A survey of residents conducted by the Central City SRO Collaborative has found strong support for the recent transformation of much of Ellis and Eddy into two-way streets. This shift comes nearly fifty years after city planners’ turned Tenderloin streets into fast-paced, one-way throughways for cars to get to Union Square and downtown in less time. It also comes seven years after neighborhood focus groups found residents overwhelmingly demanding the switch to two-way streets, and five years after the Board of Supervisors enacted the Tenderloin-Little Saigon Transit Plan that included two-way streets and other pedestrian-friendly improvements. These improvements, along with innovative ideas to re-design Market Street, offer an historic opportunity to once again make the Central City a great place for pedestrians.

It took more time than expected, but the first phase of the transformation of Ellis and Eddy into two-way streets was completed in April. The response from transit experts and those living or working in the area has been overwhelmingly positive.

Reversing Past Mistakes

The Tenderloin neighborhood has always been primarily residential. Yet city planners in the 1960’s ignored its residential status in deciding to turn its blocks into multi-lane thoroughfares. Planners argued that Tenderloin streets should be seen as an entry point into Union Square and downtown, ignoring that it was perhaps the least car-dependent community outside of Chinatown. The Tenderloin also housed a high proportion of elderly or disabled residents for whom pedestrian safety was a priority.

As a result of planners’ mistaken approach, the Tenderloin has been a consistent leader in the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles. Survey after survey has found its streets among San Francisco’s least safe, and it was not until 2005 that funding was allocated to get community feedback on how to improve the situation.

The result was the Tenderloin-Little Saigon Transit Plan. And while the complete funding and implementation of the Plan is currently dependent on the city reaching a deal with CPMC (the development agreement requires CPMC to pay $8 million for this and other pedestrian-related improvements), the shift to two-way streets on Eddy west of Leavenworth and on Ellis west of Jones has already made a difference.

To assess this, the Central City SRO Collaborative (CCSRO) surveyed SRO residents and business people in the area. 55% of the 172 respondents area felt that the two-way streets made the streets safer for pedestrians, while only 21% noticed no difference (21% had no opinion.)

Moreover, 69% of respondents felt that Eddy and Ellis could be made safer by adding additional pedestrian safety measures. In addition to extending two-way streets, 83% felt that bulb-outs on selective corners would reduce traffic speeds. These bulb-outs would be funded both from the CPMC development agreement and other city funds.

In addition to the survey, I have heard consistently positive feedback on the two-way streets from many business and property owners. There is a broad consensus that extending two-way streets on Eddy and Ellis eastward to Mason would further reduce traffic speeds throughout the area.

In addition to reducing traffic on Eddy and Ellis, the CPMC deal would add enough bulb-outs on Leavenworth Street to reduce traffic flow on that very crowded one-way street. Discussions are also resuming about changing traffic patterns on the first block of Jones Street (adjacent to the Hibernia Bank) to increase attractiveness for pedestrians.

When these Tenderloin pedestrian improvements are added to the pending proposals to reduce traffic and increase bicycling on Market Street, we could soon see a revival of two areas where pedestrians once thrived. Market Street was so clogged with cars by the late 1930’s that its businesses suffered, yet its car problem was soon eclipsed by the post-war decline of its theater district. Market Street’s traffic problem was never adequately addressed, and only in recent years has become the focus of attention.

Thanks to neighborhood residents, Walk SF, SFCTA staff, the San Francisco Bike Coalition and many other individuals and groups, a new chapter is being written for the pedestrian experience in the Central City.