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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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News + PoliticsEnvironmentA car-free JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park is finally close to...

A car-free JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park is finally close to reality

But there are some complicated equity issues that will require a lot more discussion.


Banning cars from JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park has been a goal of bicycle and pedestrian advocates for at least 20 years. I don’t know how many times the Bay Guardian used the headline “Parks, not Parking,” but I suspect it appeared in a least a dozen stories.

And now that vision is moving toward reality—but there are a couple of issues that are still far from resolved.

The entrance at 8th Avenue is a major issue in closing JFK Drive to cars.

The Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee heard a proposal today that would make JFK Drive car-free permanently, putting a COVID-era change into formal policy. The supes can only ask the Recreation and Parks Department and the SFMTA to take action—but still, a board resolution would put tremendous pressure on both those agencies.

And from the hearing, it appears that at least the SFMTA is willing to move in that direction. Rec-Park seems to be backing off its long-time opposition, in part because it appears that the DeYoung Museum isn’t actively opposing the concept.

So, while the future of the Great Highway is still bitterly contested (and no, 48hills does not support more cars in the city or anywhere else; we published two oped pieces taking different positions on this issue), it would seem that at least a major road in Golden Gate Park could be free of private vehicles soon.

But it’s not that simple.

The supes are trying to balance the need for safe recreation with the (relatively minimal) needs of the DeYoung for loading-dock access on JFK Drive—and way more important, the concerns of people from underserved neighborhoods who have no easy way to get to that part of the park on public transit.

Many speakers talked about how wonderful it’s been for their kids to ride bikes safely in the park. I get it: I spent many Sundays in the park with my kids. They both learned to ride a bike on car-free JFK Drive. I hardly ever drive in the city; my bike is my transportation.

But as Shamann Walton points out, there’s an equity issue here. If you live in Southeast San Francisco, and you have two young kids who want to enjoy the privilege of riding their bikes on JFK Drive, you can’t get there on transit.

Seriously: You can’t put two kid’s bikes and maybe an adult bike on a Muni bus from Bayview to Golden Gate Park. It’s impossible. Some buses (but only a few) have bike racks, but they hold only two bikes, and it’s first-come, first-served.

Forget the time and inconvenience of bad Muni service from that part of town. It’s just reality: If your kids are too young to ride the city streets all the way to GGP,  there’s no way to get them there except to drive. And then you need a place to put your car (with a bike rack on the back and maybe a couple of kid’s bikes in the trunk) and unload, and you need to leave it there for the trip home.

The garage under the DeYoung is way too expensive. There are plenty of other parking spaces in the park, but that involves driving around on a busy weekend looking for a spot—and then navigating taking your kids through that same traffic to the safe space of JFK Drive.

So the resolution sponsored by Sup. Connie Chan suggests that the city should consider

providing free parking for the first four hours in the Music Concourse garage for San Francisco residents in ZIP codes that are historically low-income, underserved residents including 94124, 94112, 94134, and 94133, or by proof of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) or Medi-Cal card.

But here it gets more complicated. Chan also wants people to have access to the ADA parking spots in the concourse — and The easiest way to get to them is to enter the park off Fulton at 8th Avenue—and that entrance is currently closed to all but Muni and taxis. (The entrance to the DeYoung garage is at 10th Avenue) (Most taxis don’t have bike racks, and a taxi from Bayview to GGP is probably $20 anyway.)

And there are seniors and people with mobility issues who want to go to the cultural institutions in that part of the park (and some who work for those institutions).

So the resolution

urges SFMTA and RPD to manage access at 8th Avenue and Fulton Street and around the Music Concourse to allow for vehicles to enter and exit 8th Avenue, allowing for disabled, senior, and limited mobility visitors to access the ADA parking behind the bandshell, or for those with limited mobility who may not have a placard to be dropped off along the Music Concourse.

As one caller with mobility issues noted, “hiking and biking are a privilege I cannot enjoy any more. The closure makes it hard for the most vulnerable to enjoy these institutions.”

But as dozens of speakers noted, if you let private cars enter at 8th Avenue, you encourage drivers to cut through the park at that point—if you can drive in at the 8th Avenue entrance, you can cut all the way south across to MLK Drive and then to Lincoln. It would, in essence, slice the car-free route in half.

Oh, and since those roads are narrow, it would also slow down the 44 O’Shaughnessy Muni line, which actually provides service from the Bayview to Golden Gate Park.

I suppose in theory you could only allow people with ADA placards on their cars to enter at 8th, but that would create a traffic nightmare and be impossible to enforce. And it would leave out families with young kids from the Southeast (and Chinatown, which also has no effective transit access to the park for kids with bikes).

The unlimited cars entering on 8th Avenue at this point seems like it’s never going to work. One caller noted that you can drive into the DeYoung garage off 10th Avenue and continue underground into the concourse, and then access the concourse garage. That seems like a complicated solution.

Or the city could demand that the DeYoung (which is a civic institution) make parking in its garage cheap or free for low-income residents, even if that means that the tourists and rich people going to parties there might have to compete with families for spots. (UPDATE: The DeYoung informs me that IMPARK runs that garage under the Music Concourse Community Partnership, a separate nonprofit that represents the major institutions in the area. So rates aren’t up to the DeYoung. My mistake. But the supes could push for lower rates.) And once the financing on the garage is paid off, it’s going to be a big money-maker.

Or the city could invest the money into making transit accessible and affordable to a much wider range of people and needs. Some callers talked about cars as a climate crisis, and said that some European cities have created vast car-free spaces. Those cities also have vast, cheap, and accessible public transit systems.

Or maybe there’s something I haven’t thought of—please let me know of any bright ideas.

This is just the start of what should be a community-based process—one that considers the needs of a wide range of people.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. “UPDATE: The DeYoung informs me that IMPARK runs that garage under the Music Concourse Community Partnership, a separate nonprofit that represents the major institutions in the area. So rates aren’t up to the DeYoung. My mistake. ”

    The Music Concourse Community Partnership is controlled by 8 directors. Of them: two are current or former trustees of the Cal Academy, two are on the boards governing the de Young (again, it’s “de Young Museum” because the man’s name was “M. H. de Young,” not “DeYoung.”), one is the CEO of the construction company that built the garage (a construction company the garage has had a longstanding debt to), one is the Academy’s CFO, one is paid to run the partnership, and the final one is nominally an independent director. Rates aren’t directly up to the de Young, no, but they are currently up to the rather wealthy and powerful people who control the museums.

    I remember your muckraking days, Tim. You used to think more critically about the kind of stuff the likes of Dede Wilsey (who is on the Partnership’s board, yes, or at least was as of the last public filing) were up to.

    There’s also a measure up before a Board of Supervisors Committee tomorrow that would aim to have the city set these parking rates. Maybe check that out?

  2. Who decided that the Golden Gate Park is only available to a limited number of people? What happened to family picnics n the park? What happened to weddings and parties and fun times for all? Are we supposed to take our dogs, picnic baskets, food containers, coolers, and kids on the bus now? Are only underprivileged families welcome to visit the park? Who decided that there should be only limited uses of the park? Restrictions of any kind on this or any other public park should not be tolerated.

  3. aj5, no, of course there can’t be room for thousands or hundreds or several dozens of cars.

    I moved to SF in 1989, and back then whenever I wanted to, during the week, I could park anywhere in GG Park that I wanted to. Before the garage and the redesign and construction of the replacement museums, you could park in diagonal spots all around the concourse right in front of the museums. It was practical because there weren’t hundreds of people trying to park – there were just a few. So I’d easily find a spot without circling. The convenience to me wasn’t at the expense of anyone.

    The weekday park usage is STILL really not that high, and keeping the area closed to cars inconveniences really just a few – while serving just as few. It makes things more difficult for seniors and others who lack mobility, while serving the younger/more able-bodied, and there seems little point in maintaining the closures if in practice they neither help nor hinder that many people.

    Anyway, if millions in the Bay Area want to use that corner of the park, making it so that no one but local dog walkers can doesn’t seem to be a fair answer. If millions can’t, let’s keep it so no one can?

    How did we manage before the pandemic, when JFK was only closed on the weekends?

    There are countless bike paths throughout the park, where cars cannot go. Why do bikes also need unfettered access to the one “path” that was created for cars?

    It was probably different during more difficult times of the pandemic, but the present reality is that during weekdays, people are walking on the sidewalks everywhere in the city, and on sidewalks and paths in parks. No one is still walking in the middle of streets. The only people using JFK are biking, and they have alternatives where cars can’t go.

    We may well go through another bad period of pandemic and people may start walking in the streets again. But any plan about making changes permanent should be based on regular, not pandemic, usage.

    There was one mention of “seniors” but mostly I am reading here about ADA and placards etc. As if they are the same thing? Most seniors aren’t officially disabled and would never qualify for a placard, but compared to younger people are certainly less able. There’s a continuum of capabilities.

    In general, I’ve encountered slow streets everywhere in the city, and they are currently entirely devoid of people and bikes almost 100% of the time. Perhaps they had a purpose a year ago, but they just don’t anymore. They increase traffic on surrounding streets, and increase cars circling looking for parking.

    There should probably be an up-to-date study of weekday usage of the park and its pathways and roads, so that decisions can be made based on facts – but if JFK isn’t reopened, there would be no way to conduct it.

  4. 48now, do you understand that what you’re asking for is just fundamentally impossible, as a matter of geometry? There are 875,000 people that live in San Francisco, and millions more in the surrounding region, who might conceivably like to walk in that part of the park. There is not, and this is just math because cars are a lot bigger than people, enough space on streets and for parking to accommodate everyone who might conceivably want to drive to the NE bit of the park and park extremely nearby in a private vehicle. Short of extreme population control measures, I can’t solve that problem. Even if I could conjure up more parking spaces at considerable cost—bulldoze something and build a parking garage I guess—I can’t add more vehicle capacity to the streets. And even if I could, you wouldn’t want me to, because you wouldn’t possibly enjoy a walk in a section of the park clogged with hundreds of cars. It’s just inherent in the nature of a popular place where the point is to move around in a natural setting that everyone can’t have a convenient parking spot.

    What I can do is advocate for more and better public transit, which is enormously more space efficient. What I can do is advocate for sufficient space nearby to be reserved for drivers with disabilities who need it most (and indeed that’s just been done right in this spot, with newly opened vehicle access and accessible parking near the Conservatory of Flowers). What I can do is advocate for more just housing policy that allows more people to live near this part of the park if they want, even if they can’t afford a $1.8M+ home, so as to provide the opportunity to be a local walking your dog to more people. But I can’t make the NE corner of Golden Gate Park a paradise for walkers and drivers alike.

  5. As others mentioned you can access via 10th.
    But I think offering free or low cost parking to anyone with SNAP or other benefits card is the way to go. Let’s make it easy as possible for all to enjoy the park.

  6. It may be helpful to look at Rec & Park’s handy web page on Getting to Golden Gate Park: https://sfrecpark.org/1159/Getting-to-Golden-Gate-Park. It shows the garage entrance/exits, where the park’s ~4,700 parking spaces are (plus all those in the surrounding neighborhoods), where the ADA accessible parking spaces are located, all the roads open to normal vehicle traffic, the park shuttle, transit options, and more.

  7. I’ve been out there a lot lately, during weekdays, and it seems to me the existing bike lanes and sidewalks on JFK just might be sufficient for cyclists and pedestrians.

    If I couldn’t drive there – it takes me 20+ minutes by car from where I live – I wouldn’t realistically ever go to the park. I’m not going to ride buses for an hour in each direction to spend an hour in the park. Who has that kind of time on a weekday?

    I think there must be a sweet spot for bicycles – not too little, not too much. For instance, look at Euclid – who advocated for bike lanes there? I drive on Euclid several times a week, and have never seen a single cyclist on that stretch of road from Arguello to Presidio. If the intention was just traffic calming, that worked and I would not argue against that at all. But if the point was to put in the bike lanes – that was a waste of money that could have been spent elsewhere.

    I was out yesterday in the NE part of the park – the trails above the Conservatory that run from Stanyan and Fulton. A driver has to get lucky and find parking in the side streets off of Fulton, because – where else would you park? I guess there is limited amounts of parking on Nancy Pelosi or Bowling Green, but JFK would be closest. It’s an entire section of the park that can’t really be reached except by locals – and indeed, almost all of the people I saw up there were locals walking their dogs.

  8. “The easiest way to get to that garage is to enter the park off Fulton at 8th Street—and that entrance is currently closed to all but Muni and taxis”

    This is incorrect. There is no access to the garage at 8th Avenue (not street; 8th St is, of course, nearly 3 miles away). The northern access to the garage is from Fulton and 10th Avenue, just a few seconds drive down the road from 8th Ave. That entrance to the garage is open and serving all who need it, and nobody’s proposing to change that.

    “So the resolution sponsored by Sup. Connie Chung”

    Supervisor Connie CHAN. This is embarrassing! And really quite rude.

    “One caller noted that you can drive into the DeYoung garage off 10th Avenue and continue underground into the concourse, and then access the concourse garage. That seems like a complicated solution.”

    Only if you needlessly overcomplicate it like you’ve done here. It honestly sounds like you’ve never been there (and given all the errors in your article, you give the impression of being wildly unfamiliar with San Francisco in general, which is presumably not the vibe you’re looking to give off. Also it’s “de Young” and not “DeYoung”), so maybe check out how easy it is.

    There’s no such thing as “the DeYoung garage” separate from “the concourse garage.” Anyone can drive into the Music Concourse Garage, which is just under the Music Concourse and takes drivers right below the 8th Avenue entrance to the park you’re talking about. Anyone can enter the garage either at 10th and Fulton or MLK and Music Concourse Drive: north and south entrances/exits. Anyone can park down there and have direct access to both the de Young and Academy of Sciences, and they can drive to their preferred side of the garage to be closer to their destination. They can also exit into the Music Concourse to enjoy the rest of the park. There’s ADA accessible parking closest to the entrances to both museums too, and Supervisor Chan’s resolution calls for adding more ADA spaces to meet up-to-date standards and making that parking free for visitors with disabilities. And if you’re dropping someone off, you can drive into the garage, drive right up to the museum entrance of your choice, drop off your passengers, and exit the garage for free.

    And if someone wants to drive directly around the Music Concourse and look around or drop someone off in front instead of underground, they can do that too (despite the will of the voters in 1998’s Prop J to “create a pedestrian oasis in the Music Concourse”), with vehicle access via Transverse and MLK drives.

    So what’s complicated about it? If you want to drive around the Music Concourse, go to MLK Drive and drive around the loop. If you want to go underneath or park, drive into the garage. Easy access for all, with no impact to the 44 O’Shaughnessy or pedestrians on JFK. And we can easily put up more signs, and the museums can direct their patrons, to make sure everyone knows where to go and that they feel welcomed. The last thing I’d want is for any driver with mobility impairments to feel like they aren’t welcome in the park when we have such a large garage right there to address their needs.

    We built, at considerable expense, a whole convenient underground area designed to serve the needs of drivers visiting the park and the museums. There’s nothing remotely complicated about telling people they need to use it instead of having a lineup of Ubers blocking the 44 and endangering pedestrians in the park.

  9. One way into the park via 8th Ave. One way out of the park via 10th Ave. Block off vehicular access to Teagarden Drive, so no cutting through the park. The access to Teagarden drive from the Sunset is unaffected. This would allow for access by disabled persons and access to the deYoung garage. Thank you to the previous commenter who pointed out that disabled persons can access elevators through the deYoung parking garage. Cyclists and pedestrians use bike lanes and sidewalks for the 2 blocks of JFK that would have vehicular traffic. Big deal

  10. Spell Check Please – My District 1 Supervisor’s name in Connie Chan. Regarding the conundrum. MTA and Rec and Park can figure out some sensible way to allow cars to come in on 8th Ave. to address equity and disability issues – but still prevent the roadway from being used as a way to cut through the park, which I agree, would be a traffic nightmare. And if cyclists have to get off their ride and walk their bikes for a block or two, that’s not too much to ask.

  11. Tim, you wrongly stated “The easiest way to get to that garage is to enter the park off Fulton at 8th Street” but there is an entrance right at Fulton at 10th Ave. You even mention that entrance. There is no need for cars onto 8th Ave.

  12. Accessible blue zone parking spaces can be added all around JFK Drive. And the garage operations absolutely should be redone to provide more parking to low income residents. Keep in mind also that you can drive into the garage for 15 minutes for free to drop someone off right at the elevators that lead to the museums – today! Access to JFK and the museums can be maintained while also keeping the street car-free. As an SF native and now homeowner with family (and car) in the Richmond District, I fully support a car-free JFK despite some driving inconveniences it causes. Golden Gate Park needs to be a respite from the noise and danger that comes with car traffic, not a carbon copy of the rat race maze that exists outside of it.

  13. It’s been the reality for well over a year. But this is good news for those who live in the Haight, and the Inner Sunset and Richmond. Not so much for those who don’t live within walking distance.

  14. Here we go again: the able-bodied and young get to dictate to and take away access to GG Park from those who are disabled, elderly and infirm. And it´s not just about accessing the De Young, it´s about accessing the entire length of JFK Drive. Evidently they don´t think the disabled, elderly and infirm should have the right to enjoy the park along JFK Drive for a picnic, a birthday party or watching birds – that right and enjoyment should only go to the young and able bodied and the those who can bike, scoot, hike, walk, run and do all the things that people with disabilities cannot. — To hell with the disabled and the elderly. They don´t deserve to have access to the park. – I just hope the disabled community files as many civil rights grievances with the US Dept of Labor under the ADA as they can and file as many lawsuits as possible. — They might be disabled, but they can still mount a fight for justice and equal access. — I´ve had enough of the self-centered bike coalition et al.

  15. I do not think the DeYoung controls the rates or makes money from the garage. I think is is the City or a private entity.

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