SAN FRANCISCO - John F. Kennedy Drive in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hasn't seen cars in nearly two years-- and now that will be permanent. City officials made the announcement of the Board of Supervisors' vote late Tuesday evening.
In a 7 to 4 vote, the board approved the legislation brought by Mayor London Breed at a special joint meeting with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to keep the 1.5-mile stretch of road car free. It has been car-free since April 2020 because of the pandemic.
The legislation was co-sponsored by supervisors Matt Haney, Dean Preston and Rafael Mandelman.
In a statement from the mayor's office, they said the plan greenlights 40 improvements to make the park more accessible for seniors, the disability community and those who live further away from the park.
That was in stark contrast to many from those very communities who argued the opposite.
"San Francisco is a city with a rich history of celebrating our parks and open spaces, and making JFK car-free permanently is the next chapter in that story," Mayor London Breed said in part in a press release.
Ahead of the special meeting, there was a rally outside City Hall to support the idea, with many safe walking and biking advocates in attendance.
The group's main argument is that the road is safer for pedestrians.
"For two years we’ve had a needed safe haven. It’s provided a meaningful space for all ages and abilities to our parks to be able to walk without the threat of dangerous traffic and this we need so badly in our city," said Jodie Medeiros with Walk San Francisco.
But they also see the move as a big step to help the climate.
"If we cannot take climate action for a mere 1.5 miles of roadway in our city’s biggest park, where, where can we take climate action?," said Amandeep Jawa with the San Francisco League of Conservation Voters.
The group in support of a car-free JFK Drive said before the road was closed from Kezar Drive to Transverse Drive, it was on the city’s list of most dangerous streets because there were so many crashes and most of the traffic was people cutting through Golden Gate Park not using it.
But some argue that people with disabilities and the elderly population cannot access the park's gardens or museums when JFK Drive is closed.
The de Young Museum is also opposed to the plan to keep JFK Dr. car free. They released a statement that read: "It negatively impacts a significant group of our local community, including people with disabilities, those with ADA placards, the elderly, families with infants and young children, and others."
A city funded equity study found that there would be a loss of parking, especially those for seniors and those with financial hardships. One public commenter predicted a lot of ADA lawsuits if JFK Dr. were to become car free. In the press release from the mayor's office, 83% of parking spaces from before the closure will be retained. In addition, they said 80% of roadways for driving would be retained under this plan.
There is also competing legislation that was talked about on Tuesday, but it is not ready to be voted on yet. In that plan, some supervisors want to bring back traffic to about two-thirds of the stretch that has been closed.
Hours of public comment were heard from cycling and pedestrian advocates and everyday people who need to do things like get their kids to doctor's appointments and to get to work.
Supervisor Ahsha Safai questioned the equity of the mayor's plan. Meanwhile, Supervisor Shamann Walton had previously called the plan "recreational redlining." He said it excludes people without reliable transportation from areas like Bayview District, Visitacion Valley, Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods.
"To close down portions of the park says to a certain geography, says to a certain class of people, says to a certain race of people here in San Francisco; that you weren't welcome before and you're still not welcome," Walton said on the day of the vote.
The mayor's office in a statement said the plan adds nearly two-dozen free blue zone spaces behind the Music Concourse Bandshell and that the lot, which broke ground in February, including curb ramps and accessible pathways, puts visitors closer to the museum's entrances.
The plan also includes improvements to the free Park Shuttle, and adds new weekday service, more frequent weekend service, and an expanded route that connects with Muni on Haight Street and stops at Stowe Lake.
"I’m excited that car-free JFK is here to stay. The more we reduce our dependence on cars and prioritize safe pedestrian, bike and mass transit friendly spaces, the better and healthier our city
will be," said Supervisor Haney.
Supervisor Preston, agreed with some of those environmental benefits.
"Today we made history by voting to keep Car Free JFK as a safe place for kids to learn to ride their bikes, pedestrians to safely walk, and people from all corners of San Francisco to gather and build community. Car Free JFK is a critical piece of a robust network of safe streets for walking and biking that will move our city toward a greener, safer future," said Supervisor Preston.