Upper Great Highway

$500,000 Alloted for Traffic Mitigation, Study of Upper Great Highway Closure

By Maysem Awadalla

Nearly $500,000 was allocated in February by San Francisco supervisors, acting as the county’s regional transportation authority, for the Great Highway Outer Sunset Traffic Management Project. The funds will be used to study safety challenges – traffic congestion, reckless driving, pedestrian safety – and to install traffic mitigation measures in response to the impacts on the Outer Sunset neighborhoods by diverting traffic from the Upper Great Highway to nearby streets. 

The Upper Great Highway, a four-lane thoroughfare along Ocean Beach, was closed to motor vehicles in April 2020 from Lincoln Way to Sloat Boulevard to make a safe space for people to exercise and enjoy the outdoors while keeping the social distance required to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Upper Great Highway is closed to motor vehicles and has been a refuge for people to get outdoor exercise with social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Emily Huston.

In a press release issued by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the project is described as a joint venture.

“The plan will be funded through allocations from SFMTA, San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) and the Recreation and Park Department,” the statement said. “Implementation will move quickly, with the changeable message signs and stop signs to be installed by mid-March, and the speed cushions and speed table construction beginning in March and continuing through April.”

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Outer Sunset, and the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) are also on the team working on the mitigation plans.

Among the main safety measures in the plan are:

•  24 new speed cushions; 

•  a new speed table; 

• 12 new stop signs spread along Lower Great Highway, La Playa Street, Irving Street, 48th Avenue, 47th Avenue, and 46th Avenue, and;

•  Six new changeable message signs to help divert traffic away from residential streets to corridors, like Sunset Boulevard.

Closing the Upper Great Highway has drawn polarized opinions among Outer Sunset residents. 

On a Facebook page titled “The San Francisco Sunset District,” with nearly 7,000 members, reaction to the closing of the Upper Great Highway has been mostly negative. 

One reply to a Feb. 23 post on the topic said: “The Great Highway was built to be just that: a highway – for cars…. Pedestrians can still walk parallel to it…. If the City closes the Great Highway, then Sunset Boulevard and 19th Avenue will be all the more jam packed with traffic.”

Another member of the Facebook group wrote: “I’ve been living off the Lower Great Highway since 1998 and have never witnessed such a tone-deaf and simplified ‘fix’ that has caused so much unnecessary chaos.”

On the flip side, many locals and visitors love having full use of the roadway for walking, running, biking, pushing baby strollers and rollerblading. 

John Banzon, a resident of the Outer Sunset, recognizes the challenges and also the benefits.

 “Since they closed the Great Highway, more people have been speeding down this area,” Banzon said. “But I personally like that the Great Highway is closed, because I am able to run and do that sort of stuff with friends.” 

Another local resident, Claudia Villena, also thought the good outweighs the bad.

“I have noticed an increased number of cars on our streets, but it feels fine, manageable, not unlike the rest of the City,” Villena said. “Before living here, I lived in different neighborhoods in SF and it feels comparable. For me, as a resident of the Outer Sunset, the main benefit has been having the open space to cycle, walk, and just be able to recreate during a very difficult time for all. It’s been a lifeline. 

 “I support spending 500K to mitigate traffic and study the issue,” Villena continued. “We want to be science-based and data-driven. That study will give us data and scientific research to be able to make decisions.” 

Another resident, Rosemary McQuade, has mixed views. She enjoys the Great Highway closure but also sees why it can be bothersome to herself and her neighbors. 

“The Great Highway is fun to have closed, but I do see why it should be open again.” McQuade said. “I don’t feel like the Great Highway should be closed to traffic all the time. Maybe close it on Sundays?” 

According to SFMTA, nearly 4,000 people each weekday and more than 12,000 people each weekend enjoy car-free activity along the Great Highway.

Mar recognizes there are tradeoffs.

“The transformation of the Great Highway has provided tremendous benefit, but safety always must come first,” Mar said. “We can’t sacrifice safety for recreation, and I believe with this plan we can have both. We can only continue to enjoy this incredible new open space if we can make it safe and address these impacts.” 

3 replies »

  1. Just go out to the Great Highway on the weekend. I was there yesterday (Saturday) at 3:30 – it absolutely does NOT look like this, this picture is highly misleading. There were maybe 50 people. Go out at 9 am during the week, there is hardly anyone on the GH. There are not enough people using the UGH to justify it’s closure, and you certainly don’t need to spend $500K to figure that out. SF used to be a progressive city, one that had amazing, enlightened ideas. We are turning into a laughingstock, and this is yet one more example: “Yes, let’s cut off a main thoroughfare in and out of our city, so that we can play on the road. It really doesn’t matter that 17,000 cars – and residents of SF – use this road. They can do something else.” Hey, here is another progressive idea: use the adjacent pathways! The beach! OR… GG park!

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  2. Such a waste of money. Great Highway closure is making side-street traffic way worse. What used to take 15 minutes to get to 280 freeway going south now takes up to a whooping 30 minutes from outer richmond.

    SF, take that 500k and open great highway, you’ll see a marked decrease in every measurable issue on the side streets, including “pedestrian” issues. There is tons of space on either side of great highway for walking/running/biking.

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  3. Why are y’all so mad? It hurts you guys so much to look at people safely distancing themselves and enjoying the highway. San Francisco is meant to be public transit friendly, anyway… Sorry y’all are so minorly inconvenienced by this.

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