Upon the release of an urban design RFP, I discussed with Jeff Tumlin from Nelson\Nygaard how San Franciscans see Market Street, and let’s just say that she’s not the prettiest girl at the party.
Reflecting on my own explorations, I can’t say that I feel a warm attachment to Market Street, either. I hadn’t given it much consideration until we discussed its many challenges: issues of navigation and pace, a wide gulf of multi-modal lanes that separate pedestrians on either side, and streetfront uses that don’t encourage spilling out onto the sidewalk or people to linger. And yet, Market Street is famous.
Our conversation drifted to the three types of streets: streets that encourage you to stay, streets that take you where you want to go and streets that prevent you from either one. Looking at Market Street, it’s one that tends to prevent—in terms of the speed, ease, and enjoyment that one might wish to move through it or remain on it.
I looked at the world with fresh eyes this morning as I began my daily commute, taking note of the streets that touch my life daily: small neighborhood streets in Queen Anne (streets that move), Queen Anne Avenue and First Avenue (streets where people stay and move), and 15th Avenue NW (streets that prevent and divide.)
I also took note of the people around me in these spaces: lone hard-scrabble day laborers walking on 15th Avenue NW at 5:30 am to the pick-up spot on Western Avenue; young neighborhood professionals and service workers at the bus stop on Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer Street at 8 am; and on First Avenue, a smorgasboard of young and old, poor and polished, female and male, homeless and business people (and a young girl I see each day, who I secretly believe is in the ballet due to her beautiful posture and long Sleeping Beauty hair.)
Naturally, places that encourage a safe mixture of movement and lingering are where the richest diversity of human beings are attracted. Where inertia builds at the edges—like on sidewalks lining high speed four- and five-lane roads—there is barely a soul, except for those drivers queued up in single-occupant vehicles from Ballard and Magnolia.
On my bus trip into work, I considered how streets are also akin to the relationships in one’s life. There are those that aren’t very interesting, but serve a purpose in getting things done. Others prevent us from reaching our goals and, in fact, bring out the worst in us (like being stuck in a traffic jam.)