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More JFK Drive Closures?

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    PHOTO: PIA TORELLI
Golden Gate Park's John F. Kennedy Drive has been closed to cars on Sundays for 33 years. Now some activists are collecting signatures for a Saturday closure.
New push to clear JFK Drive 01' cars on Saturdays, too


Every Sunday, hundreds of visitors to Golden Gate Park stroll, skate, or bike through a mile-and-a-half stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive without the worry of passing cars. Now some local groups are trying to close off this area to cars on Saturdays as well.

"For many residents, the park is their backyard," said Leah Shahum, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "The park provides the only opportunity for people like myself who don't have backyards to enjoy a grassy, open area."

Several organizations, including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Alliance for Golden Gate Park, and San Francisco Tommorrow are collectingsignatures in hopes of qualifing a measure on the November ballot that would close a part of John F. Kennedy Drive to cars on Saturdays. The road has been closed on Sundays for more than 30 years.

The drive for signatures, which started last Sunday, has resulted in about 700 names as of yesterday. About 10,000 signatures are needed to qualify for a ballot initiative, but proponents are aiming for 15,000 in case some are fraudulent, said Paul Dorn, a member of San Francisco Tomorrow.

The idea to close the thoroughfare on Saturdays is not a new one. Similar signature drives were made in 1985 and 1990, but those efforts were used to drum up

David Miles, president of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol, said that in 1985 his organization collected 6,000 petition signatures to close JFK Drive to cars on Saturdays and on holidays falling on a Monday. Seven closures were approved in 1985, but Saturday closures were denied, Advocates of a Saturday street closure tried again in 1997, collecting 11,000 signatures to demonstrate public support, but their request was turned down by the Parks and Recreation Commission,

Dorn, who in 1997 headed the Golden Gate Park Task Force, which gathered the signatures, said devising a ballot initiative to adopt the plan seemed like the next logical step.

Safer Saturdays

Due to the Sunday road closure, more people use the park on Sundays than on Saturdays, said Jane Morrison, president of San Francisco Tomorrow and widow of Jack Morrison, the late city supervisor who was instrumental in the approval of Sunday closures in the 1960's.

Residents aren't as able to enjoy the park environment on Saturdays when they're dodging cars or worrying about their children's safety, Morrison said.

Cars definitely pose safety concerns, agreed Miles. "I've witnessed a head-on collision in the park," he said.'

According to Morrison, the Saturday, closure would increase safety in the highly attended area around JFK Drive, which is close to various bus lines, shops, and restaurants.

Access issues raised

Supporters of the petition/say that much of their opposition comes from the park's institutions, such as the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, whose officials believe the Saturday road closures would reduce access to the museums.

"Instinctively, we have questions about access," said Meagan Levitan, spokeswoman for the California Academy of Sciences. Before Saturday closures are even considered, Levitan said, she would like to hear about alternative transit routes to park buildings.

Several possible transportation changes could accompany a Saturday closure to ease access worries, Dorn said. "The Market Street historic railway line could be extended to the Music Concourse [and the Academy], and shuttle service to the different facilities could be offered," he said.

"The real issue isn't about access. It's about parking," Dorn said. But the de Young Museum's soon-to-be-built underground parking structure, with its 800 car capacity, should alleviate parking problems in the park once it is completed, he said.

Although supporters of the Saturday closure acknowledge the value of the park's institutions, they say that the institutions need to conform to the park's needs and not the other way around. "It's a park. It started without those in stitutions," Miles said.

"One day a week [without cars on JFK Drive] just isn't enough," Shahum said.