Vote to expand San Francisco's Slow Streets Program delayed

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board agreed to delay voting on an expansion to its Slow Streets Program for two weeks. Supporters of the program were frustrated at the delay and say the slow streets under consideration are already in under-served communities.

As San Francisco locked down in 2020, it opened up Slow Streets throughout the city. More than two dozen streets closed down to through traffic to help create areas where neighbors could walk, bike and exercise.

Many San Franciscans say they love the car free streets. "I do a gardening job in the Avenues near the de Young Museum and I take a lot of the Slow Streets walking home, and it's really, really nice," said Joseph Johnston. "You don't have to worry about the traffic or staying on the sidewalk then."

The SFMTA board considered expanding the program to add nine more Slow Streets.

Some San Franciscans called into the board meeting with concerns, especially with making some of those changes permanent.

"Resident concerns include an increase in noise, congestion, crime, trash, conflict and a decrease in the quality of life," said one caller.

The new Slow Streets would be in some of the city's historically under-served areas, including the southeast portion of San Francisco.

President of the Board of Supervisors Shamann Walton said Slow Streets aren't always a perfect fit for every neighborhood, but he's pleased to see those areas that have weighed in, saying they want to see Slow Streets are getting them.

"Community is excited in some areas, and in some areas they are having conversations about whether or not this is something they need for their specific areas," said Supervisor Walton.

SFMTA is also considering a Slow Street in the Western Addition. Supervisor Dean Preston said the Slow Streets have become important community gathering spaces. "Where they have community support and where they are done well, they just have a transformative impact on neighborhoods and just allow a level of community connection that people aren't used to seeing in their streets," said Supervisor Preston.

Going forward he says the city will have to weigh which if any Slow Streets will become permanent fixtures. "It's really helpful to see how it works in reality on a temporary basis and then use what we've learned in informing our decision about whether it should become permanent," said Supervisor Preston.

The board is set to take up the issue again in two weeks.

Currently the Slow Streets will revert to normal use 120 days after the city's COVID-19 emergency orders expire, unless steps are taken to make them permanent.