The Quiet Of The City

Even though it was the last day of January, it was warm in San Francisco yesterday. I had the chance to go for a quick ride in the early morning; at that hour it was still chilly and misty, but, taking a turn around Stow Lake, the sun burst through and it was exhilarating to behold. As much as I enjoy long hard outings on my bike, I am also loving opportunities for short rides in the quieter parts of the city, and, heading up towards Grand View, I left all sense of the morning rush hour behind. Working my way across to Twin Peaks, I got to look down on the mist; there were only a handful of the tallest buildings downtown showing above it, and to the south, I had the sense of the river valleys that the city used to be.

This glorious moment was slightly spoiled when I ran over some glass and my rear tyre deflated rapidly, but I had the wherewithal to fix that, and of course the two riders who passed by checked to see if I needed help.

Later in the day I got to ride over to have lunch at Fort Mason, and took the scenic route through the Presidio and along the waterfront, surprised to still hear the foghorns from the bridge as the mist had all burned off elsewhere. Once again, I was a long way from any cars; there were walkers, joggers, tourists on bikes heading to the bridge, and everyone was relaxed.

DSCF2139.jpgJoyfully quiet riding along Crissy Field.

DSCF2143.jpgLooking over the last sliver of fog to Angel Island from Crissy Field.

On the way back I took a route that allowed me to ride up Market St; this week, the big local news was the closing of Market Street to cars. I had ridden down it with a group from the Bicycle Coalition on Monday morning to preview the changes. On Wednesday – the first day the closure came into effect – heading to the new Core Studio to teach, I had the opportunity to ride on it four times; the first, when it was still dark, in the serendipitous company of a long-time Coalition volunteer who told me he had been commuting down Market for 27 years – I can only boast twenty. I also chose to take it on Thursday: needing to stop for groceries on the way back from the East Bay, I opted for the Trader Joe’s at 4th St, so I could ride back west along Market. Once the little knot of cyclists and scooters I was with had passed the usual Tenderloin bustle, what I noticed, apart from the relaxation, was the lack of noise, with no cars moving within a couple of blocks – it felt like being out in the middle of the night. I have written about the volume aspect before – and it feels like a major component in the improvement that isn’t necessarily being spoken about so much.

DSCF2168.jpgThis is actually where the westbound car-free section ends, but I had been following this sharp-looking cyclist for a while on Friday, and love the view up towards Twin Peaks as well.

Of course not everyone is happy about the decision. If you really want to spend a chunk of time reading some entrenched positions, I can recommend this thread. In it, I was rather surprised to see someone claim that the streets were originally built for cars, which displays broad historical ignorance. Indeed, this week the local paper had highlighted an 1896 demonstration by cyclists to have better riding conditions on that very street. And I was happy to have an excuse to delve into the archive at Open SF History, which provided plenty of material – though I can imagine most of these scenes would have their own amount of noise.

I am hoping that today’s roam up Mount Davidson will also benefit from quiet streets and locations away from the bustle, as well as continued sunshine. I am also looking forward to a quiet city on Sunday as the 49ers play in the Super Bowl; last time that happened, there was a noticeable lack of activity out and about, much as I remember in London when England were playing in the World Cup. Perhaps I will get some more happy and peaceful miles on my bike.

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