The Story of San Francisco’s Sunday Streets

1 Oct

Photo by Sirgious

San Francisco’s Sunday Streets are an awesome event where the City shuts down major roads to car traffic and invites thousands of people to come play in the street. From bikers to rollerskaters to strollers, rolling down the middle of the street is an experience because of how different it feels there with the cars gone. You begin to imagine what it would be like if your neighborhood was always like this, with old folks and young out playing, feeling good and safe, smiles on every face.

“Slowly it dawns on them that they can use the main drive and the roads. For once the world does not belong to the automobile. The bicycle is king again and the rider may go where fancy dictates without looking nervously over his shoulder. You are even allowed, for a few unrealistic minutes, to reflect on how pleasant life would be if the car were banned from San Francisco.” Herb Caen, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28/73

All the local stores set up booths outside selling neighborhood delicacies. They say Sunday Streets is their best day of business. San Francisco’s Sunday Streets has an interesting history though, it came to be during a time of animosity towards biking in the city.  In 2006, the SF Bike Coalition was trying to get riders some car free roads to play on in Golden Gate park on the weekends. There was opposition from the new de Young museum that didn’t want any shortage of parking. Mayor Gavin Newsom sided with the drivers and insistently blocked the car-free streets idea in the park. It took a lot of organizing and support from the Board of Supervisors to finally get the first Healthy Saturday approved, and even then it was only a very small stretch of closed streets in the park. Also, our city wide bicycle plan was bogged down in an expensive lawsuit. Every obstacle stood in the way of bringing clean and healthy transportation options to San Francisco. Then something interesting happened.

The story of Sunday Streets begins a long time ago, far far away. The idea of closing down streets for the primary purpose of bicycling begins in 1976 in Bogotá, Colombia with their now world famous Ciclovias, a weekly event where the City closes 70 miles of streets to cars and encourages everyone to come outside and play.

The amazing StreetsBlog and StreetsFilm crew went to visit Bogotá. The video above was made, along with a full length version, and it became viral in the advocate community. Eventually it was shown at the US Conference of Mayors, and they freaked out. Every city in the country began racing to be the first to host a Ciclovia. Mayor Newsom flipped his whole script and gave official City support to the crew who were starting up the Ciclovia here in SF. Where before we were fighting for every inch of bike lane, we now had national support for car free streets.

In 2010, San Francisco held nine Sunday Streets and all them are a blast. Most major cities around the world are now hosting Ciclovias as well. All it took was a well made video and and good idea to change the world. Hack Your City officially salutes the StreetsBlog crew and the visionaries in Bogotá. San Francisco’s Sunday Streets are currently part of the DIY Urbanism exhibit on display at SPUR right now. If you are one of the four readers of Hack Your City, you need to go check it out.

2 Responses to “The Story of San Francisco’s Sunday Streets”

  1. JERKFACE October 11, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    Kansas City, MO has only done this during bike week -hopefully this could be a more common Sunday in the future

  2. Mike E. December 29, 2010 at 4:46 am #

    Sunday streets went by my block this year! It’s really a wonderful event. We played four-square in the middle of the street. Parents were teaching their kids to bike in front of their house, where there’s usually just cars. I wish it happened every weekend.

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