San Francisco secures court victory affirming temporary westside road closures
Decision ensures residents can continue to recreate safely at the partially-closed Great Highway, JFK Drive, and MLK Drive during the pandemic
City Attorney David Chiu, Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg, and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Director Jeffrey Tumlin released the following statements today after a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the City’s emergency, temporary closure of three roads under Park Department jurisdiction was authorized by law. The City has temporarily closed the Upper Great Highway, John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive, and Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Drive to private vehicle traffic to provide the public safe opportunities for recreation during the COVID-19 emergency.
The court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments and found Plaintiffs had not met the requirements for the preliminary injunction they sought. The Court found that the City had properly exercised its authority under state and local law to temporarily close the roads. Also, the Court found that there was a high level of interest to continue using the streets for walking, rolling, hiking, and strolling during the pandemic.
“I am pleased the Court agreed that the City was well within its authority to provide residents a safe space to recreate,” said City Attorney Chiu. “Over the course of the pandemic, these spaces have become some of the most utilized, beloved recreation areas in the City.”
“One of the pandemic’s few bright spots was our City’s willingness to try out bold new ideas, such as allowing safe, healthy recreation on streets previously open to vehicles. JFK Drive and the Great Highway became respites from isolation, places to connect with each other and improve our mental and physical health,” Ginsburg said. “I’m pleased these streets will continue to be a source of joy while the City continues to engage with the public on their long-term future.”
“Opening Great Highway and JFK to people has allowed thousands of San Franciscans to exercise outdoors every day, enjoy parks with their families and travel across town safely while Muni service is fully restored,” Tumlin said. “We’re glad the court has supported the City’s current public engagement process which addresses safety, accessibility and traffic concerns, while expanding their benefits equitably to all San Franciscans.”
In April 2020, the Upper Great Highway and a portion of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park were closed to vehicle traffic in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect public safety, and give residents a safe space to recreate during the pandemic. A portion of MLK Drive in Golden Gate Park was closed to vehicle traffic in September 2020.
In addition to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries, the partial road closures turned these corridors into some of the most visited open spaces in the City. Almost seven million pedestrian and bike trips were made on car-free JFK Drive between April 2020 and September 2021, and each month, an average of 126,000 people use the Great Highway for walking, cycling, and recreating.
In August 2021, the City reopened the Great Highway to vehicle traffic on weekdays to support families getting to and from recently reopened schools.
To determine the long-term future of these spaces, the Recreation and Park Department and SFMTA have conducted a series of public meetings, surveys and tours to solicit feedback and gather information on the impacts of various potential options. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the permanent status of these spaces in the near future.
Despite the partial reopening of the Upper Great Highway and the public meetings currently considering the long-term future of these spaces, the Plaintiffs filed suit in December 2021 challenging the City’s authority to close the roads to private vehicles. The Court did not find merit in their claims and rejected their motion for a preliminary injunction.
The ruling can be found here. The case is Open the Great Highway Alliance v. Philip Ginsburg, San Francisco Superior Court, CPF-21-517641.
Categories: Press Release
The City is misrepresenting the judge’s decision by implying the case is closed. It is not. All the judge did was deny the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminar injunction, which would have reopened the Great Highway while the parties await a full trial on the merits of the case. At this time, there is no final determination regarding the status of the Great Highway. A preliminary injunction is an emergency remedy that must meet a high bar to be granted. In this case, the court found that high bar had not been met. But what’s most important is that this case is still ongoing, and plaintiffs will have an opportunity for a full and fair hearing on all the merits of the case. These press releases are not City Hall’s finest moment.
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Of course the Plaintiffs’ Case isn’t closed. No one’s implying that the Case is closed. An important factor to consider is Judge Ulmer clearly saying the courts should not be the ones to settle one of the city’s most caustic debates. That the Court must take care not to usurp powers of other government branches. That the Plaintiffs are relying on Vehicle Code Sec. 21101.6, which is not applicable, to argue the merits of the Case. That being said, a higher bar is awaiting the Plaintiffs than the high bar for approval of a motion for a preliminary injunction.
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I think you’ll find a lot of people saying “the case isn’t close” donated to the lawsuit. They don’t want to feel like they wasted their money.
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“We believe the judge got the facts and the law wrong” said Gautum Dutta, lawyer for Open the Great Highway Alliance adding The Alliance is weighing its options. What other reaction would you expect? Left unstated is how much he will bill his clients for this vexatious lawsuit.
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What a bunch of BS from the city. Ginsburg and Tumlin should be fired!! The city is citing bogus counts on how many people are using these closed streets!! Nobody can deny the the Great Highway average usage by cars is 17,000 to 19,000 vehicles during the week and more on the weekends. Far more vehicles than the people using the 2 walking paths, running path, 2 bike lanes and 6 miles of open beach. I have no idea why people go to the beach and not want to go on the sand?? Currently looking out at the Great Highway I see 3 people walking and 1 person on a bicycle. On the lower Grt Hwy is a solid stream of cars and commercial trucks traveling north and south. I don’t see the 3,000 to 8,000 people on the Great Highway that the city surveys claim!
Park and Rec poorly maintain the great highway as it is! Look at the bike lanes covered in sand and ice plant. Why do the bicycle people not complain about this? What happened to the running path covered in dirt and weeds. What happened to the wood post fencing keeping people from destroying all the ice plant? What happened is Park and Rec is and has been negligent on maintaining what they already have. Look at Sunset Blvd where they spent all this money landscaping and planting new plants only to have them all die because there was no water. How stupid can you be? Then they spent more money putting in water lines and replanting. The roadway pavement is falling apart from all the added vehicles detoured to use the Blv. Park and Rec has been wasting money for years! On the Park and Rec website, it states that there are already over 250 parks and playgrounds in the city. They tout that there is a park or playground within 10 minutes walking distance of most any residents of the city, and they claim they need more? On the news was a playground by Civic Center full of rats. Perhaps some escaped from City Hall? Our mayor and supervisors are out of touch and reality letting their employees telling them what to do, and who are running the city in their own personal selfish ways!
The people of SF are tired of all the BS! Next week on Feb 15th is the recall vote of the inadequate elected school board members, and in June will be the recall vote of Chesa Boudin, the current DA of SF. Between 2020 and 2021 the city handed bicycle coalition a million dollars and Walk SF some $800,000 for consulting fees with no public input. Shouldn’t we be spending our tax payer money providing better education and stopping the rampant crime? People are being beaten and robbed in front of their own homes. If the Board of Supervisors and Mayor of the city are coerced by special interest groups, their political asperations could have an abrupt end. They too could end up on a ballot to be removed.
It’s time to open the Great Highway and roadways in Golden Gate Park and get rid of all the wasted signage of all these unused slow streets. They have created a nightmare for taxpayers like the residents of Lake St. who are also fighting its slow street closure. My guess is if this ends up in the ballot polls, the voters will vote to open the roads and get rid of the Supervisors and City officials supporting this traffic nightmare for most of us.
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Unfortunately the judge believed the lies of park and wreak and the bike coalition about recreation usage. He believed the RPD’s argument of harm to the “zillions’ of users. What about the harm caused to working commiters, seniords, and the disabled?We know MTA and RPD collude with the BC to skew numbers on surveys and at meetings. The corruption of these agencies is not lost on the voting public. The SIP has been over for over a year. Ginsburg and Tumlin have taken advantage of a deadly pandemic to sneak thru their elitist schemes, leaving working people stuck on congested city streets and the disabled with no access to the GH or to JFK. Where is the equity and fairness. They just dont care.
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I agree with the above post. The partial closure of the Great Highway is a travesty for the City of San Francisco. This closure has created great hardship for the thousands city residents who use this highway. It should not be used as a public park (there are plenty of parks and beaches for people to ride and walk in). We need the Great Highway to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And JFK drive should be open to cars and parking again so all can access the attractions in the park. I look forward to the cancellation of all the so-called slow streets so the roads can be used for cars and the sidewalks used for pedestrians.
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The only thing that will come from closing streets is a vote to oust the parties from office who created the mess on our streets. Whatever it takes, the battle is on and instead of creating a peaceful tolerant society, City Hall and the government entities that run it are turning our streets into a battle zone where the gloves are off. Unfortunately it will take a long time to heal the wounds this travesty is inflicting on our citizens. We no longer live by rules of generosity and patience. We now live in a dog eat dog world of grab it while you can.
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zRants is sadly given license in the Richmond Sunset Beacon to publish incendiary rhetoric which is the style of the motorists. The Decision to continue Car Free areas in San Francisco was made by a Judge in a Court of Law. That is the way legal disputes are settled. It’s sad but not surprising to hear language such as, “battle zone where the gloves are off.” My question Where is the “battle zone”? Whose “gloves are off”? And for what purpose?
I agree completely! The pandemic was an excuse to close JFK completely (as opposed to once on Sunday) and part of the Great Highway (inconveniencing thousands and forcing traffic onto side streets); and Slow Streets are unnecessary and nightmare to get around the city. They should be an illegal privatization of the streets turning some streets into little ‘gated communities.
I hope these issues will make it to the November ballot. I intend to vote against anybody promoting these travesties, including the mayor.