Battle Over San Francisco's Pedestrianized 'Great Highway'

Although the project has been hugely successful with local residents, the mayor and some county supervisors wanted to revert the road to vehicle use.

August 24, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The "Great Walkway," a "pedestrian paradise" created in San Francisco during the pandemic, reopened to cars on August 16. An article written by Heather Knight describes the former 17-acre park, converted to a car-free promenade in April 2020, as "one of the few silver linings to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic." Since then, "[a] city study found it was incredibly popular — drawing 126,000 visitors each month, including 3,240 each weekday," and 53% of respondents to a survey wanted the change to remain permanent. "The city also rightly responded to neighbors’ concerns about increased traffic on their streets, installing stop signs, speed humps and traffic diverters" on adjacent roads.

Now, in a surprise move that angered mobility advocates, the city's mayor and three county supervisors have "privately decided" to reopen the Great Highway to cars five days a week, citing concerns about access to schools. But "[i]n a city that has 1,200 miles of roads for cars, devoting a small fraction to pedestrians and bicyclists isn’t too much to ask," argues Knight. "If giving 2 miles of the Great Highway to people two days a week is a compromise, as the mayor says, that’s a strange definition."

Before the reopening, close to 600 residents gathered to protest the reopening of the street. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said in a statement that the organization "continues to firmly believe that the Great Highway should be a park and be car-free 24/7." Meanwhile, "three city residents on Tuesday planned to file a California Environmental Quality Act appeal in an attempt to block the return of the roadway to vehicles," arguing that putting cars–along with their polluting emissions–back on the street merits an environmental review.

Thursday, August 12, 2021 in San Francisco Chronicle

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