Now that KW’s Square2Square event is going strong as Waterloo’s Car-free sunday, Shahira asked me to compare Waterloo’s event to our own Sunday Streetsevent in San Francisco. I can’t claim to be an expert on either, but since I’ve been to both, here are my first impressions. (I feel about guilty calling SF-ers “us” but bear with me). I’ll try to send this article around so some real locals can correct any glaring mistakes.
It’s not fair, but you do get returns to scale in any kind of event. There’s only 800 000 of us in the city proper, but the urban area has as much as 8 million depending on how you count it. That’s millions of people who can hop on the BART and walk around.
We’re less car centric
Not near as much as I’d like — when I tell people that I walk to work, I get suspicious looks sometimes — but it’s quite possible to live anywhere in SF without a car. Unlike in Waterloo where pedestrians are distinctly second class outside of the immediate environs of the universities, car ownership is a choice here. Parking spaces are precious here, and it’s common enough to see cars being towed.
Most importantly, those two points combine to give us powerful car-alternative groups, Critical Mass bike rides started here and not only is the SF Cycling Coalition large but we also have a dedicated walking group.
Sunday Streets last from 11-4pm, but volunteers and city workers show up long before then to cordon off streets, one difference here seems to be that Sunday Streets relies more on existing parking enforcement personnel rather than more expensive police officers on overtime. This month’s event was hosted in the Tenderloin neighbourhood (lovingly referred to as the “stabbing district” by some locals) so I can’t say if there was an increased police presence at the event as compared to a normal day, but there were visibly less uniformed officers than there were in Waterloo.
What worked out awesomely was that the heart of the event was adjacent to our Sunday farmer’s market with both events sharing participants, St Jacob’s farmer’s market is miles away from Waterloo in a sea of parking lots (as compared to Guelph’s which is right downtown) but there are probably other pedestrian-oriented events that a car-free street could be combined with (buskers? the jazz festival? nuit blanche?). The mayor was wandering around, it’s an election year, but it was still fun to see him shaking hands (even with non-voters).
The places where traffic crossed the event volunteers and MTA staff made sure that pedestrians didn’t block traffic — that’s the tradeoff, cars lose some streets but the remaining streets move faster with no jaywalkers. Generally the event is confusing for tourists, the sight-seeing bus routes have to change a little. Locals who want to drive through tend to be frustrated, especially if they can’t park near their home but quite a few were pleasantly surprised by it.
I think we were a little too optimistic with the layout of this event, the natural area around the Civic Center greenspace and the farmer’s market was compact and excited, however the event stretched out in a complicated snake north with gaps with nothing in them except people sleeping on the sidewalks. Tenderloin National Forest is really cool, but it’s a fair walk or a hilly bike ride from city hall.