Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, looks at San Francisco’s three and four lane streets and wonders, “why don’t we leave two to the cars and take the other two to build a bigger” sidewalk.

And, by the way, he advised, “the city should get rid of the parking and put it underground.”

Peñalosa, whose work in Bogota inspired San Francisco’s Sunday Streets without cars, made his remarks on Tuesday night to a packed room at the Main Library’s Koret Auditorium.

“This is not irrelevant for San Francisco,” Peñalosa said adding that the city should already have put a rapid bus transit system on Van Ness and Geary.

Afterwards, Peñalosa told Mission Loc@l that he realized it would be difficult to change the thinking in the United States where the car is a symbol of financial success.

“ We need a charismatic person like Peñalosa who has the power to move things forward,” said Oriana Sarac, who just finished an MBA in sustainable management and is the founder of Neighborhood Fruit, a web site where community members can share the fruit grown in their backyards. “ You really need a torch and he provides that inspiration”.

Peñalosa transformed Bogota’s transportation system during his three-year mayoral term that ended in 2001. As mayor, he banned sidewalk parking, widened sidewalks, and created more than 300 kilometers of bikeways.

“Public pedestrian space is not a means, it is an end in itself,” he said. “It yields happiness. It is a magical good where poor and rich meet.”

The former mayor also created a powerful bus rapid transit, called the Transmelenio, which carries more than 1.4 million passengers a day.

In recognition of this work, Peñalosa received the Gothenburg Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for Environment, last June.

San Francisco took the idea for Sunday Streets—a blocking off of main thoroughfares for hours on a Sunday that began in September 2008—from Peñalosa.

It happened for the first time in the Mission District on June 7th and will take place in the Mission District again on July 19th. (Click here to see Mission Loc@l’s coverage of the past event)

The best city ever, Peñalosa said, would be “a place where a child can ride a bicycle anywhere.” Cars, he said, were wolves.

The former mayor was invited to San Francisco by the newly created non-profit organization, the San Francisco Great Streets Project, a joint venture between the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Their goal said Erin Rice, research assistant for the new organization is “ to catalyze the return of our city’s streets to their rightful owners—the people.”

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