Commentary

Commentary: Reopen GG Park’s JFK Drive to Provide Access for All

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.

8 replies »

  1. When I heard how people were harassing your staff and vendors and vandalizing their vehicles as they tried to make legal deliveries to the museums I thought it was appalling behavior. These road closures have divided our residents far more than any other issue I can remember. Rather than building communities the road closures have polarized them. Other appalling behavior is the tantrum riders on the GH where a dozen bicyclists/skateboarders, etc TRAP hundreds of motorists weekly with no reaction from city officials. Time to stop, reset, and try to implement any similar street closures in a more thoughtful and open way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s my Reply. A San Francisco Superior Court Judge today DENIED the OPEN THE GREAT HIGHWAY ALLIANCE Motion for an Order to reopen JFK Drive, MLK Drive and The Great Walkway to cars. He wrote in part, “Plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on the Merits at Trial.”

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  2. “the closure of JFK Drive has removed most of the free parking spaces and ADA spaces within a reasonable distance of the de Young” – that’s a flat out lie, and I can’t believe the Richmond Review didn’t fact check something so egregious. “Most” of the ADA spaces have always been located in the garage directly attached to the museums, and Rec Park replaced all ADA spaces that were removed with new ones nearby. https://sfrecpark.org/1246/Accessibility-Questions

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s a bit lazy that Campbell copied and pasted his Chronicle oped and that it was published. Laziness aside, Campbell fails to mention that he, along with FAMSF leadership, has retained Platinum Advisors to lobby city leaders and supervisors about the JFK Promenade behind closed doors. Maybe the lobbyists would have charged more to write a second oped, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is just not true, Thomas. I’ve been commuting and running errands via JFK all week this week and it is packed. The difference of navigating the car choked adjacent streets via rush hour and then coasting onto this glorious promenade is transformative. Please let us keep this one 1.5 mile spur as a safe and quiet respite from the roar of motor vehicles. Another perspective: https://sfrichmondreview.com/2021/12/31/commentary-make-upper-great-highway-an-oceanfront-park.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. There is a wealth of disinformation in this piece, but I’ll just focus on two of the lies:

    1) “High rates aside, the number of spots the garage provides just isn’t enough to satisfy the demand by park visitors.” False. The average utilization of the garage prior to the pandemic was under 30%, according to the garage non profit’s own IRS filings. The garage cost $55M and is vastly underutilized — this is a failure by the non profit that runs the Concourse Garage.

    2) “Making the garage more affordable is, unfortunately, a complicated process outside of the museum’s control.” False. The garage non-profit’s board is dominated by museum insiders, including 3 DeYoung employees or trustees. The garage also owes millions of dollars to the museums, but never make loan payments, a clear conflict of interest. Thomas Campbell could walk down the hall and talk to his colleagues Jason, Paul, or Dede who sit on the garage board about improving rates or adding free ADA parking to the garage to enhance access, but he chooses not to.

    Thomas Campbell has thrown the museum into a huge and unnecessary political and brand battle that has tarnished the reputation of a wonderful institution. Rather than stay open to real solutions and act in good faith, Campbell continues to dig in his heels, actively undermine his peers in other city agencies, lie to the public, and lose the trust of thousands of San Franciscans who are choosing not to return to the museum. A colossal unforced error resulting from failed leadership.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks to the de Young’s disingenuous and costly campaign to return JFK Drive to its pre-pandemic polluting and unsafe state, a boycott has ensued. Museum leadership would be wise to recognize that their attempts to reintroduce automobiles to JFK is what’s harming their institution and reputation.

    Liked by 1 person

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