Sunday Streets Evolves Into Permanent Institution With Eight Events in 2011

Photo: ## Neumann/Flickr##

The ever-popular Sunday Streets will feature eight events in 2011, allowing neighborhoods from the Great Highway to Japantown to Bayview to once again open their streets to people for fun, community-oriented, car-free spaces. Families can look forward to playing in the streets and enjoying free bike and skate rentals at thriving parties in the Mission and the Embarcadero and will get another shot at good weather for the Civic Center and Western Addition events.

This year, organizers are aiming to establish the successful program as a more consistent and regularly expected feature that city residents can be easily familiar with and enjoy in the coming years. That goal is being worked on in a few different ways, according to Sunday Streets coordinator Susan King of Livable City.

For one, the organization is striving to re-model its structure to invite and “more firmly empower the neighborhood and local community members to play a greater role in leading the programming and activities along each route.” Although liability issues need to be worked out, each Sunday Streets route could carry a more local neighborhood flavor this year to complement favorite programs such as bike lessons and repairs as well as the mobile roller disco.

Some route modifications are in the works, too. While the successful layouts of Embarcadero and Great Highway will stick around, expect to see this year’s other routes re-worked to better suit popularity. King cited specific issues, including avoiding churches and finding a flatter connection to the Panhandle along the Western Addition route as well as excluding Harrison St. in the Mission. No entirely new routes are currently being seriously considered yet.

A more predictable schedule has also been set to help residents better anticipate the events. This year, each Sunday Streets falls on the second Sunday of the month except for the initial March 20th event, which will maintain the Embarcadero as the season’s kick-off point while avoiding a scheduling conflict with the Giants ballpark.

While King noted that fundraising and outreach on route information remain on the list of challenges, the program has come a long way and continues to build momentum this year with popular and political support.

“We have been very conscientious of people’s concerns, we’ve worked with the community, and the result is that people have overwhelmingly embraced it,” said King.

King said she’s “ecstatic” about the nomination of City Administrator Ed Lee for successor Mayor, who’s been an invaluable supporter of Sunday Streets, a liaison to the Chinatown community, and even part of the program’s Steering Committee and Outreach Team. Although she missed the chance to meet newly elected Supervisor Mark Farrell, King said all of the other incoming supervisors as well as Board President David Chiu have expressed enthusiasm for Sunday Streets.

From the program’s Colombia-inspired single pilot in 2008 to its permanent institution one year later, its proponents have made incredible strides. The concept has been “hard fought – taking away miles and miles of roadway for non-automotive uses is a fairly radical concept,” noted King. But working with members of the community has paid off.

Today, King finds that those who were initially opposed have become active supporters. The program relies on a nurturing base of city agencies as well as businesses and individuals willing to donate their time, money, and services to keep it going. And it’s not hard to find the growing number of residents who are seeing its value.

“The more that we can make streets multi-use for bicycles and other activities – not just cars – that’s a great thing to do,” said Inner Richmond resident and mother Liana Holmberg, who has yet to attend an event. “I think it opens up neighborhoods to people who otherwise wouldn’t go to them.”

The potential for bringing Sunday Streets to more doorsteps would continue to open minds, and get people to think about the many ways residents can enjoy streets when they are not accommodating private automobiles. Mission District parent Tim Wirth, whose daughters Zoe and Carmen learned to roller skate and ride bikes at Sunday Streets, were thrilled at their proximity to the event and now have an openness to the idea of permanent car-free streets.

“I think there’s absolutely a place for that. Just look at the number of people who are drawn to the streets when there are no cars. There certainly is a place in a city as dense as San Francisco to have thru-ways that are for pedestrians and bikes,” said Wirth.

With many districts like the Richmond yet to be graced by Sunday Streets, the suggestion of opening up Clement Street in Holmberg’s neighborhood was a novel one for her. “That street is crazy with cars – I was trying to imagine it without them… my mind just kind of went, ‘Boink!’ But, it could be really nice.”

Here is the schedule for Sunday Streets 2011:


  • March 20: Kick off event along the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to Mission Bay
  • April 10: Great Highway and Golden Gate Park
  • May 8: Mission route, including the popular route along 24th and Valencia Streets
  • June 12: Bayview route, 3rd Street from Mission Bay, Dogpatch to the Bayview Opera House
  • July 10: Great Highway route #2
  • August 14: Civic Center/Tenderloin
  • September 11: Western Addition, including North of Panhandle, Alamo Square and Fillmore and Japantown
  • October 9: Mission route #2
is a fairly radical concept.”
  • Andy

    I’d like to see a sunday streets on the golden gate bridge. They closed it for pedestrians in 1987:

  • Looking forward to these — I just moved back to San Francisco, and never got a chance to attend Sunday Streets in the past. I have a quick question: are Sunday Streets events mostly about getting together with neighbors, etc? Or do they sometime have a civic engagement, community education type message?


  • Ben –

    I haven’t seen any civic engagement-type activities. The idea seems pretty much be, “Cars are gone, let’s have fun!”

  • What I like so much about Sunday Streets is that it encourages people to experience their city not only in a non-car sort of way but in a creative, active, non-consumption sort of way (though a stop at a shop or a cafe may be part of it.)

    Street fairs and farmers markets are good, but the focus is on shopping/consumption. Even outdoor concerts primarily involve fairly passive consumption of entertainment. For Sunday Streets the focus is on being, doing, participating. Each person creates his or her own exploration/journey/adventure, perhaps interacting with rarely-seen neighbors in the unfamiliar terrain of a street handed over to human beings rather than cars for a few hours.

    Engagement is the opposite of alienation and is the first step in getting people to care. At its heart, Sunday Streets an act of participatory democracy at its most fundamental level.

  • thielges

    “I’d like to see a sunday streets on the golden gate bridge.”

    As cool as that sounds I doubt that the city will open the bridge to pedestrian crowds again. At the 50th anniversary people flooded onto the roadway and the bridge experienced its peak load, flattening out. It could have been a massive disaster if the bridge broke while all those people were crammed onto it.

  • ZA

    Ben – bring your bike or throw on your blades, invite some friends, share some snacks, play with some chalk.

    Play now, analyze later.


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