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Posts from the "Car-Free Streets" Category

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Dance Performance Celebrates Temporarily Car-Free Lombard Street

Last week, cars once again took over SF’s crooked block of Lombard Street, following the last of a series of weekend trials that banned most cars from the street and opened it up to people instead. The Bay Area Flash Mob celebrated the last car-free day with a choreographed dance all the way down the winding road, set to the tune of Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Deland Chan, one of the initiators of the dance, said the group wanted to “create a moment of joy” on the street that would become impossible once it’s re-opened to cars.

“Some of the tourists actually jumped in and started dancing. The street is a lot steeper than we thought it would be, so it was an intense workout,” said Chan, who lives four blocks away and is an urban studies lecturer at Stanford University. She recently held a workshop in Chinatown on “public spaces and how different communities play,” and previously worked as a senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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Car-Free Lombard Street, Filled With People, is KPIX’s Vision of “Chaos”

KPIX reporter Brian Webb, live at ground zero, with car-free mayhem in the background. Image: CBS-KPIX

Last weekend, San Francisco’s world-famous crooked block of Lombard Street saw most of its car traffic disappear as part of a month-long trial, opening the street up for people. The SFMTA’s goal is to eliminate the gridlock caused by tourist drivers who queue up for blocks to cruise down the street.

To KPIX, SF’s CBS affiliate, however, this scene was nothing but “chaos,” a move that clearly “backfired” by filling the street with people:

Tourists found a way around Lombard Street’s first weekend closure by walking straight through it. Lombard’s been turned into a pedestrian path. Closing the crookedest street in the world to tourists was supposed to give residents a break, and some privacy. Instead, they got chaos.

Thank the heavens we have reporter Brian Webb to expose the atrocity of tourists walking down the middle of Lombard, without fear of cars. To hear it from Webb, these folks are all out-of-control mavericks exploiting a loophole. A really big loophole.

Whether this sort of asinine reporting can be attributed to Webb’s inability to understand the purpose of the project, or a newsroom desperate to concoct a controversial narrative to drive ratings, we may never know.

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“Closing” Lombard Street: The Language of Taking Cars For Granted

Crooked Lombard Street is being partially closed to cars, and mainly opened to people. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the headlines. Photo: SFMTA

A peculiar thing tends to happen when we talk about streets and transportation: We don’t talk about cars. Seriously — listen to conversations, read news headlines, and you’ll start to notice that even when cars are the main subject, people will, consciously or unconsciously, fail to explicitly mention them.

This phenomenon was particularly apparent to me this week, with media coverage of the SFMTA’s proposed (and subsequently approved) trial to restrict cars on world-famous crooked Lombard Street. The headlines started pouring out hours after I broke the story with this headline: “SFMTA considers restricting cars on crooked Lombard Street.”

Clearly, cars are the key subject of this proposal. It will restrict car access on two blocks, and nothing else. Non-”local” drivers will be banned for some hours on some days over a few weekends, but access for people not in cars — the vast majority of people on the crooked street — will actually be made safer and more enjoyable.

Yet from reading headlines found in other news sources around the country, you’d think the street is simply being closed to everyone. Cars are vaguely mentioned, if at all, while the whole “temporary trials on some afternoons” thing often gets washed over, with Lombard deemed simply and totally “closed.” Here are a few typical examples:

  • Washington Post: “San Francisco to close off iconic Lombard Street to tourists”
  • USA Today: “S.F. to temporarily close ‘world’s crookedest street’”
  • SF Chronicle: “Lombard Street to close on 4 busy weekends this summer”

Put simply, unfettered access by cars is equated with “access.” If one cannot drive there, one cannot go there. And as those important distinctions are blurred, we lose sight of what we deem important uses of our streets.

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SFMTA Considers Restricting Cars on Crooked Lombard Street

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The “crookedest street in the world” block of Lombard Street is a world-famous tourist attraction, but the resulting car traffic causes congestion and safety problems and may lead the SFMTA to ban tourists from driving that stretch.

In an attempt to reduce pedestrian injuries and blocks-long car queues, the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday will consider several summer trials to allow only “local” cars on two blocks of Lombard. The restrictions would apply on eastbound Lombard, between Larkin and Leavenworth Streets, on Saturdays and Sundays from June 21 through July 13, and on Friday, July 4. The SFMTA will consider longer-term, even permanent, restrictions after monitoring the impacts.

According to an SFMTA report [PDF], the push for restricting tourists from driving on curvy Lombard came from the residents who live on it, as well as District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell. The effort has support from Russian Hill Neighbors and the Lombard Hill Improvement Association.

“In prior years, this portion of Lombard Street has experienced a number of vehicular collisions, pedestrian injuries, and residential property damage,” the report says, also noting “chronic congestion in the summer months” that reaches three blocks back to Van Ness Avenue, where queued drivers “can delay regional transit and vehicular traffic.” At the entrance to the crooked block, drivers also often block the Hyde Street cable car.

“Residents are also concerned about the mixing of large pedestrian crowds… with vehicular traffic,” the report notes, listing several crashes with railings, pedestrians, and fire hydrants on the block within the last few years. In one incident, a speeding driver reportedly crashed into a retaining wall, rolled the car over and fled on foot.

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SFMTA to Ban Cars on Kezar, Stanyan, Haight Street for 4/20 This Sunday

Upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and Kezar Drive will be closed to cars for 4/20. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA announced that cars will be banned on several major streets for the 4/20 gathering on the east end of Golden Gate Park this Sunday.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., cars will be banned on Kezar Drive, Stanyan Street between Frederick and Oak Streets, and Haight Street between Masonic Avenue and Stanyan.

Drivers swarming the area for the event — many from out of town and not necessarily in their sharpest state of mind — typically create a traffic mess in and around the eastern park. Illegal parking is rampant, Muni is brought to a halt, and sidewalks fill up. The car closures, the first of their kind for 4/20, could help simplify traffic flow, keep transit moving, and provide ample room for wandering.

Muni buses will be allowed through the pedestrianized streets, the SFMTA said, but “personnel from SFPD and SFMTA will determine to re-route Muni buses as crowds grow. Muni bus re-routes will be expected to begin at approximately 3 p.m.”

Supervisor London Breed and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr also held a press conference Wednesday to tell 4/20 revelers to keep things under control, promising a crackdown on parking violations.

Since 4/20 falls on a Sunday this year, the de facto Sunday Streets network will be complemented by the weekly car closure on John F. Kennedy Drive.

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Market Street: Transit Paint Upgrades Coming, but Car Bans Still Missing

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New intersection markings could help reduce the number of drivers “blocking the box” on Market this spring, but the SFMTA has continued to postpone proposals to get cars off Market altogether. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Despite calls for more measures to get cars off of Market Street, and the benefits brought by the forced turns already put in place, the SFMTA still has yet to propose any new restrictions on private autos.

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

The agency does, however, plan to make some paint upgrades to help keep Muni moving this spring or summer. Existing transit-only lanes will be painted red, and a cross-hatched paint striping telling drivers not to “block the box” will be added at intersections where cars chronically back up and block cross traffic. SFMTA staff told its Board of Directors this week that the agency and the SFPD would also develop a plan to step up nearly non-existent enforcement of transit lanes and box-blocking on Market.

Yet the agency has repeatedly delayed its promises to put forward proposals for new forced turns or potential bans for private autos on Market, to the frustration of car-free Market champions like Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA Board member, and Supervisor David Chiu, who introduced his second resolution urging the SFMTA to move the efforts along. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors this week.

“I want the people who ride those buses on Market Street to have something close to the experience I have underground of a real right-of-way and real capacity,” Heinicke told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at a meeting on the agency’s Strategic Plan and budget Tuesday. “I’m not suggesting any malice or obfuscation here, but my question is, what’s the delay?”

Heinicke had requested that SFMTA staff present a proposal for car restrictions at the previous planning meeting one year ago, and Reiskin said it would come by this winter, but then postponed it to Tuesday’s meeting. Now, Reiskin says the proposals will be ready to be considered as part of the SFMTA’s two-year budget, which is scheduled to be finalized by March.

Reiskin chalked up the delays to the complications caused by ongoing projects like the construction of the Central Subway. “While we have identified some preliminary proposals along with costs and impacts, there’s more work that needs to be done to figure out the interaction with all the various projects that are currently happening on Market Street.”

“I share the frustration, and take responsibility for the fact, that we don’t have something by now,” he said.

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We Used to Expect Streets to Be as Safe as We Do Holly Park

Rarely does the death of someone struck by a motorist garner as much public outrage as the incident in Holly Park last week. Media around the world has covered the death of Christine Svanemyr, who was lying in the grass with her infant daughter and dog when she was run over by Thomas Burnoski, a Recreation and Parks Department employee.

A vigil held for Christine Svanemyr at Holly Park. Image: NBC

There are a number of reasons this incident has attracted so much attention from the media and elected officials like Mayor Ed Lee, who expressed shock and “demanded a thorough investigation,” according to ABC 7. Supervisor David Campos has also called for a hearing to review policies around the use of city vehicles in parks.

For one, Burnoski fled the scene, only to be arrested by police soon after (he now faces vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run charges). Burnoski was also a city employee who seems to have violated department policies in driving on the grass.

But what has outraged San Franciscans the most is that the death represents a violation of our deeply-held expectation of safety in a park — one of the last public refuges from the dangers of the automobile.

Unlike parks, city streets have been ceded to the automobile as places where people outside cars are expected to be vigilant of reckless motorists. Of the nine or more pedestrians who have been killed by drivers on San Francisco’s streets this year, only the drivers who were drunk or fled the scene have been charged, and the victims have received little attention compared to the Svanemyr case.

In one case, Sunnyside Elementary custodian Becky Lee was run over and killed in a crosswalk in April at Judson Avenue and Edna Street. Police deemed the death nothing more than an accident, even though the driver apparently violated Lee’s right-of-way. There was no public outrage or calls for the review of policies governing the use of private automobiles on city streets.

It wasn’t always this way. As Peter Norton chronicled in his book Fighting Traffic, streets in American cities were considered the realm of people, not automobiles, and each pedestrian death sparked outrage — even violence. In an April article, 99% Invisible explains:

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.”

And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began killing thousands of children, every year.

Pedestrian deaths were considered public tragedies. Cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars. Mothers of children killed in the streets were given a special white star to honor their loss.

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Eyes on the Street: Lounging on a Reclaimed Valencia Street

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Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Swinging through SF for a few days, Streetfilms producer Clarence spotted a nice setup at yesterday’s Sunday Streets in the Mission. Harrington’s, an antique furniture store, used some of  its sofa inventory to create a comfortable little music venue on Valencia Street.

“People were encouraged to just sit in it,” said Clarence, noting that “tons of music” on SF’s streets “provided a nice laid back vibe we don’t see nearly as much in NYC.”

It’s always great to see the creative ways merchants find to embrace Sunday Streets — it’s good for business, good for health, and good for building community.

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New Renderings, Details on Car-Free Areas From “Better Market Street”

Market between First and Second Streets shown with raised bike lanes. Images: Better Market Street

The vision for Market Street (and potentially Mission) is becoming clearer with the release of new renderings of streets and plazas at public workshops for the “Better Market Street” project this week.

Planners presented renderings of specific stretches of Market, including redesigns for both UN and Hallidie Plaza (where the Powell Station entrance would be raised), as well as proposed changes to Muni stop spacing. Ellis Street would also be closed to car traffic to create a new plaza.

The presentation also shed more light on the three bikeway options — putting protected bike lanes on Market, on Mission, or neither. New street plans show how those ideas would pan out, including the spots where planners say there just isn’t enough width to maintain a continuous bikeway on Market.

For each of the three options [PDF], details on potential car-free areas have also been released.

  • Option 1, with protected bike lanes on neither Market nor Mission, would ban cars between Fremont and Eighth Streets.
  • Option 2, with protected bike lanes on Market, would prohibit cars only between Fremont and Fifth Streets. The idea is that where protected bike lanes exist, car bans aren’t as neceessary, planners said. But since there’s not enough width to provide a protected bike lane between Grant and Fifth Streets,  they say, that stretch will at least be car-free, to provide more comfort for bicyclists and keep transit moving.
  • Option 3, with protected bike lanes on Mission (but not Market), would include the longest car-free stretch on Market, from Van Ness Avenue to the Embarcadero. One reason for that is to help speed up buses that would be re-routed from Mission on to Market, according to the presentation materials.

All of the proposed car bans would apply only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Planners will present the proposals for feedback again on Saturday at the SF Main Library from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You can also submit comments online.

Hallidie Plaza

See more images after the jump.

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City’s First “Play Streets” Event Kicks Off in the Western Addition

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Two blocks in the Western Addition were closed to cars and turned into a neighborhood gathering space Saturday for the city’s first “Play Streets” event. The program is an effort to build on the success of Sunday Streets and provide smaller-scale car-free spaces where people can play and socialize on a more frequent basis.

“This is an attempt to do all the great things that we do on Sunday Streets — creating a place for outdoor recreation, for neighbors to gather, for people to connect — but to do it on a small scale, and allow communities to self-start,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which organizes Sunday Streets. “Sunday Streets is a big operation, and can be complicated. With Play Streets, we want it to scale down so any neighborhood can take back their streets for a day, or part of a day, and make them community space where kids can play and neighbors can be together.”

Supervisor London Breed with community activist Meaghan Mitchell (right) and Plaza East residents.

D5 Supervisor London Breed, who grew up in the immediate neighborhood, spoke at the event along with organizers from Sunday Streets and agencies that helped coordinate the program. In addition to providing a space that’s safe from car traffic, organizers said the aim was to invite residents to participate in community life with a space that feels safer from crime.

“Part of the challenge that we’ve come to face in this community has been kids not feeling comfortable and free to come outside and just enjoy themselves and be themselves,” said Breed. “I believe that we need to block off more streets to allow families and kids to play and be free.”

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