Open JFK Drive = Return to Normal
Tuesday morning, I left the Haight for my daily bike ride, when I reached JFK Drive near Stanyan St. I noticed that for as far as I could see to the west, the only visible persons were about ½ a mile away, near the concourse turn-off. By the time I reached the DeYoung, a couple more people crossed the street on their way out of Golden Gate Park. I kept peddling, seeing a few other cyclists riding east on JFK, and finally reached Crossover Drive to turn off toward MLK, to the south. Bumping over the terrible pavement in front of me, I thought, “What a waste for drivers going to work. There is all this roadway vacant but for a few folks, that could be used to make the trip to work, or shopping just a bit faster and shorter.”
On weekends, there are a lot of people out on the pavement of JFK (but not the sidewalks) through the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. On weekdays, however, there simply isn’t a crush of bikers, walkers, skateboarders, roller bladders, and more demanding a little piece of blacktop as they move about. Sidewalks on either side of the drive were completely empty, as walkers now stroll down the roadway.”
On MLK, there were about 14 vehicles queued up at the traffic light at 19th Ave. and east on MLK. On Lincoln, eastbound, the usual plethora of cars, trucks and buses paraded toward the center of San Francisco. MLK is now closed off at Sunset Blvd. to the west. That section too is barely being used by persons seeking recreation. Even the Great Highway is not brimming with hordes of persons seeking a peaceful walk by the Pacific, on the average work day.
We, the taxpayers of San Francisco, have paid to build and maintain the roads through our parks, and over the past many decades, residents have been able to use their roads for their needs. We have also paid for the many walkways and hiking paths, to make the many features of our parks available to those passing through, or stopping to smell the roses, rhododendrons and fuchsias. The museums at the Concourse depend upon the roads to make it possible for everyone to get to a nearby parking space to see the precious art and nature exhibits held there. Even the rather garish Ferris wheel temporarily planted near JFK depends upon tourist traffic that gets to the Park by car. Persons with disabilities have little choice about how they can enjoy the Park’s bounties. They are most dependent upon cars for mobility and the necessary close parking in the garage. With car traffic restricted on JFK, along with the parking options on the drive, the Concourse features are literally out of reach for many.
Rec and Park maintains that there is significant demand for recreation space in Golden Gate Park, and that the closure of JFK in the pandemic has revealed that pent-up demand. As one who rides the mile and a half between Crossover and Stanyan about 5 times a day, I can say that on weekends, there are a lot of people out on the pavement of JFK (but not the sidewalks) through the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM. On weekdays, however, there simply isn’t a crush of bikers, walkers, skateboarders, roller bladders, and more demanding a little piece of blacktop as they move about. Sidewalks on either side of the drive were completely empty, as walkers now stroll down the roadway.
One might argue that with car traffic mixed in on weekdays, safety is compromised by the presence of cars. Accidents, historically, are quite rare on JFK where it is closed these days. San Francisco Chronicle stories last week suggested that between 2014 and 2019, there were 30 “traffic accidents” on the now closed portion. While I haven’t found the source for this claim, I believe it is unusually high. Furthermore, most of that period the street was re-painted with bike lanes and parking zones (at a cost of about $600,000). If there were “accidents” of that rate, they were mainly from collisions in the narrow 5 foot bike lanes. The “bike lanes” were mostly used for anything but cycling, such as moms with carriages, walkers, SFPD vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, skateboarders, runners, cops on horseback, Rec & Park people, and still more, too many to mention. Those bike lanes were ripe for “door-ing” people on bicycles when the passenger side doors opened randomly and surprisingly in the path of bikes. There were very few motor vehicle accidents, if any, involving cars and other users of the Park. There are also about eight STOP signs in that 1 and ½ mile section, along with at least 4 speed bumps, meaning that vehicles are hard pressed to race the length of JFK for thrills. Mixed use on JFK is not a public safety threat, as I see it.
It makes a lot more sense to me to put the City’s resources to broader use, including motorists, to help make our crowded urban setting a little more enjoyable. Whether one is traveling to the Park, or simply through the Park, everyone deserves the right to use the roads to best suit their needs. It is time to get back to normal.