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Rose Pak’s opposition could slam brakes on car-free Stockton Street project

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The “Winter Walk” event aided by the SFMTA, in which Stockton Street between Market and Geary streets is accessible only to pedestrians, prompted a plan to make the car-free walkway permanent once construction of the Central Subway is complete. (Courtesy SFMTA)

San Francisco’s preliminary plan to make part of Stockton Street a car-free pedestrian walkway may be threatened by opposition from Chinatown community organizer Rose Pak.

Pak slammed the car-free project as harmful to Chinatown in an email June 16 to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, which the San Francisco Examiner obtained.

The walkway in question is a stretch of Stockton Street from Market to Geary streets that would become pedestrian-only once the Central Subway opens in 2019.

It was first created as an event each winter to aid businesses impacted by construction of the Central Subway, in which the agency lays down astroturf for a “Winter Walk.”

The SFMTA and businesses agreed in February to research making the walkway permanent after construction is complete.

In her letter, Pak wrote on behalf of the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce that the neighborhood “understood we would suffer” inconveniences due to construction of the Central Subway, but believed they would be temporary.

However, making the project permanent also would “make permanent all the problems we’ve experienced,” she wrote, calling it “unacceptable to our community.”

The proposal would need to go before the SFMTA Board of Directors for community input and subsequent approval, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

Karin Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District said property owners on Stockton Street generally support the project.

“They’ve seen it as a boost to sales,” she said.

Pak later told the Examiner she met with Reiskin to discuss Chinatown’s concerns.

She said “he apologized they never did a better job of outreach” to the Chinatown community, and “he has agreed” the project would not work, because closing that section of Stockton Street would stop the flow of traffic into Chinatown and harm businesses.

“So I consider the issue closed,” Pak said.

Rose, the SFMTA spokesperson, said, “at the meeting [Reiskin and Pak] discussed community concerns and are working together to determine the best way forward on the project,” and stressed that “we’ll continue to work with all stakeholders.”

He added the project may also include making the 8, 45 and 30 Muni routes faster “by as much as 15 minutes,” and that the car-free project aims to increase pedestrian safety.

Pak’s intervention may be exceptional because traditional public input process for projects like this occurs at the SFMTA board itself, not while a project is in planning stages.

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, said though the negotiations with Reiskin are out of the public view, any influence she may have on the project — even perhaps ending it — may not be common, but is not atypical.

“If it doesn’t happen, you can track it back to here,” McDaniels said, “At the same time, there’s nothing nefarious about that. Politics is about groups being involved in the process for benefits for their constituents, that’s what she’s doing.”

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