Michael Theriault headshot

By Michael Theriault, Secretary-Treasurer

At the two ends of this November’s ballot are two propositions that represent very different visions of San Francisco and its future transportation, and that are of special importance to Building Trades members.

Proposition A, the “Transportation and Road Improvement Bond,” will if approved allow for issuance of a half-billion dollars of bonds. Some of these half-billion dollars will fund work on streets. Most will be for upgrades to the public transit system, with some also for pedestrian safety measures and for bikeways.

Voters have consistently approved City bond measures in recent years, but some may hesitate before marking “Yes” for this one. It is the first to fund public transportation improvements. Most will be for the Municipal Transportation Agency, or Muni.

Muni is the public agency San Franciscans love to hate. All of us who ride its lines have tales of streetcars stuck in tunnels or jammed full with broken air conditioning, of buses passing us at stops because they are too full, of fellow passengers who have gone too long without a bath or without medication, and of worse.

But some of what ails Muni can indeed be cured by investments in the system. The bond measure will upgrade maintenance facilities so that repairs on rolling stock can be done more efficiently and buses and streetcars returned to service more quickly. It will coordinate some traffic signals to let buses and streetcars roll with fewer stops. It will provide better and smoother access for the disabled and so cut down on stop time. It will dedicate lanes to buses so that they are slowed less by traffic.

And all of these investments will of course mean work for us.

Proposition A needs a “Yes” from us, our families, and our friends and neighbors.

At the ballot’s other end, and in contrast to Proposition A, Proposition L establishes a policy giving greater importance to the automobile in City transit decisions.

Most Trades members drive by necessity. Only a very few both live in the City and work their entire careers here. Most who live here must drive elsewhere for work. This was true for me; I worked most of my field career not in the City, but on the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley, and I drove there from the Mission and then the Excelsior.

It will be tempting to us, then, to vote for something that seems to square with this reality of our working lives.

But Prop L actually works against our broader interests.

Much of the street grid of San Francisco dates to the nineteenth century and was conceived not for the automobile, but for horses, pedestrians, and public transportation. The automobile has never fit very well with the City. Attempts to make it central, such as the expansion of the freeway system a half-century ago, have been destructive, carving apart neighborhoods and tearing out homes and businesses. Some have now been undone; the Embarcadero Freeway is gone, the Central Freeway shortened. Others linger; Geary Boulevard still severs Japantown from the Western Addition, and one-way streets through the Tenderloin make it less a neighborhood and more a speedway.

We are not a sprawling city based on the automobile, like many in the western United States. We are compact like a European city, and will function best like one.

Our population continues to grow. We continue to add jobs and housing. This means construction. Right now, it means more than thirty tower cranes in the air and short benches at hiring halls.

We need to add still more housing, certainly, if we are to restrain increases in housing costs and to have any chance for us or our children to remain in the City.

We cannot continue to grow and to add jobs and housing if we give greater importance to the automobile. To attempt to wedge more automobiles into the City would in fact make the automobile less useful, as traffic slows. Even now it is usually as fast or faster for me to get somewhere here on my bicycle than in the Council’s car.

We cannot keep our work here coming, then, if we make it City policy to give the automobile greater importance. We can if we improve public transportation, make bicycling safer and simpler, and make it easier for someone on foot to reach most of what he or she needs for daily life.

We can if we vote “Yes” on Proposition A and “No” on Proposition L.

Organized Labor


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