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San Francisco wants to cut back car-free Hayes Street

Pedestrians walk along Hayes Street near Octavia Street, where city transit officials say they want to reduce the number of days the business corridor there is closed to cars. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

A car-free block of San Francisco could see the time for pedestrians and diners to take over the streets cut short by a new plan from the city.

Hayes Street between Gough and Octavia streets has been closed to cars on weekends since August 2020 as a way to boost customer traffic to local merchants along the bustling corridor. But the city transit agency that runs the street closure program, called Shared Streets, has recommended cutting back the blocks’ car-free hours.

Currently, the block of Hayes Street is closed to cars from 4 to 10 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Under the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan, the street would only be closed from 1 to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

People walk near shops on Hayes Street, a business corridor that goes car-free three days a week. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

To back up the idea, SFMTA, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, pointed to results from a survey of local merchants they conducted showing 66% of respondents support a one-day Saturday closure.

The agency also says the road closure confuses travelers and is recommending more cones, barricades and signs to prevent double-parking on the closed block of Hayes Street.

Local Businesses

Aether Apparel manager Chelsea Keaton said she isn’t worried about the proposed change.

“The street closure has only been for a little while, and we’ve been here 10 years,” she said.

Adam Fremier, who has waited tables at Chez Maman for 10 years, said his restaurant will be impacted by the street closure.

“It’ll hurt us for sure,” he said. 

A Chez Maman waiter said bringing back car traffic on Fridays and Sundays would hurt the restaurant. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Chez Maman takes advantage of the car-free streets by adding more outdoor tables during the weekends, fitting up to 25 tables outdoors with no cars on Hayes Street instead of 19 outdoor tables with car traffic.

“It brings so many people,” Frimer said. “Last weekend, when the weather was nice, everyone was walking around.”

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Amanda Nicklow, manager at Christopher Elbow Chocolates, said she has not noticed a significant impact on foot traffic in her restaurant following the Hayes Street closure to cars, but generally supports the idea. 

Nicklow added that the city should address apparent confusion she sees from pedestrians and motorists regarding the closure. She often sees delivery scooters driving onto the closed street or even onto the sidewalk. Nicklow said she’d like the city to have better signs about the closure.

Lloyd Silverstein, head of the Hayes Valley Merchants Council, said his group surveyed 175 businesses in Hayes Valley and that among the between 30 and 40 respondents, seven out of 10 businesses on the car-free block of Hayes support keeping the same Friday-to-Sunday closure.

Jennifer Laska, head of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said the city should make the street closure permanent, not cut it back.

Jennifer Laska, head of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, said the city should make car-free Hayes Street permanent. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“I am befuddled and disappointed,” Laska said about the city’s plans to scale it back. “This car-free program has been wildly popular.”

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents Hayes Valley, came out against the proposed changes in a written statement Wednesday.

“It makes no sense to gut this program by limiting it to a handful of hours on a single day,” Preston said. “If anything, we need to be talking about expansion.”

In July, the city decided to not renew the permit allowing the street closure, threatening to end the program, but later postponed the cutoff date until a longer-term plan on car-free Hayes Street was hashed out.

The SFMTA’s recommendations are slated to be voted on during its Oct. 17 board meeting.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com