Slow streets are residential streets that restrict through traffic for cars to create a shared neighborhood space for people on foot and bike. The slow street program in San Francisco started in April 2020, with some slow streets potentially becoming permanent by July 2021.
This playbook is a guide for neighborhood residents who want to help foster community and build support for their local slow street. It outlines what has worked well in other communities to promote slow streets.
Ten tips for for making your local slow street successful
Create a support group for your slow street. The slow streets that succeed have one thing in common - a group of committed neighbors working to make sure the slow street meets the needs of the community - both the people who like it AND those who do not. Slow Sanchez started as a group of neighbors who were concerned about safety for the Sanchez slow street and branched out from there.
Clearly define what your slow street is FOR. Every slow street is different - at Slow Sanchez we talked to many neighbors and surveyed 100s of neighbors to learn that residents wanted a walking corridor where kids could play safely.
Clearly define what your slow street is NOT. Opponents will use scare tactics to rally opposition based on issues like “taking away parking.” On Slow Sanchez, an early post on the often-toxic Nextdoor stating that slow streets would reduce home values by taking away parking got over 250 comments before neighbors started pointing out that no parking was being taken away and that home values would likely go up.
Run your support group like a political campaign. The decision on whether a slow street becomes permanent is political - if your neighbors support the slow street it thrives, if neighbors feel that it is noisy and dangerous, it will die. If you can show hundreds of neighbors coming together and demonstrating commitment to build a better community, that will attract support from elected and city officials. Slow Sanchez attracted over 600 members, 94% of whom support a permanent slow street. Our group emails always contains links to volunteer and donate - average open rate is 67%, and click through rate is 21%.
Build a brand. Having a catchy name like Slow Sanchez helps people start to feel ownership for their slow street. Printing posters and stickers and handing them out to residents builds community spirit. Slow Sanchez paid $2,500 for design and printing of 500 posters and 1,000 stickers. Slow Sanchez also has a web site, a twitter account and an Instagram page - all of which build community and political clout.
Talk to a lot of people. Just as with politicians, there is no substitute for talking to as many people as possible. Find people who are already using the street and see who is willing to help. Slow Sanchez built a five person steering committee of local Noe Valley leaders that met weekly for the first six months of our project.
Especially talk to people who are unhappy with the slow street. It is equally and maybe more important to get in front of issues and controversies that could turn the neighborhood against the program. Issues around noise, safety, trash can turn people against slow streets. Pay attention to complaints to your supervisor. Be respectful, be responsive - have empathy for people who do not feel the love for slow streets and look for opportunities to reduce problems they bring up. On Slow Sanchez, we printed up mirror hangers that identified drivers as Sanchez Residents to encourage pedestrians to be more polite to the residents trying to park.
Build an authentic and inclusive culture. Every slow street is different. Survey residents to find out what they want to see happen in their community. Pay attention to quality of life issues for slow street residents - nobody wants to get yelled at for parking in front of their house, nobody wants noise late at night and garbage on their street. Slow Sanchez printed up “courtesy signs” and posted them along the street asking everyone to do their part to be courteous to residents and minimize noise and trash.
Fundraise. Raising money can be complicated as it requires having a fiscal sponsor who manages your bank account and enables donors to get tax deductions. The SF Parks Alliance is a good choice for fiscal sponsor. Raising money allows your support group to do more and it also is a good way to demonstrate to politicians and city officials that there is strong neighborhood support for your slow street. Slow Sanchez used mightycause.com as the fundraising portal and SF Housing Action Coalition as our fiscal sponsor, raising over $10,000 from about 100 donors in six months.
Make merchants successful: partner with merchants to make sure the slow street is helping their business. Livable City found that slow streets increase business for local merchants by 100-500%. Slow Sanchez worked with merchants to increase visibility (put up posters), help with surveys and provide a meeting point for volunteers.
What has worked really well:
Kids biking/learning to bike/skate/scoot - the presence of kids on the street instantly slowed down traffic and brought community support to the street.
Halloween parade was wildly successful
Asking people for their email as question #1 when filling out a survey - building a mailing list is critical for mobilizing neighborhoods
Keeping our supervisor and legislative aide informed about what we were doing and inviting them to attend/speak at all community events
What hasn’t worked as planned:
Mirror hangers weren’t really used by car owners, but were great conversation starter for volunteers reaching out to Sanchez street residents.
Street mural art project created great enthusiasm and publicity even though the final product was very different from what we originally imagined.
Event attendance is highly weather dependent - Halloween was good weather and a great turnout, Valentines day was cold and windy so attracted fewer people.
Budgeting and fundraising we raised money to pay for posters and the street mural very quickly, but our longer term budget is more difficult as it depends on the permanent status of the street and how much funding the city will provide as part of that process.
DIY planters tend to get vandalized. Not clear where this will bottom out, but right now the gardeners seem to be wearing the vandals down.
More About Slow Sanchez