State Assembly OK's allowing San Francisco to charge for driving down Lombard Street

California assemblymembers on Thursday approved a pilot program that would charge drivers to go down San Francisco's crooked Lombard Street.

Lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 1605 51-18, according to the office of Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who introduced the bill. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

In addition to the toll, the bill would also make drivers reserve a spot before heading down the iconic Russian Hill street.  

If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the city would then be responsible for determining how much to charge and how to implement the program, Ting's office said.

The move is to help reduce crowds and traffic congestion on the residential street.

"We must implement a system that enables both residents and visitors to enjoy the `Crookedest Street in the World,"' Ting said last month. 

Residents say the scenic thoroughfare feels more like an overcrowded amusement park than a neighborhood street. They have been calling for years for officials to address the traffic jams, trash and trespassing by visitors.

In the summer months, an estimated 6,000 people a day, or 2 million a year, visit the 600-foot-long street, creating lines of cars that stretch for blocks, clogging the Russian Hill neighborhood. 

"The cars really impact the neighborhood because they line up, they back up, they are sitting idling," said Greg Brundage, president of the Lombard Hill Improvement Association, said in an earlier interview.  

San Francisco transportation officials have proposed requiring visitors to make a reservation online and pay between $2 and $5 for each vehicle. Another plan calls for online reservations and a $10 charge on weekends and holidays. 

The city needs state approval to charge people to use a public road but it would be up to city officials to determine how and what to charge and how to use the funds. The new toll system is not expected to be in place before 2020, officials said. 

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said the fee would help sustain the reservations system and help pay for more traffic control officers, more police patrols in the area and tourism ambassadors who would make sure visitors have a good experience. 

"It's a pilot program but it's something we must try to address the traffic congestion," Stefani said.  

Residents built the hairpin turns on the red brick road in 1922 because its 27-degree grade was too steep for the era's cars to climb. Neighbors added lush gardens filled with hydrangeas and roses 30 years later.

The sweeping views and the fact that a cable car stops at the top of the street contributed to its popularity. Its worldwide fame only increased after it was featured in movies and commercials. 

The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.