Golden Gate Park

Letter to the Editor: NY Times Article Mischaracterizes Story of Car-Free JFK Drive


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

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.

4 replies »

  1. I am a resident of the outer Richmond who USE to frequently go to the museums, botanical gardens, play tennis at the now named Goldman center who now infrequently goes there because of the closure of JFK to cars. When my daughter was young we would go to what we called Mother’s playground (really children’s playground) for the merry-go-round and play structures I remembered from MY childhood playing on them. The lack of access and parking is a real deterrent to people using the park. I took my 94 yo neighbor to get her COVID shot and thought she might enjoy a ride through the park since she is essentially house bound, but couldn’t because JFK was closed. MLK is closed. Chain of Lakes was clogged with traffic from the Great Highway closure. When I was an active USTA team player and played at the tennis courts, we lugged refreshments, equipment etc – now made much more difficult with the closure. The museums ARE struggling with lost revenue. Adding $32 parking fees on top of $30 admission fees makes visiting the Academy of Sciences unaffordable. Golden Gate Park is a multiple use park – tennis players, lawn bowling, soccer, equestrian center, fly casting ponds, etc. The previous Sunday closure worked fine for years and years. Between slow streets, JFK closure, Great Highway closure, SF has become un-navigable to residents and visitors alike. Thankfully the GH is open again at least partially and temporarily. Slow streets are now being limited to only four. Time to re-open JFK too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christina. Glad you wrote “GH is open again at least partially and temporarily.” Temporarily is the operative word. Re JFK Drive. At least one elected official who engaged in the backroom negotiations when the Supervisors were on summer recess to “Temporarily” presumably is getting message about JFK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the arrogance of your “no compromise” stance on the Great Highway which, ironically, helped to catalyze the more organized efforts to re-open the Great Highway to cars. Rabid bike fanatics who fail to appreciate the other side’s legitimate complaints, issues, experiences and tell everyone that they should all ride bikes no matter their occupation (yeah, carpenters carrying all their tools on a bike), working hours (yeah, parents who need to drop their kids off at school then go to work themselves down the Peninsula or shift workers getting off at 3 am), health/age (no longer ride bikes because of arthritis, heart disease, surgery,) You are the best argument for opposing the Bike Coalition there is. I seem to recall the crowing from you about the GH never re-opening to cars which for some strange reason has stopped, mainly because you were suspended from posting several times?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a total advocate for a Car Free JFK. No compromise. I have attended every event on JFK in support of this effort. I have blogged about this issue on http://www.leesperspective,com. Nothing less than a total 24/7 Car Free JFK is acceptable.I read the NYT piece and I really don’t have any complaints. I am glad Thomas Campbell the Fine Arts Director is quoted. It just illustrates the arrogance of the elite he brought with him from New York City.

    Liked by 1 person

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