February 22, 2020

A temporary flâneur

For the last few days my bike has been in the shop getting fixed.

While I wait for her return, I’ve had to make do with my legs.

On Friday I walked from The Presidio to Hayes Valley. I trailed along Geary Boulevard for a few blocks (a man shopping for underwear on his laptop at a cafe) before cutting south past lone mountain (teenagers shouting and running off a bus), and weaving through NOPA (an old dog doesn’t want to walk down the stoop stairs). I stopped and bought a six-pack, and caught the sunset in Alamo Square park. About 40 minutes of walking all up.

On Saturday, I took a shorter stroll through the Fillmore to Japantown to get a zipcar and back again to Hayes Valley. My Apple Watch was delighted with all these steps.

I would pause before saying San Francisco is walkable, because that’s very subjective. I don’t know if it’s that fun to walk around SF, but it’s doable, compared to other American cities. Although it’s hilly, the key is the density and relatively small surface area. It’s crammed in the head of a peninsula and is surrounded by water, so it can’t sprawl. I can’t see myself strolling around Dallas.

Here are a few observations, mainly comparisons to cycling, my preferred form of transport.

  1. It’s pretty slow. Compared to cycling, or driving, it can feel a bit painful to plug in a destination into google maps and see 50 minutes’. In San Francisco, you can drive or ride across the entire city in under 30 minutes. Dogpatch to Marina, Richmond to the Mission etc.

  2. It made me realize cycling is much more like driving. I’m rarely looking around much when I ride through the city, I’m usually just focused on where I’m going.

  3. The footpath is more personal than the road. San Francisco is weirdly suburban. A lot of the city is just houses, and they are crammed together and very close to the street. So you find yourself walking past people washing their cars, cleaning out their garages, letting their dogs out to walk. I don’t notice that stuff cycling.

  4. I notice shops and retail more. I read chalkboard signs, peer inside window displays. I saw this great nail salon that was vividly painted in primary colors. A meditation center. A new brewery. A bike shop with amazing posters from the early 2000’s. That sort of thing.

  5. I find myself looking at the architecture. I have almost zero vocabulary to describe what I’m seeing, but my heart tells me it’s not good.

  6. You feel more exposed walking. If it was night, I would feel less safe than on two wheels. You also just feel more visible. There’s a quiet noticing’ of others passerby’s on the street, whereas on the bike you whizz by and are quite invisible, unless at the red light. In New York (sigh), this is such a vivid part of your life, and people have devoted careers documenting the people they see on the street in NYC.

Unfortunately, in San Francisco, it’s pretty mundane, and quiet – You can walk blocks in some neighborhoods without seeing anyone, but there’s always something to see.


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