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Debate Intensifies Over Reopening JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park to Auto Traffic

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- The demand is increasing to keep a stretch of roadway in Golden Gate Park permanently closed to cars. So is the plea to reopen John F. Kennedy Drive.

In April 2020, the city temporarily shut down JFK Drive from Kezar Drive to Transverse Drive so people could gather outdoors safely during the pandemic.

On Sunday JFK Drive was filled with skaters, cyclists and runners. Advocates of a permanent closure say that, in a concrete jungle, a car-free outdoor space is priceless.

"My favorite part is biking the meadows," said 7-year-old Hopkins Alexander, who wanted to keep the drive car-free.

He and a large group of people rallied in front of the California Academy of Sciences, calling on the city to keep JFK Drive closed to cars.

"I rather (my daughter) has a safe space and be able to roam free and learn how to ride a bike," said park neighbor Yann Benetreau.

"This park is really much better when there's no cars. It's a safety issue," said rally organizer David Miles Jr. Miles is known as the "Godfather of Skates" in the park. He's been advocating for permanent closure for 42 years.

Supporters of the idea include state assemblyman David Chiu (D-SF).

"I believe this is actually important for equity and I hope that we can have a fact-based, respectful conversation about how we move that forward," Chiu told KPIX.

Opponents say the closure amounts to recreational redlining, making it hard for low-income families to get to the park's museums and other attractions.

At least two San Francisco supervisors have come out against the closure.

Supervisor Shamann Walton wrote an editorial calling JFK closure a segregationist policy. He said many families in the Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods rely on cars. The closure would remove 300 free parking spots out of about 5,000 spaces in the park. Many of those 300 spots are near the museums.

"It is a big challenge and I think it's a barrier, right? So if it's hard to park, people may not be able to come," said Leah Van der Mei, director of public operations and access at the California Academy of Sciences.

The Academy says losing any free parking will hurt them even more since they've already lost so much money during the pandemic. About 80 percent of its visitors come from outside San Francisco, according to the Academy.

"We're not against permanently closing JFK. We just believe there should be a process rather than trying to push this through," Van der Mei said.

Finding parking near the museums is tough. People can easily spend 20 or more to get a free spot. The underground parking beneath the museums charges between $5.25 to $6.25 an hour depending on the day.

Some said there are thousands of other free spots in and around the park.

"The enjoyment level of Golden Gate Park outweighs your need to find your personal parking space," Miles said.

A community working group, led by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, is working on how to move forward with JFK Drive. A Recreation and Parks Department spokeswoman told KPIX that any permanent change to JFK Drive would go through the public process and an environmental review. She said the San Francisco board of supervisors will have the final say.

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