If the all the right stars align, car-free “shopping zones” could, maybe, possiblyat some point in the future come to portions of Valencia Street.

A proposal, passed in August as a resolution by the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee, seeks to turn the BART-adjacent blocks of Valencia — between 16th and 17th, and between 23rd and 24th — into car-free zones, where pedestrians and cyclists can freely mingle.

The idea, too, is for storefronts to gain more presence on the streets, such as outdoor seating for restaurants and more space for retail merchants.

A similar experiment was piloted at Patricia’s Green, a pedestrian-friendly portion of Octavia Boulevard, for two and a half weeks in June. A related concept has also been applied to Powell Street in San Francisco.

“Valencia is thriving, and the intention of this measure is to help it drive more business to the corridor,” said Catherine Orland, District 9’s representative on the bicycle advisory committee and the main proponent of the project. “And, at the same time, provide a safer option, on a trial basis, for everyone who uses Valencia.”

Businesses on the affected blocks had mixed reactions. Of the nine establishments Mission Local spoke with, four were against, three were in favor, and two were on the fence.

“I think it’s great,” said Mark McMahon, a manager at Harrington Galleries Furniture Store on the corner of 17th and Valencia. “I don’t really like cars flying up and down the street.”

He said he sees many pedestrians on the corridor already, but doesn’t see enough cyclists. He has also noticed an increase in business when his portion of the block is closed to cars for Sunday Streets, which closes off selected streets to create a block party-like environment. McMahon said he would “100 percent” show his support for the idea if it comes closer to reality.

Sarah Larson, who recently opened a home decor shop near 17th and Valencia called Often Wander, also welcomed the idea. “If they closed down the street, it would be amazing,” she said. “People would flock on foot.”

Other establishments, however, worried about how traffic would be rerouted, losing customers, losing parking and not having a place for a constant flow of deliveries.

“It’s insane,” said Patricia Vigil, the manager at Puerto Alegre, a Mexican restaurant that has been located near 16th and Valencia for decades. “Valencia Street is already crazy with parking in general.”

Vigil also said the restaurant receives deliveries four times a week, and worries they’ll be interrupted. She would not be satisfied even if a plan were in place for deliveries, she said. Vigil added that the police often use the block of Valencia, as the station is located on the other side of 17th Street. “This is the main street they come through,” she said.

Up at the art gallery and shop Wonderland SF near 24th and Valencia, owner Irene Hernandez-Feiks knew about the plan and vehemently opposed it. “It will hurt business,” she said. “If they do it, I’ll close my business and move somewhere else.”

Orland, the Bicycle Advisory Committee member spearheading the proposal, said that, at this point, “it’s just an idea. We’re still in the process of reaching out to groups.”

For merchants worried about having a place for deliveries, Orland said, there would still be a lane for commercial deliveries. She added that she realized “parking is a concern,” and “I’m willing to work with people to creatively manage that concern.”

She pointed to the SFMTA statistic that only around 30 percent of residents close to Valencia Street get around by car. The other roughly 60 percent use public transportation, ride bicycles, or walk.  

Moreover, she said businesses often do not know how their customers are arriving. “I understand there is fear around losing customers, and I believe merchants might not always be aware that some of their customers are cyclists,” she said.

She pointed to an SFMTA shopper survey that claims bicyclists spend twice as much money as those who arrive by car.

The idea “intrigues” Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “It would require more discussion,” he said, noting that the coalition has not formally backed the plan. But “in general, we’re supportive of car-free spaces in San Francisco.”

Just how this idea will become a reality is unclear. “I’m not sure where the jurisdiction lies,” said former District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano. “Obviously the Board of Supervisors would have some say in this.”

Still, he said, “There’s definitely promise in this — it’s going to get people thinking. Whether it can get through the process is another issue.”  

But, “It’s definitely looking to the future,” he said.

Valencia Street cuts between Districts 8 and 9, and changes to the corridor would likely involve a discussion between District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman (or, if the process is laborious enough, their successors).

Both offices indicated that the proposal is so preliminary that they have not examined it closely. Amy Beinart, one of Ronen’s aides, said the office met with Orland once to discuss the project following the resolution’s passage in August. “It’s not at a point where were working on it,” Beinart said. “I think they need to do more outreach to determine what this means.”  

Likewise, Kyle Smeallie, an aide to Mandelman, said it is only just on the office’s radar. “Before we dive into the specifics of approval, we’re looking to see if it has community support,” he said. “Without seeing that, it doesn’t seem like something that’s going to be a priority.”  

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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10 Comments

  1. Soooo 2010. Valencia is no longer the Valencia Street written about in the New York Times 5-10 years ago. These days its Divisadero they write about. Valencia’s slow decline directly coincides with the “bicycle overlay”. Something Divisadero has managed to avoid. Thank God!

    Note: SFMTA official numbers show bicycle commuting in SF has dropped 25% in the past two years and now accounts for a whopping 2% of commutes — when counting only on sunny days.

    1. Funny, according to the SFMTA’s website, bicycling has grown year after year and now makes up over 82,000 trips each day, with 4.7% of people commuting by bicycle. I think your “official numbers show bicycle commuting in SF has dropped by 25%” line is a made up lie based on your obvious bias against people who ride bicycles.

      There is no such drop in bicycle trips reported; not by the SFMTA’s 44 automated counters, and not by the US census of SF commuters. People who want to see the real SFMTA official numbers on bicycle commuting can see it for themselves here: https://www.sfmta.com/bicycle-ridership-data-1

      It’s one thing to hate people who ride bicycles; but it’s another to share a complete lie to try to spread your hatred to others.

      1. Why are you so angry. Bikers are getting everything they ask for. You are the “hater”. If you are so angry, go home. Go back to wherever you came from and close streets there.

    2. Why would you lie about something that’s so easy to disprove with 30 seconds of searching? “The most recent US Census ridership data from 2016 estimates 3.9 percent of commute trips were regularly made by bike.”

      https://www.sfmta.com/bicycle-ridership-data-1

      If anything, Divisadero’s customer base would increase with wider sidewalks and protected bikelanes, which has been proven in study after study of local retail. https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2015/03/the-complete-business-case-for-converting-street-parking-into-bike-lanes/387595/

  2. I like the idea of car free roads, but I’m concerned with the example of the SFMTA Mission Street Red lanes. They took out a lane and made others bus only, – and with forced left hand turns – they clearly didn’t adequately figure out the extra collisions and traffic impacts on the nearby streets.

  3. This is an insane proposal. Mission is already not passable by cars because of the red lanes. Make Valencia non-passable as well, and you’re forcing all the traffic to shift to either Guerrero or S. Van Ness. Guerrero is given over to Parking For God on Sundays, and S. Van Ness is a mess of double-parking and non-enforcement of traffic laws.

  4. Could we do with Castro street between 19th and Market and make it a pedestrian mall w/ a busway for the 24?

  5. This city has lost its mind with further clogging of the streets and delaying emergency response times more and not mention the impact businesses that need their their products delivered these businesses pay a lot of taxes and insurance and yet bicyclists pay no taxes or carry any kind of insurance. I have lived in San Francisco since 1959 and have seen a lot of changes and these changes going on are no good. Growing up here in city we had no bike lanes and we rarely got hit by cars maybe because we were more aware and respected pedestrians.

  6. No cars on Valencia would be terrible for disabled people, families and the elderly who cannot hop on a bike. It has hurt businesses on Mission many of which have closed. Leaving open storefronts littering the street. All this arguing about what the bike statistic is 2%, 4%, 3% whatever, why should 95%+ of commuters be inconvenienced for the sake of a couple percent of bike riders. For many people bike riding will not ever be an option. This would make another neighborhood inaccessible to those people. My family has stopped shopping on Mission all together and will end up not being able to shop on Valencia either, if this change happens. Maybe we need a coalition of disabled folks to band together and bring a class action suit against sfmta for rolling accessibility back decades. Maybe my 78 year old mother in law can make 7 trips a day back and forth the 6 blocks to the grocery in her wheelchair to bring back food, a couple items at a time, or better yet maybe she can stop eating, or order all her food for delivery and stay home out of the public, as obviously only the couple percentage points of bikers in this city have value.
    Disgusting, San Francisco and Berkeley used to be on the cutting edge of fighting for the rights of disabled people to live independently, now we would return our disabled citizens to the days of being housebound !!!!!!

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