Cyclists ride along at Middle Drive and Metson Road, which will soon be closed to vehicles as part of a new Slow Streets section in Golden Gate Park on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

All approved Slow Streets to be completed by October’s end

SFMTA restarts implementation following denial of CEQA appeals

San Francisco residents now have 38 miles of largely car-free streets to traverse, with the rest of the approved Slow Streets network expected to be completed by the end of October now that appeals of the program have been rejected, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said Monday.

Started in April, the Slow Streets program temporarily shuts down streets to through-traffic in order to create space for socially distanced and protected essential travel by alternative forms of transit.

Once the 20 already-approved corridors are implemented, the transit agency believes it will create a family-friendly network across The City that connects all residents to essential destinations and workplaces without having to rely on cars or Muni.

“Slow Streets attract users of the full array of neighborhood demographics — including children, older adults, people with disabilities and people of color,” the SFMTA said on its project page.

Progress had been stalled on implementation since July when a handful of appeals were filed against the projects, challenging their classification as part of The City’s emergency response and whether they should, therefore, qualify for exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act review process.

The Board of Supervisors denied all the appeals last month, and SFMTA crews were out installing new Slow Streets the next day on Clay and Noe streets and Pacific and Tompkins avenues, the agency said.

Their unanimous ruling demonstrated the belief that Slow Streets are “critical initiatives that help keep San Francisco moving during the pandemic,” according to SFMTA.

Since the agency couldn’t do any work to expand the Slow Streets network until the Board of Supervisors ruled on the appeal, staff instead spent the time repairing existing signage and infrastructure.

One of SFMTA’st most visible COVID-19 response programs, Slow Streets has included some high-profile closures such as that of the Great Highway, Page Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, in partnership with the Recreation and Parks Department, among many other roadways.

The transit agency has also received criticism for its failure to implement Slow Streets in higher density neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin, where it has claimed the traditional model doesn’t work due to concern over emergency vehicle access, high traffic and others.

Last month, however, SFMTA worked with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and a number of other city agencies, community groups and nonprofits to create various partial street closures that facilitate family play, outdoor dining and increased pedestrian space for Tenderloin residents.

Some people who live near popular Slow Streets corridors have also reported crowding or use of the roadways for recreation rather than travel, a trend the SFMTA tried to address in its Monday blog post.

“Slow Streets are for essential trips, not neighborhood gathering points,” it read, re-iterating the face mask and social distance mandates.

Armed with the recent show of support for the Board of Supervisors, SFMTA also announced it intends to roll out another phase of the Slow Streets program, which would be its fourth, and solicited ideas from residents who might want to see a partially car-free street in their neighborhood.

As with prior phases, SFMTA wants to target its search towards “lower-traffic residential streets, without large hills, connecting neighbors to essential services.”

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