San Francisco’s May Sunday Streets in The Mission
I had the pleasure of heading up to San Francisco earlier this month, and checked out their version of CicLAvia, which is called Sunday Streets. These Ciclovía events take place in cities all over the world, and each of them is a bit different, based on urban form, distance, frequency, culture, etc. For this article, I’ll mainly just relate my day – and hopefully soon, I’ll write some commentary on some possible lesson learned that I think might work for Los Angeles.
Sunday Streets now takes place eight times each year, on Sundays, once each month from March through October. Routes vary, including some along the edges of the city (Golden Gate Park/Great Highway and Embarcadero) and most in core neighborhoods. May 8th 2011’s event extended for just over two miles in The Mission neighborhood, one of San Francisco’s most Latino districts, well-served by transit, walking and bicycling… and experiencing gentrification… not unlike many of the communities where L.A.’s CicLAvia takes place. The May 8th route went on 24th Street (from Potrero to Valencia) and on Valencia Street (from 24th to Duboce.)
In order to get an up-close look at Sunday Streets, I signed up to volunteer. Sunday Streets has a large well-organized group of volunteers, many of whom have worked multiple events.
Volunteers receive a free t-shirt (same in L.A.) and attend an orientation session either early in the week or the morning of the event. Volunteers actually are responsible for some duties that L.A. uses traffic officers for – including setting up the barricades to keep cars off the streets. Volunteers use a city-created traffic diversion plan map, and, under the supervision of one traffic officer, volunteers actually move barriers into place.
I was assigned to a station at 25th and Treat – one block off the route. Treat street was fully closed at 24th, so only local traffic could enter the street a block away.
I was assigned there by myself, for a 2-hour shift. My job was to let drivers and others know what was going on – and to move the barrier when locals needed to get in to and out of that block. Other Sunday Streets volunteers, on bike, made rounds of these off-route volunteer locations and checked in to make sure it was going ok, and if I needed any breaks. From my vantage point, things went very smoothly. I had one driver complain about not being able to get to businesses on 24th… but most drivers I spoke with were more curious than upset. There were plenty of family-sized cars, with numerous bikes on attached racks, circling the area looking for parking.
When my shift ended, I got to check out the event itself.
At the intersection of Treat Avenue and 24th Street, there was a small spur off the route. 24th itself was the main Ciclovía route, but a short stretch of Treat (perpendicular to 24th) was also closed. The perpendicular spur was about 75-100 feet long, maybe 3-4 parking spaces.
That short section of Treat Avenue was headquarters for the California Outdoor Rollersports Association – a non-profit advocating for skating. The small spur was functioning as a mini-skating rink. CORS had set up music and was lending skates, and teaching people how to skate.
The area was very popular. Numerous parents were helping unsteady kids learn to skate better. Various neighbors of all ages – Latinos, folks from India, whites – had come out of their homes to watch, participate, and interact. Though the skate section was one of the more happening spots on the route, I wanted to get out and explore the main route, too.
One of the big differences between this event and L.A.’s past CicLAvias was the mix of participants “mode.” I’d say that L.A. gets roughly 75% bicyclists and 25% other: skaters, pedestrians, runners, wheelchair users. Sunday Streets in The Mission had pretty much the opposite ratio – about 25% (or maybe a third) bicyclists… and way more people on foot. I think that some of this is attributable to the route length (S.F. Mission ~2miles, L.A. CicLAvia ~7miles) and that other routes can be a more bikey. Among the cyclists were plenty of families with young kids – many of them walking, riding scooters, etc., too.
It also was so popular and so dense with people, that it quickly became really clear that bicycling was only possible at a very moderate pace – only just faster than walking speed. With such great crowds moving fairly slowly, a lot of cyclists were actually walking their bikes on the route. I, personally, wanted to explore a lot, so I stayed on my bike, but proceeded fairly slowly.
San Francisco is in the middle of an election, so there were tables (actually ironing boards) doing voter registration and mayoral candidates out campaigning on the route. This photo is Dave Chiu who rode what I think is now called a conference bike.
Sunday Streets does their intersections a bit differently than CicLAvia. Same as Los Angeles, at smaller streets car traffic is blocked and at larger streets there are crossing points or “soft closures.” There were 11 crossing points in about 2 miles in S.F. – compare to 14 crossing points in 7.5 miles in L.A. This slows things down a little and minimizes adverse impacts to drivers and transit users. I had been thinking that L.A.’s route feels like it should have fewer crossing points… but after seeing how it worked fine in S.F., I think it works fine. It feels like a street; every one takes turns and shares.
At Sunday Streets’ crossing points, volunteers control the flow of bike/ped participants and traffic officers control the flow of car traffic. This makes for more volunteers and fewer police officers – hence the overall cost of the event is less… which I think is more sustainable in the long run.
In Los Angeles, activities (music, yoga, dodgeball, etc.) have generally stayed out of the main path of the CicLAvia event. This is less the case in San Francisco. While some activities, including the Treat Avenue skate area are outside the main flow, others spill into the main streets.
While riding on Valencia street, I encountered this gathering:
It was a capoeira circle:
Though most of the streets are wide open, these occasional activity circles do punctuate the route. They end up serving as traffic calming. Cyclists and pedestrians can definitely make their way around them… but they slow things down just a bit, making the event more safe and more welcoming.
I am curious to hear what Angelenos think – please comment. Should CicLAvia be more like Sunday Streets? How so? How not? Are there other lessons from other Ciclovía events around the globe that you’ve been to that we can learn from? What do you think?
(by Joe Linton)