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Navigating Chinatown’s key corridors and alleyways

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Join Walk San Francisco on a tour of Chinatown, the most densely populated neighborhood was of Manhattan. (Anna Latino/S.F. Examiner file photo)

It’s impossible to think about San Francisco without thinking about its iconic Chinatown — both the oldest North American Chinese community and the largest outside Asia. The 24 square blocks making up the most densely populated neighborhood west of Manhattan, which includes 41 alleys, will be the focus of Walk San Francisco’s August monthly members’ walk.

Despite having The City’s lowest rate of car ownership, Chinatown suffers from a disproportionately high number of crashes. Discover how the long-established community here is working to make streets safe for the many seniors, children and adults of all abilities, who call this historic district home.

From 1848 and until the 1900s, Chinatown served as the port of entry for Chinese immigrants. During this time, a series of discriminatory policies — ranging from targeted taxes, restrictive labor laws and housing ordinances — were enacted. These culminated in the national Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned all labor immigration from China and prohibited Chinese residents from becoming naturalized. It wasn’t until 1943 that America’s first anti-immigrant law was repealed.

Like most of The City, the 1906 earthquake destroyed Chinatown’s wooden tenements. When rebuilding started, real estate developers sought to move displaced residents to Hunters Point and further south. The effort failed, primarily because restrictive anti-Chinese covenants already in place made it impossible for the Chinese to move out of Chinatown, concentrating subsequent waves of immigrants there.

Saturday’s walk will be led by three youth leaders who are working to make their streets safe for everyone. Galileo High School senior David Yi, incoming University of San Francisco freshman Lisa Yu and Lowell High School senior Maggie Dong are all veteran youth members of the Chinatown Community Development Center’s Campaign Academy program. Established in 1977, CCDC is a place-based, community development organization advocating for affordable housing tenant rights, open space access and equitable transportation.

You will begin with a walk audit — a more interactive and observational approach to walking to identify ways to improve the pedestrian experience — at the corner of Broadway and Powell Street, just beyond the Broadway Tunnel, which is one of several high-speed, wide arterials cutting through Chinatown and its adjacent neighbor, North Beach. Opened in 1952 as part of a proposed traffic conduit between the non-extant Embarcadero and Central Freeways, Broadway has the dubious distinction of being one of The City’s High-Injury Corridors (HICs) — the six percent of streets where more than 60 percent of the crashes involving people walking results in serious injury or death, as in the tragic case of 63-year-old Sun Choi Law, who was killed on March 11.

Learn about the engineering and traffic controls CCDC youth have proposed, and hear how they have urged The City to take bolder action to prevent needless traffic deaths from continuing. See how a dangerous street can be re-designed to better serve the local community members who get to work, shops, restaurants and nearby Jean Parker Elementary School, primarily by foot and transit.

After reviewing conditions at Chinatown’s northwestern boundary, your walk will lead you down Stockton, one of two anchoring, north-south streets. Stockton functions as the main shopping district, home to fresh produce, seafood and meat markets, as well as some of the neighborhoods’ most significant social and political institutions, including the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (a.k.a. the Chinese Six Companies).

The walk will next stop at Stockton and Pacific streets, to highlight the Central Subway, currently being constructed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which will extend Muni from the Caltrain depot at 4th and King streets.

Next, pause at Stockton and Sacramento to take in one of the several “pedestrian scrambles” that have been installed to dramatically increase safety and give priority to people walking along the street’s jam-packed sidewalks. Before returning to Chinatown’s busy streets, enjoy a historical respite highlighting some of the neighborhood’s narrow, quiet alleys. Walk leaders David and Maggie will also share details about CCDC’s Adopt-an-Alley efforts, which began as a reclamation and community beautification project in 1991.

The walk will end at Kearny and Clay streets, where you can put your newly acquired audit skills into action, by recommending ways to improve safety and walkability at this key high-crash intersection that links seniors walking and taking transit on Kearny to “Chinatown’s living room” at Portsmouth Square.

Take a few short steps along Clay to the 100 year-old Sam Wo Restaurant for an optional lunch.


IF YOU GO:

Navigating Chinatown’s Key Corridors and Alleyways
When: Saturday, Aug. 6, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Broadway and Powell streets
Info: Walk space is limited; $10 suggested donation to Walk SF (free for members); RSVPs required at walksf.org/event/navigatingchinatown

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