It happened to Market Street. Now Valencia Street could be next.
At last week’s San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board meeting, Chair Malcolm Heinicke suggested for cars “to be purged from Valencia Street,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
It’s an idea that’s been bandied about before, but now that Market Street has shut to private forms of vehicular traffic, all eyes are on this boutique-studded stretch in the Mission District, where cars, scooters, cyclists, skaters, and pedestrians traverse together.
But is it time to close the popular street to cars?
Cyclists, who have had to brave collisions with delivery trucks and doorings from careless drivers, have demanded protected bike lanes on Valencia Street. (Mayor London Breed urged the SFMTA to install barriers along the dangerous four-block segment between Market and 15th streets last year, although further safety implementation has been slow.) And Sunday Streets, the annual street closures that allow cyclists and pedestrians to tread where drivers usually do, shows how easy it is to picture Valencia as a thriving car-free strip.
“Valencia is a perfect candidate to go car-free,” Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian safety group, tells Curbed SF. “Like Market Street, Valencia is one of the busiest streets in the city in terms of people walking and biking, yet cars dominate it. Frequent double parking, speeding, and unsafe turning behaviors—as well as constant rideshare drop-offs and pickups—make the street really dangerous.”
Medeiros goes on to say that the city’s crash rates back this up, noting that 30 percent of the crashes on Valencia Street in 2018 were drivers hitting pedestrians.
“And 70 percent of all crashes on Valencia are happening in the intersections,” she adds.
One area business owner expressed concerns that removing vehicular traffic on Valencia would have a negative effect on retail.
“I personally think it would be devastating to our business,” Jonah Buffa, co-owner of Fellow Barber at 18th and Valencia streets, told the Chronicle.
But not every shop owner feels a ban would prove entirely ruinous. Antonia Kohl, owner of Tigerlily Perfumery at 21st and Valencia streets, says a car ban could work as well as help the city achieve some of its climate-change goals.
“If the city is working toward a long-term plan to reduce carbon emissions and eventually become a relatively car-free city, I’m ultimately for it,” Kohl tells Curbed SF, but adds, “I also wonder how the removal of hundreds of accessible parking spots will affect the number of customers who come to the neighborhood.”
She goes on to say that in order for a car ban to work without harming area businesses, the city “will need a radically improved public transportation system.”
Indeed. The much-missed 26-Valencia bus, which once ran the length of the popular street, ceased running in 2009. Right now there are no public transit options available for the street save for the perma-crowded 33 Ashbury/18th bus.
But above all, Kohl says, “all voices from all sectors should be heard in the urban planning process.”
Another issue the city would need to work on in order to make this plan (which is, as of now, just a glimmer in the eyes of one SFMTA board member) come to fruition are permits to merchants so they can load heavy goods from their private cars.
From a design perspective, Urban Designer Geeti Silwal, from Perkins and Will’s SF branch, who was integral in the development for the Better Market Street project, tells Curbed SF, that nailing down a timeline for such an undertaking would be “hard to say.”
She adds, “Support from local businesses and local residents is fundamental, that will take time and a lot of political effort. Market Street took nearly a decade. That said, examples such as Broadway Boulevard in NY have shown that you can go a long way with a bucket of paint.”
The Valencia Corridor Merchants Association will meet later this week to discuss the possible car ban.