By Justin Jouvenal
It was a classic San Francisco showdown Friday: spandex versus ties, mohawked punks against art matrons, drivers taking on bicyclists.
A controversial proposal to ban cars in the eastern half of Golden Gate Park on Saturdays drew a heated debate when it went before the Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors. After hearing dozens of speakers praise it as a healthy move or denounce it as a museum-killer, the committee unanimously decided to send the proposal to the full Board of Supervisors for final approval as a revved-up group of environmentalists, bike and pedestrian advocates loudly applauded the action.
The proposal, dubbed "Healthy Saturdays," extends a car ban that already exists on Sundays. Under the six-month trial, about 1.5 miles of John F. Kennedy Drive and connecting roads would be shut down between Kezar and Transverse drives from sunrise to sundown so pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters could use them without having to worry about through traffic. The trial would run from May to November. The Sunday ban, which has been in place for 39 years, draws thousands of people each week.
"The closure on Saturdays is intended to extend the experience of Sundays," said David Miles, who has skated in the park since 1979. "You can skate, have a picnic lunch and do it all for free. You can enjoy the park for what it was really meant to be used for."
On the other side, patrons and officials for the newly reopened M.H. de Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers and the California Academy of Sciences expressed concerns about a parking ban’s impact on the institutions, while some neighbors feared it would mean more cars on the already clogged streets of the Sunset, Haight and Richmond District.
"It has really left the [Conservatory of Flowers] high and dry," said Nancy Connor of the San Francisco Parks Trust. "There's a documented 37 percent drop in attendance at the Conservatory on Sunday. Lower attendance leads to fewer exhibits and that leads to a downward spiral."
At the de Young, attendance figures show little difference between Saturday and Sunday. In 10 out of 23 weekends, Sundays actually saw more patrons than Saturdays since the museum has reopened.
Museum officials said the Saturday closure would make it more difficult for those with disabilities to attend the museums. McGoldrick made amendments to the legislation to accommodate the disabled. The changes include allowing cars with disability placards to enter the park at 8th Avenue, eight handicapped- accessible places at Fulton Street at JFK Drive during the closure, 10 additional handicapped parking spaces to assist with the road closures and a signed, handicapped drop-off zone on Bowling Green Drive close to the intersection with JFK Drive. The City's Recreation and Parks Department supports the closure, but said it might be better in the middle or western half of the park that is more lightly used.
It is hardly the first time the measure has been proposed, but Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said the timing is right because a new 800-spot parking garage has been opened beneath the De Young, which could accommodate parking lost by the closure. Voters rejected the idea of a Saturday closure in 2000 and the Board of Supervisors nixed a similar plan in 2003.
The proposal now goes before the full Board of Supervisors on April 25.