Car free Great Highway debate continues in San Francisco

San Francisco is considering what the future will be for the Great Highway running along the beach after a year of banning motor vehicle traffic. This part of the road is currently one of the city's Safe Streets, and they're looking at making that idea permanent.

San Francisco's Upper Great Highway, running along the western edge of the Sunset District, has been car free since April of 2020, one of the city's Safe Streets created as a place for people recreate safely without car traffic during the pandemic. Now, the city is considering a possible two-year pilot program extending that ban.

"We are considering and proposing and feeling like the best way to move forward is to design some kind of piloting effort where we work with a full or partial car free condition for Great Highway," said Sara Jones from San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency.

The city's recreation and parks department and SFMTA are considering a number of ideas ranging from fully returning the road to a four-lane highway to continuing the full ban on motor vehicle traffic, or various compromises.

Luke Bornheimer from Kid Safe SF says he would like to see the highway remain car free. "We've seen an incredible expansion of this space, the public space where people are connecting, kids are learning to bike and scoot, and we want to see this space stay as is," said Bornheimer.

But, some neighbors like Louis and Ann Cabral, who've lived in the area for 30 years say closing the highway has pushed more traffic into the neighborhood. "It's not good," said Louis Cabral. "It's really dangerous walking around, so you know we're not for it, but we'll just have to wait and see what the politics do with it and see how they change things."

The city says it has added stop signs and speed bumps to slow and re-route traffic from neighborhood roads to busier streets.

Ann Cabral says the idea of a walk only Great Highway made sense at the height of the pandemic. "I think safety wise it's seen its time because I know the fire department, we have a fire department here on 45th, and they are frustrated I believe, I think I see them being frustrated trying to go through the city streets that are there, and not have this access road as easily to get from one end of this area to the other."

Backers of the plan to make Great Highway permanently car free say there needs to be a compromise. "We see this is an amazing opportunity for the city to lead by saying, 'this is a space for people, and we understand there are some concerns about car commutes and we're going to address those car commute concerns,'" said Bornheimer.

The city says it is still considering how it will proceed, and will likely move forward with a some kind of pilot program in the fall.