On its fifth anniversary, Sunday Streets offers a lesson in urban experimentation

View from the last Sunday Streets, in the Western Addition on Sept. 8.
Courtesy of Sunday Streets

It’s hard to believe that Sunday Streets -- San Francisco’s version of the ciclovia, or temporary closure of streets to cars as a way of opening up more urban space for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, performers, and loungers -- is five years old. It’s even harder to believe that this family-friendly event was once controversial, especially feared by the businesses that now clamor to hold them in their neighborhoods.

But it was, and that’s a great reminder that ideas that disrupt the status quo and seem quite radical and unsettling can embody just what The City needs to feel like, well, a city, a place with people mix and mingle and get to know one another in the streets, strips that can become important social spaces and not simply conduits for cars.

“Sunday Streets provides the opportunity for recreation and activity in neighborhoods all across San Francisco,” Sunday Streets Director Susan King of Livable City told us. “Each community it’s in is helped with health and economic benefits and the easing of community cohesion.”

This Tuesday, Sept. 17, the folks from Sunday Streets will be hosting a fundraiser and celebration at Cityview, atop the Metreon, in honor of the hard work that has been put into various Sunday Streets events around the city throughout the years. The event will feature speeches, snacks, an open bar, a raffle, live entertainment, and other hoopla.

Among those being honored at the event will Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who as mayor worked with alternative transportation activists from Livable City (the event’s main sponsor), the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and other groups -- including a large contingent that attended the first ciclovia in the US, in Portland, during the Toward Carfree Cites conference in 2008 (which we at the Guardian covered) -- to create Sunday Streets.

At the time, the business-friendly Newsom stood up to opposition from merchants in Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39, and both progressive and conservative supervisors looking for a way to tweak the mayor, to help become one of the first cities in the US adopt the ciclovia model that had been pioneered in Bogota, Columbia, and which has now spread to cities around the world.
“We really have to thank former Mayor Gavin Newsom for instigating Sunday Streets,” King said. “Without him, Sunday Streets in San Francisco wouldn’t exist.”

First hosted in the late summer of 2008, King has overseen Sunday Streets since its inception, hustling up fiscal sponsors and volunteer support like a whirling dervish the whole time. 

“There’s so much that goes into Sunday Streets,” King said. “I had no idea that it would get to where it is now.”

The anniversary event costs $50 and lasts from to 6 to 10 p.m. Proceeds will go to future Sunday Streets events.

This year there have been Sunday Streets in a handful of neighborhoods, making appearances in the Embarcadero, Mission, Bayview, Great Highway, Tenderloin, and Western Addition. There are two more Sunday Streets scheduled this year in the Excelsior (Sept. 29) and the Richmond (Oct. 27) districts.



And it's many of the same vendors, selling the same bad street food, in either case.

It's just another example of American capitalism finding new ways to part people from their money, and I have no problem with that, but let's not dress it up as anything revolutionary or significant. Closing a street for one Sunday a year makes little material difference. Its just a gesture.

As a news story, it would have been good to have cited the costs to the city of these events. Obviously people have to be hired, there's police time, portable toilets and all the rest to be paid for. Some journalism here, maybe?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 6:46 am

Have you ever even been to a Sunday Streets? It's not a street fair, there is no bad street food, and there are no vendors. All the activities you see are hosted by people volunteering their time to help transform the streets into a nice community event for a day. And there is more than one a year.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 9:02 am


And there is only one a year on any given street, AFAIK, meaning that each street is closed for just a few hours every year.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:18 am

Sunday Streets in the Mission District each year.

You talk out of your ass a lot, AFAIK.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:36 am

No. Didn't think so.

And you are still ducking the cost question.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:47 am

I am under no obligation to answer the cost question because I don't care. I like Sunday Streets.

Find out from your elected officials if the costs bother you so much. Most likely, you are on their ignore list with the other crackpots who talk out of their asses.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

found one single example in one case, after frantic googling.

And still have no answer to the other except to say that you "don't care" about costs. Of course you don't care, because someone like you is unlikely to pay much in taxes anyway.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

I responded to your false statement about Sunday Streets immediately upon reading it, no research required.

If you care about the costs, find out for yourself. I doubt you have the capability. You would rather make anonymous unfounded comments on this website with diversionary personal attacks thrown in about the only thing that matters to you, money.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

It moves to different areas of the city, and there were 9. You can easily find the information on their home page. As for costs, they have a sponsor page, so most likely it costs way less than you imagine it would.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

the event is free. In fact, it means the exact opposite - that they are groping for funds because of the cost structure.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

Agreed. This bs event is sponsored by livable city (a front for real estate developers). Do your research on livable city and you will find out their agenda is to rid the city of cars. These are the same people who have been advocating parking meters in the neighborhoods.

Posted by Sfparkripoff on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

credibility or influence. They can be bought off with a few streetfairs.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 7:26 am

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 8:29 am

The fact that they technically do not make a profit (although some report a "surplus") doesn't mean they are doing anything worthwhile.

Posted by anon on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 8:59 am
Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 10:43 am

The admin work for free? The cops? Everything is donated or volunteered?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:19 am

The event costs very little to put on, and brings visitors in from out of town who spend money that creates sales and payroll taxes that go into the general fund, and keeps SF residents in town to spend money that creates sales and payroll taxes that go into the general fund.

And they are spending the money at established brick and mortar shops on the route who do a bangup business that day, not at "the same old vendors" who populate the street fairs.

And no 4 year old can ride their bike down the middle of the street of the Union Street Fair, like they can at Sunday Streets.

I know you will do anything to troll every topic but this one is going to be a dead end.

Posted by John Murphy on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

example of an authentic community-oriented event that, according to John Murphy, makes money for the city.

Unlike, for example, the America's Cup fiasco that the same commenters who are blasting Sunday Streets couldn't defend enough.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

athletes and supporters, that brings millions into SF from around the world.

Sunday Streets is a one-off, knock-off self-indulgent event for street vendors that costs the city money.

Murphy is smoking crack.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

Sunday Streets. Does that person work for free? Is that a voluntary position? Or paid? Do you even know? Do they have a staff? What does that cost?

What about police overtime? The portable toilets? Signage? Diversions? you've costed all that out before claiming that Ss makes money?

No, of course you haven't.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

The organizers for for a NON PROFIT, not the city. They have a 3 or 4 person staff, and are not paid by your tax dollars.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

Telling me it's a non-profit doesn't tell me where the money comes from. And we all know that the city has cozy arrangements with many non-profits.

So for the 15th time today, can anyone tell us how much these events cost?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

Do you even know? They work for a non profit that organizes all of the events, not the city. Did you even bother googling it, or reading anything about it before spewing your nonsense?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

Even though we all know that the city funds many non-profits?

The facts that everyone is trying to evade this questions tells me that these self-indulgent events are probably very expensive, as does the fact that nobody knows the answer.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

that you can't figure out something for yourself.

Your response--outlandish claims and name calling.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

including the people that claim to be experts, those who are involved in putting on these events, and the SFBG that is supposed to be doing journalism here.

Which tells me either the costs are buried somewhere or that they are excessive and they do not want the people to know.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

Just not you.

Your conspiracy theory must somehow make you feel better. Compulsively posting here certainly isn't working.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

knows how much it costs.

But all we really know is that you do not know.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

The reason that I and everyone else are ignoring you, my persistent friend, is that city expenditures on Sunday Streets are minimal and they always have been. That's how it was set up, with the corporate fiscal sponsors that I mentioned (and which I linked to an article discussing) to cover its costs, and no public money involved. Personally, I'd rather see taxpayers support this than corporations, but that's just me. Livable City fundraises for these events and King's salary as well, hence the "fundraiser" that I wrote about. There may now be some small city subsidies or fee waivers, I don't really know or care, but if you do then you should look into it as the other guest advised rather than throwing an ill-informed public tantrum. 

Posted by steven on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 10:42 am

No it is not. The volunteers come from the bicycle coalition and part of the funding comes from the SFMTA.

Posted by Sfparkripoff on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

Where do you think they get their funding from?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 7:26 am

The street fairs are great.

Anything that gets fatty Americans out of their cars and onto the street to interact with their neighbors are a good tihing.

This idea, originally from Bogota, Colombia, is gathering momentum worldwide.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

Nice to see something coming out of Columbia that isn't criminal, violent or both.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

The photo above pretty much says it all. Sunday Streets is a sham! This city sponsored waste of taxpayer money was an Epic Failure in the Western Addition. How do I know? I was there.

Sunday Streets is Sponsored by Livable City (a front for real estate developers) who want to rid the city of cars. The reason is to show how people live in a car free environment.

Fortunately the neighborhoods have caught on and Will not be supporting the real estate developers who are trying to take over their neighborhoods.

Posted by Sfparkripoff on Sep. 13, 2013 @ 8:49 pm
Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 7:24 am

this claim that Livable Cities is somehow facilitating real estate developers is absolutely laughable

real estate developers *main* objective is to build ridiculously expensive condos with as much parking as possible so that rich people with cars will pay top dollar for the condos (because of the convenience of the parking spaces)

no group would promote the removal of parking to help real estate corporations

Posted by racer x on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 8:40 am

you would build in the burbs. McMansions often have 3 or 4 car garages.

With a SF condo, you'd be lucky to have more than one parking space per unit.

Posted by anon on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 8:58 am

Interesting idea: real estate developers and bicycle advocates on the same team.

I never would have come up with that.

Posted by pete moss on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 4:59 am

All transportation enhancements increase the wealth of adjacent landlords and property speculators. When BART was built, a few billions of wealth was given by the public to the families who owned the downtown real estate since tens of thousands of workers were delivered to their doorstep every day, greatly increasing the value of commercial property the wealthy families owned in the area. When BART was built out to Fremont, Pleasanton and Livermore, more billions of wealth were given by the public to the adjacent landowners and sprawl developers. The high speed rail project will do the same, giving billions, if not trillions, of dollars of wealth to the adjacent landowners while ushering in more sprawl to the state, eventually turning the central valley into massive suburban sprawl from Marysville to Bakersfield. The poor people have to live somewhere after all, so where better than dumping them in the central valley to choke on the smog trapped by the mountains to the east and keeping the poorer people far away from the much more desirable coastal areas.

Usually these projects are funded with regressive taxes such as bonds, sales taxes or income taxes, which means lowly taxpayers are funding the wealth creation of the already wealthy landlords and speculators who financially benefit from the transportation "improvements."

Bike lanes may not transfer as much immediate wealth to landlords and property speculators compared to big ticket government funded transportation projects like BART, light rail, BRT and high-speed rail, but bike lanes are part of a new wave of property wealth transfer from taxpayers to landlords and speculators. The inner city areas of Paris, Manhattan and SF have become even wealthier as congestion, noise and dirty, smelly auto traffic is replaced with more bike, walking and transit trips. Wealthy people don't want a lot of traffic on their streets and what better way to get rid of the poor person's best transportation option - the automobile - than converting car space to bike and transit space.

The politicians who make these transportation projects happen, the wealthy land owning families who benefit from these transportation "investments," the well-organized unions that help build these projects, and the transportation advocates who are the shills for these transportation projects are a formidable political force. Paying for these projects with regressive bond financing, sales taxes and other broad based taxes is the icing on the cake.

Thanks for reminding us that the landlords, property speculators, politicians and numerous transportation groups like Livable City, Transform, Transit Riders Union, Walk SF and the all-powerful Bike Coalition are part of a big, happy family working together to increase rents, increase housing prices, and deliver billions of new wealth to the largest landowners and property speculators while helping to displace the lower income residents who can no longer afford the new and improved gentrified neighborhoods.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 6:08 am

somewhere might achieve some economic success as a result. Great idea. Let's all live in miserable abject squalor instead. Better that we are all poor than that someone becomes prosperous.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 7:23 am

"the poor person's best transportation option - the automobile"

Right. Because a poor person's best option is something that costs-- on average-- $9000 a year (according to AAA).

Poor people would never stoop to being reliant on Muni. That only costs $900 a year-- no self-respecting poor person would want to spend that little.

What's funny is that I agree with you in part. BART was and is a giveaway to landowners and sprawl developers. What you don't mention is that there was another huge giveaway to those same developers-- freeways and road widenings, including those that demolished big swaths of the city (though other cities had it worse than SF, we had enough-- Geary, Army, 280, 19th Ave., etc.). By comparison, BART was benign.

Posted by Alai on Sep. 14, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

marginal outlying places where public transit is either non-existent or dangerous.

Posted by anon on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 8:57 am

...which does not describe San Francisco anyway.

Posted by Alai on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 9:53 am

If you are poor and live in Stockton and your job is in Petaluma, you need a car.

If you're a hedge fund manage working in downtown SF and living in Russian Hill, you can walk to work.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 10:04 am

First, what's that got to do with the streets of San Francisco? If you're poor and you live in San Francisco, you don't even have a car.

Second, it's insane that someone lives in Stockton and works in Petaluma. It's even more insane that people who are poor have to pay large amounts of money just to get to work. We've come to the point where people have to spend more of their income on transportation than on housing. This is not sustainable-- not for the people themselves, and not for society at large, and it can't be solved through more parking and wider roads.

Posted by Alai on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

the jobs are in the affluent places but the poor can only afford to live in poor places. Poor people commute more and so paradoxically have more need for a car than rich folks.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 15, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

Then the solution is to build more housing near the jobs, so that poor people don't have to spend 25% of the money they make on transportation.

Posted by Alai on Sep. 16, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

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