January 21, 2021


One of San Francisco’s greatest silver linings of this miserable year could evaporate like the midday fog.

City officials shut the Great Highway, that long stretch of blessedly flat road running alongside Ocean Beach, to cars earlier this year because sand covered parts of it and made it impassable. They kept it closed to give people space to exercise while remaining socially distanced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And what a wonder it’s been. People bike, stroll, run, scoot, roller skate, skateboard and walk their dogs. Artists have used it as large canvas, and protesters have marched along it for racial justice.

So why did Supervisor Gordon Mar write a letter to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency threatening to pull his support of the people-centered promenade and instead call for the return of cars? Because drivers that used the highway have spilled into the Outer Sunset without behaving like they’re on residential streets. And SFMTA hasn’t done much to stop them.

“We’re seven months into the closure of the Great Highway, and there still hasn’t been effective traffic diversion and traffic calming measures,” Mar said.

He said he’s convened meetings with SFMTA staff, neighborhood residents and other city officials over the past three months, and nothing much has changed beyond some signs diverting traffic to Sunset Boulevard. Mar said he’s “very serious” about seeing real change by early December or he will call for the Great Highway to be reopened to cars Monday through Friday and remain in its current blissful state only on the weekends.

Matt Brezina, who co-founded People Protected to promote the safety of people over the convenience of drivers, said a stop sign should be added at every corner along the Lower Great Highway, the residential road just to the east of the Great Highway.

“The pace at which SFMTA executes on basic street safety issues is abysmal,” Brezina said.

He added, though, that Mar’s threat to pull support of the car-free Great Highway to promote safety is shortsighted. After all, the Great Highway is safer than it’s ever been.

“If you build a highway along a beautiful stretch of coastline, guess what? It draws people driving in their sports cars to live out their automobile commercial dreams,” Brezina said. “And you know who that’s dangerous to? Little kids who live in the Sunset who used to have to cross the highway to access the beach.”

A portrait of Zinnea C., 4, as she marches along the Great Highway behind hundreds on protesters on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in San Francisco, Calif. Protests in the Bay Area and the nation continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the death of Floyd.

Kristen Holland, spokeswoman for SFMTA, said the agency will install four speed tables — speed humps with longer raised middles — along the Lower Great Highway this month. The agency is also hosting a virtual town hall on the matter Saturday.

What happens with the Great Highway will be a good indicator of whether the city will be able to preserve its other pandemic silver linings: outdoor dining in parking spaces, closed-to-cars Twin Peaks Boulevard and JFK Drive, Slow Streets to close residential roads to through traffic and Shared Spaces to close commercial thoroughfares on certain days.

Jodie Medeiros, executive