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Being older in a youthful San Francisco

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San Francisco is being planned by and for millenials, which can make it difficult for The City’s aging population. (Courtesy photo)
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If you listened to a transistor radio in 1966, like I did, you heard James Brown sing, “This is a man’s world.” The song drove many to fight male chauvinism. If it was written in today’s San Francisco, Brown might instead sing, “This is a millennial’s world.”

San Francisco in 2015 is being planned by and for people in their 20s and 30s. Take a look around City Hall and you’ll see mostly young people staffing government and city agencies. Maybe it takes a certain youthful enthusiasm to deal with an irascible public, powerful special interests and noisy opponents.

The San Francisco millennials are designing is one that meets their needs, wants and expectations. Unfortunately, it’s also making life harder for older San Franciscans.

Two years ago, San Francisco considered a Bus Rapid Transit plan for Van Ness Avenue. A key aspect was the consolidation of stops to speed up the route. People might have to walk a few more blocks to get to a bus stop, planners said, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Except that one of the stops planners wanted to remove was near a senior center, and the few more blocks its members had to walk were uphill. For many of the seniors, the new stop might as well have been a mile away.

The City eventually put the stop back into the plan, albeit grudgingly. But it never should have been removed in the first place. City planners were so focused on saving 15 seconds of transit time, they didn’t look for nearby seniors or uphill walks.

Or consider the ongoing tension between bikes and cars. A bike is a great way to get around when you’re young and fit. But as you get older, it gets harder to ride safely. You might discover that you can’t turn your head as far to the side to see what’s coming up behind you as you once could. The fear that even a minor spill could result in a broken hip keeps many seniors off bikes.

As you get older, you just can’t carry as much as you once could, so taking the bus to shop becomes harder. Uber, Lyft or ride-hail companies get expensive, if used frequently. Is it any wonder many Baby Boomers prefer to drive?

Yet San Francisco’s many millennial policy makers have decided to restrict cars in favor of bikes on many city streets, reduce parking and consolidate bus stops. While the planners’ young friends enjoy the bike lanes and faster transit, my fellow Baby Boomers and I have more and more difficulty getting around The City.

After working here for a few years, many of San Francisco’s young city staffers will likely move somewhere else, either for a job, family or just because they’re young and want to see more of the world. As they age, they won’t have to live with the consequences of the policies they are crafting in San Francisco today.

When they finally do get older, millennials who stay in San Francisco may well find themselves singing a different tune when they discover they designed a city that makes few accommodations for seniors like themselves.
No one wants to think about growing old. Certainly Baby Boomers didn’t when we were young. But 30 years goes by faster than you expect, and suddenly you’re gray-haired with bad knees. The same thing will happen to millennials. They should do what they can to ensure The City they design today will still work for them when they’re our age.

The line that follows “This is a man’s world” in Brown’s song is, “but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.” In today’s San Francisco, it could be, “This is a millennial’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without the seniors who paved the way.”

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