SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called “managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

The Great Highway. Photo: Octoferret/Flickr

Removing the Great Highway’s two western traffic lanes would provide room for “a wide shoulder for cycling and emergency access, dune restoration, and amenities,” the OBMP states. It would also slow down car traffic compared to the current high-speed design, which encourages drivers to speed between red lights, and so make the highway safer to cross and to drive on.

“Sloat, Skyline, and Great Highway are effectively state-of-the-art highway design from 1938,” said Jeff Tumlin, a principal transportation planner at Nelson/Nygaard, who helped craft the OBMP. “These are roads that were designed effectively for about 70 mph motor vehicle traffic. These are not urban streets.”

The OBMP traffic study found that the Great Highway typically carries about 18,000 cars a day, less than half its capacity of 40,000. That’s less traffic than on Valencia Street, which was put on a road diet in 1999 and carries about 20,000. The traffic engineering rule of thumb, said Tumlin, is that each traffic lane has a capacity of about 10,000 cars per day, so a Great Highway with two lanes would still have room for 20,000 cars.

SPUR’s analysis of the effect on traffic patterns and capacity, with the closure of the Great Highway south of Sloat, and a roundabout at Skyline and Sloat. Image: SPUR

“Managing safety by managing speeds in this area, treating these more like urban streets rather than strange fragments of suburban freeways, can help achieve a better balance for all modes of transportation,” said Tumlin.

The road diet would remove the two coast-side traffic lanes and create a buffer space for rebuilt dunes. That could reduce the roughly 60 times each year when the highway is closed due to sand blowing on to it. During sand closures and Sunday Streets events, drivers are detoured on to Lower Great Highway, a residential street.

The opposition to the road diet primarily comes from Lower Great Highway residents, who fear that removing lanes will divert more car traffic to their street at all times.

“When traffic does get diverted on to Lower Great Highway… it really is a safety issue, and an inconvenience for those of us in a residential neighborhood,” said Tom Butler, a Lower Great Highway resident who voiced his opposition to Supervisor Katy Tang’s office. “The experience belies what the study would suggest.”

Butler acknowledged that cities that have implemented road diets “have become more friendly, liveable and nicer to be in,” but still fears there will be more car traffic on his street.

The other main sticking point for the OBMP was the proposal to add small parking “pockets” along the Great Highway, in the middle of the Sunset District stretch between current parking lots near Sloat and Lincoln Way. Grant said the pockets would replace spaces to be removed along with the road south of Sloat, but that a new parking lot could also be provided there instead for drivers to access the beach and the new trail.

Neighbors say they fear that new parking along Ocean Beach would add to car congestion, and would require police patrols at a time when SFPD is already stretched thin.

“All of us who live on Lower Great Highway bought our houses knowing that that was a residential neighborhood, not a beach location,” said Butler.

Brian Veit, another neighbor, said the city should also not build more “free” parking, which “is a misnomer.”

“The city and the taxpayers should not foot the bill for a free subsidy to drivers that non-drivers do not get,” he said.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich said it’s “disappointing” if the Great Highway road diet is dropped from the plan, but that if “if it’s just phasing, that’s fine.”

“It’ll be an uphill struggle, but there’s lots we can do to enhance public access to the beach in the near term,” he said.

  • How about an unofficial road diet?

    That is, do not repave the outer lanes. Have a nice smooth left lane, a nice smooth bike lane, and a right lane that feels like driving on Mars.

    The lane is still there for all the traffic that “needs” it, but $5 most drivers merge to the left lane…where their speed is set by the slowest driver?

  • p_chazz

    Forget SPUR. I think Ocean Beach will put Great Highway on a road diet–a starvation diet at that.

  • Miles Bader

    The fact that the lane removal is “most controversial” is so sad… Even without the erosion issue, giant roads like this which cut off the coastline from access are insane full-stop.

  • You know, the fact of the matter is we _are_ getting there. What used to be a clusterf***k in the area pictured above is a whole lot better. The Beach Chalet is delightful, and we even take visitors to the Cliff House for a meal and a view.

    In the end, though, (and I warned about this way back when I sensed Ed Lee backing off from his support for livable cities initiatives such as Sunday Meters, and the whole “Restore Balance” crowd started to gain some headway) it seems the political winds have slacked off a bit even if they haven’t exactly shifted completely away from the ideals of the Transit First Policy. These are people who commission and then read polls very closely, so it’s no surprise SPUR also has their finger to the wind and is sacrificing the controversial for the essential in this election cycle.

  • BBnet3000

    Nah, nothing is getting past the huge concrete wall for awhile, and the Army Corps presumably adds sand back to the beach every year.

  • BBnet3000

    I’ve never actually seen this road with many cars on it. How could it be controversial removing a lane from a road that is so completely overbuilt like this?

  • lostjr

    The surfers would probably benefit most from the parking. They were vocal at Crissy, silent now?

  • Bill McLaughlin

    SPUR’s chief task with the Master Plan is fixing the erosion mess south of Sloat. This is the issue that sparked the creation of the whole OBMP process. Closing the main stretch of road between Lincoln and Sloat may be necessary to preserve the beach in 30 years or so, but not in the near future. Neighorhood traffic concerns are legitimate as GH traffic volume spikes radically on warm sunny weekends. Let’s start with a good fix for south Sloat (that includes a new parking lot / restroom facility properly located away from the bluff edge). Plenty of focus, time and money will be needed just to make this part of the MP successful. http://www.sloaterosionob.blogspot.com

  • murphstahoe

    If things are all right on the lower great highway now – why take a chance?

  • BBnet3000

    “Overbuilt” is not a synonym for “all right”.

  • Prinzrob

    Seems to me that a pretty good road diet could be achieved even without removing lanes, by just taking out that huge median. The intersections with stop signs absolutely don’t need turn lanes, and the ones with signals could function just as well without turn lanes by implementing smarter signalization.

    Ditching the median and slimming the travel lanes further would calm speeds and make this road feel a lot less like a “highway”, while also freeing up a lot of space to work with.

  • Same Old

    While I sympathize with residents of lower Great Hwy (and am one), there is no doubt that retreat, narrowing & open space are better for the upper Great Hwy in the long run. The real cop out here is SF (and surrogate SPUR) who do not want to acknowledge or mitigate the fact that the lower Great Hwy becomes a mosh pit of dangerous traffic every single time the upper road is closed. Until they get enforceable rerouting of commuter traffic off lower Great Hwy when upper road is closed they will never solve the traffic problem and never obtain the benefits of the retreat, open space proposal that is so great.

  • Kathleen

    I think that making more room for the ocean is a great idea, at Sloat and along the GHW. However, adding parking along the upper great highway is a horrible idea. The city cannot keep up with the trash and debris in just a few garbage cans along the bike path. More parking = more trash. Until SPUR shows some understanding for the current state, I don’t think that they can hope to create a feasible plan for the future.

  • Andy Chow

    I was thinking about an idea of extending the N line downtown the Great Highway to connect with the L line. Even if it were to be used on an emergency basis, it would help improve the operation for the N in case if there’s any service interruption along the line.

  • Let’s not get rid of this gorgeous view – parking as far as the eye can see!

  • Tj

    andy chow your idea to connect the N and L is a great idea indeed. unfortunately great highway is a terrible place for LRV’S and would either have to run down sunset blvd or 19th avenue via subway

  • JosephAWest

    For those of us that actually drive along the elevated portion of the Great Highway the idea of reducing this to 2 lanes is absurd , , it already gets huge amounts of traffic on nice days so why would anyone in his or her right mind want to turn it into gridlock ,
    There are things that could be done , like fixing the flooding issue that happens just North of Lincoln Way

  • Bryant

    I drive the Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat every day, twice. You could reduce the number of lanes with no issues. It’s not ever crowded. That said I think the remainder of the plan is more important, so I don’t think it’s worth having the argument; let’s get the area south of Sloat fixed first.

  • Duane

    THIS PLAN SUCKS. God help us there should be another disaster in SF. The streets now are such a mess from all this so called “calming” people would be hard pressed to get out of here in a disaster. All this calming is complete BS and it is actually make SF a far more dangerous place to drive as drivers now are either confused or fed up so they are ignoring tons of rules of the road. The “calming” will be getting people killed before too long.

  • Duane

    I just want to know how many minutes does it take for the SPUR designers to access the freeways in their neighborhoods? Next, how far away do they live from the area they hope to “improve”. Do any of them actually live in SF? Do any of them actually live in the Sunset District? Do us all a favor and take your “experience of the ocean” and go back to LA. Create your “experience” in Venice Beach or Santa Monica and leave our beach alone. It has been fine for hundreds of years and does not need you or your stupid plan. The most recent “improvement” plan destroyed the Cliff House. The plan before that destroyed Lands Ends. You guys can never make up your minds. You want eliminate parking downtown where it is needed and you want to build parking lots where plenty of parking already exists out along Ocean Beach. And all this talk about Access to Ocean Beach…..last I checked….there is always access and the beach is never full. This is not Miami or LA or San Diego…..and we

  • Duane

    What are you talking about? It is a parking lot for people to access the beach. If you don’t like it….you could always move to Hawaii or Miami Beach or San Diego. We will not mind one bit. (PS….I wonder how you feel about the fake turf debate?)

  • Duane

    Last time I checked there is a multi-use path up on the hill. PS….there is no point in changing lanes….lights are set for 35MPH.

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