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

A conceptual rendering of three high-speed rail trains. The middle train is orange; the other two are black.

The California High-Speed Rail Project Illustrates America’s Transit Issues

Slow progress and a bloated budget have plagued the High-Speed Rail project linking San Francisco to Los Angeles, exposing deeper issues with American transit projects.

May 22, 2022 - Eric Carlson

Single-Family Housing Construction

New White House Housing Initiative Includes Zoning Reform Incentives

The Biden administration this morning released a new program of actions intended to spur housing construction around the United States.

May 16, 2022 - The White House

San Francisco Houses

‘Mega-Landlords’ Threaten Housing Stability for Renters

As institutional investors buy up a larger share of single-family homes, the families renting them are increasingly vulnerable to rent increases and eviction.

May 15, 2022 - The Hill

Liquid natural gas tanker in Klaipeda, Lithuania

Europe's New Energy Infrastructure Begins to Emerge

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped to quickly redraw national boundary lines in Eastern Europe. The region's energy infrastructure, particularly pipelines carrying natural gas, may change sooner.

May 24 - POLITICO Europe

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Making the Case for E-Bikes

A new white paper lays the groundwork for better e-bike incentive programs.

May 24 - Streetsblog USA

A vacant department store in Coolidge, Arizona.

How To Slow the Wave of Commercial Vacancies

Empty storefronts depress property values and suppress small business growth. What can cities do to fill these vacancies?

May 24 - Next City

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.