Two San Francisco supervisors who represent some of the neighborhoods furthest away from Golden Gate Park are calling for John F. Kennedy Drive to be reopened to cars.
Supervisors Shamann Walton and Ahsha Safai, who collectively represent The City’s south side, issued stern statements on Tuesday saying their constituents, many of whom are working class and/or families of color, have been largely excluded from enjoying the park ever since the east-west roadway was closed to private vehicles in April 2020 in response to the pandemic.
“You will not arbitrarily cut Black people out of enjoying San Francisco,” Walton said during his remarks at Tuesday’s County Transportation Authority meeting. “Do not let class determine your policy. Golden Gate Park and streets in San Francisco belong to everybody.”
The supervisor did concede that the partial closure of streets to vehicles can be a valuable asset in communities where an existing culture of biking, walking and outdoor recreation exists, but said it actually hinders communities that rely on cars due to long standing transportation inequities.
Safai reserved his most direct remarks for Twitter.
“Residents of the Excelsior, [Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside], Outer Mission, Bayview and all neighbors of the Southern portion of the CIty need to have access to the park as well. Closing JFK takes away access to [Golden Gate Park] attractions for many [San Francisco] families and many communities of color,” he wrote.
Their comments came on the heels of an advocate-hosted rally on Saturday where attendees took selfies on the car-free roadway and sent them to a roster of movers and shapers, including the mayor and their respective district supervisors.
Though the Recreation and Park Department ultimately makes the decision, the issue has become a hot-button topic.
Outcry on social media and during public comment in response to Walton and Safai’s statements was full-throated and almost immediate, with critics lambasting the supervisors for what positions that, they say, ignore climate change, traffic violence and the existing transit links between neighborhoods such as the Bayview, Hunters Point and the Mission with Golden Gate Park.
But in an unlikely marriage of the Twitter echo chamber and thoughtful debate, some of the feedback included nuanced positions that could provide insight into policy discussions moving forward.
Advocates said there’s a need for increased accessibility to Golden Gate Park, whether that be through the creation of direct shuttles, increased public transit options, expanded protected bike lanes, subsidized parking or some combination thereof.
“Golden Gate Park including car-free JFK Drive absolutely can and must be accessible to all ages, abilities, and neighborhoods to support our health and safety,” Walk SF Executive Director Jodie Medeiros said.
They also said that while they believe there’s ample existing parking — either on nearby streets or in the underground parking garage operated by the Music Concourse — they recognize that individuals with limited mobility need more spots carved out for their vehicles and families with less economic means could benefit from more affordable options, including a more robust and more reliable Muni system.
“We understand there are too many people in San Francisco who are dependent on cars, because they don’t have other options,” said Cat Carter, spokesperson for the San Francisco Transit Riders. “Robust Muni service is the most effective way to give people an option other than cars. We need to support a strong return of Muni service, which means finding funding so they can hire and train as quickly as possible, and it means transit priority projects that deliver faster, more reliable service.”
Before the pandemic, JFK Drive closed to cars only on Sundays, which activists had long deemed woefully inadequate.
Safai, on the other hand, says closing the road on some days could be a “good compromise,” but “total closure without input from working families” is not a viable alternative moving forward.
Drawing on her personal experience growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Supervisor Connie Chan, who represents the Richmond, lent some support to the sentiment behind her colleagues’ comments.
“It is a racial equity issue that consistently, for a lot of us, immigrants, working families and communities of color, we have to fight for green space and we have to fight for equity in recreation,” she said, adding that road closures often function as de facto segregation.
Chan put the onus on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to provide supervisors with a clear, data-driven plan for how it would determine equity in mobility and access to benefits such as car-free JFK Drive, should it be made permanent, as the agency makes decisions about what service to restore and when.