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Guest Commentary: New Hope for Valencia Street

Don't let demagogues and political opportunists wreck this opportunity

Photo: Daniel Owens

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Valencia is one of San Francisco’s most active, beloved, and dynamic commercial corridors. But drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all share its crowded space, making it one of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets. In the spring of 2023, after many meetings with local merchants, and local organizations, SFMTA installed a center-running bikeway. This bikeway would be a temporary pilot, with SFMTA set to make street design changes as new data was brought forth. Since this bikeway has been installed, the reviews have been mixed.

But with merchants now protesting the design, we are at a crossroads.

If cool heads and professional groups continue to collaborate with SFMTA, Valencia has a strong chance to gradually and steadily become what we all wish it to be: a thriving, beautiful, and safe commercial corridor that the entire city loves.

There is also a nightmare scenario — a scenario where Valencia regresses to a much worse condition. We cannot allow that to happen, and we have a better shot at avoiding the many pitfalls if we take time to understand the many complications.

The center-running bikeway has many Valencia merchants worried that it is contributing to a recent downturn due to a decrease in parking access. In response, local community rabble rousers have demagogued these merchants, promising to help them via chaotic and destructive means: 1) forcing San Francisco voters to elect SFMTA leaders, 2) forcing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote alongside SFMTA in regard to any transportation-based decision-making, or 3) breaking up the transportation agency altogether.

If you are confused and wondering how these kinds of changes would help SFMTA do their job effectively, or lead to a better San Francisco transportation system, you are not alone.

Kevin Ortiz, Co-President of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic club, leading a protest in the Valencia center-running bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

SFMTA has earned criticism, but merchants are experiencing downturn across all of San Francisco, not just on Valencia. There’s many reasons for this. Public safety issues in many areas of San Francisco have led to less foot traffic. Work-from-home changes in the economy have decreased office commuters who would normally shop during work breaks, or before and after work. The pandemic ushered in an era of more online purchases, slashing brick and mortal sales. The list goes on.

With this information in mind, we cannot allow politically ambitious people to manipulate small business owners in times of uncertainty and change. We need serious solutions that will help these business owners and create street conditions that are safe for all modes of transit.

As the son of a small business owner of over 30 years, as someone who has lived in the Mission District since 2006, and as someone who has pedestrianized, patronized, biked, walked, and jogged Valencia countless times, I have a small but personal stake in the future of this beautiful street. I was even mugged near the corner of 15th and Valencia a few years ago, and I am still here, proudly waving the Valencia flag.

So, this is not something I am analyzing from the periphery. As an embedded community member who cares, the future of Valencia will affect my daily experience for years to come, but there are people in the community with much larger stakes than myself. We need to be compassionate, constructive, and act urgently as we work to get this right. Let's commit to pedestrianize, build the Dutch-style protected plan they had in 2020, or some combination of the two.

The center-running bikeway can be just a beginning. We can head towards a more pedestrianized, safer Valencia Street that allows commerce to flourish, but we can only get there if we collaborate in good faith, and have serious, professionally minded individuals and groups working with local agencies like SFMTA. This is how Valencia will continue to become a bustling and vital small business corridor that is fun, beautiful, and safe for all.

***

Daniel Owens is an SFUSD high school educator who has worked in education since 2008. He has lived in the Mission District for nearly twenty years.

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