SF took the plunge when it reopened its Great Highway. It can’t happen to JFK

Visiting John F. Kennedy Drive and the Great Highway during the morning rush hour is to experience two very different ideas about the possible future of San Francisco.

On JFK Drive, a modest but steady stream of joggers, walkers, and bicycle and scooter commuters go about their business in peace and safety, surrounded by trees and the beauty of Golden Gate Park.

Along the Great Highway, meanwhile, joggers and pedestrians scramble for space on a degrading asphalt path. Bikers seem to avoid the area altogether, preferring the safety of the neighboring streets of the neighborhood, away from the beauty of the dunes. Cars now control the waterfront, and the hum of traffic and revs rival the ocean for auditory supremacy.

There is no doubt which of these visions is preferable. The most beautiful public spaces in this city should belong to people, not cars.

The question is whether we can responsibly embrace this vision once the danger of COVID subsides and travel resumes.

For the record, traffic on Circle of the Lakes – one of the apparent reasons given for the need to reopen the Great Highway last month, after it was closed to cars for most of the pandemic – looks as bad or almost as bad as it did before reopening. Cars also seem to always drive through neighborhoods in Outer Sunset in search of shortcuts – in defiance of another justification given for the need to reopen the freeway.

Traffic on the Great Highway and Sunset Boulevard, meanwhile, seems extremely light. This matches what San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency manager Jeffrey Tumlin said in June – that Sunset, the region’s main north / south thoroughfare, had not yet reached its capacity. Given the havoc that the Delta variant plans to return to normal, it’s hard to imagine that additional capacity will be needed anytime soon.

Anecdotally, in returning the Great Highway to cars, it appears city officials rushed to open up invaluable secure public space during COVID to give drivers a fun cruise by the sea that they never had before. not really needed.

Disagree with these anecdotal reviews? Find our occasional impressions from a few morning walks so as not to substitute for detailed traffic studies, planning and extensive community outreach?

We agree. Unfortunately, we are stuck with anecdotes.

This is because a study to determine the best course of action for the Great Route is still underway. It was due to be unveiled in the fall, when it would inform the decision on if, when and how the highway should be reopened.

Instead, supervisors and the mayor’s office jumped on fire and reopened under a political “compromise” with the loudest voices in the room.

Was the closure of the Great Highway responsible for cars taking shortcuts on neighborhood streets? Or was it the fault of apps like Waze redirecting traffic wherever they want? Is the opening of the motorway the best answer to the problem of cuts? Or would adding slower streets be a better solution?

To these questions and more, we have no idea at the moment.

This is not how competent municipal governance is supposed to work. The trade-off is to use science, data, and in-depth community contributions to balance needs while putting values ​​into action. Instead, those responsible seem to hijack the most reasonable process to predetermine their preferred outcome.

It should never have happened. And that cannot happen again.

A similar study is currently underway to determine the best course of action for JFK Drive, which has been closed to vehicular traffic for most of the pandemic under an emergency order from the mayor. This report should arrive soon. And yet, the office of Supervisor Connie Chan announced last week that it had negotiated another “compromise” to partially reopen JFK to motor traffic.

Certainly, unlike the Grande Route, Chan’s proposal appears to have broad support, while keeping the street mostly closed to traffic throughout the week. It is certainly a political achievement.

But is it sure? Do the residents want this? Does it even make sense?

We need experts to answer these questions. Let them do it.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your point of view in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter through our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

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