Keep JFK Drive closed to cars in 2022 and beyond


Urban theorist Jane Jacobs wrote in her seminal book “Death and Life of Great American Cities” that “the destructive effect of automobiles is much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence to build cities.”

It would be hard to find a better illustration of this point than San Francisco’s John F. Kennedy Drive before it closed to traffic in April 2020.

Before the pandemic, JFK was one of the most dangerous and deadly streets in San Francisco. There were 91 accidents between 2014 and its closure in 2020. This is mainly because 75% of people traveling on JFK had no intention of visiting the park; they were just using it as a cut.

It would be a political failure for any city; for a city supposed to prioritize public transportation like San Francisco, however, this was an inexcusable display of incompetence.

Few would object to a gentle street through Golden Gate Park that allows slow but convenient vehicle access, especially for those with limited mobility, to park amenities. But allowing the main thoroughfare of the city’s signature park to become a high-speed commuter highway – as it once was – was a serious and all too often fatal civic failure that can never be repeated.

In order for JFK to remain a safe and enjoyable space, worthy of one of the most beautiful city parks in the world, it should remain closed to cars in 2022 and beyond.

Critics of this idea have rightly pointed out some of the challenges associated with its implementation. Parking spaces for disabled people will be lost. As well as some free parking spaces that could be used by low income Bay Area residents.

But the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and officials from the Recreation and Parks Department have plans to overcome these obstacles. All disabled spaces removed from JFK have been replaced with new free spaces in a nearby surface lot. Music Concourse Drive remains open to cars for museum drop-offs, as does the underground car park below, which provides 15 minutes of free access. People without reduced mobility are still free to drive to Golden Gate Park and drop off their vehicle in one of the nearly 4,700 remaining parking spaces. Additionally, keeping JFK Drive closed dramatically improves travel times for riders entering and exiting the park on Eighth Avenue.

Challenges to equitable access remain – most urgently, the need for greater transit connectivity to low-income areas of the city and improved inter-park shuttle service for people with mobility. scaled down.

But making JFK a dangerous cut once again won’t fix that.

Meanwhile, the de Young Museum’s concerns about a drop in visitor numbers linked to the pandemic are valid. But his demand to return JFK to the pre-pandemic status quo is shortsighted.

The closure of the street was an urban planning experiment that garnered praise and attention from around the world during the pandemic. Adopting the new JFK and working to activate the street with food and events is a potentially much bigger draw than a few free parking spots on an otherwise angry river of suburban rage.

The expansion of bicycle sharing throughout the park, as proposed by the transport agency, will attract even more visitors and allow carbon-free access to its institutions.

Park enthusiasts, on the other hand, need to understand that JFK will never be entirely without a car. At least some vehicles must have access to all or part of the street in perpetuity: police, medical and firefighters as well as shuttles and buses. Perhaps most urgently, the road provides the only access to Young’s loading dock, which means a daily flow of delivery trucks and supply vehicles. Park officials say the increased signage will help cyclists and pedestrians stay on the lookout for unexpected vehicles. Other steps may be necessary.

But these challenges are far from insurmountable.

Golden Gate Park was built over 150 years ago for people, not cars, which were originally banned from the park and restricted until 1912 because they posed a threat to cyclists and others. park users.

They still are.

San Francisco has been discussing the closure of Golden Gate Park’s main thoroughfare for over 50 years. The success of JFK’s reimagining during the pandemic should settle this debate once and for all.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your point of view in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter through our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

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