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Street Fight

The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco

Jason Henderson

Publication Year: 2013

Faced with intolerable congestion and noxious pollution, cities around the world are rethinking their reliance on automobiles. In the United States a loosely organized livability movement seeks to reduce car use by reconfiguring urban space into denser, transit-oriented, walkable forms, a development pattern also associated with smart growth and new urbanism. Through a detailed case study of San Francisco, Jason Henderson examines how this is not just a struggle over what type of transportation is best for the city, but a series of ideologically charged political fights over issues of street space, public policy, and social justice. Historically San Francisco has hosted many activist demonstrations over its streets, from the freeway revolts of the 1960s to the first Critical Mass bicycle rides decades later. Today the city’s planning and advocacy establishment is changing zoning laws to limit the number of parking spaces, encouraging new car-free housing near transit stations, and applying “transit first” policies, such as restricted bus lanes. Yet Henderson warns that the city’s accomplishments should not be romanticized. Despite significant gains by livability advocates, automobiles continue to dominate the streets, and the city’s financially strained bus system is slow and often unreliable. Both optimistic and cautionary, Henderson argues that ideology must be understood as part of the struggle for sustainable cities and that three competing points of view—progressive, neoliberal, and conservative—have come to dominate the contemporary discourse about urban mobility. Consistent with its iconic role as an incubator of environmental, labor, civil rights, and peace movements, San Francisco offers a compelling example of how the debate over sustainable urban transportation may unfold both in the United States and globally.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface & Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

The research and writing of this book were interrupted three times in seven years. In 2005 I initiated a summer of archival research and was enthusiastic to be writing about San Francisco, when, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out most of my hometown of New Orleans. For two years I struggled to make sense of the catastrophe, which to my mind was not a natural disaster or even a levee failure but the consequence of...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: San Francisco’s Politics of Mobility

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pp. 1-16

The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an icon of San Francisco’s countercultural politics. During the 1950s and 1960s Ferlinghetti and the poet-activists who gathered at his North Beach bookstore, City Lights, invigorated political culture in San Francisco, establishing the city’s reputation as a bastion of civil rights, environmentalism, and world peace. Ferlinghetti...

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1. How We Get There Matters: Ideologies of Mobility

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pp. 17-37

My aim in this book is to focus attention on ideology. An enduring legacy of transportation studies is that scholars, planning and engineering professionals, policymakers, and advocates suggest that movement can be decoupled from ideology. This tendency is especially evident in quantitative, data-driven methods in which there is often a claim of apolitical,...

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2. San Francisco’s Mobility Stalemate: A Historical Geography

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pp. 38-53

Traversing San Francisco’s Sunset District on the west side of the city is 19th Avenue, a mundane six-lane arterial roadway. To the south, it is the gateway to the regional freeway system in suburban San Mateo County. To the north, 19th Avenue enters Golden Gate Park and becomes Crossover Drive and then Park Presidio Boulevard before merging...

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3. The Second Freeway Revolt: Removing the Central Freeway

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pp. 54-86

On October 17, 1989, the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake shook down several Bay Area freeways. The Cypress Freeway, a doubledeck, 1960s-era freeway in the working-class neighborhood of West Oakland, collapsed, and forty-two people were killed. A section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower deck, killing one motorist....

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4. Between Walkability and Freeways: The Politics of Parking in San Francisco

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pp. 87-111

In the late 1990s, as the Central Freeway debate was finally settled, new housing construction accelerated in San Francisco, and the dot-com boom transformed South of Market, the Mission, and parts of Hayes Valley into hip, urbane alternatives to the low-density, homogenous office parks in Silicon Valley.1 These neighborhoods were near the southbound...

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5. “We Are Not Blocking Traffic, We Are Traffic!”: The Politics of Bicycle Space in San Francisco

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pp. 112-138

Bicycle space—an interconnected, coordinated, multifaceted set of bicycle lanes, paths, parking racks, and accompanying laws and regulations to protect and promote cycling—has been extremely difficult to implement in the United States, even in San Francisco.1 Detractors often object to bicycle space because they claim bicycling is childish or not a...

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6. Transit First? The Politics of Financing Muni: The Politics of Financing Muni

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pp. 139-159

Relative to the rest of the United States, San Francisco has a good reputation for public transit use. While nationally 5.1 percent of workers commute by public transportation, the San Francisco–Oakland metropolitan area has the highest transit share of commuting (15.5 percent) of any metropolitan area outside of New York City.1 It is among the few metro...

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7. Disciplining Muni: Revanchism and the Gentrification of Transit

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pp. 160-191

Revanchism is the recovery of lost territory or status. Used in critical geography, the term refers to the neoliberal and conservative undoing of the redistributive social policies established in the New Deal and through the 1960s.1 In this sense revanchism means a return to the original liberalism of nineteenth-century capitalism unfettered by regulation and...

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Conclusion: San Francisco as National Bellwether

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pp. 192-202

Pessimistic political realities notwithstanding, if sustainable urban transportation is to work for people, many disparate pieces must come together in a synchronized way. Reducing automobility requires not only good transit, but higher-density, walkable residential patterns, more public spaces rather than private space, and more mixed uses within the...


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pp. 203-230


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pp. 231-241

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 242-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762608
E-ISBN-10: 1613762607
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499980
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499989

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 5 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 846496638
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Street Fight

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Subject Headings

  • Urban transportation -- Political aspects -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Transportation planning -- California -- San Francisco.
  • City planning -- California -- San Francisco.
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