Nearly 4,000 San Francisco residents reached for a recent survey favor closing the Upper Great Highway indefinitely (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Nearly 4,000 San Francisco residents reached for a recent survey favor closing the Upper Great Highway indefinitely (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Closing Upper Great Highway for good is popular, survey finds

Going car-free would not come without impacts to traffic and transit

Permanently closing the Upper Great Highway to cars received largely favorable marks in a newly released survey of nearly 4,000 San Francisco residents.

About 53 percent of respondents said they favored keeping the iconic roadway vehicle-free beyond the pandemic, according to the survey from the County Transportation Authority.

At the same time, the second most popular option was a proposal to return the Upper Great Highway to its pre-pandemic condition as a four-lane roadway, which earned support from 21 percent of respondents.

The survey presented San Franciscans with five options for potential designs, ranging from a return to pre-pandemic status to a permanent car-free pedestrian promenade. The other options split the difference using timed vehicle closures or partial use of the road by cars alongside pedestrians.

Of the 3,797 residents who responded, most were concentrated in neighborhoods adjacent to the Upper Great Highway such as the Sunset or Richmond. While 52 percent of Sunset dwellers preferred a permanent car-free promenade, roughly the same percentage of Richmond residents supported entirely opening the road.

A permanent closure is estimated to run The City $5.6 million in capital costs and $1.6 million in maintenance and operations — roughly the same price as opening the roadway back up to cars and applying necessary safety improvements, traffic calming measures and other upgrades.

CTA presented the preliminary survey results during a community meeting on Saturday, alongside its initial findings from the District 4 Mobility study, first commissioned to evaluate the transit and mobility landscape in 2019 and later expanded to evaluate how the Upper Great Highway’s closure has impacted travel in the area.

While many surveyed San Franciscans like the idea of closing the roadway to cars, the study found doing so would worsen traffic and transit service in the area, necessitating additional mitigation measures.

Going car-free would mean “severe congestion” at hot spots throughout nearby neighborhoods, a “much slower” 29-Sunset Muni route and potential delays to the 28-19th Avenue and 18-46th Avenue, the study found.

Mitigation measures like traffic signal re-timing, intersection upgrades and wayfinding improvements would be required at an additional cost.

Still, the study found closing the Upper Great Highway to cars would allow nearly 32,000 cyclists or pedestrians to continue using the roadway on a weekly basis.

About 4,000 cyclists, pedestrians and other road users have enjoyed the roadway every weekday for much of the last year, CTA data shows. That number jumps to 6,000 on weekends.

The other options given to San Franciscans in the survey were projected to attract fewer cyclists and pedestrians — no more than 12,000 a week.

None of the design options for the roadway are expected to eliminate the risk for conflicts between vehicles and other road users, but some are considered safer than others.

Opening any part of the Upper Great Highway to vehicles is considered high risk for collisions, whereas the options that eliminate concurrent use of the road by cars and other travelers are deemed medium risk.

Since the Upper Great Highway closed to cars last year, residents have already reported a surge in vehicle overflow onto nearby residential streets as well as an uptick in dangerous driving behavior.

In response, District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar struck a deal with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in February to implement a laundry list of measures like speed cushions and stop signs to address concerns.

Mar said the promenade has “been successful in its original goal providing acres of new open space for thousands of people of every age and ability to safely recreate for physical and mental well-being,” but acknowledged “it has created very real challenges on traffic flow, congestion and neighborhood connectivity by car.”

The plan started being implemented in early March, and is currently being evaluated by the CTA.

Any permanent changes to the Upper Great Highway will require approval from the Board of Supervisors. CTA is expected to present survey and study findings to the Recreation and Park Commission and SFMTA at later dates, which will then jointly provide direction on next steps.

Though the final outcome remains unknown, what is clear is that the Upper Great Highway will look different than it did just one year ago, due in part to public momentum as well as the realities of climate change and erosion along the coast.

“The reason we did this, the reason we need to plan for the future of the Great Highway — with data, traffic modeling, and meaningful analysis — isn’t because of COVID-19, or the temporary change to the highway. It’s because of climate change,” Mar said. “We didn’t decide that, nature did.”

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