Upper Great Highway

Board Votes to Keep UGH Closed to Cars on Weekends for 3 More Years

By Thomas K. Pendergast

For the next three years, the Upper Great Highway (UGH) between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard will remain closed to cars from noon on Fridays to 6 a.m. on Mondays, despite pushback from two westside supervisors.

An ordinance put in the Recreation and Park Department code, which controls that stretch of roadway, will ban private vehicles on a “pilot basis” during weekends and holidays until Dec. 31, 2025.

The ordinance was sponsored by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar.

“The climate is changing and so will the Great Highway,” Mar told the Board of Supervisors in December. “The roadway south of Sloat must and will be closed to cars as part of the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation (Project), a plan in the works for decades at this point,”

Mar says this allows car commuters access to the road when they need it most, while preserving the promenade when cyclists and pedestrians use it most.

The SF Board of Supervisors passed and ordinance to keep the current schedule for the closed-to-cars Upper Great Highway for the next three years. Pedestrians, bicyclists, strollers and dog walkers will have the roadway to themselves from noon on Fridays until 6 a.m. on Mondays through 2025. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“I think this is a best-of-both-worlds scenario. By including Friday afternoons, we give some access to the promenade for those who work on weekends,” he said. “This legislation is a genuine compromise, and this is a compromise we reached with Mayor Breed more than a year ago in August of 2021. This ordinance simply allows it to continue,” he said. “If this ordinance is not passed, the weekend promenade will end and the Great Highway will return to a 24/7 roadway for cars, when the declaration of emergency ends early next year.”

The Upper Great Highway was closed to vehicles in April of 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been under the current configuration since August 2021. Mar says this will give city officials time to make transportation improvements on the west side, improve traffic circulation, expand transit service and to study and measure what happens to trip patterns after the Great Highway extension south of Sloat closes to vehicles permanently in 2024.

“We can keep what works and can keep working on it.” Mar said. “This legislation probably gives no one exactly what they want. It’s a genuine compromise reflecting years of outreach and input and it strikes a careful balance.”

The defeat of Proposition I in November, which would have returned the Upper Great Highway to its vehicles only pre-pandemic condition, opened the door for the SF Board of Supervisors to codify, meaning to put into the Rec. and Park code, the current schedule.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, however, was opposed to the Friday at noon closure to cars.

Melgar mentioned that she is a “card-carrying member of the Bicycle Coalition,” she advocates for car-free spaces and opposed Proposition I, which would have ended the “promenade” and open the Great Highway up to car traffic 24/7 like it was before the pandemic.

“Nevertheless, if you look at the vote totals of Prop. I in District 7, District 1, District 4 … there were pockets of folks who were not in agreement and they are very strongly in disagreement,” Melgar said. “We are approving a pilot project, and in three years … we’re going to need these people to implement a permanent compromise and I do not understand why we would antagonize a bunch of folks in my district when we’re going to need them in three years to put a permanent compromise forward.

“We want to eventually see a future where we adapt to climate change or we have more car-free spaces, and that’s going to require negotiation,” she said. “I can honestly say that that wasn’t done, at least with my office, in terms of the hours.”

Melgar expressed some of her constituents’ concerns.

“I have been hearing for the past couple of years how families who have to get the soccer fields in Golden Gate Park on Friday afternoons, which is when soccer happens, have a really hard time because all of the traffic is redirected,” she explained. “I have been hearing about folks who need to get to the VA Hospital, both staff and patients. So, I do not want to antagonize a large section of my constituents, when we could have done something to alleviate the most contentious issue, which is the noon closure on Fridays.”

She then moved for an amendment to start closing the highway to cars at 6 a.m. on Saturdays, then open it up for traffic on Mondays at 6 a.m. District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan seconded her motion.

“I have a different experience as to what Supervisor Mar has described in the last two years,” Chan said. “While the Outer Richmond is not the majority … I ought to speak for them because their concerns are legitimate.

“Thinking about the Veterans Hospital, thinking about schools, thinking about all these families that have to do the north-south travel, thinking about the experience that when we have the park closures like Outside Lands, or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, it’s difficult for (residents of) the Richmond, particularly the Outer Richmond, to travel (in a) north-south direction. It doesn’t make sense to have a closure at noon if the goal is so that we can support parents traveling in a north-south direction,” she said.

“The (Friday at) noon closure was not a consensus. It was determined,” Chan explained. “Supervisor Mar, I guess, decided that, because I wasn’t involved in the decision, nor were many of my constituents involved in the decision for a noon closure. At the end of the day, the people who live there, the ones that are being impacted, should have a say about their neighborhoods.”

She said her role as supervisor is to build consensus.

“I’ve got to be able to balance it out, both perspectives, and helping my constituents instead of pitting them against each other, to find a solution that is workable.”

Chan referenced an article in the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that air quality has actually worsened on 19th Avenue but has shown very little improvement on the Great Highway.

“I don’t think that changes to Great Highway alone are a silver bullet. We’ve got to talk about (the) big picture,” she said.

Supervisor Melgar spoke again about the hours.

“I am hoping that we don’t extend this fight for three years unnecessarily; that we can come up with a compromise that works for more people while keeping the Great Highway closed on weekends, which was the intention of the compromise,” Melgar said. “I was in that room when we came up with that compromise. The noon closure was not part of that compromise. That was something that happened later when Rec. and Park operationalized the compromise.

“When we initially said it, it was going to be closed on the weekends and holidays and then available for people to commute on the weekdays.”

Mar responded that during the last 18 months people have adjusted to the closure of the Upper Great Highway on the weekends, so congestion is not as bad as it was at first.

“Sunset Boulevard is still available for them.” Mar said. “The traffic volume on Sunset Boulevard is still below what it was pre-pandemic. Also, as part of the Golden Gate Park access plan, we’ve created a release valve for the traffic on Chain-of-Lakes Drive that now allows the southbound traffic to be able to take MLK Drive and have a direct connection to Sunset Boulevard, so that has helped.”

Mar said they should keep the Friday at noon closure.

Melgar and Chan’s amendment to close the Upper Great Highway to vehicles at 6 a.m. on Saturdays instead of noon on Fridays failed by an 8-3 vote, with Board President Shamann Walton joining them.

The ordinance then passed on a 9-2 vote, with supervisors Melgar and Chan voting against it.

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