A Disabled Senior Appreciates Car-Free JFK Drive
By Carol Brownson
I just read about a principle in behavioral economics: people have a strong bias for the status quo. We keep doing what we’re used to even though there might be better alternatives.
COVID disrupted San Francisco’s status quo. Growing older and disabled disrupted mine. So, I let go of what I was used to and reclaimed my freedom and my city. A mile and a half of car-free road in Golden Gate Park helped me do both.
First, I found the perfect mobility scooter for me – a cute little sports car of a model. Until this year, I had no idea of the many new ways for disabled people to get around.
I expected to get my life back. What I didn’t expect was a better, more San Francisco life. While my scooter allowed me to get to get places on my own, San Francisco’s new focus on car-free spaces allowed me to get to parts of the city I hadn’t seen before.
I discovered Golden Gate Park’s car-free JFK Drive. More accurately, car-free JFK let this longtime San Franciscan discover the old park in a magical new way.
Where I used to drive, park and just visit my particular destination, I now roll off the bus in the park’s Music Concourse, float over to JFK, and go safely exploring on my mobility scooter. I’ve discovered amazing animal sculptures, shady redwood glades, historic structures and hidden lakes. And I’ve done it without worrying over potential hazards at every corner and driveway.
During the worst of the pandemic, it was a place where we collectively escaped isolation. That sense of community and camaraderie continues to flourish. It’s apparent in the roller skating dance parties, the family bike rides and the picnics among friends. It encourages connection, something hard to make from the enclosure of your car.
As the public feedback stage wraps up and city officials decide the future of car-free JFK Drive, I hope our human bias for the status quo can take a back seat to new possibilities.
Wouldn’t it be great if other disabled seniors had the opportunity to discover new ways for getting about? Car-free JFK seems an excellent place to do it. People could park in the disabled parking proposed behind the bandstand, near the bike rental. From there they could rent a disability scooter and see what works for them. Even better, park in one of the disabled parking structures in the museum parking garage and transfer to a mobility device. Lots of space just inside the basement museum entrance to set that up.
Like many U.S. cities, San Francisco needs to improve its infrastructure for non-car transportation. That will take time, but the silver lining of the pandemic has been a willingness to experiment with bold new ways of doing things.
In the meantime, there is car-free JFK. Let’s keep it and improve it, not simply settle for the status quo.
Carol Brownson moved to San Francisco 34 years ago, fulfilling a childhood dream.