San Francisco Debuts Car-Free “Sunday Streets”


San Francisco held its inaugural car-free "Sunday Streets" event last weekend. New Yorker Jen Petersen was there and files this report.

Whatever the weather, San Francisco’s
Fisherman’s Wharf doesn’t suffer from a shortage of dollar-shelling,
strolling tourists on weekends, and so clearing street space for more
people-powered mobility on a sunny morning had instant takers. 
As was the case at New York’s Summer Streets, more than a few participants
simply stumbled upon the event.  And since Civic Center and Fort Mason
was hosting the U.S.’s first Slow Food Nation, a foodie-drawing tribute
to regional, small-scale food producers, there was an even greater influx
of slow and deliberate pilgrims on this particular weekend. There
wasn’t a chance that the northern part of the route would
go un-used, though I wondered how many San Franciscans actually ventured
that way. But save for the artisan street vendors set up as usual at
Market Street and Embarcadero, the weekend-shuttered financial district
was still a tourist no-go zone. 

South of the Ferry Terminal Building
(itself a regional foods marketplace), however, cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers,
and runners transitioned to the physical activity-promoting
leg of the route. And so rounding the bay’s curve to South Beach,
where the SF Giants’ AT&T Park was open for base running, and
the China Basin inlet, where Cheryl Burke Dance Studio offered Tribal
Belly, Afro-Colombian, Salsa, and East Coast swing dance classes all
morning, the re-appropriative potential of the street came to life. I maintain: there is no higher social use of street space than dancing!


And while the dance stage set up in
front of Pier 48 was a lively space, the China Basin/Mission
Bay stretch of the route felt fashioned by a place-marketing tour agency. Freshly-constructed condos and little else lined the street’s west
side, while barbed wire fencing barred bay access for most of the route. 
But oh how that unobstructed sapphire bay view beckoned! I found
myself daydreaming about a waterfront Sunday Streets with free kayaks and canoes on offer.   

Pedaling beyond condo-led redevelopment’s
reach, my thoughts turned to residents of the route’s immediately
adjacent, currently park-poor neighborhoods. Did they know about
the street closure, and had they toured this ribbon of their city on
car-free streets, taken in a free dance class, or at least breathed
in an unusually quiet view of the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Golden
Gate? Or was this Wharf-to-Bayview route more effective for place
marketing to the economically mobile, who might now add the yet-to-be-named,
still comparably industrial waterfront south of Mission Bay to their "possible purchase" map?


Regardless, there were many smiling
faces, and much inter-modal cooperation. For a city that has a hard
time holding on to families with children, San Francisco (or the wider
Bay Area) certainly has plenty who will show up with bikes, provided they can safely reach the designated
route. Family bike gangs were more numerous than spandex
and logo-covered road rider packs, Critical Massers (away at Burning
Man, perhaps?), or fixie-fixated hipsters. The traffic
current was slow, there were no lane markers for different modes and
paces, and riders helped to point out perilous streetcar tracks for
their fellow riders. And movers of all speeds even dismounted
and unlaced rollerblades to dance together, still helmeted, in
front of Pier 48. Maybe this is the most incisive
indicator of a successful Ciclovía-style event after all. 

Photos 1 & 3 by Jen Petersen; Photo 2 by pecanpieguy/Flickr

  • vnm

    Kudos to SF.

    I love the penny farthing. Where can one try out one of those things?

  • Matt

    Living in a suburb north of Boston, I can only envy the forward-thinking people of San Francisco. A few minutes ago a fellow in a huge red truck yelled at me for hogging the street with my teensy-weensy bicycle. I would have yelled out, “I hope the price of gas hits $50 a gallon!” but I was too busy panting.

  • Hey – what do you know! Shea and I are going to be in SF next weekend, and the second installment of Sunday Streets is next Sunday (9/14)!

    We had a great time volunteering at all three NYC Summer Streets events – now we can go just for fun!!

  • Matt:

    While I happily accept your description as a “forward-thinking” person, the truth is San Francisco ventured into this territory kicking and screaming.

    Fisherman’s Wharf merchants raised heck and almost got the even canceled. Instead, it was pared back to 4 hours in the morning on two days. After the mild-to-moderate success of the first Sunday Streets event, however, their arguments that a street closure a mile away from their businesses hold no more water. Hopefully, we can continue to work to make this event even more successful and our streets a little more livable.


    No matter where you live, write a letter to the SF Chronicle encouraging more events like this.

  • Usually on Sundays, I begin my work week by:

    1. Raising my head from the pillow
    2. Having a Peet’s Coffee
    3. Sprinting off to Sports Basement.

    However, on 31 August 2008, things went a bit different. .. . … . ..

    Sunday Streets – San Francisco

    As I set in the living room, enjoying my morning coffee, I smiled.

    Q. – Why the big smile today?

    A. Well, I believe Yoga should be accessible to every individual. Therefore, for seven years, I have taught donation based yoga classes (students pay what they can afford). And over the years, I have offered free yoga classes at San Francisco’s Dolores Park, Ocean Beach and Free Yoga Classes at City Hall. And presently, I am the founder & organizer of Sports Basement’s Free Yoga Program.

    And today, my smile is on & my hat is off to San Francisco’s Mayor, Gavin Newsom for offering free yoga classes to the city and county of San Francisco. San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom has understood the importance of how physical activities play an important role in the physiological, emotional, and physical well being of an individual. And on a larger scale, Mayor Gavin Newsom understands how healthy individuals plays an important role in the positive growth & health of a community. Therefore, Mayor Gavin Newsom has provided “the opportunity to engage in bettering oneself through physical activities” (including Yoga) to people of all walks of life.

    So, after smiling & finishing my coffee, I walked down 24th Street and boarder the B.A.R.T. Arriving at the Embarcadero, I weaved through the crowd with the intention of supporting Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Pilot Program. Arriving at the Ferry Park – “Yoga Pod,” I began to assist my fellow yoga teacher’s.

    Check out the Sunday Streets Yoga Class Schedule:

    Wishing the best of all possible worlds,
    Iyengar Yoga Teacher, tony eason


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