The SFMTA has just published its amended plan for temporarily closing more city streets to vehicle traffic in order to allow more freedom for pedestrians, runners, and cyclists to occupy the roadway.
The latest additions come on top of the 20 miles of closed streets that were already implemented a month ago, including stretches of Page Street, Lake Street, 41st Avenue in the Sunset, and Kirkham Street. The revised map adds 14 more miles of (mostly) car-free streets, including Sanchez Street in Noe Valley, the full length of Kirkham, Ortega Street, 23rd Avenue in the Richmond, 20th Street between Valencia and Potrero, Mariposa Street between Kansas and Texas, and the full length of Shotwell Street in the Mission.
"Slow Streets are one element of the city’s efforts to provide physical distancing as people make essential trips," the SFMTA writes in a blog post. "They create more space for those traveling on foot or by bicycle while still making sure people who live on the streets, and emergency vehicles have full access." So, yes, as with the first phase, there may be occasional cars on the street because people who live there need to get in and out.
The map also indicates areas like Jefferson Street in Fisherman's Wharf that are under review for possible closure, and John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park which has been temporarily closed to vehicle traffic but may reopen.
The program followed on a similar, more ambitious plan launched in Oakland last month that included 74 miles of city streets — but as the Chronicle reported last weekend, in practice, only about 20 miles of streets have been temporarily closed, with that 74 number just a "goal." Still, city leaders in SF and Oakland are considering measures to keep some of these closures after shelter-in-place orders have been lifted.
Meanwhile, barely five months on the job and SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin has already had to navigate a complex pandemic shutdown of the entire Muni Metro system, widespread absenteeism among workers afraid of becoming sick, and the maintenance of a core set of 17 bus routes for essential travel amid a steep drop in revenue.
Tumlin went on NPR's Planet Money this week to talk about the future of public transit as the world begins emerging from lockdowns, and it's anyone's guess how and where the reopening of transit is going to succeed.
"Our workforce, all of them are working ridiculous long hours and they are exhausted and our front-line workers in particular have been carrying with them a huge amount of fear," Tumlin says. "There is an emotional toll to our workforce that is going to take a long time to heal and it’s going to impact our ability to deliver service. That fear is also present amongst members of the public. If Bay Area residents retreat to their cars out of fear, the economy can never recover."
But the fear is real! A recent study suggests that if too many residents revert to cars for commuting in the coming year — assuming their offices make them come in — it could mean major traffic and painfully long commutes.
Tumlin also discusses what things may look like, via Taipei, where everyone is wearing masks on trains, people's temperatures are being checked in stations, and there is a functioning contact-tracing apparatus already.
But, then Tumlin waxes romantic about the role transit plays in bringing us "back to our common humanity."
When you get on the bus you have no idea who you’re gonna see. There are the casual flirtations, there’s also the kind of witness of tragedy that kind of breaks your heart, and opens you up to gratitude if we’re lucky. Public transit is not always fun or efficient, but it certainly brings us back to our common humanity.