The city is rolling out a “slow streets” initiative that will discourage driving on certain roads around San Francisco. But read the fine print — because you, dear pedestrian, will still not have the right-of-way. 

Moreover, the selected streets are not in particularly dense areas, a problem District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was quick to note today. 

“At first glance, they seem more concerned [with] recreating in less dense areas than responding to requests to address social distancing needs of seniors & low income people of color in D3,” he wrote on Twitter.

He noted the transit agency did not reach out to him before rolling out its plan. Apparently SFMTA’s strategy is to slow down streets that are already glacially slow and devoid of people. Some of the chosen streets, for example, are 41st Avenue as well as Ortega Street in the Sunset.  

Some of the “candidate streets” (listed below) may eventually be closed to some through traffic, although roads will remain open to residents living along the streets. 

Slow Streets will not create any legal change in the right of way,” a guide on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency warns. “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).”  

Slow street “candidates:” 

With people trying to physically distance, the initiative may give pedestrians, joggers, and bikers room on streets ordinarily used by motorized vehicles. A similar initiative has been implemented in Oakland. 

But get ready for some confusion and tread carefully.

The 12 streets the city transit agency listed will not be shut down at once, and the closures on each will start eight blocks at a time. Beginning this week, only “some of these streets will be closed to through vehicle traffic,” according to SFMTA, and “may not initially cover the entire length shown on the map.”  

Traffic cones and signs will be set up at the entrance of the zones, and the transit agency “will continue to monitor” the flow of traffic, though it’s unclear how and at what hours of the day. 

Walk SF, which advocates for San Francisco pedestrians, said that it appreciated the measure, but suggested it was a piecemeal effort.  

“We believe a true network of streets is needed for people to be able to reach essential destinations safely,” said Jodie Medeiros, Walk SF’s executive director. “This is critically important now, especially in the Tenderloin, Mission and Chinatown. A safe pedestrian network will make walking a safe and viable option for more people as shelter-in-place is lifted, too.”

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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15 Comments

  1. As a senior I am more concerned with people not wearing masks and not social distancing. Especially the runners. I stopped going for a walk a while ago because I don’t feel safe. This has not been good for my mental health.

  2. “District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin was quick to note today. He noted the transit agency did not reach out to him before rolling out its plan.”

    And why should they reach out to him?

    1. This explains the real reason why the SFMTA cut down the MUNI lines to 17. Guarantee that the buses wouldn’t be on the streets they were saving for “Safe Streets”. It’s all a BS plot, not a money saving venture.

  3. It’s a good start that the city’s doing this at all, but we could really use some in the northeast Mission. Slow streets on Folsom from 13th to 18th, and on 17th from Folsom to Bryant would be a good start: Help space out people walking to grocery shop at Rainbow, FoodsCo, Safeway, and Gus’s.

    1. Except you can’t take MUNI to FoodsCo, Grocery Outlet, Rainbow, or Gus’s. Shopping traffic is being funneled towards Safeway and not the stores that many in the Mission can afford.

      1. Sure you can. Before the COVID-related service cuts, FoodsCo and Rainbow were accessible via the 12 Folsom-Pacific, Gus’s via the 27-Bryant, and Grocery Outlet via the 48-Quintara/24th Street and 67-Bernal Heights. So it makes sense to close some of those streets to allow for increased pedestrian traffic along those streets given that all four routes I mentioned are not currently running.

  4. As the mother of a toddler, I welcome this. I hope that the test is successful and they are able to extend the number of streets to a connected network linking different parks in the city. I live close to Cesar Chavez and would love to bike safely to other neighbourhoods. I don’t drive and rely upon public transit, which we have been avoiding to reduce exposure.

  5. I wonder how these streets were chosen. It seems strange to close 17th St., from Noe to Valencia, when one block over, 18th St. is always so crowded with pedestrians and the Bi Rite line that I always walk in the street.

    1. According to Jeff Tumlin’s update at the SFMTA Board meeting yesterday, this initial round of streets were chosen where muni transit service has been cut. The streets chosen also do not contain any muni lines (which may come back into service).

  6. This is stupid. The city should promote more shelter in place, not closing street for car traffic. People shouldn’t even come out and walk and bike and hope they will follow social distance. Later other residents will want to close their street, so that they can walk around. Otherwise, it is not fair for them. So what no car in the whole SF? Great!

    1. Public health medical professionals have recommended outside time and exercise for mental health, as those activities are extremely low risk for virus transmission. We need fewer armchair epidemiologists.

    2. “So what no car in the whole SF? Great!” That does sound great! Unfortunately we only get to start with a tiny fraction of our public streets being made available for the public good. But hopefully we can open up more streets for safe walking and exercise.

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