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Advocates rally to keep vehicles off eroding Great Highway

Families, bicyclists and pedestrians rallied Sunday morning along the Great Highway in opposition to Monday’s reopening of the roadway to weekday vehicle traffic. 

City officials prohibited vehicles on the upper portion of the Great Highway in April 2020, providing more space for residents, visitors, cyclists and pedestrians to socially distance while shelter-at-home orders were in place.

As students return to school and adults to workplaces, Mayor London Breed and supervisors Gordon Mar, Connie Chan and Myrna Melgar earlier this month announced plans to reopen the Upper Great Highway to vehicles on weekdays. The roadway will be closed for pedestrian and recreational use on weekends from Friday at noon to Monday at 6 a.m.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Advocates gathered on the Upper Great Highway in support of keeping the roadway closed to vehicles at a rally in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

Mar, who represents the Outer Sunset, called the arrangement a “meaningful compromise.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Recreation and Parks Department are working to determine the future of the roadway in light of ongoing erosion.

Reopening plans came as a surprise for advocates who support keeping the Upper Great Highway, or “Great Walkway,” permanently closed to vehicles.

Teri Lenfast, an Outer Sunset resident, said she has been walking up and down the Upper Great Highway since the roadway closed last year. She expressed relief not having to worry about vehicles zipping by, adding:

“I’m handicapped. I walk with a cane. I can go down this highway and not have to worry about being hit by a car.”

Another Outer Sunset resident, Andrew Sohn, said he was at first irritated by the roadway closure as it ruined the street experience where he lives, but changed his mind says after mitigation measures were put in place by the SFMTA.  He now supports keeping the Upper Great Highway closed.

Sohn said:

“I feel like this could be a great amenity if you just didn’t see it as an old roadway but like an actual park.”

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney came out to support the rally cause, saying the issue is not that complicated.

The supervisor said:

“Look who we have out here: People who are enjoying this space, people who are using it safely; children, families. It’s safe. Don’t mess with it.”

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and state Sen. Scott Wiener also showed up to lend support.

Megan Nguyen, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement Bay Area — a youth-led movement to stop climate change — cited the dire climate change report recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite feeling frustrated, angry and sad by the dire report findings, Nguyen said there is still hope if people take action now.

She said:

“We can start right here, right now, if we continue to keep the Great Walkway close to cars.”

Advocates for keeping the roadway closed walked along the Upper Great Highway from Judah Street to Lincoln Way with signs and posters supporting their cause.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Advocates in support of keeping the Upper Great Highway closed to vehicles walked along the roadway from Judah Street to Lincoln Way in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

But not everybody is on board with keeping vehicles off the roadway, including a number of people who live in the surrounding area. Many have voiced complaints about increased traffic on nearby residential streets and lack of access to the north-south corridor.

Nancy, a neighborhood resident who only gave her first name, questioned how The City would accommodate the elderly who rely on transportation along the Great Highway.

She said:

“I want to know what is anybody doing about the elderly and disabled that need this road.”

Again, the iconic roadway is being evaluated for future use due to ongoing erosion issues. The SFMTA and Rec and Park will present recommendations to the Board of Supervisors sometime in the fall, but not before conducting public outreach. The board is ultimately responsible for final decisions on what will become of the Upper Great Highway.

Brian Coyne and Scott Feeney, two city residents, claim that reopening of the Upper Great Highway is subject to California Environmental Quality Act review. They filed an appeal Tuesday and requested a reopening delay. Despite their efforts, plans are still in place to reopen the roadway to vehicle traffic beginning Monday morning.

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