As an ardent environmentalist, I find it shameful and disingenuous for Gordon Mar, Phil Ginsburg, Jeff Tumlin, and others who oppose Proposition I to hold themselves out as environmentalists and assert that the proposition must be defeated in order to combat climate change, when they know full well that it is the street closures themselves that radically exacerbate the problem. It is one thing to create new open spaces on dilapidated properties or, for example, on a tunnel top in the Presidio. It is entirely another thing to close streets used by tens of thousands of automobile drivers every day in commuting to their various destinations, which inevitably and unnecessarily causes the release of massive amounts of additional greenhouse gasses.
The fallacy in the argument of the street-closure advocates, which they know full well is false, is the presumption that by closing a roadway to drivers, people will not drive their cars. This is ludicrous. Rather, when roads are closed drivers don’t go away, but instead must spend more time behind the wheel driving longer distances as they detour out of their ways, often in less fuel-efficient driving conditions than the closed roadway afforded. This is not rocket science and all City leaders know it. In fact, the City’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project admits that a proposed closure of the road extension between the western end of Sloat Boulevard and Skyline Boulevard would result in “significant and unavoidable” traffic impacts, including congestion and additional vehicle miles traveled.
Take the Great Highway, a road used by 18,000-20,000 drivers every day pre-pandemic and which, having timed stoplights and no four-way intersections, provides the most fuel-efficient route to traverse the two-mile stretch between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard. When the Upper Great Highway is closed, people still need to get to their jobs on the Peninsula and in the South Bay; parents still must drop their kids off and pick them up from school, and shuttle them to soccer practices, dance classes, etc.; families and other persons buying large amounts of groceries still must drive to the supermarket; veterans still must get to their appointments at the VA hospital; people still need to run errands; surfers still want to observe the waves at both ends of Ocean Beach and in the middle; etc. They do not simply abandon their cars.
Instead, drivers must 1) go from the highly fuel-efficient driving conditions of the Great Highway to the least fuel-efficient ones as they navigate through residential streets, where they must brake or completely stop at every block and then accelerate again, 2) detour .8 miles out of their way to Sunset Boulevard (a less fuel-efficient roadway than the Upper Great Highway), or 3) detour 1.8 miles out of their way to fuel-inefficient 19th Avenue (which is undergoing a major, multi-year construction project). Additionally, a closed Great Highway causes traffic congestion and even gridlock at numerous other westside “pressure points,” such as through Golden Gate Park on Chain of Lakes Drive and at the Great Highway intersections of both Lincoln and Sloat. Additionally, particularly on weekends, many, many people drive from points afar, often with bikes strapped to their SUVs, to ride or walk on the Great Highway.
The undeniable fact is that every single day that the Upper Great Highway is closed, tens of thousands of drivers are forced to spend longer amounts of time behind the wheel unnecessarily logging additional miles on their odometers, in driving conditions far less fuel-efficient than exist on the highway. All the while, they unnecessarily generate additional carbon emissions that otherwise would not be released if the highway was open. This is not even debatable.
Climate change truly does, as President Biden has stated, present an existential threat to the planet. It is inexcusable for City “leaders” to take discretionary action that exacerbates the problem at this point in history. At minimum, these “leaders” need to stop repeating the Trump-like big lie that they are closing roads in an effort to combat climate change. They should be honest and admit that they are doing it because they have bought in to the anti-driver agenda that some in this city promote (or are attempting to win votes from those who have), which seeks to do all that is possible to punish people who drive automobiles, environmental, street safety, and other concerns be darned.
Lest there be any doubt about the motives of these street-closure “leaders,” consider this: why is the City’s top environmental priority not to promote electric vehicle use by building up the City’s electric vehicle infrastructure, incentivizing the purchase of these cars, etc.? The federal and state governments both recognize that cars are not going away any time soon and that shifting to zero emission vehicles is imperative in the effort to combat climate change, and actively facilitate and enable the transition. In fact, the City’s own 2021 Climate Action Plan reflects that the City’s best and most effective strategy for combatting climate change is to shift to electric vehicles. So why are the efforts instead being directed and closing roads? Additionally, if these road-closure “leaders” truly care about climate change, where are the proposals for major public transportation improvements on the poorly served west side of the City? The fact is that climate change is a disingenuous talking point to them, and their top priority is to punish people who drive automobiles.
If there was time to play a “long game” on battling climate change, perhaps a strategy of making driving vehicles as big a headache as possible, with the goal that some people might ultimately decide that driving their car was not worth the hassle and thus drive less, might have some effect. But climate change is here, now, and devastating, and discretionary action by City government that causes the release of additional greenhouse gasses is inexcusable.
Categories: letter to the editor