Sunday Streets creates public benefits from private labors


By Kristen Peters

San Francisco locals will take to the streets this weekend as main roads in the Mission neighborhood are closed to automobiles for the sixth installment of Sunday Streets. On July 11, a three-mile route from 17th and Valencia to Dolores Park to Potrero Avenue will be car-free from 10 am until 3pm.

Taken from Bogota’s weekly ciclovía, in which nearly 100 miles of city streets are reserved for pedestrians and other recreationalists, Sunday Streets began in San Francisco almost two years ago. Since then, the tradition has made its way to other California cities including Los Angeles and Oakland.

“In San Francisco we have our own unique style,” event coordinator Susan King, who works for the nonprofit group Livable City, said. “We have different routes and we hit different neighborhoods year after year. In each neighborhood, the featured events have their own flair.”

This Sunday, revelers can look forward to performances by Grupo Azteca as well as capoeira and salsa dancing lessons, not to mention the countless restaurants in the area opening their doors early to the public. While the event has some support from the city and its San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, mostly in the form of permit fee waivers, it is run by Livable City and funded from corporate donations.

“Our corporate sponsors provide everything from durable goods, in-kind donations and cold, hard cash,” King said.

City officials have even curtailed helping with hanging "no parking" signs, leaving that task to volunteers from the SF Bicycle Coalition. That job was usually designated to the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, but they have now stopped providing that service to an event that Mayor Gavin Newsom trumpets as something he's bringing to the people. But King still calls Sunday Streets a good example of a public-private partnership.

“Everybody brings something to the table,” King said. “It’s a real cooperative entity with everyone pulling together to produce something really special.”

According to King, the benefits are widespread. Not only is it refreshing for the public to ditch their cars for a few hours, but it also reinvigorates the local economy. “It’s a real boom for the city,” King said. “Lots of people on the street means lots of eating. It’s good for business and good for the community.”

Acting executive director for the SF Bicycle Coalition Renee Rivera said that the Mission in particular has benefited from the crowds at Sunday Streets. “Everyone is enjoying the outdoor activities the event has to offer but, at the same time, are going to get ice cream, stopping for tacos or getting to enjoy all the merchants on 24th and Valencia,” Rivera said.

There are three more Sunday Street events following the Mission neighborhood closure. The Great Highway and areas of Golden Gate Park will be closed on August 22 followed by the Western Addition on September 19. The series will conclude on October 24 with the closure of the Civic Center and Tenderloin areas.


Other than the "feel good factor" for one day a year, what precisely and quantifiably are the "public benefits" of this?

Sure, it's fun, but for the other 364 days of the year, these streets return to being a freeway with sidewalks.

No harm, no foul, you may say. But couldn't this even be counter-productive, since it distracts those activists and lobbyists who are arguing for a real change, not a one-day makeover?

I call this a distraction from the real mission, and not progress.

Posted by Folly on Jul. 10, 2010 @ 7:18 am

Folly --

Having participated in several car-free streets days, both in SF and Oakland, I can tell you that the idea that having one day free of cars will somehow distract activists is unfounded and not worth worrying about. And having been part of this kind of event, the idea seems downright silly to me.

If anything, events like this increase people's awareness of and enthusiasm for the idea of car-free streets. At 3:15 yesterday afternoon, when the police car rolled down Valencia announcing "Sunday Streets is over. The street is now reopened to motor vehicles. Pedestrians, return to the sidewalk" it was greeted with shouts of "Boo!" and "No! The streets are ours! Let's keep them!" And SF's experience of having Golden Gate Park shut to cars on weekends has definitely had a ripple effect – I've lost track of how many discussions I've heard that included somebody saying something like "and we got Golden Gate Park shut to cars – so getting [insert name of street] closed too has got to be possible!"

Car-free streets days are a wonderful experience, and anyone who hasn't participated in one should try it.

Posted by Lexica on Jul. 12, 2010 @ 9:56 am