Cars Invade Golden Gate Park, Inner Sunset as Institutions Reopen

IMG_2684_1.jpgPhoto by Bryan Goebel

The Music Concourse in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is living proof of that ancient maxim dating back to the movie Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come.

In this case, however, it isn’t the spectators to a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield, but people traveling in their cars through the Inner Sunset and along MLK Jr. Drive to an 800-car garage below the concourse with two entrances, one in the south near 9th Avenue, Lincoln Way, and MLK Jr. Drive and one in the north near 10th Avenue and Fulton.  The ultimate destinations of many of the occupants are the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, which sit on either side of a manicured, European-style bowl that is the concourse.  Both attractions have been rebuilt in recent years and seem to be drawing vastly increased numbers of visitors.

“Today is an example of the potential for what could happen when King Tut comes,” Inner Sunset resident and public parks watchdog Chris Duderstadt said Wednesday.

Make no mistake – he wasn’t referring to hordes of people escaping tax collectors by hiding in the park.  Instead, he was referring to academy patrons who descend on the concourse en masse on the third Wednesday of every month.  That’s when the academy waives the $25 entry fee.  Starting June 27th, the de Young will be showcasing the finery of Egyptian boy king, Tutankhamun, and then, suggests Duderstadt, traffic congestion could start to resemble what it was around Woodstock four decades ago – but every day of the summer, not just the third Wednesdays, and certainly not just for one, long bacchanalian weekend.

_6.jpg9th Avenue. Photo by Chris Duderstadt

On Tuesday evening, members of the Concourse Authority, a seven-member board created when voters passed Proposition J in 1998 and whose mission is to provide leadership in the coordination of construction projects in the Music Concourse area, met to tackle traffic congestion and other issues.  Among those testifying were Don Skeoch, chief revenue officer at the academy.

“’Golden Gate Park is too car friendly’,” testified Skeoch, reporting on feedback from some members of the public who had attended a March 24th town hall-style meeting convened by San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes the Inner Sunset.

In fact, the fifth paragraph of Proposition J reads: “The principal purposes of this ordinance are to (1) create a pedestrian oasis in the Music Concourse area of Golden Gate Park, situated between the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences (the “Concourse”) and (2) take steps to reduce the impact of automobiles in the Park while still providing long-term assurance of safe, reliable and convenient access for visitors to the Park, including its cultural institutions.”

Indeed, I studied mid-afternoon traffic in and around the Music Concourse this week, and discovered that many motorists ignore signs – which are small and sometimes obscured by tree branches or other street signs – forbidding through traffic from using the concourse to get from one side of the park to the other.

On Tuesday, most of the errant motorists entered the concourse area from the southern entrance of MLK Jr. Drive and exited on JKF Jr. Drive on the north – instead of turning left on Bowl Drive to go to Tea Garden Drive and presumably drop off parents, grandparents, and in-laws at the de Young (which is permitted).

_5.jpgPhoto by Susan Vaughan

On Wednesday, the garage had filled up by early afternoon.  In response, two park rangers stood in the middle of the southern entrance to Music Concourse Drive preventing cars backed up in queues up and down MLK Jr. Drive – and all the way out to 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way – from heading for the southern entrance of the garage.  At the opposite end of the concourse, many motorists entered the pedestrian oasis illegally from JFK Jr. Drive, wound through an obstacle course of elementary school groups and moms with baby carriages, and then headed across the park.

“These traffic jams are not unanticipated,” Authority member John Rizzo said at the meeting. He noted that there was no one present from the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, which had promised to put signs up along Lincoln Way and Fell Street to indicate whether the garage was full.

“We need permanent message boards," agreed John Steele, division manager of City Park, the private company that operates that garage on behalf of the Music Concourse Community Partnership, a private entity that oversees the garage.  “But the de Young and the academy won’t pay $15,000 to rent them every weekend.”  The signs cost about $40,000 to $50,000 each to purchase, according to Margaret O’Sullivan, another authority member.

Possible Solutions

Staff at the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department are applying for a grant to bring back the Golden Gate Shuttle bus that used to operate between the stretch of parking spaces at Ocean Beach between Fulton and Lincoln Way and improved signage to encourage people to park there or elsewhere in the west end of the park.  In addition, they are considering adopting a “Smart Parking” program in which people pay to park in the east end of the park.  Authority members also discussed the possibility of establishing a shuttle between the Parnassus garage serving the University of California at San Francisco.

And the much-maligned Muni Culture Bus that operates between cultural institutions in the city?  Usage is down, staff acknowledge, perhaps because of the economy and the correlated drop in tourism.  It costs $7 for an all day pass – but riders get a $3 discount at the academy and a $2 discount at the de Young, making the ride only $2, said Denny Kern of Rec  and Park.

Still, some authority members objected to the culture bus, especially when Muni service is being cut in other parts of the city.

Cut the culture bus instead of service on other Muni lines first, recommended Rizzo.

  • DaveO

    More public garages need to be built and heavily promoted, not necessarily in downtown or near attractions, but in locations where easy access to both highways and public transit exist. Van Ness/Market area; Glen Park/Balboa Park/Daly City; Western Geary Boulevard (maybe after the BRT is built). You won’t get people to abandon cars in favor of public transit simply by banning car access without making it possible for people to use public transit.

  • The Culture Bus was an example of a half-baked idea, with no real research, poor planning, poor fare structure (why should I pay $3 for it with a muni pass when I can ride a cable car for free ,etc) and was a disaster ,with very poor publicity by the people it supposedly served (tourist industry) Not only did it do NOTHING to address the hellish traffic and noise in our neighborhood, it actually made things worse by sucking away money from relevant projects.

    We can’t just make life miserable for motorists and hope they are “encouraged” to take another form of transportation to the park and its many awesome attractions. People need to hear the message loud and clear – trying to find a parking spot in the park, in the Inner Sunset, or in that overstuffed garage is a fool’s errand at best, and that has to be made clear. Policies of “encouragement” are bullshit and never work because most people are too stubborn to change.

    Worse, because drivers and others can’t seem to obey basic traffic regs, the intersections at 9th/Irving, 9th/Lincoln are getting VERY dangerous for people crossing the street legally with a green light AND a walk sign. Just yesterday a car barreled past the N Judah as passengers, including kids were leaving the train and it came so fast it was a miracle no one was hit. At the very least it may be time to consider banning left turns at the Irving/9th intersection simply because no one seems to follow the rules and this blocks cars, buses and bikes who are trying to get by.

  • DaveO, you need to explain how more parking space will not increase car usage. In my opinion, that is about as backwards as it comes. If you allow for more parking cheaper, more people will drive. It is the same with widening roads/highways.

  • The Academy of Sciences building is not a green building. In no way shape or form.

  • Dave0, I reread what you wrote. I guess you have some point in putting the parking next to public transit. However, there is plenty of parking at places like Daly City and San Bruno, people just don’t use it. (I may be wrong about commute hours since I rarely go to these places during work hours, so I’ll be happy to admit I’m wrong if that is the case.)

    But, this doesn’t do the park any good people still think that parking is available in and around it. Let’s take the fisherman’s wharf for example, there is a lot there that is often full, with tons of transit options, but people still drive and wait for parking because there is a chance that a spot will open up in the garage. Now if that garage wasn’t there, I’d fancy a guess that less people would drive because the chance of being rewarded with a parking spot is that much less.

  • Perhaps an advertising campaign can be undertaken to encourage visitors to arrive at the museums by way of the N-Judah. It is only a 10-minute walk from 9th & Irving to the Academy. Out-of-town visitors could conceivably park at 5th & Mission, boarding the N at Powell, or they could arrive by BART or Caltrain and transfer directly to the N.

    Naturally this would work better if the N-Judah was not an overcrowded, unreliable, slow joke of a streetcar.

    To their credit, the web sites of the Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum feature Muni as the primary way of getting to the park.

  • Does anyone remember the G Line, a proposal from a decade ago which would link together UCSF Mission Bay and Parnassus Heights by (historic?) streetcar on 16th Street to Church and on through the Buena Vista tunnel with a spur down 9th Avenue to the Concourse?

    That did not make it into the TEP in any shape or form.

    -marc

  • I have ridden my bike to the area twice in the past month, once to the De Young and once to the Academy. There is no secure bike parking there, only open racks in front of each museum. There is a small bike rack in the below-concourse parking garage which I used because I felt my bike would be slightly less vulnerable there, but it wasn’t easy to get to–either I had to go through steps and doors or I had to come in via the car entrance with the cars, much to the annoyance of the guy running entry/exit area. As a bicyclist who has invested a lot in her bike, it would make me extremely happy to have access to secure parking (lockers of some sort) or someone posted to watch bicycles (hey, I’ll even take a security camera.)

    The de Young doesn’t give a discount for bicycles, only for Muni riders. The academy gives a $3 discount, which isn’t bad, but obviously isn’t enough.

    What would for sure encourage bicycling, Muni and walking? A separate, faster entry line to the Academy, but I don’t know how you’d keep people from claiming they’d walked when they hadn’t.

    Is there a way to take transportation to the area from Marin? Does Golden Gate transit stop anywhere nearby? From the Peninsula, taking Caltrain or Bart and then the N Judah has to be seriously pushed. There is really no sense in the Academy trying to educate people about global warming when they’ve all just driven their SUV thirty miles to get there. Maybe the Academy should only let people enter on Sundays if they can prove they came via transit, bikes or walking. Would be interesting.

  • Greg, I agree with you. No one in Muni wanted the Culture bus. It came down from on high and it was put out. It started last fall after the tourist season and is now probably going to be cut. You can always take the 21 or 5 out there and get almost as close for $1.50 (maybe $2 in the future).

    About the Museums: what are you going to do out there? When the Asian moved downtown everyone out there wanted to make sure the rest stayed b/c they wanted to make sure they could drive to them. So, a huge garage is built and now they can drive there. As the one commissioner said “it was not unexpected.

    Signs would be a good idea and so would closing a larger section of JFK on Saturdays. I never go to the park except on Sundays b/c you don’t see the cars.

  • The Culture Bus costs $7 for the day, but riders get a $3 discount at the CAS and a $2 discount at the de Young — making it a total of a $2 bus ride.

    Aside from this point, there are major issues that could not be addressed due to time constraints and word limits:

    1) How do Recreation and Parks, the Music Concourse Community Partnership, and the Concourse Authority intend to fulfill the mandate of Proposition J and turn the concourse into a pedestrian oasis?

    2) Muni riders such as myself know that Muni service — the 44, 71, N-Judah, 5, and 21 all run near the portion of the park that attracts the most car traffic — is seriously eroded by traffic congestion. If there is no current analysis on the impact of congestion on Muni service and the overall of economic health of the city, one should be commissioned; And,

    2) Knowing what we know about traffic in and around GGP, do we really want to go forward with putting the CAMP in the Main Post of the Presidio?

  • Those parking lots with transit connections would not help someone like me, who wants to come from Berkeley by BART. They made an error by placing the museum where it is not accessible by transit. There were proposals to rebuild it in downtown, where it would have been easily accessible, but unfortunately that opportunity was missed.

  • @Charles and @Jeffrey Baker – the best option from any BART station in the system for my money is to take BART to Glen Park and then take the 44. The 44 is quite expedient up O’Shaugnessy and down Woodside/Laguna Honda/7th. Of course you then hit the GG Park Bottleneck on heavy DeYoung/Academy days. But it drops you off at the front door of the Academy of Science. This also addresses DaveO’s concept of parking at transit – Millbrae/SSF/San Bruno parking lots are never even close to full, and I think the same is true of Colma. Strange but true – I have seen with my own eyes Peninsula families using this option. For kids the zippy ride into SF along 280 from Colma to Glen Park is pretty cool.

    They should put special discount coupons for the Academy in the hands of the driver of the 44 to give out to riders of that specific line.

  • As a resident of the traffic clogged clogged Glen Park area, I have five words regarding a big garage near the BART station: Not In My Back Yard.

  • Brian

    I always believed Irving from (7th to 11th) and 9th from (Judah to Lincoln) should be pedestrianized.

    Inner Sunset is one of The City’s most lively shopping and eating neighborhoods, but cars ruin it and make it dangerous. People are crowded onto the sidewalks. Crossing the street on foot is hair-raising.

  • @Michael, since the 33 is the “all cool neighborhoods bus,” a fantasy would be for it to continue its alignment to Stanyan and Haight but to turn left/south there and serve the Inner Sunse via Lincoln to 9th, continuing a 44-like route through the Golden Gate Park, but a bit further east to come out on Arguello and Fulton.

    The worst part of the 33 is the Stanyan to Fulton, and if the alignment went down Lincoln to 9th Ave and into the park, then that would add a cool neighborhood, the park attractions and probably increase the travel time from the Mission to the Richmond by 10 min.

    This would all require several more miles of overhead wire, along Lincoln and through the park, @ $1m/mi. Maybe the parking revenues from the garage can subsidize that!

    -marc

  • DaveO

    Getting to the Music Concourse from Berkeley via public transit is one of the easiest travel itineraries in the Bay Area – BART to the N. The problem is tourists or people from Marin or the Peninsula or even other parts of SF. People who would be coming to the museums would take a train and other forms of (mostly) grade-separated transit, but will not try to navigate SF’s maze of buses. If the trip involves a bus or some other mode of transit which doesn’t have clearly identifiable stations, they will drive. It’s why a G-line to the Park might work, where the CultureBus (worst…name…ever…) clearly failed.

    Maybe that will change a bit if the bus is marketed differently like BRT and is a visibly different experience, but I know that whenever I visit a strange city, I look at their subway and train map and do not bother trying to understand their bus system. Build more grade-separated trains, for sure. But until that happens, the only way to get people out of their cars is to let them park near those trains.

  • h

    2 topics:

    (1) 33 line

    I strongly beg to disagree with marc about the 33 line. The Stanyan portion is an integral part of the route (ie it serves my house). But as someone who rides the 33 regularly starting on Stanyan and heading in both directions (either to the Mission or to connect to the 38 on Geary), and relies on the 33 to support a daily car-free life, I can tell it is heavily used in this segment and is critical to serving the north panhandle, lone mountain, and inner richmond in a direct way without a ridiculous circuitous jaunt several blocks east through the park to serve a museum. As you pointed out — the 33 is the all-cool neighborhood connector, one of the most useful lines in the City, and it would severely degrade its purpose by rerouting through the park.

    (2) location of museums
    We have to face reality and look at priorities in terms of land use. We could take up prime land near regional transit in the downtown for a museum with a huge footprint, or we could use that same space for a much greater density of jobs, housing, shopping, etc. We’re certainly not going to put the offices in the middle of GGPark, so let’s be real here. There’s room for a few big cultural attractions downtown near BART. But we’re near maxxed out on room for them. There’s room for a couple more moderate sized ones — for instance the Exploratorium is moving to one of the remaining major piers along the Embarcadero. But more museum expansion in the downtown is not serving us or the region very well. While I have myself in the past criticized these institutions for not locating themselves in more transit accessible locations, I’ve come to realize that our priority for using scarce land in the middle of downtown next to BART really isn’t the de Young museum. We just need to do a better job at improving transit to the Park and other locations. The dumb Culture Bus certainly isn’t the answer, but we can’t pick everything up and move it downtown. We’d need a few more downtowns for that. And on top of that, I rather enjoy some of these civic institutions in the park.

  • It’s great that people are discussing the solutions to the traffic congestion caused by the attractions in the GGP. However, there fewer than two weeks left to participate in the NEPA public comment period for the proposed Contemporary Art Museum in the Presidio (the CAMP). The close of the public comment period is April 27. There will also be a meeting at the Golden Gate Club, near the Main Post, about transportation issues on April 22 at 6:30 pm. Now is the time to make sure the problems being experienced in GGP and the Inner Sunset are not reproduced in and around the Presidio.

  • @marcos actually the 33 does not go through Noe Valley.

    *rimshot*

  • @h, point taken, but the entire tenor of the TEP has been that you might have to walk a few more blocks to service that is more reliable, and that thesis has been used against service in other neighborhoods successfully.

    Living near 16th/Mission, you could imagine the palpitations I suffered when I opened up the PDF of the TEP’s first realignment proposals and saw the differences between the 33 and 24 split up, swapped and rejoined like some Frankenstein experiment gone all wrong. Fortunately that was euthanized.

    The 33 is also a “hospital line,” with SFGH, St. Mary’s and Children’s Hospital as well as the Mission Health Center. Eliminating service on Stanyan would cut off St. Marys from the mix.

    The other option is to blow off the Inner Sunset and route the 33 to the west into the park at Fell, with stops at the McLaren Lodge, Conservatory of Flowers, Music Concourse/Museums and right onto 8th Ave, left back onto Fulton and to Arguello and the end of the line. That would cut out the nasty Stanyan/Fulton knot and still have similar service within a few blocks with a few stops removed, again a TEP priority. But that would not serve the UCSF connection which was part of the justification for the G Line.

    Often ideas that one just pulls out of one’s ass smell somewhat like ass.

    -marc

  • One challenge for implementing a B-Geary or G-GG Park line is the need for another rail yard for that segment of the city.

    Solution: create spurs along 9th for the N and along 6th/8th for the B/G and make the parking garage a new station/ railyard for Muni.

  • matt

    No wonder they’re having congestion problems. Has anyone looked at the Academy’s website to see what kind of transit directions they’re giving? It’s really not well thought out.

    http://www.calacademy.org/visit/getting_here/

    I just sent the following email to the info@calacademy.org address. Please feel free to contact them too if you agree with me about this.

    ————

    I appreciate that the academy is trying to promote public transit as the best way to visit, but the current web page is not well thought out. Far too many choices are given, which confuses people who are not frequent transit users and actually makes them unlikely to use public transit.

    For example, why is there a “Market Street Alternative Route” “If you prefer not to take the N-Judah streetcar”? Why would someone ever prefer not to take the faster option? For that matter, why are there 4 options from City Hall?

    As an illustration of the kind of directions you should be providing, here are two examples. They’re not perfect, but they’re more specific and useful than the current directions. They tell visitors exactly where to transfer, and how quickly they will arrive at the museum.

    ———-

    From the Peninsula on BART:

    Get off at Glen Park station and transfer to the #44-O’Shaughnessy bus (inbound direction to California & 6th) directly across Bosworth street from the station. In about 17 minutes, you will arrive in front of the museum.

    From the East Bay on BART:

    At Civic Center station, transfer to the Muni Metro subway, one level above BART. Take the N-Judah in the outbound direction. In about 15 minutes, get off at the 9th and Irving stop, and walk 5 minutes north on 9th Avenue into Golden Gate Park.

    ———

    Thanks very much for listening.

  • Matt,

    Thanks for sending the better directions to the Academy. (Caltrain to the N works, too, and Caltrain is a really nice option for folks south of Millbrae.) I agree that crystal clear directions are essential.

    I also agree that San Francisco needs to do a better job promoting Muni outside the city. People in other parts of the Bay area often do not know where Muni goes or are too intimidated to take it. I honestly know people who have lived their whole life in Marin who did not know that there was an entire subway system below Market Street until I took them on it. Ah well.

  • zig

    Caltrain to the N works sort of if you really don’t care about your time. I imagine that the day Caltrain goes all the way to the TransBay is the day this becomes viable for a family.

    My fiancee’s mom lives in the suburds of Chicago and as we have friends in the city we are always taking the commuter trains in and out on the weekends. Many families, groups of ladies shopping and young people ride into the city on a Saturday and it appears to be quite normal. This is what is needed in the Bay Area

  • matt

    Zig, a lot of suburban people in cities like Chicago and NYC feel comfortable riding the train into the city. They know they’ll end up at a safe destination, with no transfers or confusion. It’s a lot like BART in that way.

    But ask them to transfer to a bus, and then you’ll see the real difference between them and urbanites.

    Buses are scary to suburbanites — they don’t know where they go, they might get on the wrong direction, and they might get off at the wrong stop and get stuck in some frightening housing project. (And yeah, the people on buses scare some of them too.)

    To overcome these fears, you really have to hold their hand and give very specific directions.

  • h

    there are obvious advantages to subways — generally fast and reliable. Buses have the reputation (and some reality, BRT and express buses excepted) of unreliability and slowness, generally due to the fact that they have to stop every block or two at stop signs and lights, have to mix with traffic, etc etc. And of course, non-locals don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and study an intricate map of SF and figure out the web of the bus network. It’s easy to just look at where the bold lines on the regional maps go. Why are out-of-towners and suburbanites drawn to these lines (e.g. N-Judah) do surface light rail lines that share those same features once they leave the tunnel? It’s largely marketing and perception. If you were to start from the intersection of Market and Van Ness and raced to get to 9th Avenue on either the 71-Noriega or N-Judah, it would be quite a race, and I bet the 71 would beat it much of the time. In fact, according to the published schedule, on Sundays it takes 22 minutes for the 71 to get from Van Ness to 19th Ave, and it takes the N-Judah 21 minutes. Identical! The answer to question, then, as someone pointed out is marketing. If Muni was more savvy, they would design, publish, and promote maps that represent core bus lines in the same way that they represent rail lines — big, thick lines on maps with key stops indicated. The very savvy BART maps (with the BART lines in big thick swaths on the map) show light-rail lines, but they don’t show bus lines. When you get down to it, it’s arbitrary and does not necessarily represent the most significant, fast, or reliable routes that connect to BART — it’s just a bias toward representing rail on a map and not buses. Muni really should tell BART what they should show on their maps, and MTC should coordinate to produce better regional maps. It’s probably more useful to show the 38-Geary on a regional transit map than it is to show the M-Oceanview, or even the J-Church.

  • DaveO

    Another advantage of trains (espeically Subways) is the fact that there are clearly named Stations, and the station platforms generally clearly indicate which direction is which. You can easily tell someone to get on Bart towards the East Bay and exit at Embarcadero, etc.

    Light rail is a bit sketchier, primarily because very few of the “stations” have names that are clearly identifiable on a map, or even marked clearly on the platform itself. I want to see big signs on island platforms that say “9th and Irving” or “24th and Church” that correspond in large font on a transit map.

    The buses are a complete disaster in this regard. You look at a map, and you have no idea where the stops are, what they are called. And many of the stops are marked just by swatches of yellow paint on the ground or on a utility pole. A tourist or a day tripper is not going to be bothered to learn such a convoluted system, so they will stick to transit modes where stations are clearly identifiable and easy to figure out. One of the big disappointments of the TEP, if it ever gets implemented, is that there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to take those identified “crosstown” routes, reduce stops and then enhance the remaining ones.

  • Tomtakt

    As someone who grew up in the east bay near a BART station, I’ll tell you why I and most people have taken their cars to visit the museums:

    Golden Gate Park is the Los Angeles of urban parks. It’s sprawling, uninviting, and has too many roads.

    I’ve never seen a nice urban park that was criss-crossed by so many car-friendly roads. More importantly, the park lacks inviting pedestrian access. What is the natural path for pedestrians to get to the museums? South Blvd from 9th and Lincoln? Maybe if strolling past a LONG line of parked cars is your idea of experiencing what should be an urban oasis.

    And, of course, as mentioned, the transit access to the park is also mediocre at best.

    Solution? How about we close all roads to cars except important through streets (Kezar and the Highway 1 crossover). Then, run a light rail branch off of the N Judah line up Cole St, and jog onto Page and into the park. Continue along the JFK Dr’s alignment to the Concourse, and the line could terminate anywhere in the Richmond district, perhaps along Geary to connect to other/future transit. This line could even provide a nice, convenient alternative for some residents of the Richmond to get downtown with transit. It would be a relatively short, cheap line, making use of the existing infrastructure. A daytime/special event bus would bring visitors further into the park towards the ocean, and possibly out to Sutro baths.

    Eventually, Kezar could hopefully be tunneled beneath this corner of the park, allowing for a beautiful grassy esplanade to serve as the natural entrance to the park for PEOPLE, instead of cars.

    Easy for tourists, convenient for residents, good for San Francisco.