Packed Mission Sunday Streets Raises the Question, “Why Not Every Week?”

cutie.jpgVoguing for the camera, with proud parents behind. Photos: Matthew Roth
Massive crowds came out to the Mission yesterday to enjoy the first of two Sunday Streets events, packing Valencia Street and 24th Street with families, dog walkers, and cyclists of all ages and abilities. Organizers were thrilled with the turnout and seemed only to worry how they would get everyone off the streets at 2 pm, the scheduled closing time.

I started on the route just after 10 am and was a little bit concerned that more people weren't already enjoying the car-free space. One of the first kids I came upon at Valencia and 22nd Street was three-year old Ben Sant-Johnson, who was riding a balance bike, which has no pedals and helps riders learn balance and agility before graduating to pedals. When I asked Ben if he was having fun, he exclaimed, "I'm a astronaut!"

Ben's father, Mission resident Rick Johnson, explained that this was the third Sunday Streets they had participated in and that they expected to go to the next three as well.  "It's great being in your own neighborhood and I start imagining the next steps for the street, let's put in greening," said Johnson. "This is good for San Francisco and all the people here.  It would be great if there was always some neighborhood you could go to every week, not just every month."

kid_push_bike.jpgBen Sant-Johnson, astronaut, learning the basics of bicycle riding on his LIKEaBIKE balance bicycle.

At 19th Street I turned West toward Dolores Park and a block up discovered several families were in the process of redecorating the asphalt in front of their homes.

Chalk_on_pave.jpg19th Street near Dolores Park

Without cars, parents were happy letting their children play in the middle of the street with minor supervision. This toddler was alternately playing basketball and soccer, when not falling over himself from the excitement.

kid_ball.jpg

Dolores Park was beginning to fill up with the usual assortment of cool kids that pack it on sunny Sundays, but there was a very noticeable difference about Dolores Street, a frequent speedway for cars coming off the hill toward 18th Street. An unusual, but lovely, place for a stroll.

empty_dolores.jpgA couple walks down the west side of Dolores Street. Cars were prohibited for several blocks immediately adjacent to the park.

If any readers were wondering where the extra parked cars went, it seemed that the MTA (or an enterprising neighbor?) had put out traffic cones to take over one of the two lanes in each direction on Guerrero Street. Even with Valencia closed and one lane out of service on Guerrero, traffic wasn't backed up more than five or seven cars deep.  Guerrero road diet anyone?

Parked_cars.jpgA row of cars parked in the middle Guerrero Street NOT for church.

Doubling back on the route to Valencia Street just before 11:00 am, the crowd was thicker, with a prevalence of kids on all manner of conveyance.

flyer_bike.jpgReading the GPS or just mesmerized by the bell?
girls_pink_scooter.jpgWhy yes, I am adorable.

kid_red_wagon.jpgSome were chauffeured.

Though Valencia looked great with all the kids practicing their bicycle skills, 24th Street was a sea of people. As the Chronicle noted in its glowing coverage, it resembled Bay to Breakers, though without all the debauchery and costumes.

24th_St.jpgThousands of people pack 24th Street

At the corner of 24th and Valencia, SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley stopped his bicycle to chat. He remarked how pleasant he found the interactions of all street users, despite the large crowd. "It's very encouraging to see how people are sorting themselves out, how the pedestrians and cyclists are in the same space but they're not bumping into each other and we don't really need a lot of traffic cops for sorting out," he said. "In earlier Sunday Streets on Embarcadero and 3rd Streets, it was just too fast; we didn't really see people walking in the middle of the street, it was just the sides because the bikes were too fast."

Wade Crowfoot, the Mayor's Director of Climate Initiatives, walked by us and stopped long enough to say how excited he was by the turnout. "Thousands and thousands of people, from babies to old folks, and everyone's just having a beautiful time--it's a great vibe.  It's amazing what you can do when you actually get the cars off the streets and open it up to people."

When asked whether they would consider expanding the hours and adding Sundays, Crowfoot said they would discuss it, though he wasn't sure it would happen by the July 19th event in the Mission. He said the Mayor's office was looking forward to the two Sunday Streets events in the Sunset, which will create a car-free link from the Panhandle, through Golden Gate Park, to the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, where at least one direction of traffic will be closed for several miles.

"I think the name of the game is to get this to more neighborhoods, make it more frequent, more consistent," said Crowfoot. "This is only the beginning."

The next Mission Sunday Streets will be July 19th, from 10 am - 2 pm (unless something changes...). See many more photos of the event and add your own on our Flickr pool here.

The_Frondz.jpgA green shout out to "Happy Days."
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princess.jpgA princess riding her steed.