San Francisco needs to be more accessible as a city, not less so, write guest commentators on Propositions for the upcoming election.

[by Tomasita Medál and Nicky Tresviña]

There are two items on this November’s ballot that greatly impact our community’s ability to have equal access to all of the amenities along JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park as well as easy access to Ocean Beach and the VA Hospital coming from the Mission, Excelsior, and Bayview on the Upper Great Highway.

Proposition I would restore car access to JFK Drive and Upper Great Highway to pre-Covid days, keeping JFK Drive accessible to everyone 24/7, except Sundays and holidays and some Saturdays in Spring and Summer. This returns JFK Drive to the SHARED space initiated in 1967.

Proposition J  would close JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park 24/7 EVERY day of the year, permanently. It reserves JFK Drive only for the exclusive use of bicyclists! The road was designed to bring everyone to the Rose Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, the Dahlia Garden, the Rhododendron Dell, the waterfall, the Academy of Sciences, and the deYoung Museum. Since Mayor Breed cited the pandemic as a reason to close JFK Drive 24/7, countless families from distant neighborhoods, with elders, disabled members, and young children have been excluded from all of the amenities along JFK Drive. These include winter night sights such as the Conservatory of Flowers light show and the “Enchanted Garden” neon forest installation. 

Proposition J would make permanent the road closure that the Board of Supervisors passed this year. This demands that families, elders, and those with disabilities park outside of Golden Gate Park, walk to the nearest shuttle stop where there is no protection from the weather, board a non-ADA-compliant shuttle, painfully disembark, and finally walk to their destination. Being exhausted they must endure the same routine, in reverse, to get home. This is simply physically impossible for the elderly and the disabled. The shuttle bus program is a false solution. 

The deYoung Museum has free admission every Saturday, and the Conservatory of Flowers now has free admission to all San Franciscans. They offer our families respite, delight, and new experiences. Reopening JFK Drive to cars would offer free and easy access for everyone. When Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Myrna Melgar, Matt Dorsey, and Rafael Mandelman put the permanent 24/7 road closure of JFK Drive on the ballot, they ignored the more than 5,000 people who wrote individual letters asking that they not shut off access to people who need a car to reach Golden Gate Park. They ignored the positions in support of reopening JFK Drive taken by the SF Labor Council, SF firefighters who cite safety and access concerns, faith leaders, advocacy groups for the elderly and disabled, SF Living Wage Coalition, the Arc, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Gray Panthers, Calle 24, Self Help for the Elderly, OMI Cultural Participation Project, Excelsior Action Group, Church Women United SF, SF Latinx Democratic Club, SF Dahlia Society, and other local community organizations. Several developmentally disabled clients of the Arc experienced the loss of employment when they could not get to their jobs at the Conservatory of Flowers.

Those who want exclusive use for bicyclists use the false argument that closing roads are good for the environment. Closed roads force cars to circle the neighborhoods looking for parking, or in the case of the Upper Great Highway, 20,000 cars that normally transverse the road daily are forced into stop-and-go traffic, bringing exhaust and pollution to the nearby neighborhoods and greatly increasing the traffic risks. 

Within six months of the JFK closure, five accidents were reported of bicyclists hitting pedestrians. The bicyclists have taken over with a vengeance, compelling the Recreation and Parks Department to install signage asking bicyclists to “Be Kind” and “Be considerate”.

The cruel and callous exclusion of the three vulnerable groups should be seen within the context of the gentrification of San Francisco. The road closures are integral parts of the agenda of the Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority and the Director of the Recreation and Parks Department, both of whom have declared an intention to exclude cars from as much of San Francisco as possible. Excluding cars brings about the exclusion of families of color because we cherish our elders, and bring elders, parents, and children all together when we go places.   MUNI has eliminated bus routes and bus stops throughout the city, causing great hardship to the elderly and those with mobility challenges. Red zones have been created along Mission Street, Van Ness, and Geary, without merchant’s consent, forcing hundreds of small businesses to close. The backers of Proposition J include several billionaire tech company founders, including a co-founder of YIMBY California. We ask what purpose is served by excluding communities of color from JFK Drive. We are saddened to see how our city has become so uncaring about the impact of these road closures on our vulnerable communities.

It’s easy for the able-bodied to dismiss the needs of those with disabilities, but we will all become elders eventually. Please have compassion for those more vulnerable than you. For these reasons, we urge you to register to vote and vote Yes on I and NO on J. This vote will impact generations to come.