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Car-free wins – and what’s next

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Tuesday started with the news about San Francisco starting to close some streets for social distancing during shelter-in-place… but that was just the beginning. 

By the time the day ended, it was clear how much bigger we must think in terms of our city’s streets and future.

‘Slow Streets’ starts in San Francisco

First, Mayor London Breed and the SFMTA announced a first phase of temporary ‘Slow Streets’ to create space for social distancing while walking and bicycling during shelter-in-place. 

At Walk SF, we are grateful to city leaders for taking this important step. People are going into the street to maintain a six-foot distance on narrow or crowded sidewalks, and this brings its own risks. Car-free space supports health and safety in multiple ways during Covid-19.

But in looking at the initial ‘Slow Streets’, the neighborhoods that are in critical need of sidewalk space  the Tenderloin and Chinatown are sorely missing from the map. We’re urging SFMTA and the Mayor’s Office to address this ASAP. 

As the city moves beyond this initial phase, Walk SF is also asking for a true network of streets so it’s possible for people to safely walk to essential destinations citywide. With limited Muni service, the city should support walking as transportation for more trips including once shelter-in-place is lifted, but social distancing is still needed.

A permanently car-free Twin Peaks

So what else happened Tuesday? After years of advocacy by Walk SF, our members, and our partners like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the scenic east side of Twin Peaks Boulevard was made permanently car-free

Twin Peaks used to have no safe space for walking before the car-free pilot project started four years ago. People were literally run off the road. But now the eastern half of Twin Peaks is dedicated to people on foot and bicycle, eliminating all potential dangerous conflicts with vehicles. 

We extend our deepest gratitude to the SFMTA Board of Directors for their unanimous support of car-free space on Twin Peaks. Just like a car-free Market Street, this is another important step toward a San Francisco that prioritizes safety and people on our streets.  

Then we heard about Milan 

In the midst of ‘Slow Streets’ and a car-free Twin Peaks, we heard about what Milan, Italy had just announced in light of the Covid-19 crisis. We were awestruck.

Milan, a city of about 1.4 million people, is fast-tracking rebuilding streets to prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists (this includes implementing a citywide 20 MPH speed limit, which Walk SF supports here in San Francisco). 

Milan could break ground to expand sidewalks and add protected bike lanes on one of the biggest shopping streets next month. They see this as the path forward for a healthy, safe, climate-friendly, economically-robust, and resilient city.

In these unprecedented times, unprecedented things are possible. As Janette Sadik-Khan says in the article about Milan, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets.” So let’s harness this opportunity, San Francisco. 

With your help, Walk SF will continue to push everyday for bolder changes for our streets and for all of us. If you are financially stable, please support Walk SF’s advocacy today.

Photo credit: David Yu via Flickr Creative Commons