Lost Opportunity on Stockton Street

Another street is returned to the automobile

The dream of a pedestrianized Stockton. Image: The Plaza Perspective
The dream of a pedestrianized Stockton. Image: The Plaza Perspective

Calls to create a pedestrian haven on Lower Stockton Street went unheeded.

There was no ceremony and no fanfare, but at 1:25 this afternoon, a man in a gold Toyota became the first motorist to use Stockton Street, between Geary and Market, in seven years. Moments before, SFMTA workers removed gates, clearing the way for the newly paved street to be turned back over to cars.

At 1:25 p.m., this Toyota became the first car to drive down this section of Stockton Street in seven years. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
At 1:25 p.m., this Toyota became the first car to drive down this section of Stockton Street in seven years. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The street was closed to traffic in 2012 to make way for construction of the Central Subway, now scheduled to open late this year, five years later than originally promised.

The closed stretch was also used for an open-streets event called Winter Walk, as seen in the picture below.

Winter Walk, a temporary closure of Stockton was so successful the city opted not to make it permanent. Photo: Tom Fitzgerald Photography
Winter Walk was so successful the city opted not to make it permanent. Photo: Tom Fitzgerald Photography

Advocates had hoped the success of Winter Walk could be used to win support for pedestrianizing the street for good.

“Stockton Street is a textbook example of letting an opportunity slip through one’s fingers. With the annual Winter Walk events, the City wisely took advantage of the Central Subway construction to pilot what a pedestrian-only street would look like and if it would work,” wrote Adam Greenfield, who advocated for the permanent pedestrianization of the street. “The results were clear: The public loved the results, business boomed, and traffic still moved.”

But, reported the Examiner, such proposals were shut down before they got very far by late Chinatown advocate Rose Pak.

The 8, 8AX, 8BX, and the 91 will be rerouted down the street starting on Monday. There’s still a construction crane working on Stockton alongside Union Square, so the 30-Stockton will continue to divert, according to SFMTA head Ed Reiskin, who was present for the re-opening of the street today.

Unfortunately, those buses will share Stockton Street with private, single-occupancy cars.

“It could have become a north-south bicycle corridor, the only decent one between the Embarcadero and Polk. It could have remained a pedestrian promenade, like the one we have enjoyed every December for the past few years. Or some combination of transitway, bikeway, and promenade,” wrote Livable City’s Tom Radulovich, in an email to Streetsblog. “Putting Stockton back exactly as it was before was the worst possible outcome, but unfortunately its the outcome we’re stuck with once again. For how long who knows, but hopefully not for too long.”

“The City should have seized this momentum and extended the Winter Walk pilot through the year, while continuing to collect data. Instead, it listened only to a subset of the population make unsubstantiated claims and ignore everything else,” added Greenfield.

Will SFMTA reconsider any of these possibilities? Is some kind of transit, bike and/or pedestrian treatment still possible? “Talk to Chinatown,” Reiskin told Streetsblog.

  • ForSocialJustice

    A bicycle and transit only street is a complete street, but a car and transit street is not a complete street? Stockton is not wide enough to fully accommodate bike, transit and cars, so one had to go. Northbound bicyclists can go one block over to Grant which is quieter and less stressful with no buses and fewer cars and trucks.

  • ForSocialJustice

    When a project adversely affects multiple poor communities of color, race becomes part of the issue. Advocates here just tend to dismiss or ignore it.

  • potatoz

    There’s no bike lane on Grant, Powell or Mason either. Car can drive on any of those streets as a primary mode of transportation. This is far from equitable or just.

  • City Resident

    Stockton Street’s design today (in the blocks we’re discussing) has no bicycle infrastructure. In its present layout, this is not a complete street and it certainly is wide enough to fully accommodate all users. I’d suggest removing one of the two automobile lanes and repurposing this space for bicycle lane(s) – with some form of curb or further protection between it and the automobile or transit lane. Such a design accommodates pedestrians with sidewalk space, Muni riders with a transit lane, motorists with an automobile lane, and bicyclists with bike lane(s) = complete streets. Again, there is space for this but it does entail a departure from the deadly status quo we’re so used to.

  • crazyvag

    I don’t know you learned you definition of “mostly”, but with only 38% white, 62% is non-white. By your definition, what is the minimum % of white population where it’s ok to screw over your neighbors?

  • spragmatic

    You’re certainly not describing any mayor this town has had since Brown. And maybe some Newsom.

    I’m glad that you’re following what I have to say closely. It’s important that we all understand what others think and that we are all in this together- not just one special interest group and their ideals. Welcome to San Francisco, the city that forgot how.

  • ForSocialJustice

    Now you are making up statistics. Great.

    It sounds like you never go to Union Square or live in some warped reality that you don’t see it as a rich (mostly white) area.

  • ForSocialJustice

    There doesn’t need to be a bike lane to be a bike route. Many streets have sharrows which are usually narrow, low volume, low speed streets that can be shared by bicyclists and drivers.

  • ForSocialJustice

    I don’t even know why Stockton is a bike route. Too many conflicts with every transportation mode. I think it would have been better to have Stockton be the southbound bike route and Grant be the northbound bike route.

    I think Stockton still needs two southbound car lanes, or at least one southbound car lane and a truck loading lane.

  • potatoz

    That’s definitely not the case. I invite you to bike on sharrowed routes to experience it for yourself. It feels stressful and dangerous. And for the record I’m typically quite comfortable biking around cars but even I don’t like it.

    Thinking sharrows are fine is like thinking we could get rid of sidewalks and just paint a little walking dude on Van Ness or Geary and it’ll all work out. Either people get hit or cars are majorly impeded. Since most drivers don’t like going as slow as a walker or a biker, the former typically happens.

  • Lego

    Do you ride the buses down Stockton? She had car-first thinking and treated the Chinatown residents & visitors who opted (most all of them) to take these buses as second class citizens. Buses move at a snails pace through that space-limited corridor because it’s choked with cars, often driven by non-Chinatown residents (where 85% of people don’t own cars). People on those lines suffer greatly, it’s heartbreaking, day after day, decade after decade.

  • Lego

    you should witness more the multitudes of poor / ethnic people on those stockton buses stuck inching along behind a few motorists. with that view of a thousand sad, almost-crying faces per week, people packed in, barely able to stay standing as the bus lunges forward to brake again in a few feet. year after year, your obviously honorable intentions would be redirected to alleviating the (transportation-based) suffering of the majority of people in this district.


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