Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink

What an incredible, inspiring protest yesterday in San Francisco.   Truly in awe at the raw energy from the neighborhood residents who have clearly had enough of this dangerous and awful situation that the city has failed to correct- where cars lined up for cheap (BP) gas obstruct the only level east west bike lane in the city, forcing cyclists directly into speeding traffic.   It would be hilariously ironic if it weren’t so tragically awful.  We got a ton of media responding to our press release, including all the local TV stations, SF Weekly, the Guardian, Streetsblog, Indymedia, SF Gate, KPFA (starting at 13:50), Pirate Radio, and others.   Video will be up here shortly in the next couple of days.

People are discussing coming back and shutting the entrances every week until the holes are plugged- both the one in the Gulf, and the entrances on Fell St. that drive the fear of cycling and demand for oil.  Updates will be posted here.

Here is a copy of my speech yesterday, with the help of El Arbol, Fossil Fool‘s amazing pedal powered mobile sound system:

Thank you to everyone who showed up today, and to those who spread the word and made this happen.  This was truly a grassroots effort, not organized by any official non-profit organization, just a few of us from the neighborhood concerned about the way things are going.

We have succeeded in (at least temporarily) shutting down a toxic business that threatens the neighborhood, threatens the Gulf, and ultimately threatens the world.   The presence of this Arco station endangers cyclists on Fell St. and finances a criminally negligent corporation.

Before we go any further, let’s have a moment of silence to remember the victims of this terrible catastrophe.  The eleven men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon and their families.  The millions of Gulf residents- both human and wild who are suffering as we speak.

As we remember these victims, let’s not forget the other victims of car culture- those motorists who do not have viable alternatives to driving alone, and whose health is suffering as a result.  People on bikes, on foot, and in cars who have been seriously injured or killed by cars- over 1.2 million of us throughout the world every year.

Let’s not forget all those elderly people living out the last of their days in isolation because their streets- streets like Oak and Fell have become nothing more than traffic sewers.

We must remember all those children growing up deprived of any connection to the natural world, surrounded by speeding steel and asphalt, getting to know the world only from the backseat of a car.

Now I am not pointing the finger or blaming those who drive cars- for many years I was one of them, and occasionally still am.   Drivers are as much victims of this inhumane system as the rest of us.

Somehow, we need to rethink our cities as safe and pleasant habitats for human beings.   The fact that they are NOT is an indication that something has gone deeply awry with our culture.

These days, cars are supposedly such a part of our lives that we are not allowed to question their dominance.   But when California’s cars are the number one source of carbon emissions.  When our cars are the number one killer of our children.   When our thirst for oil drives the kind of disaster we are seeing in the Gulf, I think we need to begin to ask questions.  These realities point to the fact that we are dangerously, hopelessly addicted to our motor vehicles.

We now know that over ONE MILLION gallons of toxic crude are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day.  An Exxon Valdez of oil every 8-10 days.

The most advanced technology humans have is INCAPABLE of stopping what our technology has unleashed.

Just as if we continue to emit more than 5 BILLION tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere every year we will be incapable of closing the Pandora’s box we have opened.

The oil companies and the government have reassured us they have the situation under control.  They say “TRUST US” we know what we’re doing.  Well you know what?   We DON’T trust you anymore.

If the United States government, controlled by multinational energy giants- continues to undermine climate justice on an international level and endanger the future of life on this planet for selfish, short term profits, there will be social unrest like we have never before seen in this country.   It may be next week.   It may be in 20 years.  But I cannot accept that the people in this country will accept the sacrifice of this planet without a fight.

From individual citizens reporting what is happening in the Gulf, we know that BP IS STILL IN CHARGE, despite what Obama says.  BP defies the EPA,  pumping tons of chemical dispersant into the sea, not to reduce the environmental damage but to hide the extent of the spill from the public- to keep the damage UNDERWATER away from the lens of the media.

According to the New York Times, BP is ordering the US Coast Guard and local police forces to keep the media away from areas filled with dead and dying wildlife, bagging the bodies and stashing them out of view the same way we do with the bodies of civilian casualties in Iraq.


Today, we bear witness to the connection between unsafe cycling conditions and our own fatal dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

Future generations will learn about how our society treated people who opted out of car culture- how we continue to design streets that cause deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users- just to maximize traffic flow.   Streets that scare people into lives of inactivity and oil dependence, and they will recoil in horror.

In response to the mentally ill man who mowed down four innocent people on bicycle the other day, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition tells us that “OUR STREETS ARE SAFE.”  Well you know what? THEY ARE NOT SAFE.   And they are very rarely pleasant.   Riding a bike in the city could be paradise.   But right now, for most of us it is a scary experience.

Instead of giving us tired old platitudes, they could have used this horrific incident to condemn the countless acts of intimidation of people on bicycles throughout the city every day, people who use cars as deadly weapons to threaten vulnerable road users, revving their engines like a predatory animal.   Incidents that the San Francisco Police Department responds to only with a nod and a wink.

Our fossil fuel dependent society is neither advanced nor civilized.   All the luxuries and unrestrained mobility that we take for granted are an historical anomaly made possible by a finite supply of cheap oil.

We are literally being kept alive by large multinational corporations like BP and Safeway.   When the cheap oil runs out as it inevitably will, our civilization will collapse as surely as those human civilizations of the past have done.

BUT TODAY WE STAND UP TOGETHER AND REJECT THAT FATE.   We know that another world is possible.  A future of humans living in a reciprocal relationship with nature, not an exploitative one where we take and take and take.

A future where health and the environment are prioritized over profit.  A future with networks of safe green routes for walking and cycling, lined with trees and plants, connecting the whole city, the whole bay area.  Where clean, quiet, and frequent public transit connects cities.

Where we have leisure time to spend with our families and friends and we are no longer forced to waste our lives under fluorescent lights at jobs we hate just to keep ourselves and our families alive and feed our cars.

A sane world where we can feed OURSELVES without resorting to factory farms, tortured animals, poisoned fields, and genetically modified crops.

A world where we are reconnected to our fellow human beings and to the natural world.

Money is NOT REAL.  It is a construct- ultimately only paper and metal.  What IS real are plants, human beings, and other animals.

The love between a mother and her child.   That is real.  We must build a new world based on that, or we will end up destroying this beautiful planet and the living beings who inhabit it.

If any good can come out of this catastrophic situation in the Gulf, it can be an OPPORTUNITY for people to come together and start building a better world, the way we have built up this little green park here today.

Power is not taken- it is given.  And if the powers that be will not face up to their historic responsibility to quickly wean us off fossil fuels, we will have to STOP GIVING THEM OUR POWER.

We solved this longstanding neighborhood problem here ourselves.  We didn’t ask the government to do it for us.   We didn’t give money to a non-profit to lobby for us.   WE JUST WENT OUT AND DID IT OURSELVES.

It really IS that easy.

10 responses to “Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink « On the Level: Car Free Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Alex Pleasant

    Thank you for raising awareness!
    Wish you guys were out there everyday.

    Is anyone willing to show up Mon. at 6:15 PM?

    What’s the sustainable solution to this problem? Is it that easy?

  3. Josh! Its really great to have to back in town, raising a ruckus!

    I agree that we don’t want to point the finger or blame those who drive cars. I had a long talk with a friend who thought we were calling drivers “addicts” and thus placing a moral stigma on them which he and I agree is not productive.

    Still, its all too easy to point fingers at BP and the government who have been criminal in their greed and neglect while it is the consumers who “drive” the whole thing.

    I found myself in an argument at the Arco with a woman who said she “had” to drive because she works in another city and has kids. I replied that I’m in the same situation, yet I am able to avoid driving. She was very nice and gave me a hug for my “sacrifice.” but I came away feeling that nothing was understood because I had put her on the defensive by telling her there is no excuse for most driving.

    So my question is how do we advance the meme that the dots must be connected and we all (including the many SUV drivers who thumbs upped us as they drove by on Friday) have to take responsibility for the disaster in the Gulf?

    Is there a simple slogan we can use? If not, how do we engage the public in a thoughtful, complex discussion about the way we live our lives?


  4. @jon I think when people say they have no other choice what they are really saying is that they are taking the most convenient and seemingly safest means to get around. There are probably very few people who actually don’t have any choice, given the myriad of transportation options in the Bay Area.

    In my opinion they are being selfish because they are not considering how they are “inconveniencing” others such as those fighting in wars to secure oil, those who develop asthma and high blood pressure, those who can’t sleep well at night because they can only afford to live on a street with lots of traffic, or those cyclists and pedestrians who are injured or killed by motorists every day and their grieving families.

    This is how to advance the meme, this sentiment needs to be realized and intertwined into the social norms of popular culture.

    Don’t be selfish, reduce your driving. A more creative version of that would be a slogan.

    But there are others like you who say don’t blame the driver, it is the lack of bicycle infrastructure and unreliable transit that forces them to drive. However, to this I say if they just stopped driving they would demand better infrastructure and it would get built.

    There are still others who say passenger vehicles don’t use much oil. But according to to NRDC, 40% of US oil consumption is passenger vehicles, making up 10% of world oil consumption! Since we consume 25% of world’s oil but consist of 5% of world population. http://www.nrdc.org/air/transportation/gasprices.asp

    I think people can be approached in a way that makes them realize how selfish they are being without putting them down and making them defensive. Maybe they just are not aware of the stats and the extent that driving has on other people and the environment. Especially easy to do when the existing social norms for driving are so powerful. I agree that attacking people will just make them defensive and not want to change, but it is all in the approach. Not sure what that approach is (any ideas?) but emphasizing the reality of the negative effects of driving must be a factor.

  5. onthelevelblog

    Hi Jon,

    I don’t have all the answers, but I have certainly learned some of what works and what doesn’t in the past ten years of trying to shift transport behavior and policy. Nearly everyone you speak to recognizes that we have a problem with our transportation system. They recognize that it harms them personally and that it harms society as a whole. They may or may not realize the effect their own decisions have on others, or they may feel personally disempowered. They may feel like the world is going to hell anyway, so they might as well have fun while it all lasts. (the tragedy of the commons) Or they may feel like someone in a position of authority is paying attention to the situation and wouldn’t let it get that badly out of control- therefore they don’t have to take personal responsibility for things like climate change and peak oil. (in psychology this is called the bystander effect).

    We need to reach people with stories about others who suffer because of a loss of accessibility, road danger, pollution, or climate change. I won’t say that guilt plays no role- sometimes guilt is a healthy emotion that lets us know that we need to change our behavior, but if you go overboard then people rebel.

    I think providing people with the facts, and then letting that sink in for a while without putting further pressure on them, works really well. Then, casually inviting them on a bike ride, or introducing them to a new crowd of people who value sustainability and community over possessions and wealth can do wonders. Some people you will never reach (like that guy with the golf club at the end of the protest). But most people are reasonable and will reconsider their habits in light of new information. The challenge is that the mainstream media- even organizations dedicated to sustainable transportation and the environment- are hesitant to discuss this information because it so powerfully condemns activities that are considered mainstream.

    If driving is really so terrible, and so many people do it, does that mean our society is morally bankrupt? That’s a hard pill to swallow for most people. Yet to a large extent it’s true- our culture- as Derrick Jensen says- is indeed killing the planet and we have to admit this fact and atone for past crimes while charting a new course.

    The whole transportation and environmental things is so much more deeply rooted though. We need to gain humility and recognize that we are just animals, and limited by basic biological facts like other inhabitants of the planet.

    One of the most promising opportunities is to get people to realize that they can choose to live differently and be happier. They can choose to buy less stuff, grow their own food, drive less, and because all this has a positive effect on their budget, they can also work less.

    We need to get more people to get to know and trust their own local communities- these are the first line of defense in any emergency, and will be really important as peak oil and climate chaos start to really hit. Mutual aid as a way of living in times of normalcy and emergency.

    I am more convinced than ever that we need a new organization based on a different model of doing things that can give voice to these concerns and provide people with information and support- and when needed direct action and confrontation.

    People are talking about the Fell and Divisadero Arco problem like never before. And it’s not because we sat home writing letters or attended a hearing….that’s a lesson that a lot of people who decry direct action can take away from Friday…..

  6. Pingback: Staffer Forced to Resign from the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition: A Sad Chapter in Bay Area Bicycle Advocacy History « On the Level: Car Free Blog

  7. Pingback: A Sad Chapter in Bay Area Bicycle Advocacy « On the Level: Car Free Blog

  8. David Melamed

    Thanks for your good work.
    As a long time SF bike commuter I’m delighted by these actions against the Fell St problems. Linking this with our disgust with the BP reckless spill is excellent. Please keep it up. I wish to come participate as family obligations permit.
    Last weekend I was saddened to find that with the tourist season in full swing, beautiful places we bicycle like the coast from Sloat to Ocean Beach are perennially clogged with lines of gridlocked vehicles. I called up to report to KCBS traffic that there were 10 blocks of cars waiting in line on Southbound Sloat with their engines running polluting our beaches. I’m not sure if it made the every 10 minute traffic report.
    But peoples attitude about driving can change. It seems hopeless, but it will happen.

  9. onthelevelblog

    Jon, I think people ARE addicted to their cars, and I think our society IS badly and deeply addicted to fossil fuels in general. However, our approach should never be to blame people, just as you would never blame a drug addict or alcoholic for their predicament. They (we) are suffering a disease and need to be treated. But first, like in the 12 steps we need to acknowledge we have a problem. I know it’s difficult to admit, and people are in denial about it, but (I believe) as many of us as possible need to carry out an intervention of epic proportions from a place of love and concern, and then people will maybe wake up to what’s really going on.

  10. Pingback: Plug the Holes or We Won’t Go « On the Level: Car Free Blog

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