SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Hailed by urbanists as the beginning of a San Francisco less reliant on cars, street closures to autos on two thoroughfares on the city’s westside may end up being reopened to vehicles by the voters after years of planning, wrangling and backlash.
Disability rights advocate Howard Chabner and Richmond District resident Richard Correia are waiting for their proposed ballot measure, Access For All, to be approved by the city attorney’s office for signature gathering. When it is, only about 9,000 signatures will get it on the November ballot.
At that point, voters will get to decide whether to rescind the Board of Supervisors’ decision to permanently close John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to vehicular traffic and the city government’s decision to close the Great Highway along Ocean Beach to cars on weekends.
“This is a key step to restoring equity in access to Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway for thousands of San Franciscans who need and deserve it,”Chabner and Correia said in a statement issued to KRON4. “Full-time closure of these key arteries hurts residents with disabilities, seniors, families and those who live in outer neighborhoods. San Francisco voters have twice rejected further closures of JFK Drive, but the city moved ahead anyway. We will be asking San Francisco voters to once again support a return to the previous compromise that balances the needs of all San Francisco residents and provides equitable access.”
The roads were first closed to cars in 2020 to provide space for socially-distanced exercise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Great Highway closure was originally 24/7, but in 2021 neighborhood groups such as the Open the Great Highway Alliance pushed back, saying it made traffic in the surrounding Sunset neighborhood more dangerous, and hurt accessibility for seniors and the disabled, as KRON4 previously reported.
This led to a compromise, brokered by Mayor London Breed, whereby it would be open to cars on weekdays and closed on weekends, when bicyclists and exercisers could utilize the roadway. A suit to reopen the highway to cars 24/7 was unsuccessful.
JFK Drive was permanently closed to traffic in perpetuity by the board of supervisors earlier this year.
Jen Kwart, the director of communications for City Attorney David Chiu, confirmed that Access For All should be ready for signature gathering soon.
“Our office plays an impartial role in the ballot measure process, including drafting the title and summary that the measure proponents will include in their petition as they seek signatures,” Kwart stated to KRON4. “We do not take positions on the measures. On this specific measure, we will issue the title and summary by June 21.”
District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Outer Sunset on the Board of Supervisors, asked the city attorney’s office to draft legislation make the 2021 highway compromise permanent.
Mar told the board in May that the part of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard will have to be permanently closed to vehicles in the coming years due to climate change.
“This has been planned for over a decade in response to a changing climate and rising sea levels that threaten the integrity of the current roadway,” Mar told his colleagues. “When this happens, it will change traffic patterns across the westside, and the utility of the rest of the Great Highway between Lincoln [Way] and Sloat [Boulevard].”
Mar said the ordinance would keep the current situation in place at least until the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaption Project commences.
“It would also direct SFMTA and Rec and Park to use that time to conduct a transparent, thorough outreach and planning process to inform where the Great Highway goes from here – and the comprehensive improvements to westside transportation we need and hope to see.”
Due to attorney-client privilege, Kwart couldn’t confirm the progress the city attorney’s office had made on this issue. Mar’s office told KRON4 on June 16 that this ordinance is still being drafted.
One of Mar’s opponents for his seat in November’s election, documentarian and former San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee member Joel Engardio, told KRON4 that he supports the status quo regarding the highway.
“I support allowing cars on the Great Highway on weekends to serve commuters and keeping it permanently open on weekends and holidays to pedestrians and cyclists for recreation,” Engardio stated.
With regard to public opinion, 70.4% of respondents in an SFMTA and Parks and Recreation poll from 2021 supported car-free JFK Drive. However, a poll by the San Francisco Standard found only 35% support closing particular streets to auto traffic.