San Francisco's economy doesn't sleep. When Supervisor Scott Wiener and the Mayor’s Office, Entertainment Commission, and County Transportation Authority released a Late Night Transportation Plan earlier this week, the report emphasized that our night-time economy is valued at $4.2 billion, employs 52,000 people, and generates more than $50 million in annual tax revenue. The reports appropriate title: "The Other 9-to-5."
One takeaway was that, with those stakes, access to late-night rail service could at last be a top municipal priority. But such service, Wiener and the working group indicated, basically hinges on a second Transbay tube.
And there's another interesting point that Streetsblog raises as a question. Should we close popular streets to cars for the sake of nightlife? Could it improve safety and quality of life, or would it prove too problematic for late-night workers such as drivers who might rely on the status quo? I'm asking.
"In commercial corridors with vibrant nightlife, pedestrian safety and comfort may be a challenge at closing time, when large numbers of patrons — many of whom will have, no doubt, been drinking — simultaneously exit multiple venues, crowding onto often narrow sidewalks." That's one area of the report they highlight, which goes on to point out that a pedestrianization of major streets like Polk, Valencia, Castro, and Broadway, wouldn't be unheard of in other major metropoles. "Cities such as Austin, Texas, and Vancouver, British Columbia, have used temporary late night street closures as a strategy to improve pedestrian safety in particularly active corridors."
The idea of designated car-free street hours will likely face intense scrutiny even before it becomes a real possibility. Rerouting busses could be difficult and expensive, for starters. But many San Franciscans still support exploring the idea. "So many of the events that really define San Francisco, both for locals and visitors, are events that happen when the streets are shut down and the people are in them,” Tom Temprano told Streetsblog. Temprano owns Virgil’s Sea Room, a Mission Street bar, and served on the Late Night Transportation Working Group. “From Sunday Streets, to Pride, to Folsom Street Fair, to Bay to Breakers, these are all really events that are core to San Francisco’s identity and happen when we take cars off the road and let people have a good time.” Sure, political support and funding might be way, way in the future. But the report's timing, and a renewed emphasis on late-night workers and general quality of life, make the questions well worth asking.