Open the Great Highway!
The Great Highway is a two mile stretch of road in San Francisco, that connects the city to the South and beyond. Supervisor Gordon Mar officially closed the Great Highway in March of 2020, to be used as a space for San Franciscan’s to get outside and exercise while social distancing during the duration of the emergency order.
Since that time, City officials and special interest groups have been trying to make the closure permanent, branding it as “The Great Promenade” or “The Great Walkway.” Over $600,000 has been spent on mitigation efforts to control the significant and dan-gerous traffic problems that developed as a result of the closure. Unfortunately, and despite what those officials who decided how and what they would do to mitigate these dangerous conditions, it makes little difference to the people living in these neighborhoods or to the people who are trying to get around San Francisco. Most will agree: the mitigation efforts aren’t working and, in many cases make the situation worse.
It should also be noted that most residents of the Outer Sunset and Parkside neighborhoods don’t use the Great Highway for driving or commuting—it’s accessible only from Lincoln or Sloat. This entire stretch of road, which isn’t being used regularly by the neighborhood, would seem to be a great place for a park. On its face, it makes sense. In the grander scheme of things, it doesn’t.
In the meantime, we still have to live with gridlock, reckless commuters and commercial vehicles speeding through our neighborhoods, all for a park that the many residents didn’t ask for and an even larger number don’t use or want. SFMTA, SFCTA, and special interest groups continue to promote the falsehood that a majority of residents want this closure, when it’s become clear that there is a very large number of residents who want the road to open, as quickly as possible.”
Enter the D4 Mobility Study, which studies traffic and mobility in District 4, the Great Highway closure is tied to that. According to this study, 18,000–20,000 cars per day used the Upper Great Highway, pre-pandemic. There is just one issue: the Great Highway is used by many other San Franciscans, and people from outside of San Francisco, not just the residents of D4 (Sunset and Parkside). It’s a vital pathway to the south. Before the Emergency Order, there were those 20,000 cars using this road per day, so it’s clearly not just about that neighborhood. It has a ripple effect on the entire city. We’ve spoken to hundreds of people - senior citizens, people with physical disabilities, families, first responders who work in SF and live outside, people who use it to take care of aging parents in SF, and the list goes on. While bicycle advocates will argue that others should just “get a bike” or “take muni,” it’s never really that simple.
Maybe the most egregious example that was clearly never considered by the public officials who closed the Upper Great Highway, is the heavy impact on those living in the Outer Richmond. Residents of the Outer Richmond can expect to add 20-40 minutes additional drive time south, with similar additional time for Outer Sunset residents driving north. And it is worse on a sunny day or a holiday when there are more people at the beaches or trying to get in and out. Outer Richmond District residents have described being locked-in, and stuck on the weekends in particular. What will happen when people really go back to work? We’re just getting started to open up San Francisco, as we move into the next tier.
So now we’re forced to live with a situation that occurs when Mother Nature adds some sunshine on a good beach day. That brings gridlock, frustrated, raging drivers and a huge environmental impact. With all the cars that are now idling in traffic, our health is threatened as greenhouse gasses are certainly higher when cars are right outside the front door. We are fighting for our kids and seniors and disabled and everyone else. We are driving in less efficient conditions, zig-zagging through the Outer Avenues of the Sunset to get to where we need to go. While the goal of the closure was to reduce the environmental impact, it’s clearly doing exactly the opposite.
Before the Emergency Order, there were those 20,000 cars using this road per day, so it’s clearly not just about that neighborhood. It has a ripple effect on the entire city.
Where do those cars go now? They are being pushed through the Lower Great Highway—cutting through Sunset residential streets like 46th Avenue, normally a somewhat busy two-lane residential street is now a thoroughfare as well. The Lower Great Highway, which is not a highway but a two-lane residential street with hundreds of single-family homes, that is now the main artery through the district for many of those cars. Combined with other factors like the construction on 19th Avenue which is supposed to last until 2023, and an entire network of barely used slow streets—the picture becomes more clear and it’s easier to understand why so many people are fed up and angry. There have been accidents - including a roll-over right outside of residents homes.
Usage by the cyclists and pedestrians on the Upper Great Highway was highest during the Winter surge and balmy days during the Fall of 2021. San Francisco Parks and Recreation and the SFMTA—using unscientific methods—counted the number of pedestrians and cyclists during those months and continue to promote those figures as if that usage has continued to this day. Not only were all beaches throughout the Bay Area crowded at those times last year, but since then, usage is way down. For the most part, there are very few people traversing the Upper Great Highway, even on nice days, in comparison to the days during the pandemic surge. The need for a space and distancing is clearly over as is a legitimate reason for continuing the closure.
The Upper Great Highway is an essential road and without a plan on how to get the people who need to use the road, it’s not a park, it’s a disaster. How are the citizens and businesses who used the road supposed to get to work and go to school? What are the commercial vehicles who used the Upper Highway to transport goods to the citizens of San Francisco and beyond supposed to do? Should the residents of the Outer Sunset be forced to live with reckless commuters and the commercial traffic that’s all diverted from the Upper Great Highway and forced to use the Outer Sunset as a bypass?
The truth is there’s no plan. There never was and there still isn’t. We have this expensive study to open the road, and yet there was never any planning or forethought for closing the road and what that would mean for San Francisco. We all know how and why they do that: special interests. This time it’s the SF Bike Coalition and delusional environmental activists.
The closure of the Upper Great Highway is dangerously unsafe, environmentally unfriendly through increased—not decreased—greenhouse gasses and detrimental to the safety of residents in the Outer Sunset and Outer Richmond. It’s contributing to a decline in the quality of life and has caused division between friends, neighbors, and has torn apart the fabric of our neighborhoods, most likely forever.
In the meantime, we still have to live with gridlock, reckless commuters and commercial vehicles speeding through our neighborhoods, all for a park that the many residents didn’t ask for and an even larger number don’t use or want. SFMTA, SFCTA, and special interest groups continue to promote the falsehood that a majority of residents want this closure, when it’s become clear that there is a very large number of residents who want the road to open, as quickly as possible. With awareness, that number continues to increase each day, as neighborhood groups continue public outreach and education about the closure.
Concerned Residents of the Outer Richmond and Sunset Neighborhood Associations
May 24, 2021