Advocates call for making Golden Gate Park's JFK Drive car-free during shelter-in-place

Advocates call for making Golden Gate Park's JFK Drive car-free during shelter-in-place
Photo: Momifornia/Twitter
By Teresa Hammerl - Published on March 19, 2020.

Until April 7, the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order asks people to leave their homes only for work and essential services, to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

But officials have said that biking, hiking, running and otherwise spending time in nature is fine — as long as pedestrians maintain social distancing of six feet or more from others outside their households. 

That distance can be hard to maintain in Golden Gate Park. Large swaths of the city's largest public outdoor space are open to cars, crowding pedestrians onto narrow sidewalks where it's harder to avoid others. 

"We need to be sure people can maintain six feet of space around them," said Jodie Medeiros of pedestrian advocacy organization Walk SF. 

With fewer residents driving and the park's museums closed to the public, Medeiros and fellow pedestrian advocates believe it's a perfect time to try out a seven-day-a-week ban of cars on JFK Drive, which is normally pedestrian-only exclusively on Sundays and holidays. So they've started a petition to shut the street down.

"Making JFK Drive car-free every day is such a great and simple solution to create essential, safe space for people to be outside," Medeiros said.

The call for closing JFK Drive to cars is not new. Even before the coronavirus crisis, Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition have been urging the city to consider a car-free JFK, following in the footsteps of the recent changes on Market Street. 

But Medeiros says now is an especially good time to make the change happen, even if it only lasts as long as the shelter-in-place order. 

"It would also send a strong message that people who are at low risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (and are not sick) are supported and encouraged in staying active for physical and mental health reasons," she said.

It would also help keep pedestrians and cyclists safer, at a time when hospitals are set to be overwhelmed with critically ill COVID-19 patients. According to city data, at least seven pedestrians have been struck by cars and injured along JFK Drive since 2014.

A representative for Rec & Park did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Walk SF's petition will be sent to Mayor London Breed, SF Rec & Park general manager Phil Ginsburg and the Rec & Park commissioners. Those interested can sign the petition here

Update 3/21: Rec & Park says on Twitter that "the Health Department has advised against closing JFK at this time over concerns it would invite gathering".