Becky Bowman, Chronicle Staff Writer

A decades-old movement to close a stretch of Golden Gate Park roadway to motorists on Saturdays -- a political debate that has pitted green-space advocates against those concerned with congestion, museum attendance and access for the elderly and disabled -- received an essential endorsement Friday.

The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved a six-month test run of the closure, introduced by Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, at a special public hearing.

Closing 1.5 miles of John F. Kennedy Drive between Kezar Drive and Transverse Drive on Saturdays would mimic the 39-year-old Sunday closure of the same stretch of road from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The measure moved to the full board, where it is expected to pass. If approved, it would require several agencies to gather data on the temporary closure that could be studied later.

"I think we have something here that will move forward the needs of using Golden Gate Park on the weekends," McGoldrick said after the vote. "It's a very practical piece of legislation." Dozens of supporters and opponents of the measure lined up to voice opinions at the hearing, which lasted nearly four hours.

Those in favor pointed to the success of the Sunday closing of the eastern end of Kennedy Drive to create a refuge for skaters, bikers and pedestrians who want to escape the traffic. Proponent David G. Miles Jr., a popular roller skater who leads the Friday Night Skate, has advocated Saturday road closures for decades and brought several of his children to help voice support Friday. Saturday closures, he said, would give families more opportunities to have picnics, enjoy green space for free or skate, as he does every Sunday.

Miles urged the supervisors not to reject the measure because of the "same excuses" that have dogged the idea for years. "We have a new day," Miles said. "We have a new garage. We should be able to make this happen."

Supporters pointed to the Music Concourse Garage, a parking structure that opened in October, as a way to alleviate parking that would be eliminated by the proposed Saturday closure.

Those opposed, however, raised concerns about access for the elderly and the disabled, access to the park's cultural institutions and the parking and traffic congestion the closure could create.

Spencer DeBella, 50, uses crutches to walk from a cab to his job as a ticket-taker at the Conservatory of Flowers. Cabs often won't take him through the barricades on Sundays he works -- meaning he gets dropped off farther away.

He's also encountered trouble in getting cabs to come back into the park to pick him up during the Sunday closures.

"If they close it both days, it would really be difficult," DeBella said before the hearing. People with disabilities, however, may use handicapped placards to bypass one of the closure barricades, McGoldrick said."The issue of access is so clear," McGoldrick said. "I don't know how many times we have to go over it."

But Shelley Gottlieb, president of the nonprofit Arc of San Francisco, which serves the developmentally disabled, criticized the handicapped placards as a solution to gain special access. "It's saying, 'I have to do something extra to get access to the park,' " Gottlieb said.

Other residents complained about the traffic and parked cars that spill into surrounding neighborhoods on Sundays, when the free parking along Kennedy Drive is eliminated.

Chooi Eng Grosso, who lives on Seventh Avenue south of the park, learned the hard way that she needs to run errands Saturdays, she said. She recalled returning home one Sunday afternoon with her car full of groceries -- including ice cream -- to find a car parked in her driveway.

"They're not very careful about how they encroach on your driveway," she said.

The Recreation and Park Department favors road closures that would bring additional users to the park, operations director Dennis Kern told the committee. But he suggested they consider Saturday closings of roads in the middle or western parts of the park -- areas, he said, that would benefit from increased use.

"We think it's a great use of park lands," Kern said. But "we've got 1,017 acres of land in Golden Gate Park." Museums in the park have claimed that attendance suffers on Sundays, when patrons cannot park along Kennedy Drive.

During the meeting, however, the supervisors received data showing that M.H. de Young Memorial Museum attendance was higher on Sundays than Saturdays in 10 out of 23 weekends since the museum reopened in October.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said that, based on the data, she wasn't convinced that Saturday road closures would hurt attendance. In fact, she said, it might bring new patrons to the park's cultural institutions.

"People may decide to go in" as they pass the museums, Maxwell said. "They may decide that we will save up and we will go to the museum next time."

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