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The Scoop on Sunday Streets

By Julia Wang

Photo by Lynn Friedman

In largely populated cities, such as San Francisco, it’s become increasingly difficult to access spaces for physical activity. Streets become congested with traffic and other pollutants, creating an uninviting environment. Sunday Streets is an open street program in San Francisco that aims to create healthier and more active communities by creating car-free spaces for people to enjoy.

The event is inspired by Ciclovía, an open-street program that originates from Bogotá, Columbia. Every Sunday and on holidays, the city clears about 70 miles of roads for people to bike, skate, run, and walk. Athletic instructors also lead different workouts in the city parks. Countries all over the world now boast open-street programs.  

San Francisco’s very own open-street program, Sunday Streets, was started in 2008 by the SF Bicycle Coalition in collaboration with Mayor Gavin Newsom and the ShapeUp Coalition of San Francisco. Non-profit organization Livable City now runs the program and hosts eight events every season. The routes span about 1-4 miles with exhibitors and sponsors lining the streets to promote health and wellness, and active community members enjoy the sunshine. Each Sunday Streets is in a different residential neighborhood in need of recreational spaces. Outreach and Communications Coordinator for Sunday Streets Jean-Paul Torres says, “We have anywhere from as high as 20,000-25,000 thousand folks at the Mission Sunday Streets,” Torres states, “On the lower range, we’re talking about 8,000 to 10,000 for some of our other ones such as Tenderloin and Bayview/Dogpatch.”

Photo by Dale Cruse

Putting on a Sunday Streets event requires a lot of planning and preparation. The Sunday Streets team partners with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, as well as other city agencies to run the event. Volunteers are essential to running these events: There are about 300 to 400 volunteers as the “base” for the season. For some Sunday Streets events, recruiting volunteers is more difficult whereas the more popular events attract many people. Torres says, “We don’t really have a lot of challenges with Mission in terms of recruiting volunteers. The other neighborhoods tend to be a little more hands on with getting volunteers to sign up.” With the less popular Sunday Streets, they try to recruit volunteers from within the neighborhoods. Residents of the neighborhoods are “advocating and want to see something positive happen in the community,” making them most

Running the events is also quite costly. Livable City has gathered an estimate of $100,000 to run one Sunday Streets in 2016. This includes estimated costs from their City and County of San Francisco partners and the SFMTA. While this does seem like a large number, Torres reminds us that, “… this number does not reflect the impact a Sunday Streets leaves on the communities we serve. This pertains to community building…  and the public health promotion behind closing the street to provide neighbors the space to do healthy, free, physical activity that they normally may not have access to in their neighborhood.” A study done by San Francisco State University showed that Sunday Streets and other programs alike have the ability to increase healthful physical activity. As the exercise gap widens, Sunday Streets is able to make physical activity more accessible.

The program has also grown into a community building experience. “Back then… there wasn’t much programming that went on,” Torres recalls, “What I’ve learned from Sunday Streets, since joining, is that there’s an interest to really feature what’s in the community. We encourage merchants and local businesses in the neighborhood from where we’re holding the streets [to participate] as a way to really connect folks, event participants to what’s located in the neighborhood… We try to limit the amount of businesses vendors coming from outside the neighborhood as a way to shop local and shopping within the neighborhood.” The program has grown and will continue to.

Chris Cassidy, Communications Director at the SF Bicycle Coalition says, “Sunday Streets is an amazing opportunity to see what San Francisco’s streets can look and feel like when people are put first. It’s a radical and joyous reimagining of how changing the use of public spaces can dramatically alter how people interact in those spaces.”

If you’re ever looking for a fun way to do some physical activity, come by the next Sunday Streets! They’re also always looking for volunteers for to help out on event day, as well as office volunteers and interns.


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