By Jodie Van Horn
Pride Month Profile: Timothy Papandreou
Get ready for a mouthful. Timothy Papandreou is the Deputy Director of Transportation Planning for the Sustainable Streets Division of San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Agency. He’s the D.D. of T.P. for the S.S.D. of SFMTA. OMG!
Despite the long-winded bureaucratic title, Timothy talks about his job with so much heart you’d think he were an activist. And that’s largely because he has spent more than a decade working on land-use and transportation planning, while “walking the walk” in his own life too.
Timothy spent most of his career in Los Angeles, working for the Transportation Authority. The most remarkable thing about his time in L.A. though, is that he lived there for ten years without owning a car. And it wasn’t because they weren’t paying him enough. Timothy’s credo is: you can’t expect anyone to change their habits unless you lead by example.
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Timothy’s twang is accentuated as he rattles off the stuff he’s working on at the SFMTA. Sustainable Streets is a newly formed division that looks comprehensively at transportation policies, planning and programs that effect mobility in San Francisco. His group’s goal is to redesign the city to make it more sustainable, accounting for each mode of transportation without pitting one against another.
Timothy tells me that he and his colleagues try not to use differentiating vocabulary, such as “cyclist” or “pedestrian” to talk about the various ways people get around a city. Their preferred nomenclature is “people on bicycle,” “people on transit” and “people on sidewalks,” which intentionally implies that anyone may need to switch between different modes in different moments, and meeting our transportation challenges requires giving people the ability to make the best choices, depending on their transit needs.
Transportation is the largest source of CO2 emissions in our region. Sustainable Streets has ambitious goals and objectives for tackling air pollution, congestion, and greenhouse gases. Timothy’s program examines transportation from each modal perspective: pedestri… whoops! excuse me… people on sidewalks, people on bikes, people taking transit, as well as people driving and delivering goods.
Timothy still rides a bike or takes transit everywhere. On work days, he makes his roundtrip by bicycle in a suit. His point is to show that you don’t need gear and lycra to regularly ride a bike. That, and he hates changing. Fortunately, San Francisco’s typically cool weather makes his wardrobe choices possible.
I asked him if people, particularly in L.A., thought he was nuts. “It’s funny,” he tells me. “All of my straight friends thought it was cool, but all of my queer friends thought it was crazy.” Then he muses that San Francisco should start a “Green Queens” competition, a campaign that gets the queer community to contribute its characteristic panache to sustainability.
But if the question is “Who’s the Greenest Queen?,” Timothy might be the winner. He has his own veggie garden and makes his own compost with food waste. He recycles his waste and water. He’s a vegetarian, who cooks once per week for the whole week in order to be more efficient. Timothy is a poster child for urban sustainability.
He supports an “Eco-rehab” approach to reducing your environmental footprint. Following a 12-step program, Timothy promotes starting with the easy stuff, like recycling, buying local, or making good food choices, then moving on to set harder goals, like trying to take public transit twice a week or growing one’s own food. He acknowledges that everyone needs to start wherever they’re at, and expand their goals as they cross others off.
Which is not dissimilar to the approach that Timothy takes on a city-wide level with Sustainable Streets. He knows that the transportation system is a fundamental lynchpin for smart and sustainable growth in San Francisco. So, Timothy and his team are putting our transportation system through it’s own 12-step program to achieve better transit, better bicycling facilities, and better and more comfortable walking.
“We’re really at the cusp,” Timothy declares. The cusp of seeing San Francisco transformed into a sustainable and livable city.