Monday, April 10, 2006

Autos on the agenda
Board looks at 6-month trial of Saturday car ban in park2006ChronMarco.jpg (69681 bytes)
With skates and a frisbee, Marco Bernardini makes the most of s car free Sunday on Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park

Becky Bowman, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, April 10, 2006


On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon at Golden Gate Park, Mary Carr sat on a bench along John F. Kennedy Drive and took in the scene. Carr, on a visit to

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the park with her mother, sister and 3-year-old niece, saw a street empty of cars but filled with bikers and joggers, dog-walkers and skaters, adults and children, all taking advantage of a 39-year-old program that closes the road and surrounding streets to motorists on Sundays. "Look at all the families that are here," Carr said.

That scene could be repeated soon on Saturdays, if advocates persuade the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass legislation sponsored by Supervisor Jake McGoldrick. But it would come at the expense of anyone who currently drives or parks -- for free -- along Kennedy Drive on Saturdays and could limit visitors to nearby cultural institutions, including the rebuilt and recently reopened M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.

The Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Economic Development Committee will hold a special hearing at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss legislation creating a six-month trial of extending to Saturdays the popular Sunday street closures. The test would run from Memorial Day weekend through late November, during which several groups would collect data and report back to the board on the effects early next year.

2006ChronMarco1.jpg (74712 bytes)Not having to dodge cars is a plus for )from left) Brad Hamilton, DeeDee Carlson, Sarah Crosett, Garrel Carlson and their dogs. It's just the latest incarnation of an issue that has taken the shape of ballot measures and legislation on multiple occasions since 2000 but has never passed. But this time, supporters say -- as a test measure and with the recent opening of a parking garage at the park -- it has a real chance of becoming a reality.

"I'm certain it'll get passed by the Board of Supervisors," said McGoldrick, who represents the Richmond District and opposed the program in 2003 because of parking and traffic concerns. "The votes are there."

The opening of the Music Concourse Garage has made the program viable, McGoldrick said. Visitors who park there have easy access, he said, to a number of the park's features. "It's really a different situation now," he said.

For supporters of the closures -- or, as they call it, "Healthy Saturdays" -- extending the Sunday program is a logical step, a way to get residents outdoors, encourage physical activity and make the park a true respite.   "It's just kind of a no-brainer for me," said David Miles Jr., the renowned "Godfather of Skating" who can be found roller-skating most Sundays at the park. "It just draws people out to the park."

On Saturdays at the park now, Kennedy Drive is filled with cars. While motorists wait for coveted parking spaces, adults hold the hands of children, anxiously waiting for breaks in traffic to cross the street. Sundays at the park, meanwhile, have been a great time for Sunnyside resident Ed Pike to ride his bike and enjoy time with his 3-year-old daughter. The closed roads, he said, also are a place for people to learn how to bike or skate on flat land without the hassle and fear of traffic. "It's kind of obvious what the great benefit would be to have that on Saturdays as well," Pike said.

But that increased open space, opponents say, would limit weekend access to the park for people who are dependent on cars to get there, including the elderly, people with disabilities and families with children. Heather Clisby, 40, said she enjoys the closures but thinks asking for a second day is greedy.  "The city's for everyone, not just for the fit," Clisby said, as she took a break from riding her bike down Kennedy Drive on a Sunday. "You're making it exclusive."

Officials at cultural venues clustered in the park's eastern end also fear that another day of closed roads would mean another day with fewer visitors and fewer admission charges -- a trend they've already seen with the Sunday closures. The California Academy of Sciences' Golden Gate Park location has been closed since 2004 and will be until late 2008 for its rebuilding project, said marketing director Pat Kilduff. But that shouldn't be a reason to do a trial run of Saturday closures now -- or ever, she said.

The academy sees 10 percent fewer visits on Sundays than it does on Saturdays, the closed roads making the difference, Kilduff said. "Unfortunately, we're dependent on revenue," Kilduff said. She's been working with other groups to propose alternatives to the road closures, including closing different roads in other parts of the park.

The closure would come at a particularly bad time for the de Young, which reopened just six months ago with an all-night event and could reach its millionth visitor sometime in the next few weeks, spokeswoman Wendy Norris said. The existing Sunday road closure already keeps thousands of visitors away, she said. "Our mission is to educate people about art, and this would definitely make it harder for us to do that," Norris said.

The Music Concourse Garage, which opened in early October just before the de Young, does provide parking near the museum but has not solved the problem, she said. "The garage is not a panacea," Norris said. "It's just easier if people know they can drive in and find a place to park."

The debate is practically a broken record in San Francisco, where advocates have pushed for Saturday closures for decades. Voters rejected two separate Saturday closure ballot measures in 2000, and the board scuttled a similar proposal in 2003. Supporters hope this effort will be the one to make it happen.

Carr, who drives to the park from Sonoma about twice a month to meet her family, hadn't heard of the proposed Saturday closures but applauded the effort, saying it would give even more people a chance to slow down and enjoy the park.

"You can take your time," she said. "That's fabulous."

E-mail Becky Bowman at


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