First, they took down the freeway. Now, the rest of the cars will have to find someplace else to go, at least on weekends.
Starting Sunday, Hayes Street will become the latest thoroughfare to be partially closed to cars in order to provide more space for outdoor dining and shopping. The trendy commercial corridor, which was revitalized and thoroughly gentrified following the demolition of the nearby Central Freeway in the 1990s, is about to embark on a new phase of life.
“The small business community in Hayes Valley has been hit hard by the economic fallout of COVID,” Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the neighborhood, wrote in an email statement. “The Shared Streets proposal is one way to help get businesses back on their feet, and our office has worked for months with residents and merchants to craft this pilot program that we think will benefit the neighborhood.”
Following the trial run this Sunday, Aug. 30, Hayes will be closed to traffic from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The closure will extend three blocks, between Franklin and Laguna streets. A small stretch of Octavia Street will be closed as well, extending north from the already pedestrianized part of the street next to Patricia’s Green up to Ivy Street.
Full street closures are the most conspicuous aspect of San Francisco’s Shared Spaces program, which aims to provide restaurants and other businesses with outdoor space where patrons may congregate more safely than they could indoors. So far, the city has approved more than 1,000 Shared Spaces applications.
Valencia’s Shared Street, which operates Thursday through Sunday evenings from 18th to 19th and 16th to 17th, has been popular, significantly improving business for restaurants in the area.
But during a global pandemic, attracting throngs of diners has some people worried. A few visitors and business owners voiced concerns to Mission Local about the health implications of the crowds. Volunteers and local merchants have been vigorously enforcing mask rules and social distancing, according to Valencia Corridor Merchants Association president Manny Yekutiel.
Supervisor Preston’s office and the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association have been in touch with the organizers of the Valencia Shared Street regarding best practices. They are currently seeking volunteers to help enforce mask-wearing and ensure that everything goes smoothly.
The HVNA had initially proposed closing Hayes to cars seven days a week, but pushback from some neighbors led to the planned weekend-only closure. After six weeks, community members will assess whether to make changes to the program.
“We wanted to make sure we struck a balance between what’s good for the restaurants and what’s good for the retail merchants,” says Jennifer Laska, vice president of HVNA. “I’m hoping to see some of the stores that haven’t opened up yet be able to reopen.” Laska was encouraged by conversations with Yekutiel, who told her that retail stores as well as restaurants were able to reopen thanks to the Valencia Street closure.
Hayes joins the Shared Streets program at a challenging moment for the neighborhood. Twenty-one businesses in the Hayes Valley area have permanently shuttered, according to Laska. “It’s heartbreaking. There’s no place to get breakfast anymore in Hayes Valley”
To stimulate foot traffic, Laska is hoping to bring food trucks to the quieter ends of the street. She also notes that neighborhood residents are looking forward to having more space to walk. The 21-Hayes Muni bus, which typically runs down the street, is suspended due to the pandemic.
Homelessness is another challenge looming over the neighborhood. Two weeks ago, a petition calling for the establishment of a “Tent Free Zone” in Hayes Valley drew major controversy.
The petition was widely condemned on social media for suggesting the unhoused be removed from the neighborhood, with no consideration for where they should go. Businesses that signed it have been the target of boycotts, although some say they signed the petition, from an under-the-radar group called Better Living Hayes Valley, unwittingly. HVNA emphasized that it was not associated with that petition.
On Sunday, while tensions might still be high, housed and unhoused neighbors will have one less thing to worry about: cars.