Go Slo Yo: San Franciscans embrace Slow Streets

Cedar Makhijani, Editor in Chief, Online

On December 6, the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which manages Muni and the City’s streets, voted to make the Slow Streets program permanent.
The Slow Streets program began in 2020 as an emergency COVID-19 mitigation measure, limiting some neighborhood streets to local traffic only, using plastic delineators to discourage motorists from driving more than one block on the streets. By making some streets car-lite, the City opened up space for people to get outside while still maintaining social distance. Immediately, people embraced the newfound public space in their neighborhood, forming communities around the streets.
On Page St, the entirety of which was designated slow, disappointed by the inadequacy of the official signage, neighbors built large their own. Colorful wooden signs welcoming people to the slow street were built at either end of Page. Many of these signs were adorned with messages like “I ❤️Page,” and “Go Slo Yo.”
“We put concrete in buckets and made signs with lumber,” said Molly Hayden, one of the stewards of the Page Slow Street organization, in an interview with the San Francisco Parks Alliance. “Initially, there were only barriers every few blocks. So I put out some signs and plants at the intersections that didn’t have any. I was almost sure that the City would remove them pretty quickly, but they didn’t. Folks seemed to actually celebrate them.”
Across the city’s slow streets, people who have stepped up to care for their slow streets have been designated Slow Mayors. Jess Jenkins and Molly Hayden, the slow mayors of Page St. (though they prefer the term stewards) are currently working to get a community parklet permitted and built at Page St. and Fillmore St.
Last year, Urban students designed “local traffic only” signs for the Ashbury-Masonic block, a gesture that has been appreciated by pro-slow street neighbors.
“The Page slow street is one of the best things that could have happened to Urban. It makes our school safer, particularly so during the construction project going forward,” said Head of School Dan Miller.
Page Slow Street has organized holiday traditions, bikepools, trick or treating, sing-alongs and even a mug exchange. In 2020, during the holidays, neighbors organized a tree trimming, where members of the community gathered in the street to begin an annual tradition of trimming and decorating a Christmas tree, which they leave in the street behind Slow Streets signage, usually near the intersection of Page and Lyon.
The designation of Page St. as a slow street has also improved the experiences of pedestrians and cyclists passing through, by decreasing vehicle traffic on the famed “Wiggle,” a bike route from Market Street to Golden Gate Park that avoids the steep hills around San Francisco, heavily utilizing Page. Page St. was intended to have special traffic calming measures implemented as early as 2017 as part of the Page St. Bikeway Pilot, a project scrapped by SFMTA in the face of opposition from the mayor and merchants associations before construction began.
Lake Street, which was made a slow street between Second Avenue, a block from its start at Arguello Boulevard and 28th Avenue, was a focal point of the controversy at the December 6 SFMTA board meeting. Despite the apparent controversy, SFMTA surveys have shown that 84% of residents favor the street remaining slow.
Lake St. is spearheaded by Friends of Slow Lake, an organization created in the face of attempts to remove the slow treatment from the street by residents of the nearby Seacliff neighborhood. Friends of Slow Lake has played host to bike buses (morning chaperoned group rides of kids to schools), trick or treating, a parade, concerts, group bike and scooter rides, Christmas tree decorating, and more.
When SFMTA attempted to remove traffic calming infrastructure on Lake St., neighborhood activists built, painted their own signs, and even bought automated vehicle counters from the Belgian government to do their own traffic studies to refute claims that traffic on adjacent streets worsened.
In December, after the SFMTA board voted to make Lake St. permanently slow, community members built and decorated a bench for the many elderly users of the slow street to rest on. Lake St.’s connections to 23rd Avenue, another slow street, have allowed people to get to Golden Gate Park’s car-free JFK Promenade, which runs through the park, connecting Ocean Beach and the Great Highway (which is car-free on weekends) to downtown via Page St., without spending any time on non-slow streets.
Despite continued interference from the mayor and inaction from SFMTA, advocates are hopeful about the future of slower and safer streets.
“It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the movement is only growing, in SF and around the world, and all of us are going to change the world,” said SafeStreetRebel, an anarchist street safety group, in a statement on December 31, 2022.