Reclaiming Pedestrian Space One Step at a Time
by Anna Sojourner

When I walk down the street and approach an intersection, as often as not, a driver tries to aggressively cross my path, right over my curling toes. Out of fear and frustration, I’ve started rapping on their cars’ rear panels as they roll by to remind drivers that pedestrians do have the right of way. Unfortunately, I don’t think it really does any good.

Aggressive car drivers perceive as impediments the very thing that makes this city beautiful — the residents. Pedestrians are native to the streets but are seen only as inconveniences to car traffic. The unlucky people who die crossing the street are treated as no more than "collateral damage."

Many car drivers are slow to understand that pedestrians are the first users of the road, and those of us who are fed up with this insensitivity are actively taking the city back. Now there’s a better way than playing chicken with fast-moving cars — it’s called Walk San Francisco, or Walk SF.

Walk SF’s mission is to improve San Francisco’s pedestrian environment through activism and advocacy. Part of a larger Bay Area-wide project called BayPeds, Walk SF seeks not just to change infrastructure but to dignify walking and to re-assert pedestrians’ rightful place in the culture of our city.

Protecting pedestrian space from automobile encroachment is a high priority. Recently, Walk SF (along with the SFBC and Rescue Muni) opposed a DPT proposal that threatens to remove several feet of side-walk at Lotta’s Fountain, and the group held a successful demonstration to memorialize a man killed by an automobile in the Mission District. A traffic calming slide show is available to present to neighborhood groups who want to take action in their neighborhoods. Walk SF members have been passing out flyers to educate sidewalk parkers that they are endangering not just pedestrians but the essence of their own neighborhoods.

Bicyclists should not consider pedestrian activism a secondary issue. "To bring about significant long-term change we need a multitude of groups working together," says SFBC Board Member Betsy Thagard, who heads up Walk SF. Bicyclists and pedestrians should "unite to promote their common interest against the auto-dominated transportation priorities of the City of San Francisco."

The time is right for pedestrian activism not just because people feel overpowered by cars but because a general movement toward transportation reform has been growing in the last decades. Even some die-hard drivers are realizing that the current system doesn’t work, while it is dawning on the general population that radical changes are needed and that walkable streets make better neighborhoods.

To become a Walk SF member (it’s FREE! Woo Hoo!), or to find out about the next meeting, email bt@audiocafe.com, or call 415-921-8064. For info. about pedestrian activism in other Bay Area cities, contact Zac at baypeds@netspace.org, or 510-540-6509, or check out www.baypeds.org.