We present a new mechanism for generation of near-wall streamwise vortices - which dominate turbulence phenomena in boundary layers - using linear perturbation analysis and direct numerical simulations of turbulent channel flow. The base flow, consisting of the mean velocity profile and low-speed streaks (free from any initial vortices), is shown to be linearly unstable to sinuous normal modes only for relatively strong streaks, i.e. for wall inclination angles of streak vortex lines exceeding 50°. Analysis of streaks extracted from fully developed near-wall turbulence indicates that about 20% of streak regions in the buffer layer exceed the strength threshold for instability. More importantly, these unstable streaks exhibit only moderate (twofold) normal-mode amplification, the growth being arrested by self-annihilation of streak-flank normal vorticity due to viscous cross-diffusion. We present here an alternative, streak transient growth (STG) mechanism, capable of producing much larger (tenfold) linear amplification of x-dependent disturbances. Note the distinction of STG-responsible for perturbation growth on a streak velocity distribution U(y,z) - from prior transient growth analyses of the (streakless) mean velocity U(y). We reveal that streamwise vortices are generated from the more numerous normal-mode-stable streaks, via a new STG-based scenario: (i) transient growth of perturbations leading to formation of a sheet of streamwise vorticity ωx (by a 'shearing' mechanism of vorticity generation), (ii) growth of sinuous streak waviness and hence ∂u/∂x as STG reaches nonlinear amplitude, and (iii) the ωx sheet's collapse via stretching by ∂u/∂x (rather than rollup) into streamwise vortices. Significantly, the three-dimensional features of the (instantaneous) streamwise vortices of x-alternating sign generated by STG agree well with the (ensemble-averaged) coherent structures educed from fully turbulent flow. The STG-induced formation of internal shear layers, along with quadrant Reynolds stresses and other turbulence measures, also agree well with fully developed turbulence. Results indicate the prominent - possibly dominant - role of this new, transient-growth-based vortex generation scenario, and suggest interesting possibilities for robust control of drag and heat transfer.