By Jonathan Farrell and Gui Oliveira
An online meeting about the future of the Upper Great Highway was held on June 22 by the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) which included members of the SF Board of Supervisors, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the Recreation and Park Department, via SFGovTV.
The 10 a.m. meeting attracted close to 600 comments online, in addition to the callers who got through during the meeting. The meeting was temporarily interrupted due to a Board of Supervisors meeting that was scheduled for 2 p.m. that day. The meeting resumed at 5 p.m. to accommodate public comments by phone.
The SFCTA adopted a staff report looking at the long-term future of the Upper Great Highway after 2023. The decision on whether to reopen the roadway to automobiles, to keep it closed as a car-free space for pedestrians and bicyclists, etc., or to approve a hybrid plan is expected in the coming months. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say after hearing recommendations from the SFMTA and Rec. and Park.
There were strong opinions on both sides of the debate on whether or not to permanently close the Upper Great Highway to cars to create a coastal promenade.
The discussion at the June 22 meeting leaned in favor of permanent closure. Yet exact details were sketchy as to how it would ultimately impact local residents and traffic.
“It’s certainly a complex process and issue,” said Edward Wright, legislative aide to District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. The Upper Great Highway is in Mar’s district.
“The proposed pilot program would be a continuation of the Ocean Beach Master Plan and the District 4 Mobility Study to better understand visitor usage patterns, traffic conditions, and access to a coastal promenade and adjacent open space,” Wright said.
“The intended time frame for this is more immediate,” he said. “This authorization will expire 120 days after the emergency order due to COVID-19 pandemic is lifted.”
“We do not know when that will happen,” Wright said. “The plan is up to Mayor Breed and the Public Health Officer. The intention is for a pilot to potentially be implemented once the authorization for the current closure expires, or possibly sooner. The timing, duration, and design for a pilot are still to be determined, and will eventually be presented by SFMTA and Rec. and Park for a decision by the Board of Supervisors.”
Wright then noted that the focus of the online hearing was to go over the SFCTA report looking at the long-term considerations for the Upper Great Highway. The SFCTA presented five concepts.
Concept 1 is a four-lane roadway.
Concept 2 is a promenade for pedestrians and cyclists, next to a two-lane roadway.
Concept 3 would close the Upper Great Highway to vehicles entirely and turn it into a promenade.
Concept 4 is described as a “timed promenade” in which the Upper Great Highway would be closed to vehicles, but only at certain times, such as weekends and holidays.
Concept 5 would convert half the Upper Great Highway to a promenade, and the other half would become a two-lane road for southbound vehicle traffic only.
Illustrations of all five concepts are posted as part of the District 4 Mobility Study on http://www.sfcta.org
“The time frame for this, according to the CTA, is less immediate,” Wright said. “We commissioned this analysis and outreach to better understand the long-term factors at play once the Great Highway Extension south of Sloat will close to vehicles, sometime in 2023, so all the modeling in this report is projecting future traffic conditions for 2023 and beyond.”
District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan initially had reservations, asking that all possible options be fully studied. But after the extended meeting on June 22, Chan stated she supports “concept 2 (of the SFCTA report) which features a promenade and a two-way roadway…”
In a letter written by Chan, Mar, and District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar to Rec. and Park General Manager Phil Ginsberg and SFMTA Director Jeff Tumlin, the Supervisors expressed concern about the lack of transparency in data collection.
“Many of our constituents have concerns around the scope and process of data collection, including intersections being studied, traffic and congestion patterns, etc.,” the supervisors said in the letter. “We request the agencies provide a clear framework on data collection process, quality of data, and how the SFMTA, Rec. and Park, and SFCTA agree and accept the data outcome and findings. This includes a clear timetable for outcomes from the Westside Operations Analysis.”
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) plans on closing the Great Highway Extension between Sloat and Skyline boulevards in 2023 in an effort to implement the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project, which is independent of the COVID-19 emergency road closure. The project includes building a multi-use trail and a new parking lot.
The City entities, including SFMTA, Rec. and Park, must also contend with the SFPUC, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and the Coastal Commission. This was something that District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin noted in some of his comments during the meeting.
During public comment, many people said they embrace the idea of permanent closure. But amid the voices that oppose permanent closure, the resulting impact of traffic and safety upon residents remained a major concern.
Brian Reyes, a volunteer for the Great Highway Park initiative said the pilot program was worth a try.
“We support the pilot program,” Reyes said. “Close it down for two years. We’re not talking permanently. I think that’s a key word. Let’s see what can happen if we activate the space, especially in the pandemic right now. We’re not in the clear. As well as the staff, the City, we believe that the city planners and traffic engineers can figure this out.”
One big incentive in making the Upper Great Highway into a public green space is that it will “encourage more people to commute sustainably, transit-wise,” Reyes said, including a car-free JFK Drive that borders the Great Highway on the City’s western end.
Others feel differently about how the roadway was and is meant to be used.
“The Great Highway needs to be opened to cars, as it was intended,” wrote Judith Goldstein in her public comment.
“Traffic in the Sunset has gotten worse, and the folks who live near the Great Highway are inundated with speeding cars, motorcycles, etc.,” she wrote.
Categories: Upper Great Highway