Advocates Celebrate Slow Lake, but Questions Remain

Why did SFMTA remove old but more robust signs before the vote, just to replace them with bendy straws? And is through traffic still banned?

Some 35 advocates got together for a walk down Slow Lake on a wet Sunday afternoon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Some 35 advocates got together for a walk down Slow Lake on a wet Sunday afternoon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Some 35 advocates, families, and neighbors assembled for a celebratory walk and ride down Slow Lake Street in the Richmond District on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Just last week, at a contentious public hearing that went late into the night, the SFMTA board voted to include Lake among its sixteen permanent “Slow Streets.”

Families and advocates at the start of the afternoon walk on Slow Lake. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Families and advocates at the start of the afternoon walk on Slow Lake. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

While the mood was generally festive–lots of people brought yummy cookies to the event–there were also big questions. For example, what happened to the signs that blocked through traffic, which were installed when Slow Lake was created During the COVID crisis? Those signs were removed last week prior to the vote and not immediately replaced. This lead to confusion; it also encouraged motorists to use Lake, once again, as a high-speed cut through, as seen in this tweet from safe-streets organizer and advocate Luke Bornheimer:

The older, a-frame signs might not have stopped the reckless driver seen in that tweet, but at least they would have made driving like that a bit more difficult. SFMTA has started to replace signs with bendy posts, but they are typical city signage that seems engineered for one sole purpose: to avoid damaging people’s cars if they run over them.

The bendy straws installed by SFMTA. Photo: advocate Luke Bornheimer
The bendy straws installed by SFMTA. Photo: advocate Luke Bornheimer

So why did SFMTA remove the older signs prior to the vote? SFMTA’s media affairs department only said that the signs were old and “outdated.” However, a source at SFMTA told Streetsblog the agency realized prior to Tuesday’s vote that it would be necessary to either remove the Slow Streets signs permanently or replace them with something other than “road closed” signs, so they figured they might as well get the removals done.

Unfortunately, the majority of the new signs aren’t even in the street, and instead are attached to poles on the sidewalk where they are unlikely to be seen by motorists, depending what languages they can read:

An example of one of the SFMTA signs, attached to a telephone pole, that wouldn't really be visible from the street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An example of one of the SFMTA signs, attached to a telephone pole, that wouldn’t really be visible from the street through the tree leaves. This one’s in Russian, obviously. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

They also don’t clearly state that through traffic is banned, which means SFMTA is already watering down the Slow Streets concept on Lake–and started doing so prior to last week’s vote. It’s unclear how this was authorized, since it obviously didn’t come from the board of directors.

As a result of this, some advocates have started to bolster the installations on their own, as seen below (note the bucket of concrete at the bottom):

An SFMTA Slow Streets sign embedded in a bucket of concrete. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An SFMTA Slow Streets sign embedded in a bucket of concrete. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

They’ve also been putting back the “local traffic only” signs, countering the city’s watering down of the whole plan. More on the signs that were bolstered by residents and advocates in this tweet below:

SFMTA’s little plastic bendy straws bolted directly to the asphalt are an incredibly inadequate and dangerous way to “protect” a Slow Street, since they don’t actually offer any protection. Bornheimer and others hope to see long-term upgrades made as well as the installation of proper bollards and concrete diverters, as explained in his excellent thread below:

More evidence below that a percentage of motorists will simply do whatever they want when there is no physical infrastructure to stop them, as seen Sunday afternoon  (and every day of course):

Photo of a motorist on Lake Street who felt perfectly able to block ADA access. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Photo of a motorist on Lake Street who was undeterred from parking on a crosswalk and blocking ADA access. Without physical deterrents, this will just keep happening. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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