I’m a bike rider—have been all my life, from the time I sustained full-body road rash from a crash down “deadman’s hill” and climbed back onto my banana-seat the next day. San Francisco is a bike rider’s city. Stunning seascapes and soaring cliffs, large leafy parks and towering bridges, and plenty of bike lanes delight the cyclist on foggy mornings and sunny evenings alike. For many years, the City Supervisors ensured that streets and bikeways were well-paved and open for riders. That has been changing, however. Over the last three years, random barricades pop up to block the way and once-smooth bikeways have been repaved with pitted and irregular asphalt. No one knows why these restrictions happen, who controls them, or what recourse we have to question them. It’s all rather anonymous, but one thing is certain: someone else is in control of the City.
I spent the summer of 2001 teaching English in Ukraine. In those days, the electricity and water would be turned off a few times a week without notice. Nobody knew why, or who was responsible, or how long it would last. Everyone had to keep buckets of water handy to flush the toilets when the government decided to turn off the utilities. “Why are they doing this?” I asked in some exasperation as we all came to class unshaven and unwashed on a waterless morning. “Is there really a water shortage and a power outage every other day?” Not at all, they told me. The government arbitrarily cuts off power and water to remind people who is in control. “They” are in control, and we were not to question “their” decisions. We lived in continual dependence on the government, which were in fact the old communist bosses: their titles had changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, I was told, but the same old people run the government.
I am reminded of post-Soviet Ukraine when, in San Francisco, without notice or explanation, a barricade closes a road or bikeway. One area is closed without explanation several times a week, and we cyclists have to get off the bike and walk around the barricades. I am reminded of the Soviet Union when it takes five years to repave Van Ness Avenue in downtown San Francisco, utterly dismissive of the traffic jams it causes. I am reminded of East Berlin when a bikeway that was paved three years ago, as smooth as glass, is “repaved” with such pockmarking and pitting as to be barely ridable. A few people are making a lot of money on these “construction” projects, a friend told me who recently left San Francisco’s Water Department. “The City’s Public Works Department,” he told me, “is utterly corrupt, but also untouchable, because of the vast amounts of money at stake.”
But power is more valuable than money. The powerful people in our wealthy cities do not want wealth as much as they want control. A year ago I wrote a letter to the Public Works Department asking why a perfectly good and smooth road through the Presidio was resurfaced so badly that the paver had to have been either drunk or high. A polite letter explained that Public Works does not oversee the Presidio: “Please express your concern to the Presidio Trust.” I expressed my concern to the Presidio Trust, who politely informed me that they were “looking into it.” Since then many more streets and bikeways in both Presidio and City have been “resurfaced” so badly that cyclists ride on them at their own risk. The game here is not money so much as power. Anonymous and arbitrary mandates continuously remind us who is in control.
The middle class is leaving our wealthy coastal cities. The poor, who are used to being told what to do by their betters, stay in the city, although they lament the crime, traffic, and poor services as much as anyone. The wealthy have their own luxury living arrangements, and they enjoy the conceit of being in control. Democracy is disappearing in San Francisco. And the feeling is that there is nothing we can do about it.
San Francisco will always be a beautiful city in which to live and ride. Even though it feels like the walls are closing in on us at times, little people like you and me will always find a way to survive, and a place to ride our bikes.
The above comes from a June 7 posting on the blog of Father Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco.
It seems to be happening all over the Bay Area. Poorly paved streets and graffiti on overpasses. I’ve always hated graffiti of any kind. My grandparents and parents would only let us write on the sidewalk with chalk for games because it could be easily washed off afterward. Never ever carved my name in a tree, never ever wrote on a bathroom stall or other buildings, never ever got a tattoo — all graffiti to me and ruins natural beauty. I suppose if I had to go through a forest and back, I would mark trees to find my way back, but only in dire situations.
I lied. I did allow two small dots tattooed on my body for radiation treatment — but a dire situation.
My grandmother told me not to carve into trees as stripping the bark will eventually kill a tree, and I would not want Tokien’s trees angry with me, nor Joyce Kilmer either. Might need them on my side in the Last Battle, along with the dwarfs.
I will never visit San Francisco again
It’s San Fransicko now
Bulldoze into the bay and start over or wait for the “Big One” to do the job
The wealthy are responsible for this! They do not want bike riders (or the homeless for that matter) in the city disrupting their autonomous Teslas as they scurry about the city.
This strikes me as strange, as many cyclists are wealthy, at least in equal amounts to non-wealthy cyclists. The wealthy/powerful are the ones who put in the bike lanes in the first place (see: Los Angeles). I do wonder why Cal Catholic is posting this article by a priest complaining about how not being able to ride his bicycle easily reminds him of…. the Soviets? So silly! Every country I have been to, communist or not, has the issue of problematic, bureaucratic infrastructure projects.
What does your first sentence even mean? Many cyclists are wealthy, at least in equal amounts to non-wealthy cyclists? What? Huh?
It means that it is incorrect for Barney to assume “the rich” don’t want cyclists to be able to navigate the roads, as there are many wealthy cyclists who use the roads. Thanks for your polite and thoughtful discourse.
I enjoyed your commentary, Father — but don’t think it’s only a big city problem! We have the same thing in our “little” city, that was once an agricultural paradise. One road was paved, fairly decently, until they realized they’s forgotten to put the manholes through for servicing the underground. Now that oft-used road is full of lumps and bumps. Then, shall we start on the truck traffic from all our warehouses?!
Constantly looking for skullduggery, conspiracies, etc., is not at all a healthy way to approach matters. Probably best to stick with tried-and-true motives, like greed and incompetence.
A public service message from the good folks over at Peloton.