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San Francisco Chronicle
BAY AREA
Feb. 25, 2003

Supervisors toying (again) with barring park traffic on Saturdays
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Golden Gate Park, seen in this 1997 photo, stretches from Ocean Beach to Stanyan Street at the edge of Haight Ashbury
Skaters, Drivers battle for Golden Gate Park                        By Rachel Gordon CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
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Traffic is barred in parts of the park on Sundays and holidays.
No one would deny that closing the eastern roadways in Golden Gate Park on Sundays and holidays to private vehicles has been a wildly popular program with bicyclists, skaters and pedestrians who love the freedom of using San Francisco's premiere green space without worry of cars mowing them down. Now, advocates are once again pressing ahead with a long-debated plan to extend the car-free policy to a short stretch of Golden Gate Park on Saturdays - despite a loss at the polls in 2000.They pushed their idea Mon day at a City Hall hearing on legislation sponsored by Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez that would ban cars on Saturdays along John F.
Kennedy Drive east of Eighth Avenue, Bowling Green Drive, Arguello Boulevard, Conservatory Drive East and Conservatory Drive West - in effect, all the roads feeding into the eastern end of the park. "The idea," said David Gartner, who lives in nearby Cole Valley, "is a lot closer to what (Golden Gate Park creator John) McLaren originally intended: a safe, quiet oasis from life in the city."

But once again supporters of the plan, including such groups as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk San Francisco and the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association, are meeting fierce opposition. Critics, among them representatives of the park's cultural institutions, the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and the Conservatory of Flowers, fear that restricting cars will keep potential visitors away.

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Monica Abram, 7, of Oakland enjoys the swing sets in Golden Gate Park. SuperVIsors are considering extending a ban on auto traffic to a short stretch of the park on Saturdays.                               FREDERICK LARSON I The Chronicle

In addition, some residents of the adjacent Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods worry that traffic congestion and the parking crunch will only get worse. And then there are people like Pat Langdell, a senior citizen.

"I don't bicycle. 1 don't rollerskate anymore. 1 don't jog," Langdell said. "I'm just a little old woman, and I'm having a harder and harder time getting around, and I know most of my friends are having a harder and harder time getting around. ... Don't close JFK Drive."

Countering her was Michael Smith of Walk San Francisco, who said the proposed closure would affect only a small portion of the park and shouldn't be dismissed. "What we're trying to do is create a safe place for recreation," he said.

The debate is not new. Less than three years ago, voters rejected the idea of prohibiting cars in the eastern end of the park on Saturdays. Gonzalez acknowledged the defeat but say his plan was significantly different, most notably because the proposed

road closure he envisions wouldn't stretch as far west.

Under his plan, cars would still have access to and from the park via Eighth and 10th Avenues in the Richmond District and not be choked off from those two main arteries that feed the concourse area where the museums are located. "I very much envision it a compromise," Gonzalez said.

He said there were ways to alleviate the parking and traffic problems in nearby neighborhoods by putting in a right-hand-turn lane here and a no-left-hand-turn ban there. Better directional signs, new parking restrictions and other measures also could help, advocates said.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who represents the Richmond District, said the board should take no action until neighbors could be assured that parking and traffic problems would be taken care of.

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"What we're trying to do is create a safe place for recreation."                 MICHAEL SMITH of Walk San Francisco

And then there's the question of the Conservatory of Flowers, the grand, glass enclosed building for flora on JFK Drive undergoing a $25 million renovation. Park officials anticipate that once the wind-damaged conservatory is reopened, it will attract crowds of visitors. Nothing should be done, they and others say, to restrict access.

"The Conservatory of Flowers is going to be a great public institution," said Helene Sanghvi York, executive director of Friends of Recreation and Park, which helped fund the fix up. "There has been a lot of heart and soul, as well as money invested in that project, and it is a project that needs to be enjoyed by people from around the city."

Gonzalez said there was a possible solution to address the concern, one devised by Elizabeth Goldstein, general manager of the Recreation and Park Department. She suggested that cars still be allowed to use Arguello Boulevard and Conservatory West Drive - the roads behind the conservatory - to drop off and pick up passengers. A cul de sac could be constructed so the vehicles could turn around. In addition, a few parking spaces for disabled drivers could be allowed. The city could carve out a bike and skate lane on those roads, to keep park users getting around by people power separated from the cars.

Goldstein said that rough cost estimates for the cuI de sac project ranged from $75,000 to $3 million, but said the best alternative was around $325,000 The Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee, which held the hearing, did not vote on the Gon zalez proposal, where support at the board is not yet cemented. No time line has been set. Gonzalez gave no indication that he would go back to, the voters with his proposal, which the board could adopt on its own. "I think it's clear," he said, "there's still work to be done."

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com

 
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