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Proposed pilot program aims to keep the Great Highway car-free on weekends

SAN FRANCISCO - The Great Highway stretches 3.8 miles down San Francisco's western coast, bordering Ocean Beach. Every weekend and holiday, between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard, the four-lane-wide roadway transforms into a completely vehicle-free promenade where the public can enjoy its scenic views.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar introduced legislation that would preserve the Great Highway's current weekend configuration under a three-year pilot study, while the city studies its road use. If approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the ordinance introduced by Mar would maintain the highway as a promenade until Dec. 31, 2025.

Mar's plans for the Great Highway are an example of adaptive developments being made in land use to respond to the pandemic and climate change while opening up more recreation area for residents.

In April 2020, the city temporarily closed the Great Highway to cars as an effort to prioritize safe, outdoor recreation during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in August 2021, an agreement between Mar and Mayor London Breed was reached to modify the highway's closure to apply between Fridays at noon to Mondays at 6 a.m., and on holidays as well.

"Keeping the Great Highway as a promenade on weekends and holidays when it's used the most, while allowing car access on weekdays when motorists use it the most, is a win-win solution," said Mar.

When serving the public as a promenade, the Great Highway is an enhanced outdoor space that offers safe access to the beachfront for families, people with mobility assistance, joggers, skateboarders, and more. From April 2020 to May 2022, the scenic recreational hub has seen more than 2 million visitors.

During the three-year pilot period, if approved, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department would continue to monitor visitor usage data, traffic conditions, and public feedback. Collecting this information will help form a recommendation for the highway's long-term future as San Francisco makes adaptation plans in response to climate change.

The Great Highway's new pilot is just one of many recommended potential changes of the Ocean Beach Master Plan developed by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR. It is part of a managed retreat from the coastline in response to rising sea levels.

As sea level rise becomes a growing concern of the changing climate's effects on San Francisco, the city is already arranging plans, according to the Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project; including the permanent closure of the Great Highway extension south of Sloat Avenue, due to significant erosion impacts.

The project will close this section of the Great Highway to cars indefinitely, and replace it with proposed improvements such as a new multi-use trail.
"Millions of visits to the promenade have shown its value as a space for community and civic action, active transportation, and joy," Mar said. 

"The weekend promenade has been popular and successful, and I'm proud to keep it in place while we continue to study this roadway in the face of climate change." 

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