The zero-sum future

We can switch from cars to bikes, now. Or we can leave our kids a climate-change disaster


It's going to take longer, sometimes, to get from here to there. Acres of urban space are going to have to change form. Grocery shopping will be different. Streets may have to be torn up and redirected. The rules for the development of as many as 100,000 new housing units in San Francisco will have to be rewritten.

That's the only way this city — and cities across the country — can meet the climate-change goals that just about everyone agrees are necessary.

Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University, lays out that case in a new book. He argues, persuasively, that the era of easy "automobility" — a time when people could just assume the ease and convenience of owning and using a private car as a primary means of transportation — has come to an end.

Henderson isn't suggesting that all private vehicles go away; there are places where cars and trucks will remain the only way to move people and supplies around. But in the urban and suburban areas where most Americans live, the automobile as the default option simply has to end.

"In 10 years, there will be less automobility," he told me in a recent interview. "It's a simple limit to resources."

And the sooner San Francisco starts preparing for that, the better off the city and its residents are going to be.



Henderson's book, Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco, focuses largely on the Bay Area. But as he points out, the lessons apply all over. The numbers are daunting: Cities, Henderson reports, "use 75 percent of the world's energy and produce 78 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions." He adds: "Transportation is the fastest growing sector of energy use and [greenhouse gas] emissions, and this fact is in great measure owing to the expansion of automobility."

And the United States is the biggest culprit. This nation has 4 percent of the world's population — and 21 percent of the world's cars.

To turn around the devastating impacts of climate change, "America will need not only to provide leadership, but also to decrease its appetite for excessive, on demand, high-speed automobility."

And buying a lot of Priuses, or even electric cars, isn't going to do the job. "Americans must undertake a considerable restructuring of how they organize cities, and that must include the rethinking of mobility and the allocation of street space."

The Bay Area is about to enter into a long-term planning cycle that, according to groups like the Association of Bay Area Governments, will involve increased urban density. ABAG, according to its most recent projections, would like to see some 90,000 new housing units in San Francisco.

That's got plenty of problems — particularly the likelihood of the displacement of existing residents. Henderson agrees that more density is going to be needed in the Bay Area — but he's surprisingly bullish on the much-denigrated suburb.

"It's actually quick and easy to retrofit suburbia," he told me.

And like so much of what he discusses in his book, the primary solution is the old, venerable, human-powered contraption known as the bicycle.

"Existing communities like Walnut Creek are eminently bikeable," Henderson told me. He suggests expanding development in three-mile circles around BART stations — after getting rid of all the parking. "We could easily get 20 to 30 percent of the trips by bike," he noted.

In fact, he argues, it's easier to put bicycle lanes and paths in the suburbs than in San Francisco. The streets tend to be wider, there's more room in general — and it's fairly simple to provide barriers from cars that make biking safe for everyone.


"Our progressives have the luxury of living in a first world nation..."

A first world nation? You wish! If you have done any traveling around the world, you would know that to not be true, if it ever were. That's just feel-good pabulum that's said to pump ourselves up and you seemed to have fallen for it in order to work in---as usual---your obsession with and having been possessed by "progressives."

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

Your extensive travels in the workers paradise USSR?

Posted by Matlock on May. 10, 2013 @ 5:52 am

I hate driving and I can't wait to get rid of the car If there were a safe bike line between my house and my son's middle school I would have sold it three years ago. But he's graduating and going to high school now, so the end is in sight.

Posted by tim on May. 10, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

Just keep on breeding 7 billion is not nearly enough…..

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2013 @ 1:43 am

Everything's zero-sum in the Bay Guardian. It's refreshing, at least, to see in print what many of us have long suspected to be the goal: the elimination of the private automobile from the streets of San Francisco.

Posted by Hortencia on May. 13, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

I find it intolerable that the Brits could be more "progressive" than San Franciscans:

Posted by TrollKiller on May. 13, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

No, the bay area is home to some tough NIMBY laws, you are talking about going back to the mid 50's where people still took public transit to work. Or they lived near the factory, shipyard, or any kind of job center. Skilled blue collar work was always needed in the bay area but then came along the earth loving hippie green thinking student with saving space people.

The whole idea of saving the bay was started because from what I read, some people couldn't have their views changed. I want to see green hill foothills or my favorite I live in the foothills don't want to see tall building in my view. Basically got mine, can't have yours.

We want bigger and better, too a picture of local super market aisle, 1 1/2 of that aisle is breakfast cereal, have you seen the bread aisle.

We shop in great big box stores, we want big and bigger, we want choice, we want the biggest house on the block with the most space. I grew up in a house that was 1100 square feet, I live in a studio that has less then 500 square feet. But from some single men I have met, they have to live in a house that is 2,500 square feet.

I met a married couple that needed 10 acres in the country for their kids, and also to be green. They do more car trips, have a great big green lawn, and no solar.

Posted by Garrett on May. 14, 2013 @ 10:56 am

something with the Bay and all they have done is let it rot. the only improvements have come from the private sector, and I doubt that there is anyone who thinks we should not have built the ballpark or Pier 39.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

of hundreds of thousands of people so we can simply "re-route" our streets around hills instead of up them, is akin to the failed urban renewal schemes of the 50s and 60s which left us with monstrosities like Geary Blvd. In his fevered imagination we'll just plow through and destroy entire neighborhoods full of historic and beautiful old homes so that bikers can have an easier ride. I guess the forcibly displaced can just go live in all that new housing which will magically spring up afterwards.

Cultural genocide is what's being advocated. It was wrong in the failed urban renewal policies of the past and it's wrong now.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 14, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

that we should not do new development precisely because of the displacement.

The key difference, of course, is that he has no objection to dosplacing the rich, whom he hates. He just doesn't want to displace any of the people who he thinks are dumb enough to vote for policies that he approves of.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

I am what you call a pro growth person, but I wouldn't go the route of urban renewal, the headache and heartbreak involved led to displacements of thousands of residents, businesses were forced out and ways of life changed for the worse. It made boom 1.0 and 2.0 look small.

I like the idea of people riding bikes but doesn't seem to work well it a crowed car driven world like the Bay Area. Bike commuting might work well in very short distances but not for those who have to ride from San Francisco to lets say San Mateo.

Time to think of north south freeway to bypass the crowded streets of San Francisco is needed, the reason for this is simple. People today have crazy commutes in the Bay Area. A person who lives in Marin will most like drive right past San Francisco to their job south of the city.

Posted by Garrett on May. 14, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

city that is 50 miles across.. It's not realistic to be able to bike that.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

San Francisco is 49 square miles, it is very hilly and crowded with cars, trucks, buses both private and public. People, bikes, animals with people and pot holes make a nice mix.

Sunnyvale has 21 square miles, Fremont has 77 square miles, Oakland has 55 square miles, San Jose has 176 square miles, the reason why I use this 4 cities. Lots of jobs, major transit hubs and lots of roads.

So if you ride a bike to Cal Train or BART, expect a long bike ride to those office parks. So I doubt someone who will spend 5 years of riding their bike in heat, cold or wet will end up driving. Mass Transit is not doing the job, they had a chance to build to build light right from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton. Instead they built a bike path.

Posted by Garrett on May. 14, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

Stop whining, stupid Trolls; the day of the auto is over.
Bikes, trikes, scooters, skateboards, and feet will be the preferred
transportation mode in the future (which is now) because gas is too expensive and public transportation unreliable, slow, and dirty. What is needed is a comprehensive transit policy that deals with the reality of global warming, overcrowding, and the end of the Auto Age. Routes exclusively for bike and pedestrian would be the first step.
As for re-routing the streets, sorry Tim, you'll just have to get in better shape.....

Posted by TrollKiller on May. 15, 2013 @ 7:41 am

it sure doesn't feel like the "end of the car" is nigh. In fact, places like India, China, Russia and Brazil are car-crazy.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 8:27 am

Just look at the way India and China are going car-mad.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 8:28 am

We've been hearing about that for longer than 50 years. Oil production in the US is actually setting new records.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 15, 2013 @ 11:22 am

exceeds what they were thought to be when the big lie "peak oil" was first mooted.

"Peak oil" is filed with "Y2K" and "global warming" on the scrapheap of bad, wrong, self-serving cliches.

Posted by Guest on May. 15, 2013 @ 11:43 am

...can just drop dead, of course.

Posted by Hortencia on May. 16, 2013 @ 1:21 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 16, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

They are building American style homes in American style communities that in 30 years time will look like U.S. of A. What will make us big friendly, stop thinking that denser buildings are the enemy.

Yes a bike freeway would be nice, better transit for cyclists. Or how about better bike storage. One rides to Caltrain or BART, leaves bike. After parking the bike, boards prefer transit option, enjoys the ride and has other bike waiting at stop. Ride to work or bus in on rainy day.

Posted by Garrett on May. 16, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

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