San Francisco’s Lake Street could be among first closed to through-traffic permanently

City polls residents on whether they want to extend ‘Slow Street’ designation

Lake Street could become one of San Francisco’s first streets to permanently close to through traffic, but not if neighborhood pushback continues to swell.

The corridor is part of San Francisco’s Slow Streets initiative. Created in April 2020 by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Slow Streets were created as a temporary way to create open space for people to walk, bike or take other modes of alternate transportation during the shelter-in-place order. It has since grown to roughly 30 corridors spanning about 47 miles in The City.

Now, some of those, including Lake Street, are poised to become a permanent part of San Francisco’s urban landscape.

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved the first four corridors eligible to become permanent Slow Streets in August. The agency then started an outreach process intended to solicit input on the design of these corridors for the future.

Residents can weigh in on the proposed Lake Slow Street, which would run between Arguello Boulevard and 28th Avenue, by Jan. 14. The online survey includes four different proposals.

Three of the options maintain Lake Street as a designated Slow Street. Doing so would keep the road open to local traffic, including residents and commercial delivery vehicles. The transportation agency would beef up the signage and barricades to notify drivers as well as install safety measures such as speed humps, median delineators and some left-turn restrictions.

Those three design options vary in the number of changes they make to the road itself in order to manage the traffic flow of motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and other road users.

A jogger runs along Lake Street near Fourth Avenue. Lake Slow Street runs between Arguello Boulevard and 28th Avenue. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

A jogger runs along Lake Street near Fourth Avenue. Lake Slow Street runs between Arguello Boulevard and 28th Avenue. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

The most transformative design would introduce a single vehicle-only travel lane in the center of the street while creating dedicated outside lanes for non-motorist travelers. Vehicles could pass one another using the edge lanes, but only after yielding the right-of-way to other road users. These lanes would be delineated with painted stripes on the road.

Alternatively, the second proposal excludes the roadway striping. All road users could mingle without any specified lanes. According to SFMTA, traffic studies show that vehicle speeds slow without the painted stripes.

The third option makes minimal changes to traffic flow relative to today. Vehicles could continue to travel in two lanes in the center with bike lanes on either edge.

The transportation agency provides survey responders with a fourth option: revoking its Slow Street status and creating full restoration to its prepandemic form. This alternative surprised many supporters who felt the victory had been won with the August board approval.

According to the agency, a select network of Slow Streets will create safe and welcoming walking and bicycle routes to augment Muni service. It will also allow neighborhoods to use public space to build connections and grow community.

SFMTA’s board approval on Aug. 3 of the proposal to make Lake Slow Street permanent jump-started the public outreach process to determine how the configuration should change in order to enhance safety, reduce possible traffic impacts and improve signage.

The transit agency conducted outreach and analysis over the summer on the entire Slow Street network.

Its survey about Lake Street received 1,348 responses, 92% of which were from people who live in the neighborhood. Nearly 67% of nearby residents supported keeping the road as a Slow Street. Over 80% of all respondents said they noticed fewer speeding cars and felt the corridor had become safer since limiting traffic.

Safety has increased during Lake Street’s tenure as a Slow Street, SFMTA data shows.

Collisions have dropped by almost 50%, according to the agency’s report from June 2021. Vehicle speeds have dropped to 15 miles per hour, and congestion on surrounding neighborhood streets has only occasionally reached the “moderate congestion” level, the same report notes.

Supporters of the Lake Slow Street say the data makes the efficacy of the program clear, and they’re calling on The City to take bigger, bolder steps to controlling traffic to enhance safety.

“The biggest ask from the community is to make Slow Lake even better and safer by adding median diverters at every intersection to eliminate cut-through traffic,” said Luke Bornheimer, a lead organizer for Kid Safe SF, a street safety advocacy group. “(Cut-through traffic) is the leading source of reckless driving and speeding on Lake and endangers kids and adults using the street.”

However, those who wish to see Lake Street opened back up to cars say this data from the summer is no longer relevant as kids have gone back to school and some people have returned to office buildings.

Dale Carlson said he understood why The City instituted this program during the pandemic, but now feels it causes more harm than good to neighbors and the surrounding areas.

Supporters of reopening the roadway to vehicles cite congestion spillover onto nearby streets such as California and close proximity of existing green space in the Presidio as reasons that this neighborhood isn’t well suited for a roadway closed to through traffic.

“I don’t know how it works in other neighborhoods, but in ours it doesn’t seem to make much sense,” Carlson said. “It seems to be another project where the MTA has too much money and too little common sense.”

The issue remains divisive with hundreds of signatures having been collected for petitions on both sides of the issue. SFMTA hopes to approve a final design — or make the call to remove Slow Street status on Lake — at some point in February.

For his part, Carlson said he’d be open to a compromise, and he referenced a timed closure similar to the Great Highway, which is open to cars on weekdays and closed to them on weekends, as a “perfectly reasonable” solution.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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