The “Big Wiggle”: Changing the Way We Prioritize Pedestrian-Friendly Streets May Be the Cure for San Francisco

Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Pilot Proposal Contributors, through its SFNext project, posited an interesting idea to revitalize downtown San Francisco.  (“Could this idea for pedestrian-friendly streets bring new life to downtown S.F.?”, San Francisco Chronicle, 11-13-23; The post (and some pre) pandemic issues plaguing San Francisco from Civic Center Plaza to the Financial District have been much talked about, making local headlines on what seems like a daily basis.  The Chronicle Contributors boldly suggest that the solution to revitalize these areas of the city can be found in the creation of the “Big Wiggle”, which they liken to a “cousin” of the Wiggle on the west side of town, a route for cyclists from the Panhandle through Golden Gate Park.  The Big Wiggle as imagined would instead be pedestrian focused, carving out car-free and enjoyable paths for pedestrians from Civic Center Plaza to Embarcadero Plaza, an idea that is particularly timely in light of the Governors Highway Safety Association report showing the U.S. is at a 40-year high for pedestrian fatalities.

The idea of creating safer, more enjoyable spaces for pedestrians is not a new one in our town. 

Non-profits WalkSF and Livable City have been advocates for safer pedestrian access to city streets, and effective conduits to making necessary changes in partnership with the City and County of San Francisco.  The concept of the Big Wiggle seems to build on the years of pedestrian advocacy work, initiatives like Vision Zero and the renewed dialogue surrounding the use of public spaces.  As the Chronicle Contributors gently walk us through the turn-by-turn descriptions of what pedestrians would experience traipsing through the Big Wiggle, you can feel the ideals of renewal and rebirth in places that now seem forgotten by those in charge of governing our city.  The Big Wiggle is more a reimagined landscape for our city, rather than a stodgy public works project and would entail buy-in not only from city officials but by the private sector, and of course residents.  The idea is a bold call to action directed at the powers that be in San Francisco government, but the call is not to tackle this as an en masse project, but to use it as a guiding principle to start minor projects focused on a few pedestrian-only streets. 

While the call for even small-scale pedestrian friendly car-free spaces is often met with a chorus of complaints about traffic congestion, lack of parking and the increased “burdens” to drivers, in reality San Francisco has carved out such spaces, and done so successfully at various points and times.  The question now is will San Francisco meet the moment, not with band-aid fixes of intermittent street cleaning and SFPD sweeps for grand conventioneers and political royalty, but with a thoughtful plan to re-imagine San Francisco for its residents and regular folks visiting to enjoy the brilliance of San Francisco? Time will tell.