Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lombard Street

Lombard Street in San Francisco

When in San Francisco, take a moment to enjoy the crazy, winding street of thrills. If you are driving an SUV, you won’t enjoy this street as much as if you were driving a Porsche 911, but it’s an entertaining, if not dizzying street.

This famous street is a long zigzag of pavement that seemingly bounces from garage to garage – much like the pinball game that used to come with Windows -  as it cascades down the steep street. It contains eight hairpin turns that will delight any driver who likes winding through mountains. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the maximum speed you can achieve is closer to 10 m.p.h. than rocketing Rocky Mountain descents.

Interestingly, this particular stretch of road is the crookedest road in the world. It is located on Russian Hill.

San Francisco is a fascinating place anyway, so this road just seems to fit into the landscape that is this city. While it is really a huge city, it has an almost charming, small town feel to it. There are plenty of parks and places to walk. It is home to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. You will find Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury within walking distance, and don’t miss the Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Francisco is steeped in history; both good and bad. It is a well-recognized spot on the map, and until you have walked along the streets, you really cannot appreciate how comfortable this little city is for residents. (Photo courtesy of Julie L. Cleveland 2008)

Here is Bill Cosby’s take on Lombard Street, which I am going to lift for teaching purposes because it is a genuine description of driving the street.

The street, and the difficulty of driving it, is parodied in the Bill Cosby sketch "Driving in San Francisco" on the album Why Is There Air? (recorded in Las Vegas):

"They built a street up there called Lombard Street that goes straight down, and they're not satisfied with you killing yourself that way—they put grooves and curves and everything in it, and they put flowers there where they've buried the people that have killed themselves. Lombard Street, wonderful street." (audience reacts with knowing cheers and applause).

This street has been in many movies, including movies where there are car chases of all things. It is even featured in a release of “Grand Theft Auto”. Really?

No More Cars, Scream Residents

The reason I decided to write about this particular street was that I happened to hear a story about how they wanted to remove all cars from the street. As fun as it was to drive down the street – much like a toboggan , you had to go around to go down it again – I can certainly see why they think it’s a good idea to remove the cars. There weren’t so many accidents as it becomes a convoluted mess when tourists like me try to drive down it and someone inevitably backs up the whole train by being unable to negotiate a hairpin. However, I am going to speculate that the changing demographics in San Francisco have more to do with the ban on cars than any real problems.

Who owns those homes now?

Each home’s garage is located on a pin in the turns, and the city of San Francisco is becoming a city that is overrun and outpriced by a lot of tech workers who have a lot of money, and they are remaking the landscape of San Francisco.

According to reports, the reason the street was closed was that the residents wanted a break, but instead, they got chaos. Just because you stop cars doesn’t mean you stop people. People simply did what they normally do when faced with an obstacle; they went around it. They walked the street, and rightfully so. The anchor for the local news was in a bit a tizzy because there was chaos reigning! Here is an interesting and entertaining piece written about the closure. Car-Free Lombard Street by Aaron Bialick.

Like a Headline Out of SimCity

What is amusing about the entire escapade is the unintended consequences. Yes, there are consequences for every action, and when you shut down a street that only has a narrow, vertical sidewalk and allow folks to leisurely stroll up and down the road without the fear of being run over by a rocketing tourist hanging out the window yelling “Get out of the way,” and the smell of burnt brakes wafting through the air, you are going to have “chaos”.

I don’t agree with shutting the street down, but if they are going to do it, then they need to live with the consequences of that action. It is now a park with a lot of turns and a lot of beautiful flowers that no one ever got to see before, but had plenty – 8 to be exact – chances to run over them.

I hope the so-called experiment works for them, and no matter how it turns out, Lombard Street is still a gorgeous street with a lot of character, and apparently, a lot of characters living on it. Here’s to Lombard Street.


Julie and Blu