If the all the right stars align, car-free “shopping zones” could, maybe, possibly — at 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.”