Usually, a toddler doing somersaults in the middle of the busy Embarcadero and Mission Street intersection in San Francisco would elicit cries of terror from worried parents.
But this time, the parents just laughed and clapped.
For four hours today, several miles of waterfront roads were shut down to cars and opened to any and every other form of transportation, from in-line skates to wheelchairs and unicycles.
The Sunday Streets event, the brainchild of Mayor Gavin Newsom that has been hotly contested by some business owners and members of the Board of Supervisors, was the first of its kind in San Francisco and stretched for more than four miles, from Chinatown down The City’s waterfront to the Bayview. A second event will likely take place in September, after which The City will decide whether to continue what is just a pilot program for now.
Thousands of people took to the opened northbound lanes for the event Sunday, many riding their bikes between the Ferry Building and the Bayview neighborhood. People strolled and jogged, rode scooters and twirled hula-hoops. Exercise classes took place under the uncommon August sun.
At Embarcadero Plaza, several dozen people stood on one leg, trying to master their breath — without wobbling too much — during a free yoga class.
“Reach your arms across San Francisco,” coached the instructor. “Breathe a little deeper. Lift a little higher.”
They were eyed by a couple hundred people who had walked from Chinatown to The Embarcadero. When one teenage girl was asked why she’d come out on a Sunday morning, she shrugged.
“My mom made me!” she giggled.
Some businesses at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf were worried the event would draw foot traffic away from them on one of their busiest weekends of the year.
But the event also translated to a boon for the businesses along the closed streets and at the Ferry Building.
“Usually it’ll be slow on Sunday morning,” said Mandy Rogers at Stonehouse Olive Oil in the Ferry Building, as she rushed to refill the sample trays. “It’s definitely busier than that today.”
The mayor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel, jogged south along the waterfront, stopping in at a salsa class at Pier 48, where Newsom was ribbed for his dancing skills. Newsom and Siebel were taking dance classes before their Montana wedding in late July.
After the pair headed further south, Newsom said he was really pleased with how the day had gone — but refrained from saying whether it would become a regular event until there was an analysis of whether it hurt or helped business.
“I have seen nothing and heard nothing so far that would keep us from making this a part of city life,” he said.