New traffic plan announced to make streets near car-free Great Highway safer

SFMTA, Supervisor Gordon Mar land on comprehensive deal for street safety

Following an outcry over the traffic impacts of closing the Great Highway to cars, city officials announced on Wednesday a comprehensive set of traffic safety measures that they believe will mitigate the negative impacts on surrounding streets.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, whose district encompasses the Outer Sunset, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other stakeholders have negotiated a deal to install dozens of traffic calming tools over the next two months around the Lower Great Highway.

Measures include 24 new speed cushions, 12 all-way stop signs, six changeable message signs to divert traffic to main corridors and one speed table, as well as a commitment to provide traffic enforcement on each weekend day for the next six weeks and additional deployment of parking control officers.

Implementation will begin as early as March, and all infrastructure should be installed by April 31.

“The transformation of the Great Highway has provided tremendous benefits, but safety always must come first,” Mar said in a statement. “We can’t sacrifice safety for recreation, and I believe with this plan we can have both.”

Mar originally supported the closure of the Upper Great Highway to vehicles in April 2020 as a way to provide space for socially distant recreation. Since then, it’s been embraced as a new kind of public space, not just as an outdoor haven for thousands of people and families from all over The City, but also as a backdrop for community-building, marches for social justice and public art.

SFMTA data shows nearly 4,000 people each weekday and more than 12,000 each weekend enjoy car-free activity along the Great Highway. Advocates have called for it to be permanently closed to vehicles, and some have even floated the idea of turning it into a state-of-the art public park.

But at the same time, the closure has pushed traffic to nearby streets that aren’t equipped for the high volumes and even higher speeds of cars moving north to south, and residents report reckless speeding, congestion and a number of car wrecks.

The District Four Mobility Study, conducted by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, confirms these anecdotes. It found roughly 5,000 cars travel on the Lower Great Highway daily, “a significant portion of which” do so at unsafe speeds.

Despite his initial enthusiasm, Mar threatened to revoke his support in November, unless the SFMTA took action to mitigate some of the dangerous traffic impacts that have spilled into the outer avenues.

Mar told the Examiner at the time that his office had been asking SFMTA to take swift action on these requests for nearly seven months before he ultimately penned the letter voicing his concerns.

Though SFMTA instituted a series of turn restrictions and traffic diverters on surrounding streets earlier in the pandemic, the changes failed to adequately address concerns from nearby residents.

Months in the making, this agreement takes a stab at a comprehensive solution.

Authors hope this final product reconciles the oftentimes competing interests of environmentalists, street safety advocates and local residents, and effectively divvies up responsibility in a part of The City with complicated jurisdictional authority.

“We’re eager to support Supervisor Mar and District Four by installing additional traffic management tools to increase safety for all in the area, while also exploring the Great Highway’s long-term potential,” SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin said in a statement.

Ultimately, four primary city agencies will be held responsible for the traffic calming measures: SFMTA, the Recreation and Parks Department, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the San Francisco Police Department.

Funding allocations will come from the SFMTA, SFCTA and the Rec and Parks Department, and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment at the Feb. 9 county transportation meeting and at upcoming hearings for San Francisco’s transit agency, according to a news release.

“We want the car-free promenade to benefit neighbors, not cause traffic problems elsewhere,” said Rec and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “I am grateful for Supervisor Mar and SFMTA for coming up with solutions that ensure safety for all.”

Accountability will be essential to the efficacy of this plan, and the agreement includes firm deadlines so the supervisor’s office can keep The City on track.

The traffic calming plan will have no bearing on the current vehicle-free status of the Upper Great Highway. Rather, officials simply hope it will help make everyone who enjoys, plays or lives near one of San Francisco’s crown jewels feel safer.

But the stakes are high. If partner agencies don’t follow through on their commitments to roll out the traffic safety measures, or if they aren’t effective, the future of the Upper Great Highway as a car-free haven might be in jeopardy.

“We can only continue to enjoy this incredible new open space if we can make it safe and address these impacts,” Mar said in a statement.

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