Some barricades in the middle of a road
Barricades at 21st and Capp streets. Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken April 7, 2023.

A new set of barriers may be coming to Capp Street soon, after a trial period of blocking traffic to deter sex work in the area has seen success.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to replace the concrete barriers currently on Capp with collapsible steel bollards, said Stephen Chun, a spokesperson with the department. The department has been working with the police, Fire Department, and the San Francisco Public Works on the plan, Chun said, with a focus to find a solution “that meets policing needs, as well as emergency access.”

Though some sex workers have reportedly moved to other nearby blocks, residents and workers interviewed said the number of sex workers soliciting at night on Capp itself — and the associated traffic from would-be customers — has decreased drastically.

“Look, I think there’s many, many, many fewer” of them, said Christopher Basso, a piano teacher at the Community Music Center on Capp. “At night, it’s very nice. On the street, it’s quiet because very few cars come.” 

A yellow bollard upright, and one disabled to lie flat
An example of the steel bollards that the city plants to install on Capp Street.

Basso, who regularly parks his car on Capp Street, did say that some sex workers had moved to nearby areas, such as Shotwell Street, Folsom Street or as far away as Harrison Street. 

“I was kind of surprised, because there were a lot of police around, and they were just down a block,” Basso said. 

Calvin, a security guard for the Bethany Center senior housing building at 21st and Capp streets, who usually works night shifts and declined to give his last name, said he no longer sees sex workers on Capp Street. 

Instead, he saw “a decent amount” on nearby Shotwell Street, whom he suspects moved from Capp. One night two weeks ago, he encountered seven sex workers on Shotwell. “I just saw three of them walking down because cops came by, and then four just stayed at the corner.”

Another denizen said the barricades had made “an exponential quality-of-life improvement for me and all the residents.” He never sees sex work anymore, he said, and driving is “100 times better.”

“Pulling out of garages at any point is easier, because the ridiculous amount of traffic is gone,” he added. 

These bollards will be the third iteration of blockades on Capp Street between 19th and 22nd streets. First came “Road Closed” signs, which drivers disregarded and drove over or moved aside. Next came concrete “k-rail” barriers which were installed in mid-February. The Fire Department deemed those dangerous, expressing concern that the concrete barriers would block their access in case of an emergency. 

“They can’t get their ladder trucks onto Capp Street,” said Mission Station Police Captain Gavin McEachern at a community meeting last week. Plus, he said, “they’re unsightly.” 

Fire Captain Jonathan Baxter said that the Fire Department has agreed to the new bollards as a temporary solution. Emergency workers who need access to the street can lower the yellow carbon-steel bollards as needed.

Overall, though, McEachern said he had heard “overwhelming support for the barricades.” At a community meeting with the police chief in late March, many residents said Capp Street is much improved since the barriers were put in place, though others said the sex work had shifted onto their surrounding blocks. 

Even on Capp itself, there was no consensus. Many people who use the street said that the barriers had created additional problems. 

Barricades at 19th and Capp St. on Monday afternoon.
Prior barriers at 19th and Capp streets. Photo taken on Feb. 13, 2023 by Christina MacIntosh.

“It’s annoying doing U-turns every time when I go home,” said Calvin, the security guard. 

One problem with the barricades seems to be their unsightly appearance. 

“They are very drastic,” said a female pedestrian walking down Capp Street on Friday morning. “It’s kind of big stuff in the middle of the road.”

And some businesses around Capp have seen a decrease in customers, too, partly from the lack of traffic, and partly from fewer sex workers. 

All Seasons Market at 19th and Capp streets may be the greatest loser from the barricades. “Before, it was busier, and now we’ve been losing some clients,” said Ghan Berry, an employee at the convenience store, which stays open until 2 a.m. The market was a go-to for sex workers for supplies during the night.

“There are less and less people coming to the streets,” he said.

Ride-hailing app drivers for Uber and Lyft have also had difficulty picking up riders, Mission Station’s McEachern said.  

Months since the barriers first went up, Google Maps does not recognize their existence. Driving directions in the area sometimes avoid Capp and reroute motorists to parallel South Van Ness Avenue, but just as often can send a driver up the blocks of Capp, where barriers block their way at the north end of each intersection. 

How long the new bollards will remain in place is still uncertain. Though they will involve concrete work on the road to install, SFMTA said discussions on the details are ongoing. 

Alongside the installation of the barriers this spring, police have concentrated enforcement efforts on the blocks in question. 

A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, Randy Quezada, said that police have issued 24 citations to “johns” soliciting sex workers since the city erected the initial barricades in early February. Of those, 18 were on Capp Street. The johns who received citations were not arrested, but instead sent to Neighborhood Court, a criminal justice alternative for low-level crimes. 

No sex workers were cited, Quezada said. 

“My officers make a lot of encounters with them,” McEachern said, adding that they attempt to connect sex workers with supplies, shelter, or financial support. “My officers drive around, they have backpacks in their cars that they give to the girls.” 

Chun said the timeline for installation of the new bollards is still being discussed, and is awaiting a cost estimate from the Department of Public Works, plus an assessment of the concrete work required.

Follow Us

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.

REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. The barriers have done wonders and the movement of sex workers to adjacent streets has been grossly exaggerated. Walked the whole area last night with the dogs and saw maybe 2 sex workers.

    Sex work is work… more like the hos have got to go. Violent pimps have left with them. Where? Who knows but SF isn’t meant to absorb the region, state, or county’s problems.

    Much more pleasant living off Capp now. Look forward to the steel bollards

    Let’s avoid these play-ins. Go Warriors.

  2. “My officers make a lot of encounters with them,” McEachern said, adding that they attempt to connect sex workers with supplies, shelter, or financial support. “My officers drive around, they have backpacks in their cars that they give to the girls.”

    Wow, this actually made me smile. Good job SFPD, I never thought I’d say that.

    I think the residents deserve quieter streets at night, but I hope they are much more hesitant on demonizing and criminalizing sex workers. They poise no danger to anyone and we should consider ways to make their circumstances safer and get them resources they need. It sounds like SFPD recognizes that which is incredible.

  3. Shotwell is supposed to be a slow street for the last couple of years and STILL HAS NO CONCRETE AND METAL BOLLARDS. Some residents complain on Capp and now they get that in a couple of months? Ridiculous. It’s just sending sex work down to Shotwell and Van ness

  4. Bolt cutters will make short work of that dinky padlock.

    That first pic jogs the memory of some old Dylan song that sorta went:
    “Everyone must get stoned”
    Here it’s:
    “Everything must get tagged”

  5. I really hope they follow through with this. As a Capp resident myself, the current barriers are unsightly but have made a HUGE night and day difference for the residents on Capp!

  6. As a cyclist, it literally enrages me that with a few dozen people killed a year by cars, these are going to be the only steel bollards in the city. Capp street residents bothered by noise? Immediately car traffic gets stopped. Yet another cyclist death? Oh, we need yet another study, can’t possibly inconvenience drivers.

    1. Seriously! No steel bollards on will protect people riding in the center bike lanes on Valencia Street, and director of transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said if there is a death there, “we might do nothing.”

    2. Sex work is concentrated to a small area as it is a business operating in a residential neighborhood.

      Cycling is dispersed throughout the City over 1200 miles of roadway.

      Choking off a handful of blocks to stop the whoring is a tractable problem.

      Installing concrete bollards in anticipation of the next crash is intractable, especially since most crashes happen in intersections that cannot be bicycle protected.

      A decade of Vision Zero magnifying the threats to cyclists and pedestrians has advocates high on their own supply.

    3. Luis, Capp street residents have been holding community meetings with cops, politicians, neighbors, businesses for well over a decade. This has been a long time coming….

      1. Cyclists have been holding meetings with the city for decades; it’s been city policy for a *half-century* that it’s a transit-first city and for well over a decade that we’re aiming for climate neutrality. But lol, we’ll just keep on rolling along at a few dead pedestrians a month plus asthma for kids near the highways plus melting the icecaps.

        Maybe SF Bike Coalition and one of the sex-workers-rights groups should form an alliance and we’ll get some actual slow streets.

  7. Thank you for the update ML. As a resident of 21st & Capp, benefitting from the decrease in nightly activities on my block, I am looking forward to the installation of the bollards.