The SFMTA's current Slow Streets map.

Shotwell Street was quiet at 5:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday evening. A young girl rode a bike with training wheels in the middle of the street near the 20th Street intersection. A man jogged behind a boy rolling down Shotwell on a skateboard. Others carried their groceries or rode their bikes on the nearly car-free street.

Shotwell is one of the 30-plus corridors in the Slow Streets Program, which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) launched in early April to limit through traffic on residential streets to give people space to walk or ride bikes.

The urgency of the pandemic created Slow Streets, and the new outdoor room for pedestrians and bikes has exceeded expectations, both in terms of growth and popularity. The SFMTA is currently preparing to launch Phase 4 of the program in November with the goal of adding Slow Streets to neighborhoods that do not have them yet. 

Jeffrey Tumlin, Director of Transportation at the SFMTA, told Mission Local earlier this month that he imagines a grand scheme for Slow Streets in the near future. “We are starting to try to knit together corridors where normal San Franciscans can feel safe traveling across town in a wheelchair, scooter, or bike … that will be when the Slow Streets Program really matures.” 

What will happen once the pandemic is over, however, is unclear.

Initially, the SFMTA imagined Slow Streets as a one-phase project. Instead, it has progressed through several additional phases, each adding new streets with the ultimate goal of tying the Slow Streets together into a network. 

An early evaluation of three Slow Streets — Shotwell Street, Lake Street, and Page Street — showed enthusiasm. Ninety-two percent of visitors rated their Slow Streets experience as positive, and 83 percent of the streets’ residents who responded said that they support the program.

The SFMTA’s current Slow Streets map. Photo by the SFMTA.

From April to September, the SFMTA also used a citywide online questionnaire as a means of outreach and getting feedback. The SFMTA learned from the questionnaire that 78 percent of the 6,208 respondents supported the Slow Streets Program. While the agency distributed the questionnaire via a number of channels — emailing it to existing contacts, bringing it up at community meetings, and promoting it in areas neighborhoods like Bayview — it nonetheless found that those who responded failed to represent the whole city. 

A map showing the geographic distribution of responses to the SFMTA’s online questionnaire. Photo by the SFMTA.

Phase 4 of the program will focus on expanding Slow Streets to neighborhoods that the SFMTA failed to sufficiently reach through the survey: the Western Addition, Inner Sunset, Oceanview, Visitacion Valley, Bayview, SOMA, and Outer Mission. Thus far, Slow Streets are largely absent in these neighborhoods, many of which are lower-income communities of color. 

“We really are going to be working with residents on the ground over November and December,” said Shannon Hake, the Slow Streets Program manager at the SFMTA. “We want to figure out whether implementing Slow Streets in those neighborhoods could meet the goals of neighbors and stakeholders.”

The SFMTA is still ironing out the particulars of how outreach will work in Phase 4, but Hake reports that the agency’s main goal is “to meet residents where they are.” Hake said this could entail speaking to residents at grocery stores or takeout restaurants and attending community meetings of different neighborhood associations. After concluding outreach, the SFMTA will present recommendations for new corridors to its board in January.

In expanding to these neighborhoods, Phase 4 will also bring us closer to a citywide network of Slow Streets which will make it possible to cross large swaths of the city on the low-traffic corridors. 

Tumlin’s vision of such corridors prompts the question: What will happen to this emergency-driven program once we’re past the emergency?

Even though 80 percent of residents from the SFMTA’s recent survey said they would be interested in their street becoming a Slow Street permanently, the support may not be enough to carry the program forward. 

“We’ve been happy to see that many people support this program. That being said, it’s an emergency program that we will only have authorization to continue until 120 days after the emergency is lifted,” Hake said. “I think that there are definitely elements of the program that could continue, but we’re figuring out what permanence could look like.”

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13 Comments

  1. I like the idea of slow streets, but does anyone think that it is working well on 20th Street?

    Most cars swiftly driver around the barriers, and I must be bad, because I also tend to driver around the barriers.

    Are me and many other jerks, or is something else amiss? Or more importantly is there a way to get slow streets to wok in the Mission?

    20th street is the wrong choice. After they forced the Mission St red carpet, traffic flows changed, and 20th became an increasingly important East-West St. I’m guessing that 20th was nominated as a “slow street” because it had the opposite characteristics. Burdened with too much traffic compared to before, and those in front rightly didn’t like that. But a more successful candidate for slow street is a street that already is slow, not one that is overburdened by other polity choices.

  2. Just what we need, more ways to SCREWUP the traffic flow and mess up the businesses caught in these CRAZY SCHEMES.

    Why don’t MUNI restore full service back to the Mission? The #12 no longer goes past the financial district from Van Ness & Jackson. #27 has yet to be restored nor has #33.

    So screw these CRAZY SCHEMES and bring back parking in our neighborhoods and busses to serve our residential and commercial neighborhoods. Stop sacrificing our neighborhoods to PLEASE the financial big wigs downtown!!!

    1. What’s crazy about allowing the streets to be used for pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, and the people who live in the neighborhood? Many of the businesses appreciate the slow streets because it makes it more pleasant for people to use the new parklets that have sprung up. Increased foot traffic seems pretty good for the businesses actually.

      Restoring Muni service seems like a separate issue and slow streets are a relatively low cost way of improving quality of life. I’m only familiar with a handful of slow streets but to my knowledge, none of them have bus routes.

      Slow streets don’t take any parking away. Spots are taken away for parklets but I’d gladly trade a handful of parking spaces to enjoy the parklets and be able to walk around my neighborhood safely. Regardless, we’re talking about a tiny percentage of city streets being used in a different way. How is improving the residents quality of life “sacrificing our neighborhoods to please the financial bigwigs downtown”? I’m confused by who these bigwigs are and why they’re so interested in our neighborhoods being sacrificed to them.

  3. The 20th and Shotwell “slow streets” are a good idea but honor system enforcement is not sufficient to really slow the streets. Better this than nothing but there is a risk of a false sense of security with the random car careening through supposedly shared pace.

  4. I have been to almost every single neighborhood delivering campaign signs. I’ve been past dozens of slow streets. There are only 3 that are used by pedestrians and cyclists. Those 3 are Lake St, Page St, and the section of Sanchez St through Noe Valley. Though bizarrely they chose to swap to Noe St in the Duboce Triangle despite the fact that all of the cyclists use Sanchez there to get to the Wiggle. With the closure of Noe at Market and Church between 15th and Market, cars are forced onto Sanchez in greater numbers to compete with cyclists, increasing collision risks.

    The idea that this program will be expanded is absolutely ludicrous. Almost none of the current slow streets are being used for anything besides double parking. This does not get people onto bikes or on foot. It just makes getting around the City more hazardous and turns public streets into private roads akin to gated communities. This was supposed to be a temporary program during pandemic closures. Now that everything is open again, it makes even less sense to leave so much public space unused.

    The slow streets program is a failure, and it should not be lauded for achieving nothing.

    1. You’re right on about the Noe St slow streets. I live on Noe and rarely see anyone on foot or bicycle using those areas. It used to be an alternate to the congested Divisadero, but now those of us who drive cars (gasp) have to move over to Sanchez, which is equally congested with bicyclists (who you would think would be taking Noe, now it’s all shut off to cars). And now school’s back in, Sanchez is plugged at 16th and 17th with people dropping off kids. I know…boo hoo for me. But it just seems to be funneling the cars somewhere else, when only a few of the slow streets are being used for what they initially intended them. That said, the Sanchez St closure in Noe Valley appears to be flourishing! And that’s great! And it’s not a major artery to get across town.

  5. I grew up in SF. I am on one of the streets that is impacted and I think it’s a great idea. Lot less traffic.

  6. Again – and still – the Tenderloin is ignored, or worse.

    Just a few of the current TL issues that various city departments are well aware of:

    The Turk Street bike lane is used for (free) parking between Mason and Hyde Streets. Between Mason and Taylor construction workers use the bike lane for their cars. SFMTA does nothing, refusing to ticket (or tow) the illegally parked cars and not even requiring a temporary replacement on the amply wide street. Between Taylor and Jones the same cars (I’ve memorized their license plates after seeing them daily for seven months) park in the bike lane and the adjacent passenger loading zone spots all day (making legitimate passenger pick up/drop off drivers double park). Jones to Leavenworth also has loading zone parking adjacent to the bike lane; there is the same failed enforcement so the left lane is usually filled with delivery vehicles. Between Leavenworth and Hyde has all of the above problems and the added cars driven by those involved in the full spectrum of wholesale and retail drug sales and purchases.

    There are only three small parks and a Rec Center in the Tenderloin, a residential neighborhood that is home to 3,000 kids. In the seven months since the shelter in place order was issued, SFMTA has “granted” permission to close just one block of Turk Street for a few hours on each of seven Saturdays so kids can get outside and play (today is the last one). Even as the Mayor demands that schools reopen and Rec and Parks Director Ginsburg blows his own horn about how important playgrounds are for low income densely populated neighborhoods, the hours at Boeddeker Park have been reduced from what they were before playgrounds reopened two weeks ago. Kids who are part of a few hub and childcare centers have exclusive access to Boeddeker’s children’s play area Monday through Friday; every other child gets a sign telling them they can use the area after 5:30 pm (a full one and one-half hours after the park is closed by means of a locked gate). That’s official San Francisco showing its lack of commitment to kids who literally have nowhere to go.

    City agencies always genuflect to the SFFD. No matter how fantastic their claims, the fire department is able to prevent any “non-traditional” street use simply by saying they oppose it. The “logistical difficulty” of setting up a food pantry in the Tenderloin derailed community demands that started shortly after the shelter in place. After fucking around for months, there were plans to open a pantry on UN Plaza. Someone (I won’t mention names) scuttled those plans, so there was a short-term pantry in front of Bill Graham, which was displaced by the voting area that’s been there all month. Finally, a few weeks ago, the San Francisco Marin Food Bank was able to hold a weekly pantry on the 300 block of Ellis Street. Whatever embarrassingly stupid claims about logistical difficulties had been proffered last spring turned out to be … embarrassingly stupid and not insurmountable. The fabled “City that Knows How” finally managed to figure out how.

    SFMTA refuses to reinstate the 27 and 31 Muni bus lines, so leaving the Tenderloin to run errands, get health care, or play is far harder than it should be. The Mayor and several Supervisors can yell and scream at SFUSD and “order” them to reopen the schools as much as they want, but that silly grandstanding hides the fact that the city won’t offer a way for kids to get to those schools when they are able to reopen safely. The Department of Public Health won’t even work with the district to do the Covid-19 testing that will be required – they expect school principals to do that.

    As I said, none of this is a secret that has been kept from city officials.

  7. I love this program, but it is poorly implemented on 20th st. There are signs in only a couple of intersections. So it is slightly more safe to bike, bit not possible to walk on 20th st.

    SFMTA says that there should be signs in “most” intersections, but this is not the case on 20th. Not sure why, very disappointing.

  8. Some of the show streets have created a nightmare for traffic flow. In my personal case I’d use Sunset to enter the park and turn south towards the beach…now verboten. Please don’t take this as anti bike/ pedestrian. This is causing big congestion problems on Lincoln and 19th, as well as where Lincoln meets Pacific Hwy. Is it bringing more walkers/bikes into the neighborhood??? I’d say doubtful as there’s always been nplenty of sidewalks and bike only lanes in that area.

    Anyway that’s my own experience. I’m willing to hear all points.

    Stay safe folks
    Sam

  9. The motto of MTA is: “Better traffic through congestion.”
    The problem is that motorists are being ignored. How has MTA benefited those who drive cars?
    This is a body that is supposed to serve everyone, not a politically powerful few.
    And Slow Streets, after the pandemic, will result in more congestion as more people drive.
    My primary source of transportation is the bus which I will continue to ride. But isn’t time to consider those who drive cars and recognize them as human beings, too?

  10. Honestly getting tired of the gentrifying yoga moms and cycling dads pushing for the permanence of these programs when most of them take Ubers everyday to FiDi or CalTrain and they live near the interstate. Check the neighborhood survey results on the city’s official page. The only neighborhoods that overwhelmingly support continuing this nightmare of a program are the most expensive and heavily gentrified hoods in the city. Any hood with an ounce of working class people do not support adding 20 minutes to their commute through bottlenecked traffic. The Sunset and GGP are a nightmare to navigate right now and these Karens who tell everyone they live in “NoPa”, as if that’s an actual neighborhood, keep fighting to keep the park streets closed. Your privileged idealization of city living is not welcome. Thank you and good bye.

  11. The biggest problem is the drivers ignore the slow street and drive thru it. Just go and take a look of the two outer sunset slow streets, K and O. There are constant cars driving thru. The program doesn’t work without enforcement.

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