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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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News + PoliticsTransportationBreed refuses to discuss the future of road closures with supervisors

Breed refuses to discuss the future of road closures with supervisors

Mayor has hostile response to fair questions from Chan on a topic that could really use some leadership.


Supervisor Connie Chan is taking on a major challenge on an issue that has generated a huge amount of heat in the city: The use of JFK Drive and the Great Highway in a post-pandemic future. And from what I saw at Question Time today, Mayor London Breed isn’t helping.

Chan has said repeatedly that she wants to find some compromise that will allow people with mobility issues and others who need vehicle access to get to the park, and to prevent traffic on the Great Highway from flooding local streets.

Connie Chan had some reasonable questions for the mayor, who responded with hostility.

But there’s little room for middle ground on this one; both sides are pretty well dug in. It would take real leadership from the Mayor’s Office to find a solution—and instead, the mayor spent her time today insulting Chan.

Chan’s question started with some background:

Last September, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed my vision for a car-free connection in Golden Gate Park, which would create new and improved accessibility measures for JFK Drive. The resolution specifically addressed access needs at 8th Avenue and the need to provide free garage parking for people with disabilities and those from underserved San Francisco neighborhoods.  

For the Great Highway, I supported the compromise that Mayor Breed enacted: opening the highway to cars during the week, and creating a car-free promenade on the weekends. In the long term, I support creating a hybrid with one side of the highway becoming a widened promenade for bicycles and pedestrians, and creating one vehicle lane in each direction on the opposite side of the highway. This way, bicycles and pedestrians can travel and recreate separately from cars, and cars – and ideally in the future, public transit – would still be able to utilize the highway. 

I believe Slow Streets should be decided on a case-by-case basis after properly determining the level of support from residents living in the nearby neighborhood. One of the problems I see is that we have blurred the line between comprehensive transportation planning and recreation space planning. We need to decide if the purpose of these road measures are to provide safer connections for sustainable modes of transportation, or to provide a place to play and recreate. 

Slow Streets have made it safer for people to bike and walk, but has also created a conflict between drivers who live on the block and those who use the streets to recreate.  

Meaningful road safety measures means we must work to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and drivers, not encourage them. Therefore, I demand our city departments provide our constituents with a fair and transparent public outreach process that isn’t merely checking a box for a predetermined outcome. We all deserve better than what we have now.  

Regardless of my vision or anyone else’s, at the end of the day, all of these road measures deserve a transparent and inclusive public process led by city departments which encourages compromises between all stakeholders, rather than a ‘winner takes all’ approach.

But the city agencies dealing with this, the SFMTA and the Recreation and Parks Department, have been far from transparent. In fact, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force just found that Rec-Park Director Phil Ginsburg willfully ignored public-records requests around the Great Highway closures, and has referred the case to the Ethics Commission for further action.

The city did a survey in October which found very strong support for closing the Great Highway and JFK Drive, and for continuing the Slow Streets Program. But Chan’s Office told me that only 14 percent of the people responding were Asian, 2.9 percent Black, and 6.7 percent Latinx; 60 percent were white.

That’s hardly representative of the city.

The city agencies know that, and are trying to do more outreach. The people who want the Great Highway open say they have the numbers of their side; the people who want it closed say the same thing.

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The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, which has been involved in Golden Gate Park issues for decades, “has taken the position that any proposal to close JFK Drive must be guided by maximum transit access and equity,” David Woo, a HANC Board member, wrote in a recent newsletter. “HANC advocates for new Muni service to Golden Gate Park, in addition to existing service, before any proposal to close JFK/Middle/MLK Drives goes into effect.”

Sup. Shamann Walton has said that people from Southeast San Francisco can’t access the park easily and that the discussions have been all behind closed doors.

So this is hardly something that anyone is going to resolve without either extensive community outreach—or a lot of unhappy people.

Chan asked Breed for her vision of the future of these road closures. Fair question.

Breed started off by generally ducking and saying that Rec-Park and SFMTA are still collecting data and the process isn’t complete. Then she got, frankly, kind of hostile to Chan, saying that the city needs to hear from people “not just in the neighborhood you represent.” More: “To imply that this is not a transparent and open process is not responsible … I am in complete disagreement with some of the comments that you made.”

It seems to me that a mayor who wanted to work with the supes would have told Chan that her office will work with Chan’s Office to make sure everyone has the proper input.

But no: It’s more of that pattern that we’ve seen of Breed refusing to have a real discussion with the board. Too bad, because this is a chance for the city to seriously reconsider the best use of the vast amount of real estate that is currently paved streets designed for cars in a future where private cars aren’t the best or predominant way of getting around.

That’s a complicated discussion, and the transition to a car-free city involves issues like the use of Uber and Lyft, Doordash and other gig-economy delivery systems, Amazon vehicles, new Muni routes, robot deliveries, powered on-demand scooters, electric cars, and how an aging population can access city facilities.

That means taking on not just the folks who have to drive to work because Muni has failed them but the tech companies that use the city streets for their vehicles.

I wish the mayor would lead that discussion instead of cutting it off.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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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