Monday, July 27, 2015

Save the Date: September 23, 2015, 7-9pm 
You're invited to a book launch party (finally)

Hello again BIKE NOPA followers. In late September 2011, I filed one of my last posts here, explaining that I wanted to devote more time to completing a book I had begun a few years earlier. At long last the historical biography MARIE EQUI, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions is finished. The printer has the manuscript, and copies will be available in September. I'm happy to have the book published by Oregon State University Press.

Please help me celebrate with a big book launch party -- drinks, appetizers, music, reading, and signing.

Book Launch Party, Wednesday September 23, 7-9 pm 
1687 Market Street, San Francisco, at Gough
Presented by The Green Arcade
Hosted by McRoskey Mattress Company
$3 door/free with book purchase
Remarks at 7:30 pm

I hope to see you there. 

For more info on my book, book blog, and other writings:
Stop by and give a LIKE to my Facebook page: MichaelHelquistwriter  for updates on events.

If you want to read more right now, here's the description from my publisher's current catalog:

MARIE EQUI: Radical Politics & Outlaw Passions explores the fiercely independent life of an extraordinary woman. Born of Italian-Irish parents in 1872, Equi endured childhood labor in a gritty Massachusetts textile mill before fleeing to an Oregon homestead with her first longtime woman companion, who described her as impulsive, earnest, and kind-hearted. These traits, along with courage, stubborn resolve, and a passion for justice, propelled Equi through an unparalleled life journey. 

Equi self-studied her way into a San Francisco medical school and then obtained her license in Portland to become one of the first practicing woman physicians in the Pacific Northwest. From Pendleton, Portland, Seattle and beyond to Boston, New York, and San Francisco, she leveraged her professional status to fight for woman suffrage, labor rights, and reproductive freedom. She mounted soapboxes, fought with police, and spent a night in jail with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. Equi marched so often with unemployed men that the media referred to them as her army. She battled for economic justice at every turn and protested the U.S. entry into World War I, leading to a conviction for sedition and a three-year sentence in San Quentin. Breaking boundaries in all facets of life, she became the first well-known lesbian in Oregon, and her same-sex affairs figured prominently in two cases before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

 MARIE EQUI is a finely written, rigorously researched account of a woman of consequence, who one fellow-activist considered “the most interesting woman that ever lived in this state, certainly the most fascinating, colorful, and flamboyant.” This much-anticipated biography will engage  anyone  interested in Pacific Northwest history, women’s studies,  the history of lesbian and gay rights, and the personal demands of political activism. It is the inspiring story of a singular woman who was not afraid to take risks, who refused to compromise her principles in the face of enormous opposition and adversity, and who paid a steep personal price for living by her convictions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Write the Letter, Make the Difference for Better Biking on Fell and Oak

One block of green-striped bike lane is not enough -- not when cyclists of all ages are inches away from motorists often traveling 30-45mph. We can all make cycling safer on Fell and Oak with separated bike lanes that benefit the whole neighborhood as traffic calming measures.

The SFMTA, the SF Bicycle Coalition, NOPNA, ASNA and other community groups have weighed in on the importance of safer cycling between the Wiggle bike route and the Panhandle. Changes to the current configuration of traffic for all users will be necessary, but safety and the city's commitment to alternative transportation must become priorities.

Please take a few minutes and jot a few thoughts in support of a safer bikeway along Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker -- three blocks that can give a huge boost to safety and livability in the city. Send you message to the Mayor and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Urge them to follow-through on his commitment to safer biking for San Francisco with real, specific actions. Get a few tips about your letter here.

Add your experiences with biking this routes, and why changes are needed. Urge Director Reiskin and his staff to not get overly sidetracked by the resistance from a few about possible parking removal.

Add your voice today: SFMTA is close to closing public input for this phase of the planning process. Send your message and help improve biking conditions along this essential route.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

USF Campus Bike Plan To Be Unveiled December 1st


San Francisco’s bikes-for-transportation momentum gets another boost on December 1st when the University of San Francisco unveils its Campus Bicycle Transportation Plan. This past semester more than 600 students, faculty and staff registered their concerns and ideas for building a strong bicycle culture on campus in a study conducted by Stephen Zavetoski, PhD and his students.

Primary concerns on campus include a lack of bike parking in convenient locations, lack of covered, secure bike parking, and too few facilities such as showers and changing rooms. Respondents also registered support for safer, protected bike lanes along the primary streets used to reach USF, including Fell and Oak between the Wiggle bike route and the campus which lies just west of Masonic Avenue. The San Francisco Transportation Agency is currently studying proposals for safer bike travel on Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker, an essential link for cyclists traveling east-west. A proposal for traffic-calming and safety enhancements on Masonic Avenue has already cleared a public hearing and is now under environmental review.

According to Zavetoski, the presentation on December 1st will include a full set of recommendations for increased bicycling at USF based on the study data. “These will include improvement of on-campus amenities as well as recommendations for information and education campaigns that can lower some of the perceived barriers around traffic safety and hills.” Zavetoski is the Sustainability Director in the USF College of Arts & Sciences. For more information, see USFpedals.

USF Campus Bicycle Transportation Plan Presentation
Dec 1 2-3:30 pm
Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall

University of San Francisco Campus map

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Funds Approved for Masonic Avenue Environmental Review

This morning the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board approved funding for an environmental review of the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. None of the board members expressed hesitation or concern with the proposal to transform Masonic with a "Complete Streets" re-design, including a landscaped median and landscaped sidewalks, bus bulbouts, and a pair of raised, separate bike lanes.

A few audience members -- including Andy Thornley of the SF Bicycle Coalition -- were ready to testify to the merits of the proposal and affirm the extensive public outreach that accompanied the project design process, but none seemed necessary. None of the board members commented on the project and no audience members expressed opposition. Although he raised concerns a week earlier -- possibly due to a lack of briefing about the project -- Supervisor Scott Weiner supported the project this morning. He responded by email to BIKE NOPA yesterday afternoon, writing that he that he thought Masonic was "a good project."

As a result of today's vote, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will receive $41,000 to oversee and fund the environmental review which will mostly be conducted by the city's Planning Department. The study will be underway for six months, according to SFMTA staff. In June 2012 staff expect the proposal to be submitted to the SFMTA Board of Commissioners with a recommendation for approval.

For more stories about the Masonic project, check here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

County Transportation Authority Board To Consider Funds for Masonic Project

Masonic residents favor a safer, more user-friendly corridor for all
Photo: Michael Helquist

The re-design of Masonic Avenue could move one step closer to implementation Tuesday morning depending on the vote of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). The Authority's board will consider approving $41,000 of Prop K funds for an environmental review study for the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. The board will consider the proposal without a recommendation for action from a committee that reviewed the measure earlier. (The full San Francisco Board of Supervisors serve as the SFCTA Board).

Last week two members of the SFCTA Plans and Programs Committee -- Supervisors Scott Weiner and Carmen Chu -- expressed considerable concern about the removal of parking from Masonic as part of the design plan. They also questioned whether the public had been adequately notified of the project and whether the public was engaged in the planning process. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi assured them of the comprehensive outreach undertaken, but the two supervisors apparently remained unconvinced and the committee sent the funding request to the full Authority board without recommendation.

Questioning whether the public has been adequately informed can be a legitimate inquiry from someone unfamiliar with developments for a major transportation corridor. Or it can be a knee-jerk reaction to any alteration to public use of public space, especially when parking is involved. For the Masonic improvements, the record of public outreach and notification is so overwhelming that the full Board has little reason to repeat the hesitations of a few committee members.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted one of the most thorough outreach efforts to date to engage the public with plans to make Masonic better and safer for all users. The MTA convened three community meetings over several months with attendance reaching more than 100 for the third one. Participants reviewed every facet of four different designs, refining some and rejecting others. For each meeting Masonic residents and those on nearby blocks were contact door-by-door. For the last meeting the MTA also mailed notices to more than 1400 Masonic households and to those who reside one block away.

The previous Masonic project manager, Javad Mirabdal, now retired, met personally with each of the nearby neighborhood associations to discuss the project. Members from the Ewing Terrace, University Terrace, Anza Vista, and North of the Panhandle groups all discussed with him the impact of design changes -- including removal of parking.

The neighborhood associations also got the word out. The North Panhandle's NOPNA distributes its newsletter to the more than 3500 households located between Masonic and Divisadero, Turk and Fell. Several issues provided updates on the Masonic proposals. Advocacy organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition with 12,000 members, WalkSF, Fix Masonic and others repeatedly informed its membership of the design options.

Various websites tracked each development of the Masonic plan, including Streetsblog and BIKE NOPA. This site alone published more than a dozen articles about the planning process -- as well as covering the pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities that occurred on Masonic in the last two years.

In addition to neighborhood associations, the Masonic plan received a vote of support from the San Francisco Day School, located at Masonic and Golden Gate, and the Blood Centers of the Pacific at Masonic and Turk.

The degree of public engagement with the Masonic proposal has been remarkable and a testament to the public's desire for safer, traffic-calmed, user-friendly thoroughfares. The SFCTA staff has recommended approval of the funding request and has submitted a full accounting of public outreach at tomorrow's meeting. The argument for approval is persuasive.

San Francisco County Transportation Authority
Tuesday, 11 am
City Hall, Room 250

Check here for the series of articles on A Better Masonic.

Correction: The earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Supervisor Jane Kim as one of the committee members who voiced concerns about the Masonic Project. My apologies to Supervisor Kim.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's Gone At Last: Lyon Street Eyesore Removed after 3+ Years

The NE corner of Lyon and Golden Gate hasn't been clear like this for a very long time

Just after the morning downpour, the scaffolding was dismantled

New and nearly completed emergency exits on Golden Gate side of building

All this structure for a fire escape the last three years

At the end of the day it was simple: remove the ungainly, ill-suited scaffolding eyesore and replace it with standard regulation fire escapes. For NOPA neighbors it was the blight that wouldn't go away. Until today. Now at last the Lyon and Golden Gate corner is clear of the obstruction. The sidewalk is safer for pedestrians, two spaces are open for street parking, and, most importantly, the apartment building residents have a safer exit from the building should a fire strike.

BIKE NOPA has been covering this story for more than a year, beginning with a post in January of 2010. Three more followed to urge a resolution and mobilize neighbors who had really had enough of what came to represent frustrations with the city's permit approval process and, apparently, reluctance of the owner to foot the bill and do the right thing.

Sometimes a more livable street comes about from what's removed, not what's added. Time for a celebration all around.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

BIKE NOPA Takes A Break -- Book Deadline Prompts Shift

Dr. Marie Equi, 1872-1952 Oregon Historical Society #23491

Dear Readers,

The time has come for a break and to shift more time to another passion: completing a biography begun a few years ago.

I started BIKE NOPA more than two years ago to increase awareness in the North Panhandle about the feasibility of bicycling for everyday transportation. Part of my impetus resulted from the initial hesitation of neighborhood leaders to endorse more bike lanes through NOPA in 2009. (In that case it was lanes for McAllister and Masonic -- proposals that were later dropped from the city's bike plan). I thought neighbors were perhaps unaware of how many cyclists live in NOPA and need safe routes for travel or of the diversity of neighborhood riders.

I started a gradual campaign, taking notice of the streets around us and profiling the cyclists who live next door or nearby. I launched the series Women on Wheels and Dads on Bikes. I interviewed older and younger riders, professionals and entrepreneurs, women as well as men, marathon riders and crosstown commuters.

I never expected that NOPA would generate so much content. With just 30 or so square blocks, this is a small neighborhood. But bordered by four vehicle-dominated thoroughfares -- Fell, Oak, Divisadero and Masonic -- and sporting an essential link in the city's cross-town bike travel, NOPA's realities reflected many of the top questions San Franciscans face about how to use our public spaces.

In two years NOPA has seen a slew of developments that led to dozens of stories here:
  • a partial re-design of Divisadero that revitalized the corridor
  • a successful push-back of city plans for freeway-style signs (SFgo) on Fell and Oak
  • a surge of advocacy for a safer approach to Divisadero on the Wiggle bike route
  • the launch of the first neighborhood-based block party all about bikes (BIKE THE BLOCK in September 2009)
  • start-up of the first neighborhood-based monthly bicycling group, NOPA VELO
  • the arrival of Sunday Streets to NOPA in September 2010
  • a push for a safer Masonic for all road users, a grass-roots campaign that few expected to succeed until last May when the plan cleared a public hearing
  • an effort to reclaim Panhandle Park as a destination for neighbors and visitors, one that deserves capital improvements and better stewardship
  • a vision to transform Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker (and then beyond to Stanyan) for safer transportation with new separated bike routes
Everyday journalism requires a huge amount of time. To get the story right, to earn the trust of public officials and advocates, and to help push an agenda of enhanced livability demand a responsibility I take seriously. For this work I think it's essential to develop a voice and a point of view -- one that readers approach with confidence whether they agree or not. I've really enjoyed the challenge.

Now I'm shifting my time to the story of Dr. Marie Equi, a woman of conscience and conviction who never let social or political norms keep her from the pursuit of her passions. She worked in New Bedford textile mills as a teenager in the 1880s, fled to Central Oregon a decade later to homestead with her female companion, managed to scandalize a rural outpost by horse-whipping a local minister in the streets, studied for medical school in San Francisco and became one of Oregon's early woman physicians. She kept her ties to the Bay Area and joined a doctor train from Portland in April 1906 to help earthquake-stricken San Franciscans, earning her a medal from the U.S. Army. (Her homestead companion had married and settled her family in one of NOPA's landmark houses along Fell).

Marie became publicly identified as a lesbian in Portland after her passionate affair with a young heiress led to front-page stories of a family dispute over her new companion's inheritance. From the personal to the political, Marie engaged the times. The public tumult of the early 20th century led Marie on a course from hearty progressivism to staunch anarchism. She championed the rights of the underpaid and the unemployed, of women in need of birth control information. In labor disputes, she often wrestled with cops and refused to follow court orders. She developed a reputation. The birth control advocate Margaret Sanger once wrote that Marie was "a rebellious soul -- generous, kind, brave but so radical in her thinking that she was almost an outcast in Portland."

Marie objected to the capitalistic motives that led the U.S. to enter World War One, and for this she was tried by the government as a subversive and sentenced to three years at San Quentin prison. Through all this, Marie remained so devoted to her profession that friends referred to her simply as "Doc."

How could I not want to tell the full story of Marie's life and times? She died in Portland in 1952, but 60 years later her struggle to be politically active, romantically involved, and fully engaged in her profession is spot-on relevant to many of us today.

My deadline approaches (please don't ask when). I'm fortunate to have a wonderful editor at Oregon State University Press. She is a huge supporter of my bike advocacy. (OSU Press published "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities" by Jeff Mapes). But she'd also like to get the story of Marie Equi on the market.

I'm not abandoning BIKE NOPA. There are stories I'm too committed to following, like the implementation of the Masonic Re-design. I'm sticking with it until San Franciscans can stroll and bike and live along a transformed corridor made more livable for all.

I have been blessed with great readers and sources, allies and friends while writing BIKE NOPA. I hope you all know how much your interest and support have meant to me. One request: as I pursue greater dialogue with my keyboard and monitor, please do suggest coffee breaks and lunches. (The isolated nature of writing bugs me).

Curious about Marie Equi, the "stormy petrel of the Pacific Northwest"? Here's some of what I've written about her:
For Lesbian To The Rescue: Marie Equi and the Oregon Doctor Train, a slide and lecture first presented in San Francisco for the 2006 earthquake centennial, expect a repeat on April 18th of 2012.