In The City, it appears the roller blade is mightier than the car.
Skaters, bikers and pedestrians won a victory over museums, disability and neighborhood groups in a contentious battle over whether to close some of the eastern half of Golden Gate Park to cars on weekends.
The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 for a trial ordinance shutting down a 1.5-mile stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive and some connecting roads on Saturdays between Memorial Day and November. A similar ban, which has existed for nearly 40 years on Sundays, draws thousands of people each week.
The vote came after supporters and opponents of the measure shouted each other down at dueling press conferences on the steps of City Hall. Supporters, who have dubbed the initiative “Healthy Saturdays,” said it will give people a chance to skate and ride around the park without having to fear being hit by a car while encouraging exercise.
“We like riding our bikes with no cars,” said a young Sophie Aufdencamp, who spoke at the press conference for Healthy Saturdays. Nearby, stood her bright purple bike complete with training wheels.
Supporters said the time is right for the measure, which was defeated in two separate ballot measures in 2000, because a new 800-spot parking garage has been completed below the de Young Museum that will be accessible during the closure.
Opponents fear it will hurt attendance at museums, such as the de Young and the Conservatory of Flowers, and send parkgoers trawling for scarce parking spaces in the Haight, Richmond and Sunset districts. They also worry about handicapped access to the attractions.
“The conservatory is virtually landlocked on Sundays, there is a 37 percent drop in attendance,” said Rebecca Green of the San Francisco Parks Trust. “The money that comes in to keep it open and beautiful comes from visitors.”
To mitigate the impact on disabled people, the legislation creates new handicapped parking spaces, drop-off zones and a shuttle to get around the closed portions of JFK Drive.
It does not appear there will be enough votes to make it veto-proof, and the mayor has not made a decision yet whether to support or veto the ordinance but hopes the warring sides can come together.
City officials said that might mean creating some kind of body to monitor and report on potential concerns with the closure, such as parking problems in the surrounding neighborhoods and declining attendance at museums. The legislation does call for the Recreation and Park Department and Department of Parking and Traffic to produce reports on the impact of the Saturday closure.