Mike Koozmin/The S.f. ExaminerThe SFMTA voted Tuesday to temporarily shut part of Lombard Street to through traffic as part of a safety pilot project.

Mike Koozmin/The S.f. ExaminerThe SFMTA voted Tuesday to temporarily shut part of Lombard Street to through traffic as part of a safety pilot project.

SF giving twisty Lombard a vacation from traffic

The famously crooked block of Lombard Street, a gleaming postcard and photo icon for tourists worldwide, will close to through traffic for four weekends this summer due to concerns the mix of heavy tourist traffic and pedestrians is a safety hazard.

Residents of the neighborhood for years had asked The City to put the brakes on problems that grew along with the street's congestion and popularity.

James Hickman, 69, who has lived on the crooked street for 17 years, said during Tuesday's San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meeting, “This is absolutely a safety issue among all the other issues going on.”

He said he often witnesses a “mob mentality” among the crowds of tourists who gather to drive or walk the street.

“They stand on the streets and feel entitled. They are aggressive. They think they own it,” said Hickman, a member of the Lombard Hill Improvement Association, a group of residents on the famous street and cul-de-sac that pays for gardening and street cleaning.

“We're not against tourists,” he added. “We keep the place nice so tourists can enjoy it like we do.”

Transit agency board members unanimously voted Tuesday to close the crooked portion of Lombard Street, and the approaching eastbound block between Larkin and Hyde streets, to vehicles other than those of residents on weekends noon to 6 p.m. from June 21 to July 13, as well as Friday, July 4. Taxis were exempt at the discretion of SFMTA staff after a couple of board members raised concerns of access for disabled people.

Pedestrians may congregate on the crooked street, and parking control officers cannot prevent that, SFMTA City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea noted.

Though it is a pilot program that will be evaluated for unintended consequences, such as backing up traffic on surrounding streets, the move represents the second straight time the board has sided with residents over tourists, who fuel San Francisco's No. 1 industry. In November, Alamo Square, which offers a perfect view of the Painted Ladies Victorian houses, was closed to tour buses.

“It's certainly worth a try, but I'm a little concerned about the slippery slope,” SFMTA board Chairman Tom Nolan said of the pilot. “We did the thing with Alamo Square and it's a very popular area, and you can think of other places where that might be the case.”

The temporary closure pleased the neighborhood association and Supervisor Mark Farrell's office, which partnered on the issue. At the meeting, Farrell's legislative aide Catherine Stefani cited three accidents on Lombard's crooked stretch — a car that hit a girl and her mother on July 4, 2011, a car that hit a fire hydrant in March 2012 and a vehicle rollover in December 2012.

But Reed Kirk Rahlmann, a resident of the Richmond for more than 20 years, took issue with the matter being framed as a safety issue when it seemed like an annoyance issue for residents.

“This is about a privileged few that are annoyed people want to come from all over the world,” he said. “You live on Lombard Street because you chose to live on Lombard Street. It's another nail into the soul of San Francisco.”

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