By Thomas K. Pendergast
Mayor London Breed’s proposal to permanently ban private motor vehicles from certain drives in Golden Gate Park will go before the Board of Supervisors soon, however, they might make some adjustments if they approve it.
Private automobiles have been banned from parts of John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Drive since April 2020 in response to the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, since the shut-down of businesses meant that there would be far less cars on the road.
Last month the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department issued a report with recommendations to restrict private vehicles on approximately three miles of streets within the park and establish two particular street segments as one-way streets.
The restrictions would apply to: JFK between Stanyan, Kezar and Transverse drives; Conservatory Drive East from Arguello Boulevard to JFK; the entire Pompeii Circle; Conservatory Drive West, between JFK and 500 feet northeast of JFK; Eighth Avenue between Fulton Street and JFK; Music Concourse Drive between JFK and Bowl Drive; Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive between JFK and Bowl; Stow Lake Drive from JFK to Stow Lake Drive East; Middle Drive West between Metson Road and Overlook Drive then onto Transverse; plus Bernice Rodgers Way between JFK and MLK; and then MLK between Lincoln Way and Chain of Lakes Road.
All of these roadways will continue to be open to bicycles, scooters, emergency vehicles, paratransit vehicles, park maintenance vehicles, and vehicles permitted to use Golden Gate Park facilities by Rec. and Park. Muni vehicles and the Golden Gate Park shuttle will be permitted to use streets on their respective assigned routes. Vehicles accessing the de Young Museum loading dock will be permitted to use Eighth Avenue and JFK to get there.
One seriously frustrating issue for many car drivers is the traffic jam that regularly afflicts Chain of Lakes Drive under the current configuration, as cars are often stuck in bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic.
Based primarily on this report, Breed’s proposed legislation converts the section of MLK from Chain of Lakes to Sunset Boulevard from two-way to one-way traffic in the eastbound direction; and Middle Drive West from Metson Road back to MLK Drive from two-way to one-way traffic in the westbound direction.
The idea is to create a traffic flow connection between Chain of Lakes and Sunset Blvd. hoping to improve north-south traffic flow through the park.
While there seems to be general support for the mayor’s ordinance, some supervisors would like to see some adjustments to it first before voting.
“What I find lacking is the Eighth Avenue access and management, as well as the parking garage issues; neither are addressed,” said District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. “We may have to go to the ballot in order to problem-solve this.”
Chan is referring to the parking issue. Shutting down that section of JFK alone eliminated 549 parking spaces, and although the de Young has an underground parking garage, it is relatively expensive and not everyone can afford it.
Changing prices, however, is problematic because the de Young Museum does not own the parking lot underneath it. That belongs to the Music Concourse Community Partnership and they have a $24 million bond debt to pay off, while the land underneath the garage is owned by the City, which leases it out.
When the bond debt is paid, the garage will be transferred to the City but rates are approved by a process that involves the Golden Gate Concourse Authority, the Rec. and Park Commission, the supervisors and the mayor.
“I am certainly in the camp of hoping to make some adjustments, have some compromise on her proposal, however, also reevaluating what she proposed as a whole, as it currently stands,” Chan said. “I’m also thinking that I will have my proposal on the table so that we can have an open and transparent discussion about her proposal and mine. How can we come together?”
On the southern border of the park is the Sunset District. District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar expressed support but with reservations.
“The accessibility improvements proposed by Mayor Breed are a good start, but not enough,” Mar said. “I support the senior and disability community’s call for additional commitments including ensuring that the free shuttle runs on all roads closed to private vehicles, operates seven days a week from dawn to dusk and later for evening events…. I would also like to see the garage increase the free parking time to 30 minutes for drop offs and pickups, and parking made affordable for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income residents.”
As for the traffic situation on Chain of Lakes, Mar supports the mayor’s solution and is also looking at the intersection where 41st Avenue meets with Lincoln Way.
“To better manage traffic flow in the area, I also secured approval and funding for a new traffic signal to be installed at Lincoln and 41st Avenue,” Mar said. “Additionally, the 41st Avenue Slow Street barriers will be removed this spring as SFMTA designs alternative traffic calming measures on 41st.”
District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston represents the area bordering the east side of the park.
“I am a strong supporter of keeping JFK car free, but I also believe that we need to make bold demands for public transit,” Preston said. “There are serious concerns related to access for those who rely on public transportation. We need to provide diverse and affordable transit options, that includes supporting our public transit options, including bringing back the 21 and the 6 (Muni bus lines) and significantly increasing service.
“I believe that we are in a climate crisis and a street safety crisis, and that we must act boldly to address the threats of climate change and unsafe streets, such as Car Free JFK,” he said.
District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar said she supports the mayor’s proposal but also with reservations.
“I am in general support of the Mayor’s ordinance, but see room for more compromise primarily to address the concerns of seniors and people with disabilities and limited mobility,” Melgar said. “I have enjoyed car-free JFK, but I am one of 11 votes. I look forward to seeing what comes out of these robust discussions.”
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman serves as chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
“I’ve been a longtime supporter of making our streets safer and more inviting for pedestrians, cyclists, and our kids. I do support and have co-sponsored Mayor Breed’s Car-Free JFK legislation,” Mandelman said. “We surely need to do more to improve access to Golden Gate Park and its institutions for people with limited mobility, but we know that the closure to car traffic during the pandemic has already made what had been one of the city’s highest-injury stretches of road much safer, and I’m glad to support this plan to make a safe, kid-friendly JFK Drive a permanent feature of the Park.”
On April 5, the SF Chronicle reported that Chan presented a new plan for JFK Drive.
“San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan wants to allow cars on part of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park that Mayor London Breed is trying to keep open only for pedestrians and bicyclists,” the Chronicle reported.
“Chan introduced legislation Tuesday that provides an alternative to an earlier proposal from Breed that would permanently ban vehicle traffic on 1.5 miles of the road. Under Chan’s proposed ordinance, motorists would be able to drive one way on JFK Drive between Eighth Avenue and Transverse Drive, as well as on the east and west portions of Conservatory Drive behind the Conservatory of Flowers,” according to the Chronicle. “The mayor’s plan would prohibit cars on most of those road stretches. Chan, whose district includes the park as well as the Richmond District north of it, is seeking a compromise between those who want vehicles blocked on JFK Drive and those who have reservations about the impacts of doing so.”
Categories: Golden Gate Park