Those who view the weekday re-opening of the Great Highway as a change for the worse completely ignore the fallout of the decision to close the Great Highway in the first place.
There was no public input other than a limited District 4 mobility study that has been used repeatedly to justify its closure. There were 3989 respondents, of whom 53% overall supported a full promenade. That means only 2114 supported closure versus more than 13,000 people who signed the change.org Open the Great Highway petition. They failed to also note that 75% of Richmond District residents supported some form of cars on the Great Highway (full 4 lane, timed closure, two way roadway/promenade). The study itself was flawed in its methodology, sampling size and composition, and limited language access.
When the Great Highway was closed, the 18,000 vehicles/day that used it were diverted to adjacent streets, to the dismay of residents who complained of semi-trucks and motorbike brigades parading yards from their front door. The touted alternate routes that were “only five minutes away” in reality were Sunset Boulevard, which dumped cars into GG Park and Chain of Lakes, and 19th Avenue, which is undergoing two years of construction and has its own blinking yellow signs saying “use alternate routes” just when the City REMOVED one of those alternative routes.
The SF Recreation and Park Master Plan for GG Park states that thoroughfares such as Kezar, Crossover, Stanyan, Park Presidio, and THE GREAT HIGHWAY are necessary to keep non-park traffic out of the park. Chain of Lakes was specifically cited as needing to be kept as a naturalized park road and not a commuter road, which is what it became with the closure of the Great Highway.
The subsequent traffic studies presented at the July SFCTA hearing showed the prolonged wait times and queuing distances at Chain of Lakes, Lincoln and 36th Avenue, Lincoln and 41st Avenue, Crossover, Sloat, etc. as a result of the Great Highway closure. They recommended various infrastructure improvements to mitigate those chokepoints.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan recommended managed retreat and narrowing the Great Highway with many infrastructure improvements to enable that. NONE of these infrastructures are currently in place to support narrowing, much less complete closure
Claims that closing the Great Highway was necessary for safety reasons are false. Traffic safety information regarding vehicle collision deaths shows none on the GH since 2005. The Great Highway is designed for safety – timed lights that limit traffic to 30 mph, a median to prevent head on collisions, controlled pedestrian crosswalks, and no cross-traffic intersections. There is a safe paved walking pathway totally separated from the Great Highway, and a shoulder for bicyclists.
Traffic diverted from Great Highway is being sent to roads that are already identified in Vision Zero studies as high collision streets – 19th Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Lincoln Way and Fulton. So, removing a low-risk corridor and replacing it with high-risk streets does not promote bicycle/pedestrian safety.
Claims that the Great Highway was the second most used open space in SF are also false. That claim by Rec. and Park failed to include federally controlled land, (including Ocean Beach itself, Crissy Field and the Presidio) with higher recreational use than the Great Highway. The western side of SF is not a recreational desert: there’s Ocean Beach, Lake Merced, the paved walking path, GG Park, Lands End, Sutro Park. In fact, Great Highway has been showing steadily declining recreational use based on the final SFCTA report and Rec. and Park raw data (average daily bike and pedestrian weekday use fell from December/January weekday high of 4,600 and weekend high of 6,500 down to May averages of 1,700 weekdays and 2,500 weekends).
This means that using even the most generous numbers, for every one recreational user, more than four vehicles – mostly doing essential activities – were diverted to other city streets, generating more CO2 emissions as they idled in traffic and had to take more circuitous routes. The Sierra Club has stated that before the Great Highway is closed again, there should be an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to study the overall greenhouse emissions and human intrusion onto protected dunes and habitat.
The Great Highway was closed for “temporary” pandemic reasons. It makes no sense to keep it closed without implementing traffic mitigation and before the EIR. Returning the Great Highway to its original use as a safe, efficient traffic artery that bypasses residential neighborhoods and protects GG Park was the correct decision.
Categories: letter to the editor