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SF must walk (and bike and bus) its talk on climate

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The Global Climate Summit is taking place at Moscone Center. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Paris, Mexico City, Cape Town, Auckland, London, Los Angeles: just six of the 15 world cities that have signed a pledge “to ensure that a major area of our city is emission free by 2030.” Notably absent from the list? San Francisco.

The C40 Cities Fossil Fuel Free Streets declaration is part of a set of commitments that global cities are making to combat climate change at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit. Cities that sign on are pledging to “reduce the number of polluting vehicles on our streets” and “increase the rates of walking, cycling and the use of public and shared transport that is accessible to all citizens.” San Francisco may be hosting, but we have yet to make the commitment to increase space for people walking, biking and taking transit. As longtime advocates for biking, walking and transit, we’re embarrassed for our city this week.

Exhaust from cars and trucks is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco, a figure that has remained stubbornly static over the past decade. Now, at a moment when the world is watching, we have a chance to be a real leader and make a meaningful commitment to reduce the amount of CO₂ put into our atmosphere.

Imagine Mayor London Breed standing in front of leaders from across the globe and declaring that significant portions of Golden Gate Park will be car-free, or that Better Market Street is on track to break ground in 2019 and will make San Francisco’s main thoroughfare emission-free. There is still a chance for us to be the forward thinking city the world expects us to be, and we are asking our leaders step up to the challenge.

The benefits of more space for people walking, biking and taking transit are many, and extend beyond cleaner air and less carbon in our atmosphere. Study after study has pointed to the economic, health and wellness benefits of infrastructure improvements like bike lanes, dedicated transit corridors and traffic calmed streets. And affordable transportation options, including bike share, reliable transit and streets that are safe for walking and biking can be lifelines for families struggling to hold on in an increasingly unaffordable city.

California is burning. Our reliance on fossil fuels has never had a more visible cost to our state. Meanwhile, more and more cars sit idling in traffic on San Francisco’s streets. We can transform those streets to make walking, biking and transit safe, easy and affordable. But it will take leadership and the willingness to follow-through on bold promises.

If San Francisco, a Transit-First City, can’t demonstrate that leadership during the Global Climate Action Summit by making a commitment to more car-free space, then what hope is there for the dozens of infrastructure improvement projects in the pipeline that encourage biking, walking, and transit currently languishing across our city? Mayor Breed, the SFMTA, the Department of the Environment and our Board of Supervisors need to get on board and sign the Fossil Fuel Free Streets declaration and make urgent and meaningful progress toward getting people out of motor vehicles. As things stand, our current climate strategy lacks the urgent action needed to reduce the leading source of emissions in our city: too many cars.

Brian Wiedenmeier is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Jodie Medeiros is executive director of Walk San Francisco. Rachel Hyden is executive director of San Francisco Transit Riders.

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