Commentary: Make Upper Great Highway an Oceanfront Park

By John Elliott

I am one of your many neighbors (hello from the Outer Richmond!) who believes the Upper Great Highway should remain transformed as an oceanfront promenade park all day, every day year-round. It is a minuscule first step in a necessary transition away from car culture and car dependency. We are in a climate crisis. The transportation sector is responsible for the largest share of citywide emissions: 47%. That share continues to grow every year. The vast majority of those emissions are generated by the fossil fuels used by private vehicles: 72%. SFMTA has a stated goal to shift more than 80% of trips to sustainable modes of transportation by 2030.

We must determine how we are going to share our streets for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. We need immediate bold and decisive action. We must replace as many car trips as possible with other modes of transit. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to be global leaders in this movement.

It is essential that we establish a permanent slow street network in the City now. That network should include permanent infrastructure on what we currently call “slow streets” (Lake, Cabrillo, 23rd Avenue) as well as permanent car-free status on Upper Great Highway, JFK Drive, and more. 

There’s no reason this should be controversial in any way. Slow and car-free streets are safer and will encourage more people to take non-car trips. This is the best way to encourage mode shift and improve traffic conditions for our mobility-challenged neighbors and others who must drive. 

If you drive for whatever reason, I have good news for you; the vast majority of streets in our district and the city are dominated by cars! You can drive everywhere! Just turn on your car and drive! You can even drive on the so-called “slow” streets. And the “closed” portions of Great Highway and JFK Drive are 0.0034% of total SF road miles…so you can drive on 99.9966% of the roads. I’ll do the math. That rounds up to 100%. You can drive on all the roads, which precisely demonstrates why a radical change in our street use is necessary. 

Public service aside to people in cars: please slow down, OK? We all want to get where we are going safely.

I used to drive. Glen, my Honda Civic, retired in 2013 at 276,563 miles. I could not afford a reliable new used car, so I bought a $150 bike on I had not ridden a bicycle in nearly twenty years and did not consider it an option for reliable adult transportation. I am now a true believer. The decision to ditch my car and move myself around using my bike, my feet, and public transportation is the single best decision I have ever made for my physical, mental, spiritual and financial health. 

I understand that car dependency is not a choice for everyone in our district, but I do not understand the mentality expressed in Richard Corriea’s recent commentary: “The Great Highway Robbery.” There is a feeling among some of our neighbors that something is being taken away from them, that a crime has taken place. This sense of entitlement is bewildering. Is it so difficult to imagine sharing our streets in a meaningful and personable way? Why should every street have noisy and dangerous motor vehicles on it? Streets without cars become community spaces and sustainable transportation thoroughfares. It betrays a severe lack of creative vision to remain captive to such a loud and polluted environment. 

In the absence of leadership on this essential issue, we the people will need to take action and create transformative change. Politicians do not create change. We do. Let’s do it! 

We live in a dense city and most of us can choose multiple other modes of transport. We are so fortunate to share this beautiful corner of the planet. Let’s make it the most joyous, peaceful, safe, kind, fun and connected place it can be. See you at the grocery store!

John Elliott is a musician, educator and Richmond District resident. He loves helping people figure out how to replace car trips with bike rides. You can e-mail him at

4 replies »

  1. I read your comments and do agree with some of it. Yes we need to lessen our dependency on autos, but with that comes an increase in other transportation such as light rail. I am 84 years old and don’t see me biking or skating to get to a doctors appointment. The other problem right now is that motorists who need to use a car are making smaller streets more dangerous. Kids can no longer play in the street due to increased traffic. Persons in wheelchairs and motorized chair have a more difficult time getting around. Everyone is notable bodied like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can’t prove that closing the Great Highway does anything for reducing carbon emissions if all it does is divert traffic to residential streets and cause stop and go traffic, more idling and longer commuting times. Even the Sierra Club says an environmental impact report should be done before permanent closure is decided. You also fail to take into account e vehicles. You also fail to take into account the lack of public transportation, in particular going north south, on the western part of SF. You say you can’t understand the open the Great Highway side? Can you not understand those issues?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The Great Highway is a road, not a playground! So just find something else usful to do and stop making other people’s lives miserable.


  4. Kathy. Who is “making other people’s lives miserable?” This is today’s example of The Entitled behaving typically. The Entitled have 1200 miles of road to pollute in San Francisco. Rather than show a bit of grace and diplomacy The Entitled are acting if the effort to make The Great Walkway a permanent urban oasis the 21st century version of The Alamo. Perhaps that analogy is correct. This is the last stand for The Entitled before their losing cause gets swept away into the Pacific.


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