New Strategy for Troubled Lower Turk

by Karin Drucker on February 3, 2014

Almost one year ago, I wrote that the unit block of Turk Street is San Francisco’s premier destination for anyone angling for free, indefinite parking. As of January 30th of this year, you are out of luck. San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Authority Director Ed Reiskin listened to residents of the Tenderloin when they asked the city to address the rampant drug dealing that goes on in the shadow of parked vehicles. Specifically, residents requested a two-month pilot to remove all parking from the block—and they got it.

The unit block of Turk is the gritty underbelly of the Tenderloin. I am not being redundant. In fact, it is one of the most dangerous blocks in the city with a double shooting last month. With the crowds that gather daily to sell and use drugs, I challenge anyone to walk the block without having to duck and weave.

Objections to the pilot are understandable. The performance art group CounterPULSE recently moved into 80 Turk Street, the historic Dollhouse Theater, and they will eventually be open for live performances. It is possible that some of the patrons will want parking places. Other stores, soup kitchens, and hotels rely on vehicles for transportation and delivery as well.

However if the Tenderloin is seen as San Francisco’s containment zone for drug sale and use, the unit block of Turk is seen as the containment zone of the Tenderloin itself. The block also boasts four SRO’s and one apartment building, which houses mostly families and small children. Residents tell us that they feel terrified simply walking out their front door. Others who are trying to overcome addiction and other struggles, and who live here because it is the only place they can afford, struggle enormously when crack is literally at their doorstep.

This two-month pilot is designed to see how much a simple change in the landscape of the street will affect its activity, and to challenge the ‘containment’ assumption I mention above. Tenderloin police Captain Jason Cherniss waxes rhapsodic about the value of public safety through environmental design; not surprisingly, he championed this pilot to Director Reiskin. Supervisor Jane Kim and her aide Ivy Lee were ardent supporters as well.

But it was pressure from SRO tenants who live in the neighborhood that truly drove this effort.

And for those who blame Tenderloin residents and nonprofit groups for Tenderloin drug dealing, its worth emphasizing that it was residents and the nonprofit Central City SRO Collaborative that made the no parking plan happen.

A couple days does not a study make. Still, the absence of cars seems to have made the block a less desirable place to do business. It will take close monitoring, and a herculean effort from the city’s Parking Control Officers, but two months could make a real difference for those who live and work in the Tenderloin—and who love it.

Karin Drucker is an organizer with the CCSRO Collaborative

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