SF follows Oakland’s lead, closes some streets to cars during pandemic

The City is following The Town’s lead — San Francisco’s streets are about to run “slow” in the name of...

The City is following The Town’s lead — San Francisco’s streets are about to run “slow” in the name of social distancing.

Oakland closed down roughly 74 miles of its streets to most traffic on April 11, in a bid to allow walkers, people on bikes and other wheeled-gadgets more space to socially distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, many San Franciscans voiced concern that The City had not yet done the same. Tuesday morning, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced it finally would slow some city streets also.

In a statement, an SFMTA spokesperson wrote that many pedestrians are walking in the streets anyway, in order to stay socially distant from other pedestrians.

“The purpose of Slow Streets is to manage traffic speeds and create a safe network for essential walk and bike travel while transit service levels are reduced,” an SFMTA spokesperson wrote. “Our agency is committed to giving San Franciscans the necessary space to practice social distancing as they leave their homes for critical needs.”

Many of the streets were chosen because they parallel Muni lines that are no longer running during the pandemic.

The streets closed to most vehicle traffic — while still allowing local vehicle traffic for those living in the neighborhoods — are as follows: 17th Street from Noe to Valencia, 20th Avenue from Lincoln to Ortega, 22nd Street from Valencia to Chattanooga, 41st Avenue from Lincoln to Vicente, Ellis Street from Polk to Leavenworth, Holloway from Junipero Serra to Harold, Kirkham from the Great Highway to 7th Avenue, Phelps from Oakdale to Evans, Ortega from the Great Highway to 14th Avenue, Page from Stanyan to Octavia, Quesada from Lane to Fitch, and Scott from Eddy to Page.

Anywhere from two to three of these streets will be closed every week, beginning this week, with signage and traffic cones. The rollout will be about eight blocks at a time, and may not cover the entire street listed above, at first, SFMTA warned.

SFMTA cited this effort as “Phase 1,” implying more streets are on the way. “Good candidates” for “Slow Streets” are often lower-traffic residential streets “that connect neighbors to essential services in the absence of Muni service,” which has seen a severe reduction, according to the SFMTA.

Notably, SFMTA wrote, “People walking/running in the street will not have the right-of-way over motor vehicles but will be allowed to be in the street (as the Calif. Vehicle Code currently permits).”

While the Slow Streets unveiled by SFMTA today are in a patchwork across San Francisco, many neighborhoods do not feature Slow Streets at all.

The Embarcadero, the Marina, Potrero Hill, Visitacion Valley, the Richmond District, Laurel Heights, the Mission District (east of Valencia), Chinatown, North Beach, South of Market and many other neighborhoods have been omitted.

Supervisors representing some of those neighborhoods — Sandra Fewer and Catherine Stefani — did not respond to comment when asked why “Slow Streets” circumvented their neighborhoods.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission, Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, among others, said it was “strange” not to see Mission streets east of Valencia on the map of Slow Streets.

Ronen said Bernal Heights Boulevard would be a likely candidate for a future car-free rollout, and she also said other candidates could include “many numbered cross-streets in the Mission.”

Sunny Angulo, a legislative aide in Peskin’s office, said “SFMTA did not reach out to brief us on this pilot or discuss the next phase of their roll-out,” but said any discussions with SFMTA on closing Chinatown streets should involve the Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project.

Queena Chen, co-chair of Chinatown TRIP, said “at the moment no, because Chinatown has been doing so well with sheltering in place, and so many nonprofits need cars to make sure people are getting food. All these little things need to be done in cars. That’s why we feel streets in Chinatown shouldn’t be closed.”

Chinatown already has 41 alleyways, many of which cars don’t fit through, where people congregate with good social distance, she noted. But mostly, people are staying at home.

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, South of Market and other neighborhoods, said on Twitter it “makes no sense to exclude SOMA entirely [and] only include [a] couple blocks in the TL. These neighborhoods still have crowded sidewalks & more foot traffic. We have huge need for space — I’ve been clear I support more.”

The San Francisco Examiner asked its readers on Twitter what streets they would like to see become “Slow Streets” next. We will embed some of those answers below. To read the entire thread of answers, click here.


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