Since they were installed on four intersections of Capp Street in May, the steel bollards intended to deter sex work on this street have been struggling to stay erect.
Now, four months later, residents and police say that the fallen and vandalized bollards have, despite their unsightliness, been effective in their primary goal of clearing out the sex workers and clients who flooded Capp Street for years. They have been less effective, however, in the more traditional bollard role of preventing motor-vehicle traffic.
Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide for District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, said that in his conversations with Mission Station Captain Thomas Harvey, it is clear “the bollards have helped incredibly to reduce the scale of the problem as it existed on Capp Street when it was unchecked.”
The San Francisco Police Department, for its part, said it has been using traffic stops as part of its enforcement on Capp Street “to mitigate sex trafficking in San Francisco.”
“Definitely feels like the neighborhood is safer and quiet, so overall it’s been good,” agreed one Capp Street resident who wished to remain anonymous. Nowadays, he said, sex work on Capp Street has been drastically reduced from what it was a few months ago.
But, the resident continued, the bollards are of such poor quality that drivers of larger vehicles “just barge through and break them,” while other impatient drivers drive onto the sidewalk to get around them. When the bollards are laid flat, the resident noticed that cars drive over them at high speeds, making the intersections more risky for pedestrians — especially pedestrians now accustomed to a quiet street largely free of through traffic.
The bollards were intended as “a temporary fix,” Lerma said, to “bring the temperature down” on Capp Street. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency used cheaper, less durable materials when the bollards were initially rolled out.
“I thought those bollards were going to be inadequate, just because of their size and construction and design,” said Lerma, referring to the current steel bollards.
Now, Lerma said the supervisor’s office and MTA are discussing the “possibility of making them permanent,” which would require a motion and approval from the transit board, and funding for the project.
“The SFMTA is exploring alternative devices in lieu of the bollards, which have proven to require frequent maintenance,” said MTA spokesperson Stephen Chun in an email.
The initial purchase cost of the bollards was over $34,000, Chun confirmed.
Mission Local contacted the Department of Public Works for more information on the cost of maintaining the bollards. This story will be updated if the agency responds.
The south end of the 18th and Capp streets intersection is blocked with bollards, as are the north intersections of 20th and Capp streets, 21st and Capp streets, and 22nd and Capp streets. Residents have reported a spread of sex work to nearby numbered streets or South Van Ness Avenue and Shotwell Street. Regarding that shift, Lerma said the city’s hands are tied.
“We can’t close every street in San Francisco, you know,” Lerma said, noting that Ronen’s office will support the police in their ongoing enforcement efforts in the area. “From the board perspective … [there] isn’t too much more that we can do.”