Slow Street. Shotwell Street. Extension. Vote. Board of Directors. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. SFMTA.
A person bikes along the Shotwell Slow Street past the 20th Street intersection on Aug. 2, 2021, passing several traffic diverters — skinny, low-cost poles installed to discourage through traffic. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz

Following a marathon meeting, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency board approved a resolution Tuesday to make 16 citywide “Slow Streets” permanent, including two in the Mission District: Shotwell Street and, in a surprise move, 22nd Street. 

Through the pandemic, 20th Street became the Mission’s east-west Slow Street, because 22nd Street, which was in the original plans from 2020, was under construction, according to SFMTA board member Manny Yekutiel.

Slow Streets began during the pandemic, prioritizing biking and walking and largely curtailing car traffic on certain residential corridors. 

The shift to 22nd is intended to “better align with the city’s bike network,” said Shannon Hake, the SFMTA staff member who presented a proposal to make Slow Streets permanent before the agency’s Board of Directors on Tuesday afternoon. 

The change comes as part of a larger move by the SFMTA on Tuesday to establish a permanent Slow Streets program, designating an initial 16 initial streets as “slow.” In addition to 22nd Street between Bryant and Chattanooga streets, the plan approved today also includes Cayuga Avenue near Balboa Park. 

The board also moved to add Lake Street in the Richmond District to the list. Lake is the controversial Slow Street on which locals this week noticed signage was already being taken down — before the board Tuesday voted to keep it.

And, while transit and pedestrian safety advocates support the step to make some Slow Streets permanent, they worry that the program needs to eliminate more car traffic, improve signage and fully connect to a larger network of Slow Streets to be truly effective. 

Most of the 16 streets were hastily implemented in 2020 as part of the city’s pandemic response, during which some 31 such streets were created so residents could recreate outdoors while social distancing. 

Now, with the program codified in the city’s transportation code, the SFMTA plans to monitor traffic on these 16 streets to meet certain goals. While it is unclear what the average traffic use was before many Slow Streets became “slow,” the average target under Slow Streets is now 1,000 cars daily. The target speed is 15 miles per hour or less for 50 percent of the cars. (The maximum speed limit on most city streets is 25 miles per hour.)

The current temporary signs may be upgraded to more durable, permanent fixtures on some of these streets, according to the SFMTA’s presentation Tuesday. 

Though the SFMTA emphasized that the new plan is only the “first step” in building a citywide network of Slow Streets, Tuesday’s action means that other existing Slow Streets not on the list of 16 will be removed this winter.

A large part of public comment on Tuesday, which went on for six hours, centered around Lake Street, which the SFMTA moved to continue as “slow” after retracting that decision in July. Meanwhile, at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, an ordinance barring cars from the upper Great Highway on weekends and holidays also passed. 

Those in favor of a Slow Street on Lake spoke of the joy they experienced in a newfound access to streets that didn’t involve cars. Those opposed said that increased car traffic on nearby streets had become untenable, and held firm that the sidewalks and bike lanes on Lake are sufficient. 

The SFMTA said it issued more than 10,000 notices by mail to residents and property owners along the 16 new Slow Street corridors, but it is unclear whether 22nd Street residents provided feedback on the new Slow Street. Hake said that before changes begin on 22nd, the SFMTA would reach out to Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and other stakeholders “to make sure that our slow street designs are in line with the community.”

A formal public hearing process will also follow, according to the report presented with today’s resolution. 

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Chart by Will Jarrett. Data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

In the Mission, while Shotwell was generally seen as a successful Slow Street that saw less vehicle traffic and fewer accidents, as well as more pedestrian or bicycle activity, 20th Street did not go over so well. Cars are frequently seen speeding down 20th Street, and residents have reported that they don’t feel safer walking that street.

Yekutiel, in his personal capacity, agreed. “I did not think 20th Street was a very successful Slow Street, because of the sheer amount of traffic that was going down [it],” he said, adding that it also isn’t a go-to street for pedestrians or bicycles. 

Others believe that the lack of effective infrastructure prevented 20th Street from ever working as a Slow Street. 

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Chart by Will Jarrett. Data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Covers 20th Street from Valencia Street to Potrero Avenue.

While Yekutiel said he was excited about the SFMTA making the Slow Street program permanent, street safety advocates remain unconvinced that the new program does enough. 

Luke Spray, an associate director with the San Francisco Parks Alliance, said that the city should make good on its promise, one suggested by Mayor London Breed this summer, to create a true network connecting all parts of the city equitably. The Bayview, Tenderloin, Chinatown, and most of the Sunset have no Slow Streets. 

“Fifteen disparate streets does not make a network, and any gap between them compromises the rest of the program,” Spray said. He was involved in the People’s Slow Streets Plan, which proposes investing in and expanding the Slow Street program throughout the city to make it accessible and easy to use. 

“I’m a major beneficiary of this program,” said Spray, a Cole Valley resident who has easy access to “Slow” Page Street and the car-free JFK Promenade. But, he said, “it’s frustrating that there’s so many neighborhoods that don’t have the same access to this that me and my neighbors do.” 

SFMTA members seemed to agree with advocates’ points on Tuesday night: Multiple board members showed strong support of an expanded network of Slow Streets around the city. Yekutiel made an amendment to the resolution to ensure a fully connected network “without breaks” would be up for discussion by the first quarter of 2023.

Board member Amanda Eaken agreed with a common complaint that the car traffic thresholds originally proposed for the program were too high, and made a motion to further limit both the number of cars and their speeds.

The signage for Slow Streets should also be consistent and intuitive across the city, board members agreed, if only to calm tensions and citizen policing taking place on more contentious streets. Today, entering a Slow Street is confusing and requires “squinting at a sign,” Spray told Mission Local. 

One item left unaddressed: The SFMTA’s resolution leaves the practical implementation of each Slow Street up in the air, noted community organizer Luke Bornheimer.

“The design of Slow Streets must be consistent and include traffic diverters every two to four intersections to ensure safety,” Bornheimer said. Traffic diversion may look different for different Slow Streets, according to the SFMTA’s current plan.

As one public commenter said: “Let’s go all in, and not half-ass.” 

The 16 permanent streets are: 

  • 12th Avenue from Lincoln Way to Lawton Street
  • 22nd Street from Bryant Street to Chattanooga Street
  • 23rd Avenue from Lake Street to Cabrillo Street
  • Arlington Street from Roanoke Street to Randall Street
  • Cabrillo Street from 45th Avenue to 23rd Avenue
  • Cayuga Avenue from Naglee Avenue to Rousseau Street
  • Clay Street from Arguello Boulevard to Steiner Street
  • Golden Gate Avenue from Parker Street to Broderick Street
  • Hearst Avenue from Ridgewood Avenue to Baden Street
  • Lake Street from 28th Avenue to Arguello Boulevard
  • Lyon Street from Turk Street to Haight Street
  • Minnesota Street from Mariposa Street to 22nd Street
  • Noe Street from Duboce Avenue to Beaver Street
  • Sanchez Street from 23rd Street to 30th Street
  • Shotwell Street from Cesar Chavez to 14th Street
  • Somerset Street from Silver Avenue to Woolsey Street

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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19 Comments

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  1. Reading some of the comments on here makes me wonder if a proportion of SF residents drink gasoline given the unilateral belief that cars should have right of way on roads everywhere all the time without exception. Cars don’t own roads.

    But SFMTA 100% set 20th St. up for failure as a slow street from the beginning. I love how their rationale for ending it is the “sheer amount of traffic” when SFMTA’s responsibility in this whole slow street experiment was to reduce speeding through traffic. Classic SF responsibility dodge. That’s almost as hilarious a response as Supervisor Ronen being shocked by how bad the 24th St. BART station has become over the last few years that she’s been in office. Gee, I wonder who had a responsibility for addressing these kinds of challenges in the Mission for the last six years ? We should elect a supervisor; oh wait….

    For 20th, signage was completely inadequate or constantly being run over without replacement. They made little effort to enforce any of the traffic changes during the trial, and people just continued to race down that street day and night.

  2. Nothing is ever enough for the zealots at the Bicycle Coalition. Twelve percent of San Francisco’s population is disabled and 25% are over 65 years of age. People who commute by bike make up 3%. By not making an active effort to notify neighbors of road changes, SFMTA panders to this group and shows its contempt to the rest of us.

  3. Why do bike riders have more rights than drivers in this city?

    The elderly and disabled need to get places as well.

  4. The decision to make 22nd Street a Slow Street is very odd. The SFMTA did no outreach to the neighborhood regarding this and have not provided any rationale for creating it. By their own standards the 20th Street Slow Street was a failure as it continued to have a high level of vehicle traffic. And, as far as I can tell (from walking on it frequently), no one took advantage of its Slow Street features.

    There are a few streets where the neighborhood has really embraced Slow Streets; for example, Sanchez Street — but otherwise they seem to be unused or polarizing (e.g. Lake Street). Creating a Slow Street on 22nd Street will just inconvenience the 2,900+ drivers who currently use it (according to SFMTA) without providing any obvious benefit to the neighborhood.

    The original rationale for Slow Streets was to create outdoor space for people when they were restricted to their dwellings during the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is largely over, the SFMTA has decided that the entire City must have a network of Slow Streets just because they have been popular in a few locations. It is difficult to see this as anything other than the SFMTA’s desire to deliberately inconvenience drivers because the SFMTA is ideologically opposed to cars.

    In the case of 22nd Street, changing it to a Slow Street won’t reduce the numbers of cars on the streets, it will just create congestion on neighboring streets — see what happens when 22nd Street is closed on Thursdays for the farmers’ market.

    It is disappointing (though not surprising) that the SFMTA is pushing this through without consulting the neighborhood. Unfortunately, City officials tend to favor the views of a few groups (such as the bicycle coalition) while ignoring the views of people who actually live in the neighborhood.

    1. Given what you wrote in the last paragraph, you must agree that the streets in the Tenderloin should be slowed and reengineered to so drivers can’t race through the neighborhood on their way to Macy’s, the freeway, Pacific Heights or wherever it is that they are in such a hurry to get to. Please call up SFMTA (and SFFD) and tell them to support the neighborhood’s wants and needs rather than those of all those drive-through folk.

      I

  5. Nobody here in the Inner Sunset demanded that “12th Avenue from Lincoln Way to Lawton Street” be a Slow Street!

    It has a slope, and very few pedestrians or bicycles!

  6. What is the definition of a “through” street? People drive “through” Lake Street all the time, going from Arguello to Park Presidio, or from the end of Lake at 28th to Park Presidio or even up to Arguello. Can they claim that they live on the street and are thus entitled to go “through” as far as they want in order to get a clear run to the next biggest intersection?
    Can cars drive up and down the street not going “through” but looking for parking?
    Many of the streets that they are closing already had a bike lane (not just a worthless bike stencil), so they were, while not great, at least somewhat manageable. If they were serious about creating a network of relatively safe (stress on relatively) streets to be able to travel by bicycle, tricycle, scooters, wheelchairs, and so on, they should have picked streets that did not have bike lanes and had more traffic and that led somewhere from the streets that already had bike lanes.
    People in non car, self propelled transportation should not have to weave their way around the city, to get to where they want to go. And they should be able to access shopping areas easily, and have somewhere to park once they get there.
    The SFMTA and city of SF government is confusing recreation with transportation. Recreation is the job of the Park and Rec. Transportation is the job of SFMTA.
    And I totally agree with all of the comments so far. The signage and barriers are completely inadequate. There is absolutely no enforcement. The notices were lacking. And riding through the Tenderloin is hazardous everywhere you go (the slow streets all stop as soon as the city gets more congested).
    I bike all over the city, from one end to another, in all directions, daily for transportation. Beats the bus and driving, if you don’t mind risking your life, but these “slow streets” do nothing to improve real access. And in my opinion, they make riding less safe, as people might not be aware that a car might come speeding “though” at 40 miles per hour.

    1. Biking works well for some people but not for others. The City has not been very thoughtful about where it creates bike lanes. For example, lots of money was spent on creating bike lanes on Cesar Chavez; I drive there most days and usually I see a couple of bikes but not more than a couple. Was it really worth spending all the money and increasing congesting just to cater to a small percentage of the people?

      1. @pheinecke your comment could be re-written thus: Driving works well for some people but not for others. The City has not been very thoughtful about pedestrian and cyclist safety. For example, lots of money was spent on Cesar Chavez to make a fancy center divide, and reduce the number of left turns, but because “traffic volume” (read: private motor vehicle speed and quantity) was prioritized, the bike lane and crosswalks are truly dangerous; I walk or ride there most days and not once have I been able to cross that street without at least one car threatening my life. That 4+ lane divided road is designed for 45+mph, but signposted for less. Is there any surprise private motor vehicles drive 45+ mph and pedestrians & cyclists avoid it unless absolutely forced?

        1. Not once, but every day, a car threatens your life when you try to cross the street? That’s pretty bad luck; do you look both ways? have you tried using the pedestrian signals?

  7. I love slow streets, BUT… they need to be blocked off better: it’s usually just two big wooden signs with half-a-dozen orange cones. Assholes move the cones and drive through either make them all the big wooden signs or just put something stronger there.

    And make more slow streets.

  8. I live on 22nd Street (somewhere between Bryant and Chattanooga) and truly do not recall being notified for a hearing regarding making 22nd a slow street, not by e-mail nor snail mail. I bicycle, I walk, and yes I own a car. It’ll probably be fine but this is not the best way to run a city. Or did I miss a hearing notice?…..

    1. Helen – was going to comment the same, as I too live on 22nd street…Not against this but first I’m hearing about it. Crazy in a digital age to wait for paper notification of this stuff but nothing like that came either…sad.

    2. Same, I live on 22nd (between Mission and Capp) and had no notification. I’m used to ample notice of proposed changes to anything streets-related so it’s a bit of a surprise.

        1. Hello!–many of those signs get ripped down. (I genuinely don’t recall one on my block) And how many people really stop to read them? Usually they are for tree removal

    3. As Solea mentions, there were a few signs that appeared on posts in the neighborhood less than a week before the SFMTA Board meeting regarding the creation of the Slow Street. This late and limited notice shows how little the SFTMA actually cares about the views of the citizens of SF who will be affected by their decisions.

    4. I’m so jealous of all you people living on what will be a slow street. No trucks thundering by at 40mph. No SFPD high speed drag racing. No cars rushing to catch the next green light. What are the down sides? All adjacent streets will pay for this largess with increased traffic volumes. Wish they’d consider my street.

  9. The Tenderloin not only doesn’t have Slow Streets but, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t even have bike lanes. It is a rare moment that the Turk Street bike lane doesn’t have a car or six parked in it, especially on the 100 and 300 blocks. But even when you can actually use it, it’s rather pointless because it stops at Polk Street.

    Extending the Turk Street bike lane further west would both make it something useable and would require removing one car lane between Polk and Gough. Turk is one lane in the unit block (thanks to the gift of a valet parking area that the city gave to the new Serif condo building), two lanes from Taylor to Polk, three lanes from Polk to Gough, and then two lanes from Gough to Arguello.

    There is no compelling reason for a short section of Turk street to have three lanes. But there are plenty of reasons for it not to have three lanes. Every block of Turk from Market to Scott Streets is on the city’s high injury network. A consistent number of lanes would reduce frequent lane changes that drivers make “to get ahead” and it would allow 15 mph school zones in front of Tenderloin Community School and Chinese American International School’s campus at Turk and Gough.

    Similarly, Golden Gate Avenue’s bike lane is frequently blocked or reduced by illegally parked cars. And it starts at Polk, so isn’t of much use. So far, SFMTA has absolutely no interest in enforcing the no parking zones or the bike lanes on either Turk or Golden Gate.

    Both Turk and Golden Gate can – and should – become Slow Streets. SFMTA, SF Bicycle Coalitions, Kids Safe SF and pretty much every other group that supports a better and safe urban environment can barely shut up about “equity priority communities” but they refuse to actually do anything for them. It is that refusal that keeps the Tenderloin from having Slow Streets, safe pedestrian and bicyclist routes, fewer cars and resident-focused parking (such as a low-cost permit parking zone).

    It is likely that in the near future the participatory budgeting process for the Tenderloin Community Action Plan will enable some street safety improvements. But the funds for that come from the Planning Department, not SFMTA, and the political work that led to the earmarking of those funds for neighborhood safety was community/family driven. SFBC and Kids Safe had nothing to do with it, nor did they even care or respond when asked for support.