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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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News + PoliticsOpinionOpinion: The Great Highway shutdown fiasco

Opinion: The Great Highway shutdown fiasco

It's worse for the environment. It's infuriated residents. The city needs to rethink the highway closure—now, when a compromise is possible.

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Climate advocates in San Francisco have been making a big mistake in shutting down the Great Highway and other westside transit corridors. They have pushed for destructive policies that not only are ineffective in reducing our carbon emissions footprint, but have been hurting working people and provoking a backlash.

That reaction may well endanger the re-election chances of Supervisors Gordon Mar and Connie Chan, and fracture the progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors. Recall fever is in the air like wildfire smoke, and progressives ignore these tell-tales at their peril. The real shame is that a compromise could accommodate all the various needs, but poor leadership and devious city agencies have obstructed that possibility. The current deal for a week day-weekend sharing of the Great Highway, brokered by Mayor London Breed over the howls of bike activists, is a short-term fix that doesn’t solve the complex issues but has (temporarily) defused the politics. San Francisco is facing serious and complex climate change challenges, and the ham-fisted efforts exhibited by a number of political leaders does not offer confidence that this city’s managers possesses the vision, innovation and consensus-building capacity to get this right.

Cars backed up on the Great Highway

I consider myself a climate advocate, but watching the Great Highway politics unfold has reminded me of the failed effort of French president Emmanuel Macron when he implemented a thoughtlessly designed nationwide gas/carbon tax. That policy ended up impacting the rural areas of France harder than the cities because of a lack of mass transportation in those areas. That inspired months of massive nationwide protests by working class people, who blocked roads, gas stations and shut down much of the country. The grassroots movement became known as the Yellow Vest movement (gilets jaunes), because many protestors wore yellow emergency vests. Macron repealed the carbon tax under immense political pressure, and the Yellow Vests sounded an international warning of how well-meaning policies can undermine the climate change cause if policymakers do not account for impacts on everyday people.

A similar situation has been happening on San Francisco’s west side. During the COVID-19 pandemic, District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar pushed in April 2020 to shut down the Great Highway and other streets to create a place for people to recreate. That policy had widespread support from Districts 1, 4 and 7, the neighborhoods most affected, since many people suddenly were working from home instead of commuting to work.

Meanwhile, few bikes or walkers on the Great Nobody

But following widespread vaccinations and re-opening of the economy, people began returning to their physical workplaces. As traffic and congestion increased to pre-pandemic levels, westside residents discovered that their elected representatives and city agencies like the Recreation and Parks Department and Municipal Transit Authority had pulled a fast one. Pushed by the SF Bicycle Coalition, they initiated a permanent shutdown of the Great Highway and other transit corridors. In classic “shock doctrine” fashion, they used the pretext of an immediate crisis – a virus pandemic —  to ram through a completely unrelated land use policy. In a bait-and-switch, advocates now insisted this was necessary to fight climate change.

Besides being sneaky and relying on fake, manufactured data, there is another major problem with this “progressive” plan – it has become clear that Great Highway closure actually is far worse for climate change.

Pre-pandemic,18,000 drivers used the Great Highway every day (20,000 on the weekend, over a half a million drivers per month). These are working people, parents, families, the elderly and partially abled, who need to commute to their jobs, doctors appointments, take their kids to school, to the grocery store and more. When the Great Highway is closed, all those thousands of cars are diverted directly into the Sunset neighborhood. Once quiet streets suddenly were bursting with thousands of angry and frustrated drivers, loudly racing up and down Lincoln Way (past my house!) at frantic rates of speed, not fully stopping at Stop signs.

They also have been commuting through the middle of Golden Gate Park (Chain of Lakes and Crossover Drives) in bumper to bumper traffic, violating Park and Rec’s own master plan to protect the Park from non-park traffic. People’s autos have been stuck in stop-and-go congestion on Sunset Boulevard, and delivery trucks and big rigs that once used the Great Highway have been rushing along the surface streets of the Sunset neighborhood, right outside people’s front doors, creating unprecedented traffic and noise. Hot rodders and motorcycles that used to show off along the long stretch of the Great Highway now race through surface streets.

Commuters are taking 20-30 minutes longer each way, which means more carbon emissions. Constantly re-accelerating all of those vehicles, tens of thousands every day, uses up a lot more fuel and emits a lot more carbon. Any climate expert knows that bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic is worse for carbon emissions. Thousands of working people drive significant distances that are not conducive to riding a bicycle, walking, or taking SF’s spotty public transportation (which has still not been restored to full service from cutbacks during the pandemic).

I spoke with Daniel, a Filipino worker from southern San Francisco, who told me, “I work at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and so do others from my neighborhood. Closing the Great Highway has added 30 minutes to my commute each way, one hour total. It’s crazy.”  Closure advocates have said that residents will eventually adjust to the “new normal,” but it hasn’t worked out that way. Rerouting traffic has been like squeezing a balloon: you squeeze it in one place, it pops out somewhere else. Bizarrely, SF has tried to create a “park” out of a highway and turned an actual park into a highway.

The real solution to reducing San Francisco’s climate footprint is to get people out of their cars by massively increasing public transportation. So what has the Board of Supervisors done toward that goal? Precious little. I have lived in a number of cities, and San Francisco has one of the worst public transportation systems for a city its size. The Outer Sunset in particular is the most Muni-underserved part of San Francisco. Look at any Muni map, and see the vast blocks of under-served areas on the west side.

Instead city officials are engaging in symbolic, feel-good politics to compensate for the fact that the mayor and Board of Supervisors done virtually nothing to fund a massive increase in public transportation. Janice Li of the Bicycle Coalition got it completely wrong when she said, “The pressing reality of climate change…means that the Great Highway needs to stay open” to bicycles/pedestrians and closed to automobiles. But closing the Great Highway does nothing to reduce SF’s carbon emissions. In fact, it makes it worse.

From the air: Cars backed up but nobody using the empty space.

Besides these everyday impacts, what has aroused Yellow Vest outrage is the blatant way in which city agencies have used bogus research and biased presentations to ram through their agenda. No environmental impact reports been made of the various proposed closure options, a fact that the Sierra Club has criticized. No attempt has been made to assess the impact on those 18,000 drivers and their families. One report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority claimed that 52% of Sunset residents are actually in favor of closing the Great Highway to vehicles. Buried deep in the report was its methodology, which revealed the survey had been distributed through its website, by email, and social media – not through modern methods of professional sampling or phone calls. How many regular people pay attention to the SFCTA website, or are on its email list or social media feeds? Only a small handful of professionals, including advocacy groups like the Bicycle Coalition. Their members participated as a self-selected audience, resulting in a “captured” survey which nevertheless has been widely reported in the media as proof of the policy’s popularity.

Meanwhile, city agencies and the media have ignored that the westside Yellow Vests have collected over 13,000 signatures opposing the closure, most of them from residents of Districts 4 and 1 (link to the petition). I have witnessed their leafleting and visibility pickets at key intersections, where 80 to 90% of motorists stuck in traffic give a thumbs up or honk their horn in support.

While the closure was popular during the pandemic, recently the Great Highway has seen shrinking use by bicyclists and pedestrians – yet the agencies have tried to hide that fact. A public records (Sunshine Ordinance) request submitted to Rec and Park (which the agency stonewalled for nearly 2 months), found that Great Highway usage has declined dramatically, by over half. From a peak of 144,000 users per month from October 2020 through January 2021, that number plummeted to 109,000 in March 2021, and then to 62,000 in May 2021, a decline of 57%. This significant drop-off was confirmed by a second study of anonymized cell phone data.

Anyone who actually lives in the Outer Sunset understands why:  the foggy, windy, chilly climate near the beach is often nasty for bicycling and walking. On most days, the Great Highway is so devoid of bicyclists and pedestrians that the Outer Sunset locals derisively refer to the roadway as the Great Nobody. But even if the bicyclists/pedestrians had maintained peak usage, that pales in comparison to the 18,000 vehicles per day/550,000 per month. And since many of those autos have more than one passenger in the car, the number of people traveling north-south on the Great Highway likely reaches three quarters of a million per month. Where are all of those people supposed to go, if the Great Highway is permanently closed, as some Supervisors, agencies and organizations have proposed?

Meanwhile, Golden Gate Park is packed with traffic.

In essence, what this misguided land use policy is trying to do is to take a major north-south thoroughfare used by 18,000 commuters every day — and all hours of the day — and turn it over exclusively to a handful of bicyclists and some pedestrians who mostly use it seasonally, and not at night, in the early morning or even in the middle of most inclement days. How would residents of Supervisor Dean Preston’s District 5 like it if a decision was unilaterally made to shut down Oak Street to cars and trucks? Or the Embarcadero in D6, Mission Street in D10, Columbus Avenue in D3? Would the residents of those districts easily adjust to the “new normal”?

The Westside Yellow Vests are made as hell, but a real compromise is still possible. Mayor London Breed’s short-term solution allows auto traffic Monday through Thursday and half of Friday. It’s a start, but it makes no sense that the Great Highway is closed to automobile traffic all Sunday night until 6 AM on Monday morning, since there are few bicyclists/pedestrians during the nighttime hours. And the Friday noontime closure should be extended into the early evening, to allow commuters to get home for their weekend. Also, to reduce bumper to bumper traffic through the heart of Golden Gate Park, it is crucial to reopen Martin Luther King Drive. Since the pandemic, closures of MLK Drive and 41st Ave have cut off three out of five of the exits from the Park. Now, with traffic flows back to normal, these continuing closures are contributing greatly to congested traffic and increased carbon emissions. I live across the street and have never had problems biking and walking on MLK Drive, since it is a wide street with low traffic when all exits to the park are open.

Longer term, a redesign of the four lanes, berms and existing bike lane of the Great Highway would allow a shared use area that can accommodate all the various needs. It will cost some money, but San Francisco has a budget of $13 billion and can afford it since it will result in a win-win.

Like many other coastal cities, San Francisco will need to make some tough choices over climate mitigation. The Great Highway Extension connecting to Highway 35 also needs to be addressed, and here again we already see a familiar pattern of city agencies fixing the data to rig their desired conclusion to close that important roadway to vehicles and install another highway-based “park” (more on this in a future article). San Francisco badly needs an honest attempt to address the needs of all stakeholders, and to reach consensus over climate and transportation policies that allow for multiple use and sharing of the urban ecosystem. With such a crappy public transportation system, automobiles are not disappearing anytime soon, and the anger of the Westside Yellow Vests, along with multiple recalls at local and state levels, are a warning to San Francisco progressives.

Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is a 25 year resident of the Outer Sunset, and the architect of San Francisco’s ranked choice voting system and public financing of campaigns.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. “I explained to him how, if we redesigned the four lane GH, the berms, and the current bicycle/pedestrian lane, that actually there is room to accommodate all uses. He wasn’t interested.”

    So you explained how we can spend tens of millions of dollars to continue to facilitate tens of thousands of fossil fuel-burning vehicles on the city’s coastline every day for a bit longer? Wow, you really are a climate advocate!

    We absolutely do need a massive investment in public transit, and at least personally, I’ve done my best to repeatedly make that point to anyone in a position of power to make it happen, but going along with that, we also need a major change in how we use our streets. Roughly a third of households in the city right now don’t have cars and roughly half of all trips in the city are made without cars (and the city’s climate goal is to get that to 80% by 2030; what are you doing to be part of the solution?), yet you’re going around here insisting “car car car every street must be more space for cars.” It’s just exceedingly selfish of you to keep demanding more and more space for the least space-efficient, most environmentally damaging, and most deadly form of transportation.

    “As usual, there was just a handful of bicyclists and pedestrians using the GH”

    I was out there Sunday afternoon, and despite the fog, it was rather busy with visitors of all ages. Had they all tried to cram onto the current side path, there’s no way it would have worked. Nor would people have enjoyed walking and running and skating and cycling next to a highway.

    “That’s just demagoguery, like some of the rabid Republicans or QAnon delusionaries,”

    Yes there’s clearly no difference between people who think the waterfront is best enjoyed as a park in accordance with the city’s longstanding recreation, transportation, and climate priorities and people trying to overthrow the government because a pillow salesman told them to.

  2. The real solution to getting people out of their cars is for Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors to make a massive investment in public transportation. Unfortunately, so far that vision, commitment and leadership have been sorely lacking. Instead, ineffective, feel-good policies like closure of the Great Highway have been pushed forward, even though it does nothing to get people out of their cars, does nothing to reduce carbon emissions — indeed, it makes it WORSE — and puts a knee on the neck of Outer Sunset residents.
    Those photos in my article don’t lie; how can any rational, caring, sharing person possibly think that such traffic congestion is a solution to anything?

    Since I live in the neighborhood, I walked to the Great Highway today on two occasions. On a Sunday afternoon, with typical weather for the Outer Sunset, i.e. mostly foggy and cool. As usual, there was just a handful of bicyclists and pedestrians using the GH. I took photos, and wish there was a way to upload them into this discussion, so any doubters could see — the “Great Nobody” has nobody on it, comparatively speaking. On a typical weekend, pre-pandemic, the GH averaged 20,000 drivers per day on Sat and. Sunday. If even half of those cars had a second passenger, that’s 30,000 people per day. That’s compared to the 2000 bicyclists/pedestrians per day when the GH is closed down.

    Today while on the GH I tried to dialogue with one bike activist who was handing out leaflets advocating for closure of the GH. I explained to him how, if we redesigned the four lane GH, the berms, and the current bicycle/pedestrian lane, that actually there is room to accommodate all uses. He wasn’t interested. People like him really want to have EXCLUSIVE use of the GH for bicyclists/pedestrians. I then asked him, “OK, if you feel like you need exclusive use of a road, why not choose 38th Ave, since that already has a lot less traffic? Why pick the Great Highway, since that is used by a lot of people for going to work, to school, to Dr appts, etc.” Again, he wasn’t interested, and for reasons that were irrational and made little sense. That’s just demagoguery, like some of the rabid Republicans or QAnon delusionaries, and it is going to be very difficult to find common ground with such people.

  3. Thank you Mr. Hill for writing an intelligent, honest article about this issue for a change. The decision to close the highway should never have been permitted in the first place, and I’ve lost all empathy for bike riders in the city. The entitlement and inability to compromise or share since the highway has been re-opened to everyone is appalling.

  4. This article is spot on! Thank you Mr Hill for honestly & accurately describing the current madness surrounding the issue of the UGH! The SFBC uses dirty & dishonest tactics & propaganda to further their selfish cause. Their so-called protests where they occupy both lanes & move slowly holding up cars are aimed at getting a rise out of drivers in hopes of catching aggression towards a cyclist on video. I think 13,000 signatures of local residents is an honest indication that the Great Highway needs to remain open to cars.

  5. Great article although you didn’t add the effects of the Great Highway closure to residents of the Richmond District, which are many.
    Golden Gate Park is a major barrier to those us who who live north of the park. Imagine a large magnitude earthquake that sets the city on fire. The Auxiliary Water Supply System does not extend to the western neighborhoods. How do Richmond District residents get out of the city? We can’t go north or east – we are on a peninsula. We will burn.
    The park is the barrier but it is a clear shot along the beach. And we have seen the gridlocked traffic on Chain of Lakes through the park from north to south.
    Closing the Great Highway to cars is a pipe dream of the Bicycle Coalition, which has far too much power for the size of its membership.

  6. The concept of reduced demand (the inverse of induced demand) is complicated because, after all, we are talking about human behavior. Generally, all the cars using a roadway do not magically “evaporate” when road capacity is reduced, and reviews of the evidence on reduced capacity case studies suggest that in situations like the Great Highway, when alternative capacity exists, the vehicles do not disappear and the adjacent neighborhoods turn into rat runs. That is what people in the neighborhoods report anecdotally when the UGH is closed, and it is suggested by the data collected by SFMTA and analyzed by Fehr and Peers consultants (traffic engineers). Even during the pandemic, with 20%-40 reductions in traffic overall, there were increases in flow along many adjacent streets. Induced demand and reduced demand are not some simple universal laws like gravity. There are a lot of factors involved. Adding a lane to highway 80 on a deserted stretch of South Dakota does not magically make cars appear, as a new lane on I-80 in Berkeley might. Reducing capacity in some situations might reduce demand, but for situations like the Great Highway published reviews of the evidence (by traffic engineers) suggest it doesn’t work that way, the neighborhood experience suggests it doesn’t work that way, and the data purchased from Streetlight and analyzed by independent traffic engineers suggest that it doesn’t work that way.

  7. Finally the media prints an article giving a balanced view of the Great Highway closure, as opposed to the closure advocates view of a recreational paradise. That view of a recreational paradise means diverting four other people doing essential activities so one person can teach a child to ride a bike, roller blade, or walk on a HIGHWAY. That view means 18,000 vehicles per day are diverted to roads that can’t handle the volume, including diverting from a safe traffic artery to roads already designated high collision risk streets by Vision Zero itself. There goes the claim that closing the GH to cars is for “safety”. Claims that closing the GH to cars means less greenhouse gas emissions are faulty given the prolonged traveling/idling times from the displaced cars. As the article states, even the Sierra Club says the closure was not done before an Environmental Impact Report which would have included an analysis of potential overall carbon emissions generated. A closure of a major traffic artery done in haste, under the guise of the pandemic’s need for social distancing, without the groundwork of infrastructure changes required for such a closure.

  8. Thank you for your article that has so insightfully analyzed the issues surrounding the closure and now the temporary partial opening of The Great Highway. SF supposedly prides herself as being inclusive. However the way that the entire process has shown that the City is not so. As a long time resident whose family has been living in the Outer Richmond for almost half a century, I feel my voice has been ignored. Thanks for being my voice!

  9. Steven Hill, thank you for a well thought out, well researched article. The Great Highway is an important roadway for cars. There is a bike lane. There are places to walk. Recreational areas abound at the beach and in the park. People need to drive to get to work and get children to school and get to medical appointments and other activities. People like me are careful to drive when I need to and not just when I want to because I care about the environment. When we need to get from north to south or south to north and we live on the western side of the city, the Great Highway is the easiest, least polluting route. Thank you for your sensible analysis. The Great Highway needs to be opened for cars, including emergency vehicles. I think it should be open 24/7 but at the very least open from early Monday morning until late Friday night. Commuters and travelers should not have to wend their ways through residential neighborhoods to get where they need to go. Thank you again. I am so glad that there are intelligent voices like yours.

  10. It’s pretty funny that 48 Hills features the “next article”: “Will SF’s ambitious Climate Action plan ever actually happen?”

    That article asks whether our city will have the political will to “act now” on climate change to actually implement the steps needed to achieve our ambitious climate goals. The answer is clearly “no” as long as we have “climate advocates” like Steven Hill in town writing odes likes this to gas-guzzling automobiles.

  11. Just a little info for those people that thing we are dealing with an agency in the city that has any regard for the truth. I just read a post from Michael Cawthon who submitted a public records request to Rec & Park on June 25th and on July 15th and while to took 46 day to finally obtain the recreational usage data, which coincidentally, coincided with the opening of the highway. There is some glaring information contained in the document which I will attach that I would like to point out.
    The first is that Rec & Park purposely disseminated incorrect information to the news and social media regarding the usage of the Great Highway. They publicly stated that this was the 2nd most visited park in SF. This was another fabrication (or manipulation) on the part of Rec & Park to deliberately sway public opinion regarding the use of this space. The media picked up on this statement and ran with it. There has been no attempt by Rec & Park to correct this misconstrued information in the news media. I would consider this an ethics violation on the part of Rec & Park.

    Recreational usage of the highway has taken a dramatic down turn since it was first closed. City dash information shows a 60% drop in May 2021 usage compared to January 2021. The city noted that it has some problems with the Eco-counter relating to sand in June 2021 and relocated the device. This resulted in missing or incomplete data for two weeks during June. They claim that the sand issues that impacted the accuracy of the June results also caused the April and May figures to be inaccurate. Rec & Park official publicly stated at the June 22nd SFCTA meeting that fewer people visited the Great Highway during those months because of WEATHER. There was no mention of any technical difficulties at this meeting which clearly would have been known. CityDash data showed identical drops in visitor usage at the Great Highway during April and May if sand affected the eco counters how could it, also impact the cell phone data. It wouldn’t! This is just more manipulation of information disseminated by Rec & Park. It seems that this city run organization cannot be trusted to provide accurate and truthful information to not only the elected officials who are suppose to use this data to make decisions but also to manipulate member of the public through social media.

    And for those that are posting on here that say working people don’t need the road you are WRONG!.

    I am a Vietnam Vet that uses that road to get to the VA. I and many other veterans use that road and taking it away is doing a disservice to those of us who fought for you.

    This was a shared space and should go back to being a shared space. You want to PLAY we need to WORK. I don’t tell you where to ride don’t tell me where to drive.

  12. This is dead on. I, too, am an avid environmentalist and the Bike Coalition’s continued assertion that the closure helps the environment is so disingenuous that it makes me sick. It’s simply a flat out lie. Forcing 18k-20k daily drivers to detour out of their ways, spending longer times in their cars with their engines running, putting more miles on their odometers, and traversing through less fuel-efficient driving conditions than the Great Highway affords necessarily results in massive amounts of additional greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere every single day (by one estimate based on Department of Transportation methodology, 16 metric tons daily) . That’s additional carbon emissions that otherwise would not have been released had the drivers been able to use the Great Highway. Rather than a straight shot down the two-mile stretch, having timed lights such that drivers don’t need to stop if they maintain 30-35 mph, drivers now must go through residential streets, slowing or stopping at every single block (i.e., intersection) and then accelerating or starting up again, and they must do the same as the go over the many speed bumps. Starting and stopping, and driving in congested conditions (which often exist when the Highway is closed) is the WORST type of driving from an environmental perspective. Other drivers will go much farther out of their ways, like up to Sunset or even 19th Avenue, putting major additional miles on the odometer day in and day out, and spending much more time driving and burning fuel. Many Richmond residents report their added time behind the wheel and the commute south to work, school, or wherever as having increased 10-20 minutes each way when the Highway is closed (same as to drivers commuting from the south to places like the VA Hospital). It is simply undeniable that the Highway closure causes additional air pollution in significant amounts, which is indefensible at this point in history. The Bike Coalition needs to shift its efforts to improving SF’s electric car infrastructure, increasing public transit options to and from the City’s westside, etc. Otherwise, don’t profess to give a hoot about the environment. This whole closure business has really revealed the Bike Coalition’s true agenda. It’s not to help the environment or make the City’s streets safer (it also is undeniable that streets of the westside are far more dangerous when 18k-20K drivers are forced to spend more time driving ad they must detour off the uniquely SAFE Great Highway, which has no intersections/cross-traffic and no turning vehicles, and through residential neighborhoods instead and/or onto high injury networks like Sunset and Lincoln). Instead, the Bike Coalition is simply at war with automobile drivers and it bottom line agenda is to stick it to car owners whenever possible.

  13. The claim that that the GH is the second-most popular open space has been debunked by RNP’s own data. Rec N Parks own data purchased from CityDash show a straight linear decline from 30,201 visitors/week Jan 1, 2021 down to just 2,992/week as of the last available week of Jun 21, 2021. That is not anecdote. It is also irrelevant to the reality of what cars do when diverted. 300,000 people gathered on the Golden Gate bridge when it was shut down. Does that justify shutting it down?

  14. Thank you for sharing your opinion piece.

    Since you rely on some anecdotal evidence in crafting your argument I’d like to offer some as well:

    The signs supporting “The Great Walkway” outnumber those against it along the Lower Great Highway and in the immediate neighborhood.

    The Great Walkway is often packed with walkers, parents with strollers, roller skaters, children on tricycles. Yes, there are times when it is sparsely populated, but that would only be during weekday work hours.

    Not-so-anecdotal: The Great Walkway is now the second-most popular open space in SF, behind GGP.

    Personally, I think the current arrangement is fair. Weekday commuters get to drive on it when they need it, human beings get to use it as the priceless public asset that it is during peak use for that purpose.

  15. Great article of the true story of the Great Highway. I live across from the Great Highway and closure of the Great Highway only has made the pandemic worse. It’s Friday afternoon Sept 10th and I see 3 people walking along the path. Crossing the park, north or south will be gridlock by 4:00 today. This is political BS trying to keep it closed. Recall Supervisors Mar, Chan, and recall Scott Weiner! These people are making a mess of the city!! This should never had happened!! Before I was hit by physical injuries I rode a bicycle over 2,000 miles a year and in peak years over 4,000 miles. Even though I live next to the Grt Highway I rarely rode my bike on it. In fact with little traffic I rode on the Lower Grt Highway. It’s not a commute route like going downtown, to Marin or Daly City for bicycles. It’s for cars to drive keeping them off surface streets of the Sunset. Open the Highway 24/7 and take your kids to the playground! The sand dunes are trampled on and dead! People talk about seeing the ocean? You can only see the ocean for 5 blocks, otherwise you only see half dead sand dunes now. Thanks for your article Steven! Let’s stand up against the politics and developer money behind this!

  16. Excellent, well written article about why this attempted theft of the Great Highway is a ludicrous idea! This is why it needs to be reopened to vehicle traffic 24/7 ASAP. I’ve been bike riding in this City for 50 years. If anything, they just need to widen the existing path so that there is a two way bike lane and a two way pedestrian lane. The Great Highway is probably one of the safest roads in the entire city as there are no turns on this 2 mile stretch, there are traffic signal with pedestrian crossing every other block. The traffic is separated by a center divider and the current multi-use path is also elevated protecting pedestrians and bicyclists. Pushing 18,000-20,000 cars onto other City streets is one of the dumbest ideas that has ever been pushed through to try and appease a small group of loud mouthed activists!

  17. The concept of reduced demand (the inverse of induced demand) is nuanced. Generally, cars do not “evaporate” when road capacity is reduced, and reviews of the evidence (see link below) suggest that in situations like the Great Highway, when alternative capacity exists, the vehicles do not disappear and the adjacent neighborhood turn into rat runs. That is what people in the neighborhoods report anecdotally when the UGH is closed, and it is suggested by the data collected by SFMTA and analyzed by Fehr and Peers consultants (traffic engineers). Even during the pandemic, with 20%-40 reductions in traffic overall, there were increases in flow along many adjacent streets.
    (https://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/sites/cycling-embassy.org.uk/files/documents/Traffic%20Impact%20of%20Highway%20Capacity%20Reductions-%20Assessment%20of%20the%20Evidence.pdf)

  18. Finally we have an author who clearly defines the problem facing the ultra self righteous wing of an all-too-powerful party that is splintering into factions as we speak. The powerful elite have turned City Hall officials into a national badge of greed, corruption and false pretense that should embarrass them into silence, but, instead of listening to the people, they scream louder to drown out the voices of descent. Your have article does a great job of summarizing the many complaints and unanswered questions that our city government has ignored for years.

    At this point they should open their doors to their all their constituents if they truly want to continue working for them. Where are the voices of the essential workers, emergency responders, nighttime workers, Muni operators, taxi drivers, delivery workers, commuters, tourists, families, teachers, disabled, small time business owners, truck drivers, and thousands of ordinary citizens who want to return to their lifestyle and mode choices. No matter what they claim there is no question that there are a lot more cars than bikes and many bike riders won cars. And there are a lot of angry drivers who will not be satisfied with anything less than a roll back to pre-pandemic streets and parking access for drivers.

  19. Fantastic article that shines a rational and fact-based spotlight on a policy decision that is anti-environment (more miles traveled = more pollution), increases traffic on neighborhood streets producing health and safety risks (cars near people = bad; pollution near people = bad), isolates the Richmond, and make life harder for folks who actually must, by necessity, commute by car (including people with special needs). Follow the science–> closing the great highway is not helping the environment or people.

    You have exposed the cherry-picked, unscientific, heavily manipulated data that the city continues to present as “facts”. At some point, when fake facts continue to be promoted, they have to be called what they are: lies. There are going to be people who criticize you for seeking the truth. We should all be more concerned by those, in positions of power and privilege, who continue to lie to us.

  20. “I consider myself a climate advocate, but”—oh come on. Just say “I consider myself a climate advocate, but my brain is too small to imagine a better world and I refuse to be inconvenienced in any way, so let’s boil the oceans!” I’m sorry, but if you can’t imagine one of 50 E-W streets in the Sunset being put to another use, you certainly can’t imagine the much larger societal changes we must take to address climate change. “I consider myself a climate advocate but we must arrange everything for the maximal convenience of drivers” is simply a declaration of climate arson (and no, converting everyone to electric cars is not nearly enough to get to net zero emissions).

    That you go on to call for cars on MLK and undoing the planned closure of Great Highway Extension…I didn’t know 48 Hills took columns direct from ExxonMobil lobbyists.

    “But closing the Great Highway does nothing to reduce SF’s carbon emissions. In fact, it makes it worse.”

    This statement is ignorant of induced demand, and it’s clear you’ve never so much as been in the same room as a traffic engineer or planner. We know, because it’s been true everyplace in the world it’s been tried: more road capacity means more cars and driving and less road capacity means fewer cars and driving. It works the other way too: more space for pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists means more people will start doing those things, as we’ve already seen with the bike boom this past year. And for every family that takes their bikes out to safe car-free places for a little exercise, there’s someone who thinks that was nice and they should try cycling to work or school or errands around town. And that’s how we reduce transportation emissions and work to address the crisis of deaths and serious injuries caused by cars on our city’s streets.

    Transportation is San Francisco’s biggest source of GHG emissions, and the only way the city can remotely come close to meeting our climate goals is to do what the Board of Supervisors committed to as recently as July: get travel to and within SF up to 80% of all trips by low-carbon modes like transit, cycling, and walking by the year 2030. That’s already city policy, and anyone who considers themselves a “climate advocate” should be asking what we can do to meet such an ambitious goal in just 9 short years. Does your climate advocacy include offering any solutions here to actually meet our city climate goals?

    “One of things holding SF back is that residents like you don’t know what you don’t know — you live with the delusion that our public transit is “not very different,” so as a result you don’t push for more”—This is a weird thing to say, since I don’t know anyone pushing for the Great Highway closure who hasn’t also been advocating constantly for more and better Muni service, especially as the city has no current plans to restore 15% of the transit service it had before the pandemic. We’re fighting to change that right now; get involved!

    You seem to have this fantasy that only after we have the perfect transit system can we consider changing anything, but that view dismisses the hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans who currently rely every day on the transit you call “crappy.”

    We certainly need better transit, but the reality is that right now, over 30% of households in San Francisco don’t have a car. And roughly 50% of all trips people make in SF are by means other than driving, like transit, cycling, and walking. That’s great! It means a lot of us are already doing our part. And I fully recognize that doesn’t work for every person and every trip, but isn’t it fair to ask that at least maybe 5% of the city’s thousands of streets prioritize the 30% of households and 50% of trips that aren’t driving already right now?

  21. There are a ton of fallacies and dubious claims in this piece. Off the top of my head-

    “[car drivers] are working people, parents, families, the elderly and partially abled, who need to commute to their jobs, doctors appointments, take their kids to school, to the grocery store and more.” This is the classic argument implies that anyone not in a car does not have legitimate transportation needs. 30% of households in SF don’t have a car. These people still have to go to the doctor and buy groceries as well. Not having a car doesn’t mean your transportation needs are illegitimate.

    “Once quiet streets suddenly were bursting with thousands of angry and frustrated drivers, loudly racing up and down Lincoln Way (past my house!) at frantic rates of speed, not fully stopping at Stop signs.” Interesting, drivers behaving poorly means we must accommodate them fully. Maybe if we can get roving gangs of peds to scream at strangers and push over children, then everyone will see that we need to blindly base our transportation policy around whatever they say their needs are.

    “They also have been commuting through the middle of Golden Gate Park (Chain of Lakes and Crossover Drives) in bumper to bumper traffic, violating Park and Rec’s own master plan to protect the Park from non-park traffic.” Yet you later call for reopening of JFK to private autos, on which 85% of car traffic was just people taking shortcuts.

    “Commuters are taking 20-30 minutes longer each way, which means more carbon emissions. Constantly re-accelerating all of those vehicles, tens of thousands every day, uses up a lot more fuel and emits a lot more carbon. Any climate expert knows that bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic is worse for carbon emissions.” This is not true. The idea that we can curb carbon emissions by increasing car capacity has been thoroughly debunked. Check out this link for more info https://usa.streetsblog.org/2020/12/29/five-road-widening-myths-that-are-delaying-climate-action/
    Also, is your source for the 20-30 minute increased commute time that single quote from Daniel, the guy from South SF?

    “Rerouting traffic has been like squeezing a balloon: you squeeze it in one place, it pops out somewhere else.” Common misconception, but in practice this is not how traffic works. Your argument was used against the tearing down of the Embarcadero freeway as well. Look up “induced demand” if you want to learn more. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-06/traffic-jam-blame-induced-demand

    “Like many other coastal cities, San Francisco will need to make some tough choices over climate mitigation.” But meanwhile, let’s revert to the status quo of elevating the needs of drivers above all else, and pay some lip service the vague idea of a massive expansion of public transit..

  22. Hello dkrysl Steven Hill here, author of the piece. I appreciate your comment and understand your point about density. But I strongly disagree that SF public transit is anywhere near that of European cities. I have lived in Berlin and spent significant amounts of time in London, Paris, Amsterdam and other cities, and comparing their transit systems is like comparing Michael Jordan/LeBron James to a high school basketball player. Not even in the same league. One of things holding SF back is that residents like you don’t know what you don’t know — you live with the delusion that our public transit is “not very different,” so as a result you don’t push for more, Instead you support ineffective but feel-good policies like GH closure, which only provokes a political backlash among working class people. It’s been ghastly to watch these many months. SF reminds me of a coyote chewing off its own leg to get out of the trap it has gotten itself into.

  23. Thank you for providing an accurate picture of what so many of us having been saying for so long. This does sound like insanity (as noted above) and we can clearly see why. The frustration felt by residents on this side of SF is at an all time high, and this issue has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

  24. I agree with the message but why the false dichotomy between something bad for the environment vs. something worse? Why do we start with the assumption that the car is a perfectly fine way to get around and why are people so resistant to taking perfectly good public transit? People say MUNI sucks but it sounds like a ex post justification for not making any personal sacrifices. I’ve ridden transit in European capitals and the service frequency is not very different here. The people that live in the Sunset fight to keep it low density and thus less serviced by transit because transit service is prioritized for dense areas. If we can’t get our act together here, where we ostensibly care about the environment a great deal, then what hope is there?

  25. Finally. a voice of reason from the progressives. Where have you been? Where are the others to voice opposition to this insanity.

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