The battle for San Francisco’s streets in action. Credit: Aude at Wikimedia Commons
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San Francisco's oppressed motorists are fighting for change

They’ve been silent too long. 

Drivers in San Francisco have been having a hard time of it. All the public parking spaces created since the 1990s have been for cyclists. There’s no longer any requirement to build parking spaces for new houses and apartments. The transport agency even made them (gasp!) pay for parking on Sundays (mayor Ed Lee abandoned the policy after a year). 

But fear not – for like countless downtrodden, voiceless groups before them, the city’s motorists have come together to fight back. Earlier this week, a group called “Restore Transportation Balance” delivered a ballot initiative to the town hall, demanding a change in policy to pay more attention to the poor, ignored motorist. Ballot initiatives can be proposed by individuals or interest groups and are then voted on in a local election. To qualify, they need to collect 9,702 (yes, 9,702) signatures from locals, but, just to be safe, this one had 17,500.

In an editorial for SFGate, Bill Bowen, a member of the Restore Transportation Balance team, described the initiative’s backers as “a coalition of neighbourhood activists, small businesses, first responders, disabled advocates, parents, churchgoers and just plain folks”. Their proposals include:

  • Funding for car park construction;
  • A freeze on parking meter and garage charges for five years;
  • No parking charges on Sundays, holidays, or outside working hours;
  • Motorist representation on the Municipal Transportation Agency board; 
  •  A requirement that “traffic laws should be enforced equally for everyone using San Francisco’s streets and sidewalks”.

This last, somewhat passive aggressive demand is presumably directed at the over-mighty interest groups which have dominated the city’s transport agenda for far too long: bikes, pedestrians and the city’s street cars. The initiative is in part a backlash against another ballot in the election, a horrific proposal for a $500m bond to be spent on new public transport and to make the streets bus and bicycle friendly.

According to the annual TomTom traffic survey, San Francisco is the second most congested city in the US – a fact the coalition of motorists blames on the introduction of cycle lanes. That said, it’s also been rated the second most walkable city in the country by website Walk Score, based on how close schools, businesses and other amenities are to each other.

The proposals will both be voted on in November. Until then, the war rages on. 

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric in 2014-16.

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Would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to? One time, I did

I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain.

Ever heard the phrase, “Would you jump off a cliff if they told you to?” It was the perpetual motif of my young teenage years: my daily escapades, all of which sprang from a need to impress a peer, were distressing and disgusting my parents.

At 13, this tomboyish streak developed further. I wrote urgent, angry poems containing lines like: “Who has desire for something higher than jumping for joy and smashing a light?” I wanted to push everything to its limits, to burst up through the ceiling of the small town I lived in and land in America, or London, or at least Derby. This was coupled with a potent and thumping appetite for attention.

At the height of these feelings, I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain. One of the cool girls started saying that her cousin had jumped off the bridge into the river and had just swum away – and that one of us should do it.

Then someone said that I should do it, because I always did that stuff. More people started saying I should. The group drew to a halt. Someone offered me a pound, which was the clincher. “I’m going to jump!” I yelled, and clambered on to the railing.

There wasn’t a complete hush, which annoyed me. I looked down. It was raining very hard and I couldn’t see the bottom of the riverbed. “It looks really deep because of the rain,” someone said. I told myself it would just be like jumping into a swimming pool. It would be over in a few minutes, and then everyone would know I’d done it. No one could ever take it away from me. Also, somebody would probably buy me some Embassy Filter, and maybe a Chomp.

So, surprising even myself, I jumped.

I was about three seconds in the air. I kept my eyes wide open, and saw the blur of trees, the white sky and my dyed red hair. I landed with my left foot at a 90-degree angle to my left ankle, and all I could see was red. “I’ve gone blind!” I thought, then realised it was my hair, which was plastered on to my eyes with rain.

When I pushed it out of the way and looked around, there was no one to be seen. They must have started running as I jumped. Then I heard a voice from the riverbank – a girl called Erin Condron, who I didn’t know very well. She pushed me home on someone’s skateboard, because my ankle was broken.

When we got to my house, I waited for Mum to say, “Would you jump off another cliff if they told you to?” but she was ashen. I had to lie that Dave McDonald’s brother had pushed me in the duck pond. And that’s when my ankle started to throb. I never got the pound, but I will always be grateful to Erin Condron. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser