Pilot program would allow Great Highway to remain car-free on weekends through 2025

A Lunar New Year celebration took place on the Great Highway in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, February, 26, 2022. (Photo by Jerold Chinn)

A proposal to keep the current configuration of the Great Highway car-free on weekends for an additional three years as a pilot program is moving forward to the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin, who sit on the Land Use and Transportation Committee, moved outgoing Supervisor Gordon Mar’s proposed ordinance Monday to the full board for a vote next week without recommendation. The ordinance would keep the car-free hours of the Great Highway, from Friday at noon to Monday at 6 a.m., until the end of 2025.

During the pilot period, the ordinance would require the San Francisco Municipal Transportation and Recreation and Parks Department to collect pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle traffic on the roadway and surrounding streets. The SFMTA would also need to release a draft of recommendations on traffic management by July 31, 2023.

Supervisors would have the final say near or at the end of the pilot program on what to do with the Great Highway, Mar’s proposed ordinance said.

Mar, who represents the Sunset District, compared the decision to keep the Great Highway car-free on weekends to the decision city officials made on tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which led to a more open and walkable waterfront

“​​We have a similar choice in front of us now to decide the future of our western waterfront, Mar said. “I believe the Great Highway pilot ordinance is the right choice.”

The closure of the Great Highway has been part of a contentious discussion on the closure of city streets for recreational use during the Covid-19 pandemic, including John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park.

Voters this month defeated Proposition I and approved Proposition J. Prop. I would have reversed a board decision to reopen JFK Drive to vehicles and allow vehicles back on the Great Highway as well as prohibiting The City from closing the Great Highway between Sloat Boulevard and Skyline Boulevard.

Prop. J reaffirmed the board’s decision to keep JFK Drive closed to vehicles earlier this year.

While Mar called his proposal a compromise, car-free advocates pushed to have the Friday closure to begin earlier at 6 a.m. instead of noon. Some Outer Richmond residents have not exactly been in support of the full or partial weekend closure.

“I do not believe that there is a consensus on the Great Highway, especially in the community that I serve,’’ Supervisor Connie Chan said, who represents the Richmond District.

Chan there is still room for more discussion and that the noon Friday closure is still an issue with her constituents who live in the Outer Richmond.

Melgar, who also represents parts of the westside of The City and chairs the committee, said while she enjoys biking on the weekends on the Great Highway, the closure of the roadway has been one of the single contentious issue in her district and wanted to come up “with something that most people can live with.”

Melgar said she did not want to rush the decisions and wanted to explore more ideas.

Next Tuesday will for sure be a busy day as the SFMTA Board of Directors will also be meeting and could possibly be making a decision on its Slow Streets program.

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Jerold Chinn

Award-winning transportation journalist based in San Francisco.