A pedestrian crosses while a vehicle attempts to turn at Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin, where a driver recently struck a 12-year-old boy. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF lawmaker proposes car-free Tenderloin streets

Proposal comes after a spate of traffic deaths in the neighborhood.

In a bid to save lives, parts of the Tenderloin could go car-free.

That’s the newest proposal from the community and supported by Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the neighborhood, aiming to prevent further traffic mortalities.

“I’m aware this was on the table. I’m definitely for it,” Haney told the San Francisco Examiner.

Which specific streets should go car-free first isn’t exactly clear, yet. What is clear is that Tenderloin streets have proved dangerous, he said.

Just on Tuesday. a 12-year-old boy was struck and nearly killed by a driver who was allegedly under the influence at Leavenworth Street and Golden Gate Avenue. At that exact same intersection, a pedestrian, Janice Higashi, was hit and killed by a driver in March.

The list goes on: Benjamin Dean was hit and killed just a stone’s throw away at Taylor and O’Farrell streets in July. Also killed in Tenderloin traffic collisions this year on Eddy Street were Mark Swink and Michael Evans, in May and July respectively.

Notably, the Tenderloin has many streets that are part of the High-Injury Network, the 12 percent of city streets identified by the Department of Public Health and other agencies where more than 70 percent of traffic injuries and fatalities occur.

To put it simply, the Tenderloin’s streets are among the most fatal in The City.

“The majority of pedestrians killed this year were in a crosswalk when they were hit,” Jodie Medeiros, the executive director of Walk San Francisco said in a statement after the most recent collision. “What kind of city can San Francisco claim to be when people can’t cross the street safely?”

Support among Tenderloin residents for car-free streets had already been rising when Haney picked up a proposal by local transit officials to identify what San Francisco streets — if any — should be made bus, pedestrian, and bike-only.

These would be red-carpet streets, free of cars, with wider sidewalks and more room for people to walk.

That proposal came from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke.

At the end of the board’s regular meeting on September 3, Heinicke called on SFMTA staff to research future sites for San Francisco to go car-free, opening up the streets for pedestrians to walk, cyclists to bike, and for buses to move more quickly, unimpeded by car congestion.

“That will serve what I think is the most important safety goal for pedestrians, which is to get people out of their private cars and get them commuting by public transit,” he told SFMTA staff. This will naturally lead to fewer street deaths and injuries, he said, as “people choose where to walk by where it’s safer.”

So while Haney has proposed no laws around car-free streets, but his support may focus SFMTA’s already-existing effort to choose a future car-free street.

Heinicke tasked SFMTA staff to come up with ideas for future pedestrian and transit-focused streets by January next year, and Haney’s call for the Tenderloin to host such an experiment may lend more agency to the effort, Heinicke told the Examiner.

“Obviously, reducing pedestrian injuries and focusing on an area where there have been pedestrian fatalities is a major factor, and supervisorial support will be another major factor,” he said. The Tenderloin “should absolutely be considered” for pedestrian and transit-focused streets, but he cautioned “there are a lot of implications to a decision like this so I want it to be studied properly.”

Amos Gregory, a Mission District artist who is founder and director of the Veterans Alley Mural Project in the Tenderloin, is in favor of some car-free Tenderloin Streets. Gregory understands that some may think this is a drastic move — but he said it may be necessary.

“Most traffic is only through traffic, meaning commuter traffic,” Gregory said. “Disabled folks, seniors, children are high demographics here … having some car-free streets would increase safety for them.”

The September 8 Sunday Streets event which closed streets in the Tenderloin for community activities also inspired Haney, who said the community was “really inspired by what was possible after that event.”

Sunday Streets is organized by the nonprofit Livable City and closes streets across San Francisco to vehicle traffic on Sundays, opening them to the community to walk, bike and play.

It also reduced one more pernicious problem that plagues the Tenderloin.

“There was a lot less drug dealing, streets were car-less, safe, fun and activated. We all want more of that,” he said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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