached for comment, the chair of the SFCC, Mr Bob Gunderson, laments how hard it has become to convince the city to continue to invest in car infrastructure. Mr Gunderson, a retiree who drives his truck everywhere, even for trips of only a few blocks, recently found himself futilely circling a block in his neighborhood search of parking. He was so incensed that he started a petition, but given the drastic rate at which car ownership has dwindled in the city, he got only three signatures, two of which are suspiciously in Mr Gunderson’s own handwriting.

“It used to be that every time I started a petition, or spoke up against a bike lane or rallied my neighbors to prevent vital pedestrian safety improvements, the San Francisco Chronicle reporters would come running. They would amplify all my grievances so it seemed like everyone felt the same way. My Supervisor used to do whatever I said, as long as I shouted loud enough at community meetings. Now that the SFMTA is taking safety and environmental data into account instead of just catering to all the extremely reasonable people like myself who just want to be able to drive their oversized vehicles very fast and park anywhere they want for free in a very dense city, things are really going to pot.”

During our interview, he spread several maps and diagrams on a table — he’d added circles indicating every lost parking space in San Francisco since 2020, which is almost all of them. He looked baleful. Mr Gunderson continued, “We used to get wide, smooth roads with barely any stop lights. There was never any community input — they just built them.” Getting a little choked up, Mr Gunderson said wistfully, “You remember Fulton? It was a full-on freeway in the middle of a residential neighborhood. They said the speed limit was 30, but hell if anyone ever enforced that.” He continued ruefully, “Now the 5-Fulton moves like a rocket in the protected busway, and the micro-mobility lane has five times the capacity of the car lane it replaced, and private vehicles for freedom fighters like myself only have one lane that is geo-fenced for speed.”

Mr Gunderson does concede that while transportation has become vastly safer and faster for all San Franciscans, he can’t help but feel that he has been personally targeted by these highly successful, evidence-based infrastructure changes: “Sure, no pedestrians have died on Fulton in years and the bus would get me there twice as fast, but I can’t drive my F-550 Super TallBoy MegaGrill with quadruple exhaust at 50 mph through residential neighborhoods while texting and ignoring pedestrians and it is nothing less than an infringement on my freedom. I’m a voter, I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “Why should my rights be less than a bus rider’s rights?”

Addressing the concerns of the SFCC, Mayor Matt Haney stated, “We simply cannot prioritize these dangerous vehicles on our streets. Everything is already designed for people rather than large vehicles, and our city is safer for it. We can’t just change it to indulge some people’s hobby.” Mayor Haney noted that he was old enough to remember when dozens of pedestrians were being killed every year in San Francisco, and his former district was among the hardest hit. “Those were dark days, and no one wants to go back. Our children are safer now. Our senior citizens are crossing the street without fear. Our streets are quieter and cleaner and we get where we are going faster. Looking back, it seems crazy that we put up with the violence of a car-first city for so long and didn’t make these changes a lot sooner.”

The chief of Emergency Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital noted, “We have been pretty bored since they started prioritizing people on the streets of San Francisco. The most we are seeing nowadays is the occasional broken arm when someone falls off a hoverboard. Our neurosurgeons are out of practice. We haven’t had a full code trauma in months. Our blood bank is full and our trauma surgeons have all been sitting around playing cards.” She admits she is a little restless, but quickly adds that if that is the price she has to pay for a city where her children can ride their bikes anywhere safely, she is all in.

When reached for comment, the Executive Director of WalkSF said that in the absence of constant traffic safety rallies and vigils for the victims of traffic collisions, she has become quite adept at knitting. She noted, “Ten years ago, I was giving so many impassioned speeches begging our city officials to take street safety seriously that I lost my voice. I went to so many protests that I wore holes in my shoes. But this year, in a bit of a good news/bad news situation, we have laid off our last remaining staff member and it’s just me now, puttering around the office all day.”

Official figures note that the average San Franciscan is now spending about 75% less on transportation, and is almost 90% less likely to be injured in a traffic collision. Air and noise pollution has improved substantially and test scores for schoolchildren are up across the board. The reorganization of street and parking space once entirely given over to cars has indisputably been good for the city and its residents, save for one — Bob Gunderson.

These streets are for people now

Written by

Physician, mother, pedestrian safety advocate

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