Even in the face of global warming, inflation, American political divisions and Russia’s war on Ukraine, small local issues sometimes offer a ray of hope. 

San Francisco “slow streets” program limits through traffic on Lake Street north of my house. Some Lake residents love their slow street. But traffic must go elsewhere, so I see not a solution but a problem. A group of neighbors on 15th Avenue expressed our concerns to the Department of Public Works (DPW). Our supervisor, Connie Chan, proved quite helpful.

Yesterday, I witnessed a victory for common sense.

Let me reiterate the impact of the Lake slow street on my own. The program began during the early phase of the Covid pandemic. It sought to provide homebound people with more space to walk, run or cycle. I note that some slow streets are narrow and run through high-density neighborhoods, Lake is wide and bucolic.

Oh, and it borders the Presidio National Park.

For a few months—if that—many people utilized Lake Street. For a few weeks, packs of cyclists, who never deigned to slow down, made walking Lake outright dangerous. Carolyn and I once had to detour to then-deserted California Street as we walked to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. 

The novelty wore off fast. For two years, Lake Street has been practically deserted. The few pedestrians like me enjoy virtually empty sidewalks. Runners and cyclists utilize virtually empty bike lanes on both sides of the street.

It’s understandable that the slow-street concept on Lake lost its reason for continuation. Working people spent more time with their jobs—at home or on-site. Private schools educated students on campus. Public schools eventually caught up.

Recently, DPW installed several speed humps and additional stop signs on Lake. Most people opposed to the slow-street concept support these traffic-calming devices. We hope that the work indicates that Lake—always lightly trafficked—will open up again.

The problem: Slow Lake diverts traffic to busy California Street and crossing north-south avenues. More vehicles use 15th Avenue to access California. Until yesterday, my driving east required turning left onto California. 15th Avenue had stop signs. California lacked them. The intersection is notorious for its frequent traffic accidents. With vehicles forced off Lake and California Street traffic increasing, the risk of accidents would only became greater. People would die.

That risk has been greatly reduced.

The city actually listened to 15th Avenue  residents—you know, folks who pay taxes, who have lives to lead. DPW installed new stop signs for California Street traffic. The all-way stop will keep motorists on 15th from rushing to turn left or cross California as east-west vehicles race to and from Park Presidio/Veterans Boulevard a block away.

To paraphrase the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon (1969), that’s one small step for SFDPW, a giant step for San Franciscans. No one should have to take their lives in their hands to go the supermarket.

Hopefully, normal traffic will resume on Lake Street. This will take pressure off California in much of the Richmond District. It also will represent another giant step for a city too often engrossed in idealistic strategies that fail the test of observable reality.

Boy, does San Francisco need a turn towards pragmatism.

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  1. David Newman on October 7, 2022 at 12:00 pm

    Common sense — what a rare commodity. A lot of the closed streets v. open streets debate could be solved with an application of common sense, collaboration and compromise. JFK Driver is wide enough to accommodate both auto traffic and foot/bike traffic, particularly considering that there are already sidewalks on both sides of the drive. The Great Highway has room — I measured it — for three or four lanes of traffic, a couple of dedicated bike lanes and plenty of pedestrian walking space. It would take money, of course, but also a willingness not to insist that it’s my way or the highway. We can all get along, but only if we want to.

    • David Perlstein on October 7, 2022 at 1:46 pm

      Agreed, David. Pragmatism only requires looking around, seeing what works and doesn’t. Theory often has to give way to reality. Hopefully, it will.

  2. Joan B Sutton on October 7, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    I’m glad you got all way stop signs at that difficult intersection. I always try to avoid it by turning right on California and then left at the next block.

    • David Perlstein on October 8, 2022 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Joan. After all these years, being safe at that intersection offers a major relief.

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