The Return of Sunday Streets

San Francisco's favorite open-streets festival returns with mile-long Tenderloin event

Sunday Streets is back, in the Tenderloin. Photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless indicated
Sunday Streets is back, in the Tenderloin. Photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless indicated

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The COVID-19 crisis put Sunday Streets, San Francisco’s premier open streets event, on hiatus. Sunday marked its return with a multi-street event in the Tenderloin. “We’re a little rusty, but so far so good,” said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director in Livable City, the advocacy group the manages the event. “People have been coming to thank me.”

Radulovich spoke with Streetsblog during the event Sunday between directing drivers coming from the Cova Hotel parking lot on Ellis. As he explained, when the pandemic made Sunday Streets impractical, Livable City was nonetheless organizing smaller open-streets events in the Tenderloin. This was key to helping families maintain their health and sanity during the lock downs. “We did pop ups on Turk and Golden Gate so there was some space for kids to run around,” he said. “People were really feeling cooped up.”

Tom Radulovich directing traffic on Ellis away from the festivities
Tom Radulovich directing traffic on Ellis away from the festivities

Sunday’s even was held on over a mile of street with sections closed to through traffic on Larkin St., Golden Gate and Ellis. More from Livable City’s release:

Sunday Streets SF is known for its free, fun events empowering local communities to transform miles of streets into car-free community spaces for kids to play, seniors to stroll, organizations and businesses to connect and neighbors to meet. A program of the nonprofit Livable City presented in partnership with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the City and County of San Francisco, Sunday Streets SF has grown into a beloved institution since its start in 2008 but was forced into a two-year hibernation in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As with Sunday Streets in the before times, this was an opportunity for advocacy orgs and non-for-profits to and community members to meet one another in a way that just isn’t possible any other way. Safe House Arts, for example, is a newcomer to Sunday Streets. “We’ve been around for 15 years, but this is our first time at Sunday Streets,” said Program Director Janesta Edmonds of the dance-focused, artist’s cooperative. “We’re trying to reach out more; not be in a bubble.”

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Jesse Bie, Kitty Conlon-Macias, and Janesta Edmonds with SAFEHouse Arts

There were also many veterans of past Sunday Streets, such as Circus Center. “We do youth outreach, and teach kids juggling, Chinese yo-yo, tight rope, clowning,” explained Oscar Velarde, who was working at their booth. “It helps get the word out,” added Texas Holly also of Circus Center.

Texas Holly, juggling and recruiting new students for the Circus Center
Texas Holly, juggling and recruiting new students for the Circus Center

Meanwhile, Arnie Romero and Sean Lange from San Francisco Public Works were out reminding people to be careful around their street sweepers. They told Streetsblog about some of the new machines and technologies they’ve deployed to keep streets clean and clear, including four smaller sweepers that were especially purchased for bike lanes. And on the full-size sweepers, the city has recently added censors that set off an audible alarm in the cab to alert operators if a driver or cyclists is getting dangerously close to the truck.

Arnie Romero with S.F. Public works pointing to one of the new alarm sensors
Arnie Romero with S.F. Public works pointing to one of the new alarm sensors

Sunday Streets is, of course, also a way to introduce people to the idea of using streets for something besides motor vehicles. Ivonne Molina with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was helping teach a new generation how to get around without always depending on cars. “We teach them how to balance and then transition to bikes with pedals,” she explained of the Coalition’s “freedom from training wheels” set up. Some 30 kids came by for introductory lessons, she said.

Bikes for kids to start developing their skills
Bikes for kids to start developing their skills

Most people at the event said it was a bit subdued compared to years past, but that shouldn’t be surprising as people get re-acclimated to Sunday Streets. Fortunately, Livable City is holding a full-schedule this year, with the next one being held in the Bayview on May 22 plus five more after that through October. “San Franciscans and visitors can’t wait to come together again and have a good time at Sunday Streets S.F. while taking in the culture and small businesses our amazing neighborhoods have to offer,” said Mayor London Breed in a statement.

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“This just feels great,” said Radulovich, adding that Sunday Streets is just part of a larger vision of shared streets across the city. “It’s great to see the momentum for making open-streets permanent.”

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