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S.F. Sunset District residents resist proposal to close Great Highway to traffic

Outer Sunset residents slam proposal to close Great Highway to traffic
Outer Sunset residents slam proposal to close Great Highway to traffic 03:44

SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, San Francisco's Great Highway has been under attack from Mother Nature but now the city's voters may reclaim the road before the Pacific Ocean has a chance to do it.

The Great Highway is the main traffic artery running parallel to Ocean Beach. It has been a struggle to keep the road clear of drifting sand so, during the pandemic, the city shut the highway to vehicle traffic to give people a place to safely recreate and a lot of people fell in love with it.

"Kids were behind computer screens and COVID and the Slow Streets (program) brought families out together," said Outer Sunset resident Tony Carroll. "And it was nice to see kids playing in the streets again like we did when we were kids."

"During COVID, we were all out here," said Martha Abbene. "And now we have a really tight-knit community. We've met the kids, we've met the grandparents and that's what this means to me."

When the pandemic ended, people wanted the arrangement to continue so the city came up with a compromise: open the street to traffic during the week and close it on weekends for pedestrians and cyclists. That compromise is now ending. In November, voters will be asked to decide if the highway should be permanently shut off to cars so it can be made into a new 17-acre park.

"So if voters vote 'yes,' this becomes a full-time promenade, open to all the people you see behind me right now," said Lucas Lux, president of Friends of Great Highway Park.

The plan is to have drivers turn off at Lincoln Way and funnel them south on Sunset Boulevard to Sloat Boulevard, where the Great Highway will soon be closed anyway because of beach erosion.

"It really makes a win-win," Lux said. "Everybody gets an ocean-front park and you solve the new driving route inland because we're all going to be turning inland anyway. So, let's do it at Lincoln instead of one turn later at Sloat."

Not everyone considers it a win-win. Stephen and Judi Gorski's home overlooks the area and they say it really only attracts visitors on weekends. They say that, during the pandemic, their quiet neighborhood became inundated with all the cars no longer allowed on the highway and they expect it to happen again.

"The traffic will destroy the neighborhood," Stephen said. "It will create more health issues, safety issues. People are almost getting hit by cars all the time and why should it be closed during the week when nobody uses it?"

The Gorskis fear that putting the issue on a citywide ballot will attract voters who won't have to suffer any consequences.

"'If it's not in my backyard, oh sure, do it down there,'" Stephen said. "And then they come down here -- if they do -- on the weekend. 'It sounds good but it's not by me, what do I care?' But when you're here, you care because it's totally destroying the area here."

"There really is room for everybody to share it," Judi said. "There's no reason to close it down and you have a beautiful beach that was never damaged by cars going back and forth."

The proposed park is still just a concept -- there are no plans and no funding for it. The ballot issue will simply decide whether cars will be removed from the two-mile section of the highway. It appears there are enough supervisors supporting the measure to put it on the ballot. So, in November, the fate of the Great Highway will likely be decided by the shifting sands of politics.

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