With iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the natural beauty provided by the Pacific Ocean, it’s no secret that San Francisco provides vistas that few other cities in the country — or even the world — can match.
“Whenever I speak with prospective visitors, I always talk about the fact that you can walk from the ocean to the Bay in two hours,” said Angela Jackson of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I strongly discourage renting a car because The City is so walkable.”
Matching the eye-popping scenery is a dense cityscape that allows residents and visitors easy access to amenities such as shops, markets and parks — a primary reason San Francisco recently was anointed the “most walkable” city in the nation by www.walkscore.com, on online organization based in Seattle that collects data on pedestrian activities in every major U.S. city.
San Francisco walker Sue Bee said Pacific Heights receives her vote for best neighborhood for fitness.
“Per block, it’s probably the best neighborhood in The City for exercise,” she said. “When I come here, I usually park my car about a mile from where I’m going if I have time, so I can get some extra walking in.”
Neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury draw walkers for their compact collection of restaurants, markets and retail stores, while open-space areas such as Golden Gate Park and Crissy Field are a drawing ground for outdoor enthusiasts.
San Francisco native Michael Arnelle said walking — and taking public transportation — is easy in his Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
“One reason the Haight is a great place to walk is because you’ve got so many public transportation routes nearby,” Arnelle said. “Plus, when the weather gets nice, and all the tourists come out, you get to see all the beautiful girls.”
And despite boasting some daunting hills, northern neighborhoods, such as Russian Hill, North Beach and Pacific Heights, don’t lack for walkers. Sherman Wang, a North Beach resident for 40 years, said her neighborhood has diverse offerings for walkers.
“North Beach is a great place to walk because it’s a mixed cultural area with a very distinctive character, and the crown jewel is Washington Square Park,” Wang said. “It’s very flat, but if you want to go up the hills to get some great views, you have that option.”
Making The City all the more accessible is the amount of resources available to walkers. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offers a biking and walking map that highlights topographical changes in The City, so pedestrians can avoid steep hills. The San Francisco Department of Public Health has maps that showcase heavily used arteries so walkers can steer clear of areas with high-traffic volume.
For tech-savvy walkers, Google Inc. just launched a walking-directions service and MapQuest offers a similar service for cell phones. Additionally, Walk Score provides an online database for people to search for the closest spots to grab a bite to eat or laze in a park.
Saunter with caution: Streets can be dangerous
The City is not yet ideal for walkers, according to the head of a local pedestrian advocacy group.
Neighborhoods such as the South of Market area, with its bustling one-way, multilane streets, and 19th Avenue, home to a state highway, are dangerous spots for walkers, according to Maneesh Champsee, director of Walk San Francisco.
Last year, automobiles colliding with pedestrians resulted in 798 injuries and 24 fatalities, according to reports from the San Francisco Police Department. Both of those figures are down from a decade-high in 2000, when 961 pedestrians were injured, including 30 deaths.
“San Francisco is a great place to walk; however, I think we need to do more to make it safer,” said Champsee. “Reducing traffic speed should be a top priority. If a car is speeding, it’s more likely to hit someone, and if it hits someone while speeding, it’s more likely to result in a fatality.”
Champsee pointed to traffic-calming efforts at 19th Avenue, which include doubling the amount of fines for traffic violators and an increase in pedestrian countdown signals, as evidence of necessary changes.
“Walking down a busy city street is not that enjoyable,” Champsee said. “The best walk is one where you don’t have to hear every single noise of The City.” — Will Reisman