Thursday, May 11, 2006

Paris?!? Oh my gawd, maybe I really am an elitist!

Bike advocates, environmentalists, skaters, greens, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts have recently been pushing again for "Healthy Saturdays" in Golden Gate Park. This measure would expand the present Sunday and holiday closure of the eastern 1.5-mile portion of Golden Gate Park to Saturdays, which has been in effect since 1967.

The current Sunday and holiday closure is the most popular attraction in the park, and is the most successful program offered by San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department, affectionately known by locals as "Wreck the Park". At almost no cost to taxpayers. Simply by putting up barriers to traffic, this usually bleak road is transformed into a magical space filled with a diverse smiling mass of skaters, bikers, joggers, walkers, dogs, kids, grandparents, and others.

One would think that an enlightened city government would leap at any opportunity to expand access to such a great community building amenity. But San Francisco city government has never been known for enlightenment. Toadying to wealthy elites, yes. Enlightenment, no. Anyway, for almost 40 years many have pushed for a Saturday closure, and have always failed, usually because of opposition by the beau monde supporters of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, located in Golden Gate Park.

The most amusing aspect of the current discourse is the attempt by these aristocratic supporters of the de Young, joined by loathsome Examiner derriere busser Ken Garcia, to pose as populists, painting bicyclists and skaters as elitists attempting to selfishly control the park for their own interests. Precisely what the de Young has been doing for more than 100 years!

Long ago I rebutted this nonsense. I was very involved in helping to draft Proposition F, a petition qualified grassroots measure on the November 2000 ballot in San Francisco. Sadly, it failed. Hence, the need for the present effort, which may be more promising. Having already made countless polemic contributions in support of Saturday closure over the years, I won't waste space rehashing the argument.

However, I've been negligent in my blogging recently, and want to share the following letter to the editor, which I ghost wrote for my wife, and which the Chronicle has apparently chosen not to print. She is a far, far superior writer; hence she is far more occupied than I am, and kindly allowed me to draft something to the San Francisco Chronicle under her name. (The paper had published another letter of mine, shelving me for a period on its pages.)

May 9, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle
901 Mission Street
San Francisco CA 94103

RE: Healthy Saturdays in Golden Gate Park


Each summer since 2002, San Francisco's sister city of Paris has closed more than 2 miles of the Georges Pompidou expressway along the banks of the Seine to create "Paris Plage."

An artificial beach complete with trucked-in sand, changing rooms, umbrellas, volleyball nets, a swimming area, and food stands, "Paris Plage" attracts more than 2 million visitors each year to a space usually occupied by up to 200,000 vehicles a day. Once considered hugely controversial, "Paris Plage" is now one of Paris' top summer attractions.

If Paris can close a major traffic corridor in the heart of its downtown for a month every year to provide space for outdoor recreation, then San Francisco can easily close a short stretch of park roadway during weekends for the enjoyment of city residents and visitors.

It's shameful that exaggerated anxiety over motorist convenience prevents kids of all ages from enjoying safe, healthy recreation on weekends in Golden Gate Park. ("Healthy Democracy" 5/9/06)


Marianne Skoczek
San Francisco


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