Clear­ing cars from path to the Pa­cific

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Steve Ruben­stein

San Fran­cisco ex­panded its Slow Streets pro­gram re­cently with the open­ing of the fi­nal link of a car­free route through Golden Gate Park, en­abling a cy­clist, jog­ger or hiker to pass from the Pan­han­dle to the Pa­cific without com­ing into con­tact with an in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine.

Peo­ple on two legs, and on two wheels, were pre­dictably ec­static. Peo­ple in four­wheeled ve­hi­cles — at least some of them — were hot­ter than a crank­case.

“This,” said cy­clist Trevor Gould of San Fran­cisco, coast­ing down Martin Luther King Drive to­ward the largest ocean in the world, “is won­der­ful. What a great free­dom, not to have to worry about get­ting run over.”

“Our qual­ity of life just went up,” said Justin Davis, who was push­ing his 9­month­old son, Levon, in a jog­ging stroller.

Late last week, park work­ers posted “Road Closed Ex­cept Au­tho­rized Ve­hi­cles” signs along a 1.8mile­long stretch of MLK, Over­look and Mid­dle drives. Those clo­sures con­nected with the ex­ist­ing clo­sure of a 1.4­mile stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive in the eastern end of the park, com­plet­ing the car­free route.

The new route through the park joins at the western end with a 2mile stretch of Great High­way that has also been closed to cars — es­tab­lish­ing a car­free path from the mid­dle of San Fran­cisco to the San Fran­cisco Zoo in the south­west cor­ner. About all the park de­part­ment was un­able to do is elim­i­nate the up­hill ped­al­ing re­quired for an east­bound park cy­clist, or pave over the no­to­ri­ous pot­holes on MLK Drive.

“Ex­er­cis­ing and play­ing out­doors lift our spir­its dur­ing these chal

leng­ing times,” said Phil Gins­burg, gen­eral man­ager of the Recre­ation and Park De­part­ment. “We’re de­lighted to open even more space in our park.”

Ap­par­ently, mo­torists are not so de­lighted, at least the in­a­hurry ones. At the in­ter­sec­tion of MLK and Chain of Lakes Drive, many driv­ers ar­rived with their turn sig­nals blink­ing, only to find that turn­ing onto MLK Drive was no longer al­lowed. Their ve­hi­cles were not the “au­tho­rized” kind.

“This is ter­ri­ble if you’re in a car,” hollered one man in a white mini­van, who de­clined to give his name. “Score an­other one for the bikes.”

More than one driver paused in the mid­dle of the road to con­sult a GPS de­vice, which had ev­i­dently not yet got­ten the word that MLK was closed. There was some po­lite beep­ing.

And there are a few spots along the route — near the Mur­phy Wind­mill, near South Lake and on Trans­verse Drive — where pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists are obliged to co­ex­ist ever so briefly with cars. Those are well marked with signs and bar­ri­cades.

The new park route means that it is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble to ride from the Ferry Build­ing to the Pa­cific on a car­free route, us­ing Mar­ket and Page streets to reach the park. But the pres­ence of buses and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles on Mar­ket Street, and the cross­ing of dozens of busy in­ter­sec­tions, make the full crosstown route a far cry from a leisurely bike path. And the chal­leng­ing hills of Page Street are not for begin­ners.

Park ranger Evan Gataveckas, en­forc­ing the new no­car pol­icy on MLK Drive, said mo­torists had been co­op­er­a­tive and he had yet to write a ticket, al­though he does hold that tool in re­serve as a last re­sort.

“I think the clo­sure is a great idea if it keeps peo­ple healthy,” he said.

The new park route is the latest among 30 cor­ri­dors around the city in the Slow Streets pro­gram. Some of the longer stretches are on parts of Kirkham, Ortega, Shotwell, Sanchez and 20th streets.

“With so many play­grounds still closed, fam­i­lies need safe places to ex­er­cise,” said Jeffrey Tum­lin, San Fran­cisco direc­tor of trans­porta­tion. “With Muni ser­vice suf­fer­ing, we need more crosstown routes where San Fran­cis­cans can feel safe.”

Cy­clist Ben­jamin Wo­lak was try­ing out the new stretch in Golden Gate Park on his way home from a den­tal ap­point­ment. He said he doesn’t re­ally mind go­ing to the den­tist, but the car­free trip home helped any­way.

Wo­lak used to com­mute by bike from the Richmond District to his soft­ware en­gi­neer­ing job down­town. Now he works at home. As soon as the bike route got more bike­friendly, he said, he no longer needed it for com­mut­ing — “sort of a Catch­22,” he said.

Still, he called the new street clo­sures a “step in the right di­rec­tion” for San Fran­cisco and his hobby.

“Too bad it took a pan­demic to make it hap­pen,” he added.

Pho­tos by Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

Bi­cy­clists ride along on a “slow street” on MLK Drive past the Mur­phy Wind­mill in Golden Gate Park.

Signs alert peo­ple to the “slow street” ban on cars on cer­tain streets through Golden Gate Park to the Pa­cific Ocean.

Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

A bi­cy­clist rides past signs at the in­ter­sec­tion of MLK Drive and 41st Av­enue.

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