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City report recommends permanent car-free JFK Drive

A city report released Monday urges San Francisco supervisors to make John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park permanently car-free.

The report, prepared by the Recreation and Parks Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, details the Golden Gate Park Access and Safety Program and recommends restricting private vehicle traffic on JFK Drive between Kezar and Transverse drives.

Additional recommendations include closing roadways to private vehicle traffic on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between Lincoln Way and the Chain of Lakes Road. Paratransit, emergency and park maintenance vehicles would still have access to the restricted roadways. Private vehicles would still be able to use Eighth Avenue and JFK Drive for access to the de Young Museum loading dock.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, The City in April 2020 closed a portion of JFK Drive to traffic to provide residents with more space to socially distance as they walked and biked. City officials are now faced with the question of what to do with the roadway in a post-pandemic world.

The idea of permanently closing the roadway to private vehicles has been popular with bicyclists and pedestrians, with many of them holding rallies in recent weeks in Golden Gate Park and at City Hall.

According to the report, nearly seven million people took advantage of the roadway closure by walking, biking and skating in Golden Gate Park between April 2020 and September 2021, an increase from daily pre-pandemic park trips by 36 percent.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Advocates hold up signs calling to keep John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park car-free at rally on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

The two city departments were tasked with conducting public outreach over the last several months to evaluate possible configurations and proposals aimed at improving visitor access to the park and its museums. The Board of Supervisors has the final say on the roadway’s future in a decision that could come sometime next month.

A survey of over 10,000 respondents found that 70 percent said they favored the car-free routes inside the park — more than half of the respondents in each zip code favored car-free routes with the exception of the Parkside neighborhood.

Mayor London Breed showed her support for a car-free JFK Drive in a Twitter post, saying:

“This has been an essential space for our residents and families during this pandemic, and I believe it can be a long-term benefit to this city.”

The mayor also stressed that details still need to be worked out in order to address concerns: park access for seniors and people with disabilities, affordable parking options, and delivery access for museums, including the de Young and California Academy of Sciences.

Helena Nordstrom, a de Young spokesperson, issued a statement critical of the report’s recommendations, saying: 

“We are disappointed to learn of SF Rec and Park’s recommendation to close JFK Drive permanently, reducing access to Golden Gate park and its attractions for the many residents of San Francisco who do not have the privilege to live within walking or biking distance to the park, reducing critical parking for people with disabilities, and the many visitors to our City.”

The report indicated approximately 967 parking spaces and 26 spaces for people with disabilities would be removed from designated street segments where private vehicles are restricted, though more than 5,000 spaces would remain available inside the park.

Rec and Park listed several improvements that have either been completed or are in progress, including the launch of a more robust free Golden Gate Park shuttle. The department said construction began last week at the Bandshell Parking Lot, which will include 20 parking spaces for persons with disabilities and an ADA accessible-path to the Japanese Tea Garden.

An effort is ongoing to implement free or reduced parking rates in the Music Concourse Garage for low-income museum visitors as an expansion of the Museums for All program.

It’s not yet clear where some supervisors land on the contentious car-free topic, but three supervisors — Dean Preston, Rafael Mandelman and Matt Haney — have voiced support for restricting vehicle traffic on JFK Drive.

Supervisor Connie Chan recently said she wants another working group convened to develop a solution that meets needs for everyone.

In a statement Monday, Chan said she wanted to continue working with the mayor, city departments and stakeholders on a “Beach to Bay” bike connectivity vision that she outlined in a resolution last year. Chan then proposed drop-off access on Eighth Avenue and four hours of free parking at the Music Concourse Garage.

The Rec and Park Commission and SFMTA Board of Directors will hold a joint informational hearing Thursday at 10 a.m. to discuss the report’s proposals and decide whether to adopt the resolution.

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