According to the New York Times’s Aug. 8 article titled “San Francisco’s Cyclists Cheer a Road Less Traveled. Museums Mourn It,” San Francisco’s flagship museums are at risk because the “bike lobby” convinced the City to close a section of Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive to private cars. The Times correctly describes a David-versus-Goliath struggle over this section of park road, but incorrectly assigns the role of David to the de Young art museum and California Academy of Sciences.
San Franciscans know better. With assets north of $1 billion and political connections with many of San Francisco’s wealthiest and most influential citizens, the museums have been winning the battle for control of the City’s premier public park for more than four decades. Civic engagement organizations like Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hold sway only to the extent they can motivate large numbers of ordinary San Franciscans to email and call city leaders. The museum’s influential leaders and donors talk directly to those leaders themselves, like San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who sits on the de Young Museum’s Board of Trustees.
The Times highlights the museums’ argument that keeping JFK Drive as the museums’ free parking lot is necessary to make the museums more equitable. That’s rich considering a single youth ticket to the Cal. Academy runs $30.50. The bigger picture is that people can still drive their cars to the front door of the museums and park in one of more than 2,000 free public parking spaces nearby. Further, the Times’s and the museums’ interest in equity extends only to those who own a car, while a majority of San Francisco’s public transit users report living in low-income households and not owning or having access to a car.
The Times singles out the “cyclist” bogeyman as the person rejoicing the dedication of a portion of JFK Drive to car-free uses. The author tries to conjure up spandex-clad Philistines careening through the park, art be damned! What the author misses is that a car-free JFK Drive isn’t about spandex warriors; they’re happy to fly through the park either way. A car-free JFK Drive is for ordinary, non-politically connected San Franciscans who use the park space to walk, run, rollerskate, play, or safely move with canes or wheelchairs regardless of age, race, income or ability level. I recently took my Korean-born mother-in-law for her first bike ride in decades on JFK Drive. “Biking wasn’t for girls” growing up in Korea and biking alongside cars is not for the faint of heart, especially when you are out of practice – remember, this stretch of park road was one of San Francisco’s most dangerous “high injury corridors” before it was closed to private cars. We close JFK Drive to cars to create opportunities like that. To create opportunities that, especially in a busy city, are not available anywhere unless we make them available in our parks.
The health of our museums continues to be worth public investment. So is the health and safety of our people. If you believe the Times, we have to choose just one. That’s a false dilemma. Museum patrons have always had – and continue to have – many ways to get to the museums by car. Dedicating a part of JFK Drive to car-free use gives museum patrons the additional option of a safe car-free route to the museums, and gives all San Franciscans access to a one-of-a-kind, environment-friendly space to safely walk, roll, and play together.
Lucas Lux is a father and a resident of the Outer Sunset.
Disclosure: I volunteer my time on the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Board of Directors. Opinions expressed are exclusively mine.
Categories: Golden Gate Park