Tomorrow’s San Francisco depends on today’s investment

It’s March 14, 2028. Life in The City isn’t so different from 10 years ago:

Everything is still expensive. Buildings are taller and denser. The Warriors just won a home game in San Francisco. And the average wait for Sunday morning brunch is still more than an hour, but delicious, dunkable pot pastries are now on the menu.

One of the starkest differences is San Francisco’s streets. Buses and autonomous electric vehicles share riders and the road. Pedestrians and bicyclists are safe. The air is clean. Traffic flows. The tension that existed between public transit, taxis and companies like Uber and Lyft is fading into the past, along with private garages, personal parking spaces and Donald Trump.

Lawmakers in Sacramento and San Francisco realized people want it all. They want safe, sustainable streets and convenient, cool new transportation options. To make this future possible, the state gave The City the information and tools it needed. San Francisco had flexibility to change …

Today, this outcome feels uncertain. Services and technology are changing, and The City doesn’t have a lot of room to move.

Although they’re blamed for contributing to traffic, air quality and safety problems, San Franciscans love taking Uber and Lyft rides. Electric vehicle use is increasing, and the state recently approved driverless cars. Policymakers, both public and private, envision a future where the new services and technologies join.

“Electric vehicles will be a critical part of Lyft’s future,” Chelsea Harrison, spokesperson for the company, told me. “In the coming years, as the private and public sectors work together, we expect electric vehicles will become a significant majority of vehicles on the road.”

To help San Franciscans take advantage of these changes, city officials are creating new infrastructure and programs. They are expanding renewably powered, electric vehicle charging stations. They’re improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety. They’re working to decrease private car trips and increase ride-hail, car-sharing, bicycling, walking and transit use.

But Uber and Lyft drivers still don’t have enough access to charging stations. City officials also don’t know if San Franciscans are replacing private car trips with Uber and Lyft rides, or how often San Franciscans are taking advantage of carpooling options, like Uber Pool and Lyft Line. The companies are only required to share their data with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Public agencies and academics have conducted their own surveys and studies. While the research is always useful, it’s also limited.

“It’s difficult to provide a complete picture,” Dr. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley, told me. “The type of services, their scale and use is constantly changing. Transportation systems are also context sensitive to the place [built environment, public transit system, population density] and time of day [peak travel time, late-night travel].”

The unique, evolving, dynamic nature of San Francisco’s transportation system makes setting policies challenging. San Franciscans don’t want to regulate Uber and Lyft away, but they also want swift, safe and sustainable streets. The City needs support, information and flexibility to make that happen.

To create the healthy streets of the future, state legislators should give San Francisco the tools it needs today. They should help The City expand charging infrastructure and encourage sharing electric vehicles. They should ensure the CPUC gives cities access to Uber and Lyft’s data, so policymakers can make informed decisions. They should allow San Francisco to collect fees from private companies to build strong and safe streets.

State Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s proposal to allow California cities to implement congestion pricing could help San Francisco respond to the increase in all vehicles.

“I want to give San Francisco more tools,” Wiener told me. “But those tools need to be broad-based, equitable tools.”

A lot is changing in March 2018. But San Francisco has successfully faced changes before. In 1913, just over a century ago, the San Francisco Examiner documented the last horse car trip. A mere 45 years later, Steve McQueen was racing his Ford Mustang through San Francisco in the classic movie, “Bullitt.”

The road to the future can be smooth, if San Francisco has the support it needs.

GREEN SPACE Q&A

“Where do you put old nail polish bottles? I’m thinking the black bin, but the polish is probably toxic.” — Janna Scopel

You’re right. Polish is toxic. It can contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde. These chemicals are linked to developmental, reproductive and neurological disorders, as well as cancer. (The last you want to think about while you’re enjoying a relaxing mani/pedi, right?)

Toxic items don’t go in the black bin because they could contaminate the environment. Recology offers a special service for old nail polish bottles and other hazardous waste, like pesticides, fluorescent bulbs, electronics and batteries. Call (415) 330-1405 to arrange a pickup or get dropoff information.

You can also find polish that is free of these chemicals at some drug stores and nail salons. But even if the polish is “three free,” empty bottles still go through Recology’s hazardous waste service.

Thanks for the great question! Email more sorting questions to bluegreenorblack@gmail.com.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.

Robyn Purchia
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