The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District voted on Friday to reaffirm a policy banning special activities on the iconic roadway. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Golden Gate Bridge bans roadway usage for marathons, special events

Runners will tread the iconic Golden Gate Bridge no more — at least, not on the bridge’s roadways.

A vote of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District on Friday “reaffirmed” the bridge’s existing policy that its roadways will not be shut down for special events like marathons or “expressive activities” like protests.

This ban on roadway use does not affect marathons that use the bridge’s sidewalks.

Though this rule already existed, the bridge district granted permitted exemptions for 14 years for the San Francisco Marathon and the U.S. Half Marathon to allow runners on the roadway.

Now, with the reaffirmation of the existing rule, the district has sturdier legal ground to deny exemptions moving forward, Golden Gate Bridge District General Manager Denis Mulligan said.

Steve Miller, deputy general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, told the Board of Directors on Friday that recent terrorist attacks using vehicles in countries like England and France drove the need to shut down pedestrian activities on the roadway.

“We know the world has changed,” Miller said.

Miller was also seemingly referring to the vehicular violence at a Charlottesville, Va., protest that claimed the life of 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer on Aug. 12. “We are no longer comfortable having the event on the roadway,” Mulligan said, since “vehicles are now used as weapons.”

San Francisco Marathon staff and others argued that people flock from all over the world to The City for the pleasure of running across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Larry Chow, an assistant head coach of marathon runners, said, “I was born here,” and enjoyed when runners from Poland told him, “‘There’s nothing like running in San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge.’”

District staff also worried about traffic impacts. Two traffic lanes are dedicated to race participants during the San Francisco Marathon with a buffer lane between runners and vehicles.

The Board of Directors, comprised of representatives from San Francisco to Sonoma counties, vigorously debated the merits of closure. Some, like local labor leader Michael Theriault, wished for the marathon to continue running on the bridge’s roadways. Still, he said, “I’m not so concerned at three hours of lost traffic, but I am about safety.”

Board member Gina Belforte, of Sonoma County, said that Boston did not stop running its marathon in the wake of its infamous bombing incident, and argued the district was exercising too much caution.

Board member London Breed, who is president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, expressed concern that directors were being asked to superfluously vote a second time to affirm a rule already on the books.

But Mulligan said that the repeated exemptions granted for various marathons spurred a need to “reaffirm” existing rules, to make ending the exemptions more legally defensible.

Mulligan also raised the stakes on the safety discussions and warned that exemptions would apply to far more entities than just the San Francisco Marathon.

“The folks like the ones planning activities in Berkeley and in Crissy Field would have the same right or the same access,” he said, seemingly describing the right-wing group Patriot Prayer.

The board ultimately voted to reaffirm the prohibition, with four dissenting votes: Theriault, Belforte, Breed and Elbert Hill.

Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Marathon, told the San Francisco Examiner they’re not throwing in the towel just yet. “We’re going to continue to look for ways to work with the bridge district to try and get the race back on the bridge,” Singer said.

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