Commentary: In Support of Car-Free JFK Drive

By Heather Murdock

“Be kind, say hello, ride slow, and enjoy shared spaces.” 

These are some of the slogans on signs in Golden Gate Park to encourage us be more caring toward one another while enjoying the car-free roadways. 

During a stressful pandemic it’s wonderful that our Recreation and Park Department is working hard to keep residents and visitors healthy and safe, providing extra space to socialize and exercise outdoors, while also benefiting the environment with fewer cars in natural spaces. I was stunned to read Paul Kozakiewicz’s disparaging comments towards car-free roadways, Park Manager Phil Ginsburg and the Park Department in his latest commentary. 

He challenges westside residents to notice the lack of the diversity on JFK Drive due to the road closure, but whenever I visit this area of the park, I’m delighted to see people of all ages, genders, races and ranges of mobility walking, biking, scooting, skating, skateboarding, and dancing on the car-free roadways. I also see the free Golden Gate Park shuttle transporting people to the many attractions that the commentary suggests are less accessible due to road closures. There are eight shuttle stops including JFK Drive, Conservatory of Flowers, Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. Perhaps more shuttles and better advertising of this park feature would help with some of Kozakiewicz’s concerns.  

On my recent visit to the park, I also witnessed an organized 5K/15K race, a Zumba class, swing dancing, live music, frisbee, yoga, soccer, baseball, martial arts, tai chi, paddle boats, surrey bikes, bird watching, reading, badminton, picnics and many other gatherings and activities. It’s so wonderful to see people enjoying nature, exercising, and socializing with one another safely outside. 

We are truly lucky to have such spectacular parks and beaches here in San Francisco and I would like to thank our dedicated SF Recreation and Park staff, especially Phil Ginsburg, for everything they do. Even if you’ve never visited the park before, you’re still benefiting from the the work of the Park and Botanical Garden staff. The plants they maintain purify the air, produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, cool our climate, and provide habitat and nutrients for other organisms important to our ecosystem. 

Implementing car-free roads during the pandemic and beyond is very forward thinking.  These roadways help our physical and mental health by encouraging outdoor exercise, time with family and friends, screen-free activities, and a safer space not only from cars but also from COVID. 

I also value car-free roads in San Francisco as a step toward mitigating climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I understand the frustration people have with road closures, but I believe the many benefits outweigh the inconveniences. 

If you are one of the millions of people who enjoy the car-free roadways, or even if you’ve never been, but are concerned about the environment, please let the Recreation and Park Department and your supervisor know that you support keeping these roads car-free.

Heather Murdock is a Sunset District resident. 

5 replies »

  1. Long-time friend Heather Murdock makes her case in an eloquent way. It’s always good to state one’s case so here goes: As a fit, 72yr old with time constraints, wobbly legs and a small some-times used car I respectfully disagree with her one-sided goals and objectives. Long ago baby boomers dropped their slogan “My way or the highway” and it seems the younger generation has scooped it up. What happened to “share and share alike?” I suspect many younger people were raised in the burbs, not like city kids who handily traverse the city by foot, bus, truck, whatever works best. Why you can’t meet us half way and give us a lane or perhaps a small portion of the road (Great Highway was once three lanes on each side!) It’s something our taxes paid for and for me continue to pay for. Slowly but surely our generation will die, move away or become shut-ins and it makes me sad that you all helped divide us. This may all sound simplistic but I sense you were nodding off at “Long-time friend.”
    Heather, I might rewrite your slogan to: “Be kind, say hello, drive or walk, ride slow, and enjoy shared spaces.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The fact is — nobody is on JFK Drive on a weekday.This was done without community discussion and is now being made permanent against the will of many people. (It does not impact me directly).

    It will also lead to even more commercialization of the area. We already have bike rentals, hot dog stands, a noisy diesel generator, a tacky ferris wheel, colored fountains and music pavilion (now controlled by a “nonprofit” also), ice cream stalls, a forthcoming mural, tour buses (who can drive around the Concourse!), and an authoritarian set of entry pavilions at the once-free Arboretum (whose greenery has been butchered by the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society), weddings taking over the Shakespeare Garden and so on.

    Not a pretty picture!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Heather for your thoughts on the Great Highway and JFK closures. I too am a Sunset resident and use both roads on foot and bicycle many times a week. They are a boon for good health and experiencing the natural sounds of the world in an otherwise crowded noisy urban environment. They are busy every day of the week.

    Urban communities always demand trade-offs from those of who live in them. For far too long the urban balance has been skewed, dominated by the automobile and all of its needs and concomitant damage. These small changes – I hope – point us to a future in which we humans and our needs are placed ahead of car culture, or at least considered.

    To Bonnie, I wonder why the (non upper) Great Highway is not sufficient? It is literally adjacent to the Upper road, nearly always empty, and lined with hundreds of parking spaces. If your mobility is limited, this road will get you anywhere the Upper will. And to Harry, it is fallacious go blame the commercialization you don’t like on a closed road. These things will happen, and did happen, whether the road was closed or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Parks are for people, an escape from city and foremost, traffic. This is not a sudden “movement” but S.F. being typically decades late with progressive, people-centric urban design taking hold around the world. Or even much longer – most world-class city’s parks around the world are car free, including Central Park in NYC, Hyde and Greenwich in London, Chapultepec Park in Mexico City – the list is endless. What is most depressing about this debate is my fellow elderly complaining about it as an access issue which is nonsense. The park is accessible form all sides, the bandshell and the many miles left open to traffic. Let the families, young , and children have a space to recreate that should have been designated for them a long time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

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