Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA board to vote on future of Twin Peaks Boulevard

The proposal would keep Burnett Avenue gate closed to vehicles, open Portola Drive

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors will take a vote on Tuesday that would make permanent changes to the traffic flow on Twin Peaks Boulevard, which has been largely closed to vehicles since early in the pandemic.

Under the staff-recommended proposal, the Burnett Avenue gate would stay shut to private and commercial vehicles, keeping Twin Peaks Boulevard reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists until Christmas Tree Point, where one-way vehicle traffic would be permitted to access the iconic viewpoint.

Portola gate on the south side would be open to vehicles, including tour buses, at all hours, and half of the figure-eight road that runs between the peaks would be usable by cars. The other half would remain exclusively for those using alternative modes of transportation.

Closed to vehicles in March to create space for socially distanced outdoor recreation, the open space around Twin Peaks quickly became a hub of activity, attracting more than 800 individuals each weekday and over 1,100 on weekend days, according to SFMTA data.

Neighbors on the Burnett Avenue side of Twin Peaks, however, reported a massive uptick in litter, vandalism, car theft and partying as a result of the closure, and believe the lack of vehicle access to Christmas Tree Point had moved the longstanding late night activity there from high in the hills down into their residential streets.

These complaints of disruptive behavior persisted even after city agencies opened the Portola Drive gate between 6 p.m. and midnight in September as an attempt at mitigation.

Neighbors have since called for a combination of measures that they believe will dissuade these late-night visitors and limit the noise nearby, including year-long 24-hour parking restrictions for non-residents on both sides of Burnett Avenue near the gate; the prohibition of tour bus access to Twin Peaks; and the installation of landscaping treatment that would block the nighttime view of San Francisco from near the gate itself.

None are included in the proposal that will be put in front of the SFMTA board on Tuesday.

SFMTA conducted a three-week electronic survey attempting to identify a solution that would resolve the conflict between those who advocate for a Twin Peaks Boulevard permanently closed to vehicles and those who prefer the roadway be either partially or permanently opened, including neighbors and advocates for people with disabilities.

Working with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department and the Police Department, SFMTA put forth five roadway options for Twin Peaks Boulevard ranging from total closure to vehicles to the pre-pandemic reality of both gates being entirely open to them.

Of the five options, the design proposal that would have permanently closed the gate at Portola Drive while opening the Burnett Avenue side to vehicles was the most preferred, with 52 percent of survey participants ranking it their first choice on the basis that it would have given cyclists and pedestrians the most open space.

Street safety advocacy groups such as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition were widely in support of this option.

While 30 percent of respondents ranked a return to the pre-COVID design as their first choice, which would have opened both gates to vehicles at all times, that option also garnered the most distaste with 64 percent ranking it as their least favored choice.

Ultimately, however, board members will vote Tuesday on an option that earned “a mix of support” from the 1,700 respondents, but received the recommendation of staff because it “offers the best balance of competing objectives, providing access to the top of Twin Peaks for motor vehicles as well as a closed roadway dedicated to people walking and biking.”

According to the staff report, it also achieves a number of other objectives: it doesn’t require modifications to streets that currently restrict tour buses; it doesn’t require capacity-building on Portola Drive for the influx in cars; it will improve safety for “vulnerable street users” and create “safer connection” to open space; and it will likely move people parking on Burnett Avenue who disrupt neighbors to the Portola Drive gate so they can access the top of Twin Peaks by car.

“We’d much rather see a closure at the Portola gate to prioritize open space atop Twin Peaks for folks walking and biking,” said Bicycle Coalition Senior Community Organizer Kristen Leckie. “We’re in support of this current proposal to solidify permanent car-free space now and are pushing The City to consider more ways to open up space on Twin Peaks in the future.”

To assuage worries from neighbors about crime, SFMTA has agreed to work closely with SFPD to monitor the impact the roadway closures have on reported vandalism and tagging issues, among others.

This proposal also has the support of Rec and Park.

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