Joel Pomerantz and Marina Perez-Wong at a stop along the Wiggle Walking Tour
photo: Bonnie Hulkower
I have friends living in San Francisco who would ride a bike in midtown Manhattan but won't get on one in San Francisco. When asked why, considering that SF is such a bike friendly town, I often hear the same reply: the HILLS! For many of these people hearing about "the Wiggle" transformed their lives. The Wiggle is the flattest route going from East to West San Francisco. For Joel Pomerantz and Morgan Fitzgibbons, the Wiggle path is much more than just a series of streets. Joel leads walking tours in San Francisco appropriately called Thinkwalks. I had the opportunity to join Joel and twelve others on his Wiggle Walking tour on Saturday and was surprised about how little I knew concerning the history of the Wiggle.
I knew that the Wiggle was a mile long, zig-zagging path in San Francisco with inclines never exceeding 6%. What I found out, was that the Wiggle follows the route of the old San Souci waterway, which 12,000 years ago when the ice age ended, was covered by sand dunes that were later leveled to put in the street grid. The Wiggle was used by the Ohlone people, who also wanted to traverse the city but avoid the large hills. During the 18th century, the Wiggle was used by the Spaniards traveling along horseback from Mission Dolores to the Presidio. During the 19th century, military men used the Wiggle to commute home to wives in the Mission, who were not allowed to live on the base. In the 1860's, it was widened to become a toll road used by carriages, called "Divisadero."
Joel Pomerantz was one of the founders of San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) in 1990. SFBC's goal was to get everyone from age 8 through 80 to feel comfortable biking safely across the city. The first known use of the term "Wiggle" for the bike route appeared in an article in the Tubular Times in the early 90's. Today, SFBC has 11,500 members and is the largest bike group in the U.S.
On my tour with Joel this Saturday, we stopped to watch a muralist painting on the corner of Fell & Scott Streets. Marina Perez-Wong's mural was filled with flowers representing the variety of the many ethnicities living in the neighborhood. Also depicted, of course, is a biker in honor of the Wiggle, and an old #24 streetcar from when there used to be streetcars instead of buses along Divisadero Street.
For Morgan Fitzgibbons and Clint Womack, the Wiggle is also a symbol of community identity and the site of countless happy run-ins with friends. Together they started the Wigg Party which holds monthly meetings on Wednesdays at their home to discuss ways to sustainably transform and connect the communities living along the Wiggle, which include the Lower Haight, the Panhandle, USF, the Western Addition, and the NOPA districts of San Francisco.
Fitzgibbons introduced three steps to their campaign: "Sign on, root in, branch out." Sign on means getting involved, sharing ideas and participating. Branching out means spreading the word. One of the main values the group focuses on is self-reliance. For many, including Joel, Morgan and Clint, the Wiggle helps maintain a connection to the rest of the city, just like it did for the Ohlone and the Spaniards.
To attend the next Wigg party/meeting on June 9th, contact Morgan Fitzgibbons
To go on a walking tour with Joel check out thinkwalks.org
More on the Wiggle and Bike Paths
Woot! Bike There Feature Added to Google Maps!
CycleTracks iPhone App Tells San Fancisco TA Where Bike Paths Should be Built
ZEBRA Recycled Bicycle Path Divider, Safe for Cyclists and the Environment