Upper Great Highway

Upper Great Highway’s Future Debated

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.

A Tale of Two Roadways: Some people see the Upper Great Highway as an idyllic setting for outdoor recreation with an ocean view, free from the dangers and pollution from cars. Others see it as an under-used and unneeded luxury that is denying residents a vital north-south thoroughfare connecting northwest San Francisco with areas to the south. A hybrid plan is envisioned by some local leaders. Photos by Gui Oliveira (above) and Michael Durand (below).

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.

8 replies »

  1. Reopen the great highway. This is the wants vs the needs. 18000 cars a DAY used that highway. At 1.5 people per auto that’s 27000 people a day who are being forced to endure traffic and longer commute times. Forcing 18,000 cars onto residential streets is making live dangerous and difficult for residence of the sunset. This is the complete opposite of vision zero goals. The information being passed around by SFMTA and park and Rec is misleading, erroneous and contains unsubstantiated statistics.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a complete sham! My parents have lived on 45th Ave @ Wawona and have had the same phone number for over 55 years. They have never received even one piece of mail or a phone call from anyone notifying them of any public meeting about shutting down the Great Highway. Traffic has been a complete mess since now 1000s of extra cars every day are turning on 45th Ave or 46th Ave to pass through the lower Sunset. My 84 year old father has nearly been run over numerous times in the past year just trying to walk their dog in their neighborhood. I listened was on this June 22 meeting the entire time and it was about 50/50 in with people that wanted it opened vs closed. Almost every single caller that referred to it as “The Great Walkway” had the same BS rhetoric about how great it has been for global warming, kids and community, but this is complete nonsense. The reality is that is only sparingly being used the vast majority of the time. Significant numbers of people only come out to use it when it does happen to be a nice day on the weekends. Then it is complete Chaos with bicycles flying back and forth In both directions on both sides of the Highway whizzing around kids and people walking their dogs, etc. The $500,000 that was wasted on this “study” during the pandemic is completely irrelevant since what is critical is how bad traffic will be in the fall once people are no longer working from home or on unemployment, schools are back to in person and tourists start returning to the City. This is a clear case of a small, loudmouthed vocal minority trying to push through their Agenda at the expense of majority of the public who are unaware that the Great Highway is being stolen from them. People need to speak up now before it’s too late as this nonsense “2 year pilot program” is going to the Board of Supervisors for a vote by the end of the Summer. Meanwhile 19th Ave will continue to be under construction for the next 2 years! If this is passed, we will never get it back. Check out OpenTheGreatHighway.com and you will see hundreds of photos and videos taken at all different times and days of how sparsely it is actually being used most of the time. Meanwhile traffic is at a crawl through Chain of Lakes Dr in Golden Gate park every day in addition to vehicle now taking 46th Ave and Lower Great Highway to get through the lower Sunset. Not to mention all of the Safeway delivery trucks that use to take the Great Highway that are now passing residential homes in the middle of the night! OPEN THE GREAT HIGHWAY NOW!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No one seem to be addressing the fact that a walkway was AREADY there and it worked perfectly ALONG SIDE the actual Highway for cars. SF is never going to be a car free City, we need to go to work, go shopping DRIVE kids to school since there are not district schools anymore, etc. It’s insane. The Upper Great is part of SCENIC HWY 1; walk on the beach and leave the actual highway to the cars.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “…we believe that the city planners and traffic engineers can figure this out”
    ““encourage more people to commute sustainably, transit-wise,”
    Is all you need to know about the people who want the highway closed.
    Closing the great highway means cutting off the Outer Richmond from anything south of the park, and it means increasing traffic to everyone on 43rd-47th.
    There’s already little to no transit options that move people North-South on the far West of the city. Closing down a highway for space for children to play – when there’s already parks, bike lanes, and an entire beach, is a dizzying level of entitlement. These must be the same people who move next to an airport and then complain about all of the planes.

    If this closes, by the way, and turns into a large open space with easy access by transit, these will be the same people who complain that people from outside of their district are coming there and using it.

    Liked by 1 person

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