Harnessing the Popularity of Sunday Streets to Promote It

3477319725_f129c59249.jpgPhoto: Michael Rhodes
The final Sunday Streets for 2009 has been officially announced, complete with a proclamation from Board of Supervisors President David Chiu declaring September 6, 2009, the day of the event, "Sunday Streets Celebration Day in San Francisco."

At a press conference announcing the event yesterday, Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsberg called the last Sunday Streets "an amazing, joyous, fun thing," noting that his daughter learned how to rollerblade during the event. The next Sunday Streets will follow the same route as the last one, through Golden Gate Park to the Great Highway, which drew huge crowds on August 9. In addition to live music during event, there will be a post-Sunday Streets concert at the Riptide's Taraval stage.

Sunday Streets organizers and supporters discussed the street closures' success so far, and marveled at how popular it has been with participants.

"I hope we're going to continue it for many years to come," said Warren Hellman, an early financial backer of Sunday Streets and the organizer of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Robin Wander, a spokesperson for the de Young Museum, said she welcomed the Golden Gate Park Sunday Streets route. "This just raises the profile even more" for the museum, she said, "and we're thrilled to be a part of it."

Sunday Streets has been overwhelmingly popular since its inception last year, with crowds numbering in the thousands or even tens of thousands, and an increasingly warm embrace from merchants and elected officials, who seem to have spotted a popular hit. So far, though, the events have been lightly advertised, mostly on Muni, and people who stumble upon Sunday Streets sometimes aren't immediately sure what's happening, since there are few banners along the route.

Cheryl Brinkman of Livable City, a co-presenter of Sunday Streets, said funding constraints have limited organizers' ability to advertise in mainstream outlets so far, though the turnouts have been impressive. "Because of our somewhat limited budget, we haven't really had the wherewithal to do a really massive marketing campaign," said Brinkman. "We've partnered with Clear Channel, and they do some public service announcements on Clear Channel radio stations. Muni gets the word out via the website and the NextBus signs, so a lot of it is that type of marketing. We haven't had the money to do the street banners that you see other festivals and other events do."

Much of the promotion for Sunday Streets has been through word of mouth, via city organizations such as Shape Up SF and the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families, as well as through "mommy blogs" and other family-oriented publications.

3477336295_2b03c38b6e.jpgPhoto: Michael Rhodes

Not everyone in San Francisco is yet aware of Sunday Streets, but "getting about 20,000 people out without a huge advertising budget," said Brinkman, is "not bad."

Promoting and running Sunday Streets would be cheaper if they were regular events, said Andy Thornley of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "When it happens as a special thing, it's harder to let people know than if it happens every Sunday, or the first Sunday of the month or something. Let's do it regularly and often."

Brinkman agrees. "If we do get it recurring on certain routes, the cost will go down, because then we can amend the parking signs to say, 'Third Sunday of the month, no parking from 9-5,'" said Brinkman. "Then we don't have to go through having the Department of Parking and Traffic put up all the no stopping signs and then take down the no stopping signs, and we don't have to deal with the outreach to people."

"We've talked to the people from Bogota, Columbia, and Guadalajara, Mexico, who do have a set, recurring help, and they agree that yes, it helps a lot to have that," said Brinkman. "Then it causes less commotion in the city because everyone is anticipating it."

For now, the cheapest and most effective form of promotion may be to capitalize on the support from the legions of people who do show up to Sunday Streets. When people talk to Sunday Streets volunteers and ask what they can do to see more of the events, Thornley said volunteers often tell people to email their elected officials. "That is a standard answer: 'let your supervisor know, let the mayor know, so I don't know if we're doing that in any kind of strategic way, but I think that's the standard answer."

And it seems to be working. The mayor has shown strong support for Sunday Streets, as have most of the supervisors. Merchants have also largely embraced Sunday Streets, as we wrote about previously. And residents certainly have.

"It's amazing how quickly Sunday Streets has been embraced," said MTA spokesperson Judson True.

Funding will be tight again next year, but Brinkman hopes to eventually expand the routes so more people can easily access them. "One of the complaints we got about the waterfront routes is that it's hard for a family to get down there on their bikes, because it's a somewhat hostile environment right off the route," said Brinkman. "A lot of people were saying it just wasn't very fun to get down there with a couple kids on a bike. Once you got there, it was great, but the getting down there was a little tough. That's why it's nice to have a route that links up."

If organizers are able to further harness the support of people who attend the events, the future of Sunday Street could dwarf its current form.

"Based on the popularity, based on the feedback we've gotten, the sky's the limit with Sunday Streets in San Francisco," said Brinkman. "Even in terms of, maybe it doesn't always have to be on a Sunday. Maybe it's a Thursday Evening Streets. Maybe it's a Saturday Streets."