August 15, 2008
*from The Potrero View
"As a bird needs to fly… People need to walk,” Bogotá, Columbia’s former mayor Enrique Peñalosa is supposed to have said, in reference to that city’s weekly Ciclovia, during which 90 miles of roads are closed to automobiles. On Ciclovia, held on Sundays and holidays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., an estimated two million people take to the streets to recreate, dance and participate in cultural gatherings.
Ciclovia – “bike path” in Spanish – is a simple concept: create a car-free zone for people to use. Cyclists, skaters, skateboarders, joggers, strollers and recreational enthusiasts of all types are encouraged to participate, free of charge.
Although there’s broad support for the idea of creating car-free zones, some politicians are concerned that insufficient planning was conducted before Mayor Gavin Newsom’s announcement that Sunday Streets – San Francisco’s Ciclovia, – would be implemented on two Sundays in August and September. Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Sean Elsbernd demanded that the street closures be postponed until their impacts could be studied. Merchants plying their trades at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are concerned about the economic consequences of street closures near them. However, the Bayview Merchants’ Association welcomes Sunday Streets as a hoped-for boon to street activity in their neighborhood. According to Green Party member and volunteer event organizer Susan King, “The only opposition [to Sunday Streets] we’ve really experienced is at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.”
Ciclovia, which was first held in 1976, has increased tourism and created economic and environmental benefits. A 2004 study by Wright, Lloyd, Montezuma and Ricardo found that employment gains during Ciclovia significantly outweigh the job losses engendered by the street closures. Air quality monitors indicate a 40 percent reduction in emissions of some pollutants. And social indicators related to accidents, crime levels, and equity remain positive, with traffic deaths declining from more than 1,300 in 1995 to less than 700 in 2002.
Ciclovia-style events have been replicated in Tokyo, Paris, Kiev, Quito, Melbourne, Cali and Medellin. Last May El Paso, Texas became the first United States city to cordon-off some of its streets. Similar events are now being discussed in Portland, Chicago, New York and Baltimore.
San Francisco launched its initial efforts to adopt the concept late last month. Under the Sunday Streets pilot program, on Sunday, August 31st and Sunday, September 14, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., a series of streets from Chinatown to Bayview will be closed. According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, Sunday Streets will create "…a route for thousands of local kids and adults to walk, jog, and bike, as well as participate in group exercise." Events and activities are spaced along the route, which extends from Portsmouth Square – Washington and Kearny Streets – along Washington Street to Embarcadero, south to Third Street, through Dogpatch and continuing to the Joe Lee Recreational Center at Oakdale Avenue.
The Mayor’s Office is encouraging San Franciscans to stroll, skate, cycle and run on the 4.5 mile long stretch of automobile-free avenues. In a Sunday Streets press release, Mayor Newsom called the pilot program “…an innovative way to connect residents to San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods, and support local businesses.”
Ten “Activity Pods” will be located along the Sunday Streets route. Water, refreshments, and information booths will be available at the Ferry Building; dance, yoga, tai chi and kinesiology activities will be on offer in Ferry Park; activities geared towards seniors and children will be held in Portsmouth Square; children’s bike activities will be available at the Bike Pod on Illinois Street between Terry Francois Boulevard and Cargo Way; with giveaways, organized sports and other contests at the Joe Lee Recreational Center. First Aid stations will be set-up at the Ferry Building, along Illinois Street between Terry Francois Boulevard and Cargo Way, and the Joe Lee Recreational Center.
City officials are confident that sound planning will reduce the adverse traffic impacts caused by the street closings. Sundays are typically low traffic days, and the closure dates were selected to avoid Giants and 49er games, as well as other major events which prompt increases in vehicle use. In addition, on the route’s eastern edge only the Embarcadero’s northbound lane will close, with cross-traffic allowed at designated points.
Local cyclists and skateboarders have long believed that certain City roadways and thoroughfares should be closed to automobiles. And former Mayor Willie Brown and Chris Daly have both advocated closing Market Street to cars. Love it or hate it, Sunday Streets represents a step in the car-less, green direction. If the expected benefits materialize, more open space pilot programs can be expected around San Francisco.