SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- With many COVID-19 restrictions being lifted recently, San Francisco officials will have to decide whether the Great Highway will reopen to vehicle traffic. Now, many residents who became used to walking and playing on the road during the pandemic are reluctant to give up their new freedom.
The Great Highway is a four-lane, divided street that moves commuters along San Francisco's western coast. At least it did until COVID-19 hit and the city closed the road to motor vehicles.
Sunday morning, several hundred people showed up for a rally and march to promote the idea of keeping cars off the road permanently.
"So much life is happening out here in this space. It's 2021, a hundred years after this road was first built. It's time to come together and envision a new future for this space," said Heidi Moseson, an organizer for the Great Highway Park Initiative.
They are lobbying city officials to turn the highway -- they're now calling it a walkway -- into a park.
"Since the pandemic, it's become an amazing place for kids to play for people inside the city to feel safe -- without cars -- and that danger," said march organizer Brian Reyes.
Neighborhood residents say the cars haven't gone away -- they've just been shifted onto narrower residential streets.
Stephen Gorski lives in a home overlooking the closed highway and says that, on weekdays, streets are now gridlocked with up to 19,000 commuters driving past Outer Sunset District homes to get to and from work.
"It doesn't make any sense!" he said. "It's a major artery! This is an artery that everyone used in San Francisco and it's not right to have the impact on the neighbors here."
Transportation officials acknowledge that closing the highway has affected the surrounding neighborhoods. The city added lots of new speed bumps to the area to try to lessen the impact and they say they are now studying whether their traffic-calming efforts have been successful.
But resident Charley Perkins says officials who are normally obsessed with making streets safer are now ignoring the obvious consequences of diverting cars off a highway and through neighborhood streets and intersections.
"For some reason, in this one instance, we're going to deny that we're making them less safe when it's undeniable but here's an opportunity to make life more miserable for automobile drivers -- I know that's what's behind this."
Each side says they have online petitions with thousands of signatures. It will be up to city officials to decide whether the highway is better used as an efficient way to transport people or a recreational opportunity borne of the pandemic.
"It's really fun and it's really new and we want it to stay that way so we can try some things out, instead of being the old way" said eight-year-old Sebastian.
"Well, this is a highway, it's called the Great Highway," said Stephanie Teel, who wants it to reopen. "So, that should be used for cars, like the Golden Gate Bridge is used for cars. You're not going to make a park out of the Golden Gate Bridge."
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