Eyes on the Street: ‘Car Free’ in Hayes Valley

Octavia, between Linden and Hayes, is now officially the realm of people instead of cars

It's official: Hayes Valley now has its car free space where once a freeway reigned. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
It's official: Hayes Valley now has its car free space where once a freeway reigned. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

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The city permanently closured Octavia Street to cars today between Linden and Hayes.

This marks the completion of a years-long “Open Street Project” pilot designed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to dedicate a portion of Octavia Street to public space.

“Our neighborhoods deserve to have public spaces that benefit our residents, visitors and local businesses,” said Mayor Breed in a statement “Before Octavia Street, this was the Central Freeway, a space dedicated to moving cars… Today, we are creating a space for friends and family to play, shop, and enjoy Hayes Valley. This is one example of our larger efforts to create more open space in San Francisco to benefit the community.”

People enjoying a car-free realm at Patricia's Green
People enjoying a car-free realm at Patricia’s Green

That last sentence is key, and speaks towards the approval of ‘Better Market Street’ and the anticipation of even more spaces being wrestled back from auto-dominance. “San Francisco is joining cities from around the world that are creating car-free people-first places,” said Walk San Francisco’s Jodie Medeiros. “This supports climate goals, boost local economies and helps reduce severe and fatal traffic crashes. This small but significant stretch of Octavia Street is just the beginning of a long list of streets where we can establish more car-free streets that prioritize people.”

Bicycles are encouraged to cut through here to continue down Hayes or Octavia
Bicycles are encouraged to cut through here to continue down Hayes or Octavia

Residents seemed to be enjoying the area, which is noticeably more relaxed and, well, visibly inhabited than many other parts of the city. Zach Smith, a medic with a private ambulance service, however, was a concerned that they weren’t given the combinations to the locks that release the bollards in case first responders need to access buildings on this short stretch of car-free Octavia (see pics below).

Private medic services might benefit from having a way in
Private medic services might benefit from having a way in

Still, he said they can get around the closed section of street and it’s not as if they need to get right up to a building to put out a fire.

These combo locks allow fire access in the unlikely event a fire truck needs to back right up to one of the buildings on the short stretch that’s now permanently closed to cars.

“We are very excited to see this pilot project made permanent,” said Tom Maguire, SFMTA Interim Director of Transportation, also in the mayor’s announcement. He is referring to the pilot closure which first started planning in 2015. “Anytime we can add more public space for our city and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists is a win for everyone. The successful short term closures of Octavia around Patricia’s Green showed us that this truly is an improvement to the area and the added space is a huge upgrade for the neighborhood.”

And would be for almost any neighborhood that got chopped apart during the freeway-building era, we might add.

Where do you see opportunities for streets to be either closed to cars, or made into “woonervens”–streets where motorists have access but where they are treated as guests in a pedestrian realm. And be sure to suggest other freeways that can be removed to make more livable spaces.

Post your thoughts below.


Casey Hildreth, Martha Kuntzen, Mark Dreger, and Elizabeth Bremner at the outdoor open house on Octavia.  All photos by Roger Rudick/Streetsblog

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