Reopen JFK Drive to All San Francisco Residents and Visitors
By Thomas P. Campbell
Known for its vibrancy, diversity and vast open spaces, Golden Gate Park is cherished by San Franciscans and the many visitors to our City. At the start of the pandemic, JFK Drive – which provides park access for the public and also for emergency vehicles that serve our community – was closed.
As the City returns to normal routines, with SF residents back at work and in school, JFK Drive is now nearly empty on weekdays. Soon the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed will decide the future of the road. Before making that decision, we ask that city leaders and the public consider the needs of all visitors to the park, including those with limited mobility, families who live in other neighborhoods and the elderly, ensuring equitable access to our beautiful park.
The de Young museum and its collection belong to the City of San Francisco and its residents, and we are proud to serve visitors from all backgrounds across the Bay Area and the world. Situated in Golden Gate Park for more than 125 years, before the pandemic the de Young used to draw as many as a million visitors per year, including thousands of SFUSD schoolchildren and youth.
In stark contrast, despite restrictions being lifted, this past fall, our art galleries have been sparsely populated. Attendance dropped by close to 50% (in contrast to our other nearby museum, the Legion of Honor, where the drop was 18%). We at the museum continue to work hard to find ways to reduce barriers of access to art for the public, such as free admission every Saturday, free Tuesdays and free or reduced admission for seniors, students, people with disabilities and people with low incomes.
At the same time, the closure of JFK Drive has removed most of the free parking spaces and ADA spaces within a reasonable distance of the de Young, making it much harder – if not impossible – for many people, especially those with disabilities, to physically access the museum. Our concern is, with a permanent closure of JFK Drive, residents in, and visitors to the Bay Area would not be able to experience the art exhibitions and City-owned art collections at the de Young museum that appeal to so many.
While it has been suggested there is ample space for parking inside the Music Concourse Parking Garage, many cannot afford to pay its expensive fees. Making the garage more affordable is, unfortunately, a complicated process outside of the museum’s control. Additionally, the garage, which is not owned or managed by the de Young, is responsible to cover operational expenses and a bond repayment that limit reduction of rates.
High rates aside, the number of spots the garage provides just isn’t enough to satisfy the demand by park visitors. Although it is close to two museums, the garage is not within easy reach of other destinations along JFK Drive. When you’re someone with limited mobility, that extra distance makes it exceptionally challenging, if not impossible, for example to get from the garage to the Conservatory of Flowers. The garage is also only open for certain hours, which limits visits for many to this area of Golden Gate Park.
The de Young’s loading dock, which is the only access point for museum operations, is on JFK Drive. Making deliveries of art and the supplies we need to sustain the museum operations has proved incredibly challenging and dangerous on a closed JFK Drive. Our staff and vendors are being harassed almost daily while trying to carry out their work responsibilities and care for the City’s museum.
The Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency have put forward three options for the future of JFK Drive. Two of these proposals include keeping all or part of JFK Drive closed permanently. The third option would grant equitable access to the park and sustain the operational needs of the de Young and other park attractions.
Let’s move forward with keeping the road open with shared use on weekdays, while remaining closed Sundays and holidays year-round, with the addition of Saturdays for six months of the year. This was a compromise brokered between stakeholders in 2007 and it has worked well for many years before the pandemic. Reinstating it would provide access for the many people who have been severely affected by the closure.
We believe in – and will keep advocating for – a Golden Gate Park accessible for all.
Learn more and join us in advocating for restored access to JFK Drive at parkaccess4all.org
Thomas P. Campbell is the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park and Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park.