How the Hayes Valley Weekend Street Closures Impact Public Safety & SFFD Response Times

Published by Stephen Braitsch on 10/16/2023
Photo Credit – Lara Aburamadan

Hayes Valley Shared Spaces

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Mayor London Breed ordered San Franciscans to socially distance to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, the Hayes Valley Merchant Council requested a permit from the City of San Francisco to operate their businesses outdoors along Hayes Street in the heart of the neighborhood's commercial corridor. The permit created a quiet, safe, pedestrian oasis along Hayes Street by prohibiting motor vehicles between Laguna Street and Franklin Street on Fridays from 4pm - 10pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am - 10pm.

The Hayes Valley Shared Spaces (HVSS) program quickly became an economic lifeline for businesses along Hayes Street and has had a positive impact on the neighborhood over the past three years. The SFMTA however has been slowly clawing back this public space despite broad support across the local merchant community to maintain and even expand it. In October 2021, the HVSS program lost the 500 block of Hayes Street between Octavia and Laguna and shortly after, SFMTA removed the 300 block between Franklin and Gough, leaving just the current 400 block of Hayes between Octavia and Gough. Now the SFMTA is calling to further reduce the HVSS program from its current 3 day weekend format to just 9 hours on Saturdays, gutting the program.

The 21 Hayes, Emergency Access and the Demand to Drive Everywhere

The SFMTA has decided that it is not worth the hassle to reroute the 21 Hayes Muni bus around the weekend closures and the San Francisco Fire Department is claiming that anything in the street, such as the traffic cones used to close the area off from motor vehicles, impedes its ability to respond to an emergency. There are also the usual intransigents who believe it is their god-given right to drive everywhere at the cost of everyone else's sanity, health and safety. All of these voices will be asking the SFMTA Board of Directors to reduce or eliminate the HVSS program on Tuesday, October 17th at 2pm.

What Does the Data Say?

To challenge claims that the Hayes Valley Shared Spaces program has made the neighborhood less safe or that prohibiting vehicle access impedes emergency response times, we analyzed crash data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the history of 911 calls to the area over the past 6 years to look at an equal amount of time (37 months) before and after the HVSS program began in September 2020.

Vehicle Crashes Resulting in Injury

Hayes Street is a busy commercial corridor with one lane of vehicle travel in each direction. This design is safer than roads that have multiple lanes in each direction or those that have more than one lane going in the same direction, both of which encourage drivers to speed. The three blocks of Hayes Street included in the HVSS program have experienced 11 crashes over the past 6 years. However, none of those crashes occurred on any of the blocks of Hayes Street while they were closed to vehicle traffic. 7 of the 11 crashes happened at the intersection of Hayes and Gough Streets, a known dangerous intersection on the High Injury Network. The remaining 4 occurred in areas included in the Shared Spaces program while they were open to vehicles. If the HVSS street closures were in effect 24/7, those 4 crashes would have not occurred.

Monthly Calls To 911

Between September 1st, 2020 – 1:00 AM and September 1st, 2023 – 1:00 AM, 355 calls were made to 911 from Hayes Street between Laguna and Franklin Streets. Of those 355 calls, 93 (26%) were made while Hayes Street was closed to vehicles and 262 (74%) were made while it was open to vehicles. In both cases, approximately half of the 911 calls made turned out to be life-threatening emergencies. Normalizing this for the number of hours Hayes Street was open to vehicles between 10am and 10pm (44 hours per week) vs closed to vehicles (26 hours per week) showed that Hayes Street experienced approximately 1 emergency call every 26 hours when the street was open to vehicles vs 1 emergency call every 44 hours when it was closed to vehicles.

vehicle access
262
911 calls
130
emergencies
no vehicle access
93
911 calls
41
emergencies

911 Calls During Weekend Car-Free Hours

Over the 37 months since the Hayes Valley Shared Spaces program began, Hayes Street has seen a slight increase in the number of 911 calls during the hours of the week that vehicle access has been prohibited, compared to the 37 months prior (September 2017 – September 2020).

before shared
spaces program
67
911 calls
1.81
calls per month
after shared
spaces program
93
911 calls
2.51
calls per month

Average Emergency Response Times

Station 36 is located at the corner of Franklin and Oak Streets which is three blocks away from the 400 block of Hayes Street. In September 2023, 13 emergency calls were made from Hayes Street between Laguna and Franklin Streets which took Station 36 an average of 9 minutes and 54 seconds to respond to. One must ask how it can take an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens blaring almost 10 minutes, on average, to travel 3 blocks. Station 36’s average response time to all calls it received in September 2023 was 7 minutes and 27 seconds which is 22% longer than its average response time of 6 minutes and 7 seconds in August 2017.

before shared
spaces program
5m 44s
station 36
to hayes valley
4m 21s
station 36
to hayes street
after shared
spaces program
6m 43s
station 36
to hayes valley
6m 42s
station 36
to hayes street

Emergency Response Times By Duration

The following charts show SFFD Station 36 response times from September 1, 2020 – October 1, 2023 grouped by duration. The first chart shows response times to the 300, 400, and 500 blocks of Hayes Street and the second shows response times to all calls processed by Station 36. While 57% of all response times to Hayes Street were under 5 minutes, 13% were over 15 minutes and 22 emergency calls took Station 36 between 20 and 30 minutes to respond from just 3 blocks away.

Station 36 to Hayes Street
Station 36 to San Francisco

Hayes Street 911 Calls

Scroll the grid below to explore the individual 911 calls placed from the 300, 400 and 500 blocks of Hayes Street from September 2020 – September 2023. Each incident shows the distance traveled by Station 36 and the time it took them to leave the station after getting the call from dispatch and the time it took them to arrive on scene.

September 8th, 2023 – 12:09 PM

300 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23120321
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.15 miles
response time
21 : 40
2 : 41
21 : 40

September 12th, 2023 – 2:55 PM

HAYES ST/OCTAVIA ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23122364
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.22 miles
response time
13 : 07
2 : 02
13 : 07

September 12th, 2023 – 5:43 PM

400 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23122451
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.19 miles
response time
17 : 28
15 : 09
17 : 28

September 13th, 2023 – 10:49 AM

500 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23122754
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.25 miles
response time
14 : 44
9 : 42
14 : 44

September 13th, 2023 – 10:05 PM

500 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23123116
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.25 miles
response time
10 : 22
58
10 : 22

September 14th, 2023 – 8:29 PM

OCTAVIA ST/HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23123594
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.22 miles
response time
7 : 45
3 : 38
7 : 45

September 18th, 2023 – 5:27 AM

400 Block of HAYES ST

Other

incident #
23125166
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.19 miles
response time
2 : 54
3 : 12
2 : 54

September 18th, 2023 – 11:31 AM

500 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23125299
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.26 miles
response time
7 : 16
2 : 01
7 : 16

September 18th, 2023 – 10:33 PM

400 Block of HAYES ST

Medical Incident

incident #
23125569
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.19 miles
response time
4 : 58
2 : 30
4 : 58

September 27th, 2023 – 7:02 AM

300 Block of HAYES ST

Outside Fire

incident #
23129684
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.15 miles
response time
2 : 59
3 : 02
2 : 59

September 28th, 2023 – 5:54 PM

300 Block of HAYES ST

Structure Fire / Smoke in Building

incident #
23130511
responding station
36
distance traveled
0.15 miles
response time
1 : 43
1 : 47
1 : 43

Conclusion

The Hayes Valley Shared Spaces program has been an economic lifeline for merchants on Hayes Street over the past three years and has made this popular commercial corridor healthier and safer simply by restricting vehicle access for two and a half days a week. Our analysis shows that the HVSS program has not had a negative impact on emergency response times to Hayes Street over the past 3 years and could have prevented at least 4 vehicle crashes if its hours had been expanded and the 300 and 500 blocks had not been removed.

The City of San Francisco has a moral imperative to foster these open, public, car-free spaces and expand them as quickly as possible to meet its Transit First, Climate Action and Vision Zero goals. If you value healthy, safe, quiet, car-free spaces send an email to San Francisco city leaders before 5pm on Monday, October 16th demanding they reject the SFMTA staff recommendation to reduce the HVSS program to one day a week.

Acknowledgements & Data Sources

Thanks to Andrew Seigner, Lucas Lux and Luke Bornheimer for their editorial review. Vehicle crash data from the San Francisco Department of Health was sourced from here and 911 emergency calls and San Francisco Fire Department response times were sourced from here. This is an independent project that was not commissioned by and is not affiliated with any of the organizations mentioned in this analysis.