San Francisco’s Cyclists Cheer a Road Less Traveled. Museums Mourn It.

By Adam Nagourney : nytimes – excerpt

Though pedestrians and cyclists are rejoicing at a Golden Gate Park ban on cars, rebounding museums fear the detour will keep visitors away.

SAN FRANCISCO — From the top of the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young Museum, with its sweeping views of San Francisco, John F. Kennedy Drive cuts a gentle curve through Golden Gate Park below. It is, these days, a road without cars, set aside for pedestrians and bicyclists since the beginning of the pandemic, which forced the museum to shut down for nearly a year.

But as the de Young comes slowly back to life, this six-lane road has become a flash point, pitting two historically influential constituencies — cultural institutions and park enthusiasts — against each other in a divisive debate about public space, the arts and the priorities of a city rethinking its future after the pandemic.

For park-goers, closing the road to cars has shown what can be and should be: A broad boulevard that cuts through the city’s premier park, transformed into a safe, quiet refuge for people to enjoy on foot, Rollerblades, skate boards and bicycles.

For the museum, the closed road has become another obstacle as it tries to draw people back to an institution slightly off the beaten path. The road closing has cut off the vehicular approach from the north side of the park, made it more difficult for trucks to make deliveries and eliminated free parking spots, including some set aside for people with disabilities…

Megan Bourne, the chief of staff for the museums, said they were confronting a coalition that had been organizing for 20 years. “It has a large voice in the city,” she said. “It has a great deal of influence of how the roads are used.”…

Shamann Walton, the president of the board of supervisors, argued in an op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner that banning cars was “recreational redlining”; cutting off the park to people with disabilities and minorities who do not live near Golden Gate…

The board of supervisors, which will make the final decision on the road later this year, has asked for more study of the issue in the face of high emotions on both sides, but particularly from Golden Gate denizens who have been fighting this battle for decades.

“They are less experienced at advocacy and this type of civic engagement than the bicycle coalition and the other groups of activists who are pushing for a car-free J.F.K. Drive,” said Gordon Mar, a member of the board of supervisors whose district abuts the park. “The leadership of institutions like the de Young and the Academy of Sciences don’t engage in local policymaking and political efforts as much as the folk on the other side.”…(more)

The terms park enthusiasts and park-goers is inaccurate. The term should be anti-car groups, lead by the Bicycle Coaltion and SFWalk brigade. Park enthusiasts and park-goers include people who arrive or arrived by motor vehicles, including private and public vehicles. The widespread media hype about the closure of this and many other streets and parking difficulty and the car break-ins and muggings in SF has cut the number of visitors considerably.

The streets are not needed by the cyclists or pedestrians for days access and recreation as there are miles of bike paths and pedestrian walkways throughout the park that fully accommodate the needs of bikers and hikers.

UGH TO REOPEN TO CARS WEEKDAYS AUG 16!!!!

Dear CRS: SUCCESS! Ed Wright, Mar’s legislative aid just called me to give heads up that Mayor Breed is announcing the reopening of the GH Aug. 16 to vehicles on weekdays and keeping it closed on weekends. Thank you Sup. Mar for listening to us. Ed said it would never have happened without our 16-month advocacy, so thanks to every one of you for helping to make this happen.

Now kids going back to school will be safer and the commuters will not be gridlocked to work and back! This is a great victory, but we still have to win the war, and that is the decision of what a pilot, if any, will look like. Now it should be easier to quash any notion of two more years of permanent closure! That is the next campaign, the pilot decision. But for now, be happy that the system did work finally for equity. The Great Walkway people are as we speak bombarding Mar’s office with outrage for taking away their playground, so please send emails to his office thanking him. Below I have reprinted the Press Release from the Mayor’s office.

Write to Mar and thank him!

marstaff

– Patricia Arack

Press Release:

*** PRESS RELEASE ***
CITY REVEALS NEXT PHASE FOR GREAT HIGHWAY TO START AUGUST 16
Stretch from Lincoln Way to Sloat Blvd will continue to be closed to car traffic on weekends and holidays, but will open up to car traffic during the week

San Francisco, CA — Today Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar with support from Supervisors Connie Chan and Myrna Melgar, announced that starting Monday, August 16th, the Great Highway will have an adjusted operational plan tied to the pandemic emergency closure. The Great Highway between Lincoln Way and Sloat Blvd will be open for weekends and holidays for pedestrian and bicycle use only, and open to car traffic on weekdays. The timing of this new operational plan is to combine with the first day of school to support students and families getting to and from school, as well as people returning to getting to and from work during the week.

Starting Monday, August 16th, the Great Highway will be closed to car traffic and open to pedestrians and bicycles only from Fridays at 12:00 pm until Monday at 6:00 am, and will be open to vehicular traffic from Mondays at 6:00 am to Fridays at 12:00 pm. On holidays, the Great Highway will also be closed to vehicular traffic. This modification phase to the emergency response will be in place until the Board of Supervisors considers legislation to establish a one- or two-year pilot in this or in another configuration that would extend beyond the pandemic emergency closure.

“The use of the Great Highway during this pandemic has revealed what we can do to provide our residents and families more opportunities to enjoy the west side of our city,” said Mayor Breed. “Having the Great Highway closed on weekends and holidays will make sure that residents and visitors still can enjoy this incredible space, while recognizing the needs of our families and residents who need to get to school and work during the week as we reopen. There has been a lot of ongoing community discussions and meetings about the long-term future of the Great Highway, and I look forward to that continuing over the coming months to inform the next phase of the project.”

“The creation of an oceanfront promenade on the Great Highway during the pandemic has been transformational, with incredible benefits and real challenges,” said Supervisor Mar. “It’ll take new and robust investments in westside transit and transportation to truly address the traffic impacts, and it’s unreasonable to continue a 24/7 closure without them. Meanwhile, a weekday roadway and weekend promenade is a meaningful compromise and the right road forward. We’re balancing the benefits of this unique open space with the real need for safe and efficient traffic flow, and maintaining an oceanfront promenade when it’s used the most while offering some relief during weekday commute times. I’m grateful to Mayor Breed for listening and working with us on this adjustment to the pandemic use of the Great Highway, while outreach moves forward to decide the post-pandemic use.”

“As the supervisor for the Richmond District, I have heard from most of my constituents the need for more travel access and connectivity in north-south directions, and the Great Highway has been a key roadway for access. The future of Great Highway must also include an increase of public transit routes and service frequency for the Richmond,” said Supervisor Chan, whose district includes Lone Mountain, Richmond and most of Golden Gate Park. “I want to thank Mayor Breed for hearing the Richmond District residents’ concerns and applaud her leadership for a solution to serve the purpose of outdoors recreation and travel access.”

In April 2020, the Great Highway was closed to vehicular traffic between Lincoln Way and Sloat Blvd as part of the City’s response to the pandemic and the need for there to be more space for people. Moving forward, San Francisco officials are undergoing a long-term process to plan for the long-term future of the Great Highway. These changes are being made to align with the reopening of schools and the City’s emergence from this pandemic.