Sunday, February 22, 2009

Park Update

In which we keep you abreast of threats to civilization
It was a very busy day before the Parks & Rec Commission at City Hall last week. There was some very noisy and controversial business – something about the Dept. of Parks & Rec wanting privatize certain functions – that overshadowed the parking meters issue. Nevertheless we parking meter naysayers made an impressive showing. Several of us showed up in our croquet outfits – white dresses, seersucker suits, navy blazers – and made quite an impression in the room and at City Hall in general. When the parking meter issue was brought to the fore, my old friend Eileen, who previously lead the charge so that people could enjoy a glass of wine in the park without fear of arrest, spoke. Here are her remarks, taken from her notes:
Good afternoon. My name is Eileen Hoyt and I live in San Francisco.

I am here to protest the proposal for metered parking in Golden Gate Park.
The Park we know has been free to visitors. It has always been free and should remain that way. Paid parking will make certain parts of the park inaccessible to scores of low and fixed income residents. The threat of a parking ticket is too severe for many families to risk for an afternoon outing.

Please keep Golden Gate Park accessible to all.

Thank you.
(Read also the brief and, er, interestingly-written piece in the Chronicle about it.)

In the end, the Commission voted to install metering kiosks in the Eastern end of Park, in Balboa Park and at the Lincoln Park Golf Course. These kiosks are the kind that allow you to pay with a credit card or coin for a fixed number of hours of parking. That’s great, I suppose, assuming you have a credit card or enough change in your pocket at the time. But it adds yet another hassle that San Franciscans, already hassled enough, have to deal with, and in a place where they shouldn’t have to deal with it. And they are yet another aesthetic blight on our cityscape.

I should note that while there were many voices raised against metering, not a single voice was raised in favor. (I wonder where the supporters were?) It was clear that the Commission had already cut a deal prior to its unanimous vote in favor of the resolution, and that the public comment portion of the proceedings was just the usual circus.

Now to our critics
A fellow San Francisco blogger going by the name of Sam Spade – no kidding – commented my original call to arms that:
William Hammond Hall was a state engineer who designed much of Golden Gate Park. Mr. Hammond, who was born in 1846 and did [sic] in 1934. Hall did not include vehicular parking because public transportation and NOT vehicle parking was preferred by the people of San Francisco at the time. It is entirely unlikely that Hall would approve of Golden gate [sic] Park being used as a daily parking lot for out-of-town commuters.

(I love how this guy, by stating Hall’s birth and death dates, tries to set himself up as an instant expert. It’s on Wikipedia, for Pete's sake.)
So Hall included no vehicular parking? Really? Are you sure? Because, as the Museum and San Francisco notes:
The legacy of Mr. Hall can still be seen and felt in Golden Gate Park because he deliberately designed roads and pathways with curves and bends to discourage fast horse-and-buggy drivers, and to shelter visitors from the wind.
And, another writer wrote a few years after the park was opened it was:
"…traversed by promenades, bridle paths and drives, invites the pedestrian, equestrian, or driver to follow their mazy windings into the labyrinths of hedges and borders."
One wonders where these horse-and-buggy drivers were to meant alight once they had found their ideal picnicking spot.

Of course, as Mr. Spade notes, public transportation was the “preferred” way of getting to the park in the 19th century, because there were few roads good roads out to the Outside Lands, most families could not afford a carriage-and-two to drive on them, and these conveyances were besides a rather risky way of navigating the hills between downtown and the Park.

Interesting to note that road races were once held in the Park.

I also think Mr. Spade is overstating the case when he suggests that the Park is “used as a daily parking lot for out-of-town commuters.” It isn't. I live quite near the Park and luckily have the luxury of being able to bike through it on many weekdays. Monday through Friday, there are surprisingly few parked cars to be seen on John F. Kennedy Drive, except near the major attractions, and it’s all but deserted toward the West end. Think about it: Very few out-of-towners are going to park their cars in the Park and then spend another bumpy 50 minutes on the 5-Fulton just to get to their offices downtown.

The tireless Mr. Spade goes on:
It is even more ridiculouas [sic] to suggest that John McLaren, who spent a lifetime in disapproval of automobiles in general and the emerging automotive lifestyle that existed during his lifetime. McLaren was born in 1846 and died in 1943.

(Again with the birth and death dates.)
I think I understand what Mr. Spade is trying to say, despite the sentence fragment. But, for more than half of the Park’s history, automobiles have been around in San Francisco and have been used to get to the Park by families on outings. Parking meters are not the answer to urban traffic congestion. Sound public transit policy and good urban planning are, and I believe that McLaren, were he alive today, would concur. If you want families to take public transit to the Park then extend BART to the De Young Museum basement.

And, for the record, I don’t even own a car and rely on public transit, my trusty bike and the occasional cab to get around.

And Mr. S., yet again:
Herb Caen would be horrified to hear that M2 so grossly misunderstands Herbs [sic] life. I knew Herb caen [sic] personally and I knew him for many years. Herb hated cars, congestion, traffic, smog, and everything associtated [sic] with it. M2 just plain doesn't have a clue what he is talking about.

(But what were Herb's birth and death dates?)
Yes, Herb Caen hated traffic, but not enough to give up the Jag, right? I wasn’t as chummy with Caen as Mr. Spade, but I did know him a bit and even fed him items on occasion from behind the plank at Enrico’s, and I know that along with congestion, traffic and smog that he also hated parking meters, parking tickets and meter maids. They were frequent targets in his column.

Parks & Rec. believes it can glean $500,000 per year from these metering kiosks. I hope they are right. It’s just too bad they have to get it by further vulgarizing the City and making scofflaws of its residents.


Blogger Bill E. said...

I visit Marx Meadow in the park three or four times a week, riding my bicycle up the length of the panhandle and along JFK Dr. I can confirm that out-of-town commuters are not the problem Mr. "Spade" claims them to be.

But even if it were, there is a much simpler solution — one that is already employed near the Conservatory of Flowers: posted 4-hour parking on weekdays.

As a good friend put it, "The park, as I understand it, is meant to be an escape from the worries of the workaday Big City Life. An escape. A freedom. A relaxation." Apparently, however, the custodians of this world-class urban park are unable, or unwilling, to appreciate that metered parking will diminish the solace Golden Gate Park provides by infecting it with a familiar and chafing urban concern.

Arriving to find metered parking in Golden Gate Park will be like discovering there's sand in the Vaseline.

10:14 PM  

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