SF’s JFK Drive should remain closed to cars at all times, city report recommends

SF's JFK Drive should remain closed to cars at all times, city report recommends

John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is expected to remain closed to vehicular traffic at all times, a new report from the city concludes.

San Francisco’s flagship park east-west road has been closed to private vehicles since the spring of 2020, initially in an attempt to give residents more space to recreate while social distancing. Nearly two years later, recreational tours of the car-free space have exploded. The street closure has drawn a loyal base of people who say it has transformed the way they recreate and move around the city, as well as criticism from some residents and nearby businesses, who want the roadway reopened.

The highly anticipated proposal released by the Recreation and Parks Department on Monday morning cited public feedback in favor of the current road layout, along with data that shows the impact of the closure on traffic and travel times journey were minimal.

The Board of Supervisors will have the final say on the matter and may ultimately decide to either follow the Parks Department’s recommendation or make a different decision. Most supervisors have not spoken publicly on the matter.

The Boards of the Parks Department and the Municipal Transportation Agency will consider passing a resolution in favor of a permanent car-free JFK Drive at a public hearing on Thursday.

The recommendation included in a 29 page report could be the start of a resolution to a problem that has sparked fierce debate among the townspeople. In addition to a permanent closure to vehicular traffic on JFK Drive between Transverse and Stanyan streets, the proposal also recommends converting MLK Drive to one-way, eastbound traffic from Chain of Lakes Drive to Sunset Boulevard.

Paratransit, emergency responders and vehicles accessing the loading dock at the de Young Museum, which opposes a permanent street closure, will be permitted access to JFK Drive from 8th Avenue.

A permanent, car-free JFK Drive would result in the loss of approximately 1,000 free parking spaces, including 26 reserved for the disabled, although the park would still have over 5,000 free parking spaces. The proposal includes plans to build new disabled parking lots for a net gain of two spaces. The department is constructing a new parking lot for the disabled near the Botanical Gardens and Japanese Tea Garden and at the Music Competition for a net gain of two spaces.

Public feedback collected throughout the pandemic shows that the popularity of street closures outweighs its detractors, the report concludes. About 70% of the 10,000 residents who responded to RecPark’s survey favored the car-free option. According to the report, the majority of respondents in all but one city zip code, the Parkside neighborhood, supported a permanent car-free JFK.

Despite some residents’ perceptions to the contrary, a Parks Service analysis found “no significant impact on travel times” in north-south and east-west travel since the street was closed. Helped by lower traffic volumes during the pandemic, average commute times between the Richmond District and other parts of the city have dropped by about two minutes, according to the analysis.

It’s unclear when, or if, the board of supervisors will vote to implement the report’s recommendations.