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Frustration mounts as Tenderloin again left out of Slow Streets program

There was an outpour of exasperation Tuesday among people who have called for streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood to be included the latest phase of The City’s Slow Streets program.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors approved a third phase of its popular new program that prioritizes walking and biking in neighborhood corridors where Muni service was lost during the shelter-in-place order.

Directors approved the program’s addition of 14 corridors, including on Noe Street between Duboce Avenue and 23rd Street and on Cabrillo Street between 23rd and 45th avenues.

But it was not what streets were on the new list, but the streets that were left off that drove residents and community organizers to call into the meeting during the public comment period.

SFMTA San Francisco, Calif. Slow Streets program map with third phase additions approved Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

Claire Amable, a community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who grew up in the Tenderloin, said residents are frustrated with city officials over the lack of urgency and lack of equity on the SFMTA’s Slow Streets Program in the neighborhood.

Amable said:

“The Tenderloin faces many unique challenges that have only been exacerbated by Covid, like crowded sidewalks, limited park space, freeway-like streets and housed and unhoused residents doubled up in small living quarters.”

Amable mentioned the corridor on Jones Street between Golden Avenue and O’Farrell Street, saying the process took months and was just recently approved by the San Francisco Fire Department.

Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA director of transportation, explained to the board and public that the agency is executing the program under The City’s public health directive. He said street changes must be vetted with other city departments, including the Fire Department.

Tumlin added that other departments can veto proposals in the process.

The director described some of the challenges unique to the Tenderloin, including a high call volume for Fire Department and the need to deploy larger fire trucks due to building heights in the neighborhood.

San Francisco Fire Department The Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco, Calif. poses unique challenges for firefighters due a large volume of calls and need to deploy larger fire engines capable of handling tall buildings.

While simple methods of adding barriers and sandbags have worked to close streets in the Sunset District, which was one of the first neighborhoods included in the Slow Streets program, the same methods will not work in the Tenderloin, Tumlin said.

Urging agencies to work together and move quickly, Walk San Francisco Executive Director Jodie Medeiros said: 

“Our big ask is that the city agencies find a way to work together so that neighborhoods like the Tenderloin who are asking — no they’re not asking, they’re actually begging for this program — they’re not left waiting and waiting for programs like Slow Streets for months while other neighborhoods are enjoying safe street spaces.”

SFMTA Director of Sustainable Streets Tom Maguire said the agency is working with the Fire Department to expand pedestrian space on Turk Street in the Tenderloin.

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