Golden Gate Park

Plan to Make Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive Car Free Advances

By Thomas K. Pendergast

A permanently car-free JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park moved closer to reality after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to create a “beach to bay” car-free connection across the City. 

Over objections by critics from the disabled community, many of whom see this as coming at their expense in terms of access, the Board unanimously voted to support extending the existing road closures in Golden Gate Park and continuing the banning of cars from using MLK Drive, starting at La Playa Street, to Middle Drive West, then to Overlook Drive and connecting at JFK Drive and Transverse Drive through to Kezar Drive. 

The Board also wants the SFMTA and Rec. and Park to collect data on vehicle travel through Golden Gate Park in north-south directions, establish metrics in data collection for the purpose of ensuring bicycle and pedestrian safety; to implement strategies identified in the Golden Gate Park Sustainable Travel Study; to provide diverse and affordable transit options, including a Golden Gate Park shuttle that connects with nearby  public transit; restoration of the 21-Hayes bus line, which provides the Western Addition and other city residents with a direct connection to Golden Gate Park; to implement free parking for the first four hours in the Music Concourse garage for San Francisco residents in ZIP codes that are historically low-income, underserved residents (including 94124, 94112, 94108, 94134, and 94133), or by proof of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) or Medi-Cal card; to add additional ADA parking and provide free parking for the first four hours in the Music Concourse garage for vehicles with a Disabled Person Placard, as seniors and people with disabilities may experience more economic hardships; to develop options for considering managed access at Eighth and Fulton to allow for vehicles actively transporting seniors, people with disabilities and visitors with limited mobility.

Cars parked in ADA parking spaces along Nancy Pelosi Drive in Golden Gate Park with bicyclists on JFK Drive in the background. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“This debate has long since preceded all of us here,” District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan told the Board. “Starting in 1969 the eastern half of JFK was closed to cars every Sunday. And in 1998 the Golden Gate Master Plan was adopted.” 

That same year, Proposition J passed, which established the Concourse Authority to oversee the construction of the garage under the Music Concourse.

“Today, I also see (the underground garage) as a key element to problem solving some of the issues that we face on JFK,” Chan said. “Once the pandemic (hit) JFK was closed to cars 24/7 and additional roads west of Transverse Drive were closed to cars, allowing for a car-free stretch from east to west in the park.”

But not everyone is happy with the idea. During public comment Linda Chapman expressed her concerns about the plan. 

“Speaking for the interests of people who tend to be forgotten in these matters – people with children, people with disabilities, people who are getting old – why do the people who are advocates for bicycles and skating and walking feel that they should have exclusive access to the part of the park that has the institutions … everything from the museums to the children’s playground?” Chapman said. “That’s the end of the park that should be open to everybody and cars if they need them…. I am the daughter of a polio survivor. I would never have gotten to the children’s playground if there had not been cars.” 

Associate director of Special and Capital Projects at the de Young Museum, Lucia Coronel, also testified on behalf of the disabled community, which includes herself. 

“I am an individual that is hoping to have a better quality of life despite my health challenges, but I’m also hoping to shed light on what other people with disabilities may experience,” Coronel said. “I became permanently disabled about three years ago due to illness, treatments and side effects from my treatments. Even though I have been ill for 12 years, I was able to enjoy biking, hiking and other physical activities during most of my life that I now see as privileges that I cannot enjoy anymore…. 

“On top of all the hardships that people with disabilities have to endure, if the closure remains, I wonder why would the City make it so hard for some of its most vulnerable San Francisco and Bay Area populations to enjoy our major institutions that are supposed to help with our quality of life…. I contest the choice of the JFK location of closure.”

At the meeting, some people suggested that the de Young Museum should lower its parking rates to make it easier for lower-income people to park in the garage below the museum. But, this is more complicated that it might seem. 

The de Young Museum does not own the parking lot underneath it. It belongs to the Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP), and they have a $24 million bond debt still outstanding to pay for it. Further complicating things, the land underneath the garage is owned by the City, which leases the land to the MCCP.

When the bond debt is paid, the garage will be transferred to the City, according to Executive Director Jan Berckefeldt of the MCCP. Rates are approved in a process that involves the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, the SF Recreation and Park Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and then finally the mayor. 

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, however, supports the resolution.

“Our city is far too car-centric in many ways,” Preston said. “We’re in a climate crisis. We’re in a street safety crisis. I think we need to act boldly to address the threats of climate change and unsafe streets.” 

16 replies »

  1. There are other constituents in this town beyond those given top billing in this article which pretends to be balanced. It reads like something out of Connie Chan’s talking points. Back to my main point to read Tom Pendergast it comes across as San Francisco. The Seniors Village by the Ocean. Get real. He can stop pandering and acknowledge thousands of people want a permanently car free JFK Drive.

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  2. Thousands of people do NOT want a permanently car free JFK Drive, and wish to compassionately share the area with cars that can travel through at a safe low speed and park for free in GGP as they were doing before these sudden 24/7 street closures. This area was closed part time to vehicles and open all the weekdays to everyone. Why will bicyclists refuse to share public roads that give everyone access, and why are the public agencies and politicians not representing the majority of their constituents? Most people need to drive and park their cars if they’re going more than a few blocks from home. Reopen our streets, avenues and highways.

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  3. As a native San Franciscan( family since 1865) who no longer lives there, I really object to closing that roadway to traffic. I support the DeYoung Museum, however if parking for me as an 84 year old with a Disability placard, is going to be difficult, I may no longer come to visit the Museum and probably drop my support. Everyone is not young and bikes and roller skates. You must think of the other part of the population. I travel over a 100 miles to come to the city and expect places to park close to the Museum. I am afraid if you limit the disability parking places you may end up with a lawsuit. Please think this over.

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  4. Contrary to the first reply, the SF Chronicle poll on what to do with JFK shows the vast majority of the over 4000 respondents want JFK re-opened to cars although I’m sure that poster will whine that it’s not a legitimate poll yet remains silent when similar polls done by the D4 mobility study about the GH were similarly flawed. I find it ironic that the SF Chronicle whose editorial board sounds more and more like a Bike Coalition mouth piece posted that poll in order to show public support for permanent closure and not unsurprisingly found that the opposite is true. I actually wrote to Connie Chan about the SF Chronicle poll and she expressed dismay that the measure actually approved by the BOS which included opening up the road around the dahlia garden to provide access and parking and other measures to allow more universal access by seniors, parents with small children, the disabled etc was not published as a proposal, just the black and white close JFK or not. GG Park has many many other activities other than biking and walking and roller skating. There’s tennis, botanical gardens, museums that rely on volunteers and attendees from not just SF itself but the entire Bay area and even the US, specialty gardens like the rose and dahlia gardens that use volunteers to maintain them, equestrian centers, soccer fields, frisbee golf, actual golf. The increasing street closures inside and outside of the park make access to all the activities more and more limited. For decades families have used the park using sidewalks and unpaved paths to walk on, bike paths, and roads for cars to get to all these activities. Then, in the interest of “the environment” and “recreation” and “safety” the GH and other roads are being banned from roads – ignoring the fact that the cars are being diverted to other roads already deemed to be high collision roads (Fulton, Lincoln, Stanyan), that park roads are being converted to traffic arteries (Chain of Lakes), and that increasing travel routes and more idling traffic contribute more not less carbon emissions.

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  5. Not all people can get out of their cars and walk long distances. Some people need to be parked near entrances, or need nearby handicap parking, Or need to be dropped off, or can’t afford to park in the parking lots, so can park on JFK and other streets in the park. I was never able to see the lights at night at the arboretum because I would have to park too far and was afraid to walk in the park, in the dark, at night. I could have parked on JFK had it been open. No one is special enough to close road access to an entire city of citizens. No one is important enough to be able to walk down the middle of their street without traffic when they have sidewalks and bike paths and have always used them with no complaint. So if you close JFK, will you close 8th Ave, 30th Ave, 46th, 36th. Where will people park to picnic in the picnic areas adjacent to JFK. How will we get to Bisons, Fly casting ponds, Spreckels Lake, where will we park to be able to walk around Lower Lake near 46th Ave, how to enter parking lot of soccer fields, Archery fields, SF miniature yacht club, dog park. Are you really willing to cut off all of that access. The cyclist always managed to get through the park, all the way to the beach, with no problem. Open up all streets and the GH 24/7!

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  6. Golden Gate Park should be readily available for all citizens, including the seniors. Opening JFK Drive to cars on weekdays as pre-co-vid made all venues such as the DeYoung and Conservatory
    of Flowers reachable by everyone. Reopen JFK Drive.

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  7. I have an L-1 spinal fracture. I was going to the Conservatory of Flowers only to find out the roads were closed to cars but ok for bicycles and pedestrians! So, this means that only the “fittest” people get to visit the great places in the Park. Bicyclists do not pay anything for the privilege of having the streets all to themselves. Will they visit the museums and other places in the Park? Will the tour books then say welcome to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, but you can’t drive so better you stay home? The Park was created for all to use, not just people who have no disabilities and need a car to get around. Closing the streets is unfair to those who can’t walk or ride bicycles inside the Park–the “elite” people.

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    • You may not like the roadway with cars on it but remember every one who comes to the park does not live in the City. Everyone is not able bodied and able to walk blocks to visit the museum and other venues nearby. Think of veterans who are disabled, grandparents who have trouble walking, young and old alike who do not ride bikes to get places because of a disability. Do you want visitors to say SF is not welcoming? Think of others and not just yourself.

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      • There’s 1200 miles of roadway for The Entitled to drive on In San Francisco. It is the worst sense of “I want it all” to wage such a ferocious fight to have 1.5 miles car free. JFK Drive is not a parking lot

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  8. I agree so much with Mary Lou. I also need to park close by. Yesterday we decided to go to see the Judy Chicago display. We went early 3pm, it was bumper to bumper…no parking on 9th into the park, the parking lot underneath was closed to entry. I did see cars exiting the parking. I drove around to Park Presidio so I could try Fulton St, entrance to parking on 10th Ave, the sign said full, but I told attendant people were exiting on the other side. So I took my chances and entered and I did find a parking spot. But the traffic all around the perimeter of GGPark was horrendous! People were parking in red zones, behind handicap parking if there was even a little space. It was bad, and I kept thinking…JFK has plenty of parking that we have no access to because it’s closed. There is room on JFK for both cars and bicyclists and pedestrians. The City built a perfect bike path and even relocated parking to accommodate them. Everyone has their own lane. Why can’t that continue to work the way it had? Open up JFK, and 8th Ave, all the slow streets and The Great Highway. We also like to picnic in the park in the area’s adjacent to JFK, how are we going to get to that green space? Where will we park. Where will we have our children’s birthday party’s? I’m sorry but there’s a lot of short sightedness, and absolutely no consideration for those of us who can no longer ride a bike, or can’t walk long distances, or don’t want to trek in from the outside carrying our picnic “stuff”. Before the pandemic we were in GGPark at least once or twice a week, walking around one of the lakes, walking to the fly casting pools, etc. We thoroughly enjoyed the park and used it, like so many other San Franciscans. We could park close enough to any of the areas we wanted to see. I have membership to the museum. I can’t get there if JFK is closed any longer. I really miss the park. My friend and I paid for the $18 parking fee, but there are many who can’t. For some of us that is a lot of money for parking, especially if we want to go often. And it’s too far to walk to the the Lakes, etc.

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    • There’s 1200 miles of roadway for The Entitled to drive on In San Francisco. It is the worst sense of “I want it all” to wage such a ferocious fight to have 1.5 miles car free. JFK Drive is not a parking lot

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