Stockton Street car ban may become permanent

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Tourists, families, and shoppers all enjoy the 2015 Winter Walk. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA)
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When netting feedback from local businesses, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s perhaps most oft-heard complaint is some variation of this:

“Don’t take our parking!”

From Polk Street businesses clashing with bike lane expansions, to Geary Boulevard businesses shouting down construction of the 38-Geary Bus Rapid Transit, the SFMTA constantly fields a barrage from businesses concerned that a lack of cars will lead to dips in business.

But in a strange twist, local businesses on Stockton Street are now reporting a boost in business as cars are rerouted far from their doors.

The street closure – and expanded walkable space – was such a success, the SFMTA is now considering making the closure permanent.

The Central Subway’s construction commenced in 2013, according to SFMTA documents. Each winter since 2014 the agency has laid down astroturf around the construction on Stockton Street for a “Winter Walk,” a pedestrian zone replete with decorations and seating for shoppers. Holiday shoppers can walk through what used to be a street, car-free.

It’s only three blocks from Market Street to the foot of Union Square, but the walkability appears to have made a splash. Businesses in the area include Macy’s, the Apple Store, the Disney Store, and an offshoot of Forever-21, among others.

“Based on feedback from local business and other stakeholders, the SFMTA has heard that Winter Walk has been a success and this meeting kicked-off discussions to discuss a similar set-up for the future,” SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said. “While the project limits have not been set, the SFMTA is studying a closure of the three blocks between Post Street and Market Street. This and future meetings will help shape the form and function of a possible new Stockton Street.”

Rose added that discussions have “just begun,” and a timeline for making the street closure permanent has not been set.

Still, the prospect of boosting cash influx has piqued the interest of businesses as far away as Chinatown.

In a letter to the directors of SFMTA and Public Works, Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, requested a study to possibly connect Chinatown to the future pedestrian zone on Stockton Street.

Lee also hoped SFMTA would consider widening and beautifying the sidewalks in the Stockton Street Tunnel, which connects Chinatown to Union Square.

“The majority of people living in Chinatown, especially the Chinese, will walk to Union Square instead of driving to downtown,” Lee wrote in his letter.

“The timing is good and costs can be saved” if beautification of the Stockton Street Tunnel takes place at the same time as creation of the pedestrian zone, he wrote.

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