'I had no idea of the wealth in this park': Fight for SF's car-free JFK Drive continues

3 weeks ago 1893

Advocates hoping to keep Golden Gate Park’s John F. Kennedy Drive free of vehicle traffic are getting the word out to local residents about two ballot measures that could either make or break the street’s car-free status this fall. 

More than a hundred community members gathered near the park’s Conservatory of Flowers last week in support of Proposition J, which would reaffirm the decision to prohibit cars on the street that was approved 7-4 by the Board of Supervisors in April. Volunteers held a rally, then dispersed to go door to door throughout the Sunset and Richmond districts to spread the word. 

“Our goal is to preserve the JFK promenade as an open recreation space for people,” said Robin Pam, an organizer with Kid Safe San Francisco, which advocates for spaces in the city that are safer for children and families. 

Pam added that as a mother of two young children, she values JFK Drive as a place where her kids can run and play without any dangers from nearby traffic. 

A sign reading "Ban Cars" hangs from the back of a bicycle during a Proposition J rally in Golden Gate Park, on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. 

A sign reading "Ban Cars" hangs from the back of a bicycle during a Proposition J rally in Golden Gate Park, on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman speaks at a rally in support of Proposition J in Golden Gate Park, on Saturday, Aug. 27. The ballot measure seeks to keep JFK Drive closed to automobiles. 

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman speaks at a rally in support of Proposition J in Golden Gate Park, on Saturday, Aug. 27. The ballot measure seeks to keep JFK Drive closed to automobiles. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE
Greg Gaar, a proponent of Proposition J, speaks with a passing cyclist about the implications of the upcoming ballot measure, which seeks to keep JFK Drive free of car traffic. 

Greg Gaar, a proponent of Proposition J, speaks with a passing cyclist about the implications of the upcoming ballot measure, which seeks to keep JFK Drive free of car traffic. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE
Proponents of Proposition J rallied in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The upcoming ballot measure is aimed at codifying an earlier decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to permanently  keep JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to car traffic. A competing measure—Proposition I—seeks to re-open the thoroughfare to automobiles. 

Proponents of Proposition J rallied in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The upcoming ballot measure is aimed at codifying an earlier decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to permanently  keep JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to car traffic. A competing measure—Proposition I—seeks to re-open the thoroughfare to automobiles. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Proponents of Proposition J rallied in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The upcoming ballot measure is aimed at codifying an earlier decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to permanently keep JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to car traffic. A competing measure—Proposition I—seeks to re-open the thoroughfare to automobiles. Upper right, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman spoke in supporter of Prop. J.(Charles Russo/SFGATE) Proponents of Proposition J rallied in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The upcoming ballot measure is aimed at codifying an earlier decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to permanently keep JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park closed to car traffic. A competing measure—Proposition I—seeks to re-open the thoroughfare to automobiles. Upper right, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman spoke in supporter of Prop. J.(Charles Russo/SFGATE)

Carol Brownson, a local resident who attended Saturday’s rally, said that for someone who uses a mobility scooter, the lack of cars on JFK Drive has allowed her to explore the park in ways she never could before. 

“After 30 years of living here, I had no idea of the wealth in this park,” Brownson said. “With car-free JFK, I can spot a little path and say, ‘Where does that go?’ I can’t even begin to list the discoveries I’ve made in the last year.” 

On the other side of the debate is Proposition I, which aims to permanently allow cars once more on both JFK Drive and the stretch of the Great Highway from Lincoln Way to Sloat Boulevard, which is closed to vehicle traffic on weekends. 

The ballot measure sparked controversy after a recent report from the San Francisco Controller’s Office revealed that infrastructure improvement projects needed to reopen the stretch of the Great Highway would take 20 years and cost as much as $80 million.

In June, retired lawyer and disability rights activist Howard Chabner filed the Access for All Ordinance, which calls for the reintroduction of vehicle traffic to car-free streets in the city and is sponsored by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, an organization that represents museums like the de Young in Golden Gate Park. 

Supporters of Proposition J gather for a group photo during a rally in support of the ballot measure in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. 

Supporters of Proposition J gather for a group photo during a rally in support of the ballot measure in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE

“The full and permanent closure of JFK Drive places a disproportionate burden on people with disabilities, seniors, families and those who live far from the Park,” the ordinance says. 

Advocates like Pam feel that bringing cars back to JFK Drive would be a move in the wrong direction. 

“We can either have parks that are for people that are safe and protected and for people, or we can have dangerous traffic. And we think our choice is pretty clear,” Pam said. 

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