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Should Golden Gate Park streets be closed to cars? Community mulls traffic ideas

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(Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)
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No cars allowed on half of John F. Kennedy Drive. Separated bike lanes on major park streets. More free shuttles. Less cross traffic.

Plans to reimagine Golden Gate Park’s traffic are now only a set of pipe dreams on sticky notes. But for the community who walk, bike, bus and drive through the park, they were written in hopes to revise the park’s streets to be safer.

Neighbors contributed their ideas at a community meeting Saturday at Golden Gate Park’s County Fair Building, convened by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The agencies are under a mandate to make Golden Gate Park safer for all travelers from the 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan, which prioritizes pedestrians first, bicycles second and motor vehicles third.

The agencies are also under mandate from a sweeping executive directive on traffic safety Mayor Ed Lee made in August, which followed the death of two women cyclists in the same day, one of whom died after a car collided with her on JFK Drive.

Between 2011 and 2016, 157 people were injured and three people were killed on Golden Gate Park roads, according to SFMTA.

There are no concrete ideas yet, though many recent near-term changes have made Golden Gate Park safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

But one priority identified by the SFMTA and Rec and Park planners on a poster board read, “Reduce motor vehicle traffic on park roads while maintaining access to park destinations.”

To that end, dozens of ideas from community members were stuck to five-foot long maps of the three mile park. Many show what some called a “bold” vision.

“This street is NOT necessary for cars, the Great Highway is only 5 blocks away,” read one sticky note attached along Chain of Lakes Drive, a north-south crossing on the West side of Golden Gate Park.

Others called for a portion of JFK Drive near the Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum to be closed to cars on Saturdays permanently. As of now, that closure is mostly on Sundays, with some full weekends.

Nicole Crittenden, who works downtown, said she bikes down JFK Drive for her commute. The bike lane to her feels unsafely narrow, she said. “There’s not a whole lot of room.”

The open house had a poster board inviting attendees to say “How do you get to & around Golden Gate Park?” with stickers. Dozens of stickers were placed under the “walk” and “bike” headers, as well as “run” and “Muni.”

One sticker was also placed under “Rollerblades/skate,” perhaps in a nod to Golden Gate Park’s Holy Rollers, who skate dance by 6th Avenue on weekends.

Just seven stickers were placed underneath the “drive” heading, which perhaps indicated fewer driving commuters were in attendance.

One driver, a teacher named Daniel Thomas, is a 30 year park neighbor. Thomas disagreed with the idea many cyclists suggested, to make a majority of Golden Gate Park car free.

“What if you have a picnic?” he said, “would you take a picnic basket on a bike or a bus? The park is open for all.”

Another retiree, Al Minvielle, who has lived near Golden Gate Park for 50 years, said he bicycles the park often and cars dangerously “whistle by” just inches from him, regularly.

“It’s such a sacred park,” he said, “no one wants to make any changes.”

But the park was designed in a different era, he said, and strongly needs new street rules.

SFMTA Board of Directors Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman walked through the small crowd, taking in various ideas. She said any decisions on park traffic would reverberate for decades.

With that in mind, she said, The City should “go bold.”

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