One year ago, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority affirmed Lake Street from Arguello (east) and 28th Avenue (west) as a Slow Street. How has that worked out?

SFMTA’s website notes reduced vehicle speeds (under 15 mph) and decreased traffic volume (below 1,000 vehicles daily). Great. But those feats weren’t presented as Slow Lake’s goals. Measures less community-divisive could have achieved them.

What does the ongoing “solution” entail? Every other block, three vertical posts rise across one of the two traffic lanes. Most vehicles can squeeze through two of the posts which, if hit, flop down then pop up without vehicle damage. 

A display of SFMTA’s misleading–or outdated—folly: Each right-hand post features a blue sign with five white icons representing an adult walking with a stroller and children, someone in a wheelchair, a jogger, a bike rider and someone on a scooter. SFMTA defined the intent of Slow Lake as enabling Covid-period outdoor recreation.

Not long after the onset of the pandemic, reality trumped theory. Crowds thinned and the concept caved in. For good reasons. Lake from 15th Avenue to 8th provides access to Mountain Lake Park. The neighborhood also hosts nearby playgrounds. Baker Beach and Ocean beach are a short drive. (I often walk.) 

Moreover, leafy Lake features ample sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides. I cross or walk along Lake two, often three, times a day—seven days a week. I observe almost everyone uses those sidewalks and bike lanes. 

Note: I usually see no one at the eastern and western ends of Lake.

By the way, Slow Lake was never vehicle-free. City vehicles, ambulances, trash collection trucks, delivery trucks, contractors and neighborhood residents were always “allowed” to drive at least a few blocks. No limits or enforceable prohibition existed. 

Another reason the Slow Lake concept was ill-conceived: Walking on the sidewalk between trees bordering the street and greenery in front of homes offers a far more peaceful and aesthetically pleasing experience than pounding asphalt. Yes, early on some people once thrilled to walking in the street—something our parents told us not to do. The thrill is gone.

To be honest, a few people do appear in the street. Some parents bicycle one or two children to pre-school in attached “wagons” trailing behind. Perhaps they believe the bike lanes too cramped. A small minority (thankfully) of parents don’t wear helmets. I’m not sure their safety concerns hold water.  

The rationale for Slow Lake, sketchy in concept, has proved misguided. Staying with it? Irrational.

If SFMTA, which has done many good things in town, including designated bus/taxi-only lanes, wants to slow and perhaps limit traffic on Lake, I love it! First, they should be honest and up-front. Remove the bouncy posts communicating that people use Lake’s vehicle lanes for recreation. They don’t.

Then, lay down two speed humps on each block. Ubiquitous in San Francisco, humps force drivers to slow down without damaging vehicles, except possibly those that speed anyway. Let neighborhood residents and others drive on Lake or use California Street one block south.

There’s a lesson here for the entire city. Expediting San Francisco’s recovery from Covid demands pragmatism. We’ll only consign ourselves to a “doom loop” if we keep our eyes wide shut.

Feel free to pass this post on.

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