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Open Letter to SFMTA: We Missed the Outreach on MLK/Middle Drive

The entrance to MLK from Chain of Lakes in April. Barriers now gone and cars back. Image: Google maps

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Dear SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, Parks Director Phil Ginsberg, Mayor London Breed:

A short section of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Golden Gate Park, previously reserved for cyclists as part of a unique, safe, mostly car-free route connecting Middle Drive and the J.F.K. Promenade with the western half of the park, was reopened Monday to motorists. This was done to "...alleviate congestion and create a smoother southbound driving trip from the Outer Richmond." This is in addition to the six lanes of Lincoln, four lanes of Irving, and other East-West routes available to motorists for connecting to Sunset.

Image: Rec and Parks
Image: Rec and Parks
Image: Rec and Parks

Streetsblog is glad to see SFMTA making sure motorists have a "smoother" trip. Lord knows, motorists have had a rough time with auto traffic back to pre-pandemic levels despite a multi-hundred-billion dollar freeway system, massive, multi-lane streets, and even multi-lane bridges and tunnels reserved for their near-exclusive use.

However, we're concerned about the performance of your media staff. This publication got no notice of the outreach meetings and equity analysis that was done over the past years before making such an important change to a San Francisco street.

The creation of the JFK Promenade, which closed a bit less than half of JFK Drive to cars to provide a single, safe, east-west bike route through the park, required decades of outreach, weekend pilots, studies, and marathon hearings with public testimony. For now at least, cyclists finally have a safe way to get through the eastern portion of the park as a result. To give cyclists a safe trip through the western half of the park, a route was created using a mix of paths and streets, including MLK. Media outreach was reasonably good on this plan. I certainly knew about the meetings and surveys leading up to the multiple votes required to approve it.

The MLK at Sunset, now open to cars. Photo: Cyrus Hall
Facing east on MLK, recently reopened to cars, at Sunset. Photo: Cyrus Hall
The MLK at Sunset, now open to cars. Photo: Cyrus Hall

Since the decision was made this week to now return part of that route to motorists--a clear departure from the city's voter-approved "transit first," Vision Zero commitments, etc., not to mention your goal to reduce emissions and "Vehicle Miles Traveled"--no doubt there was extensive outreach and equity analysis done. Or perhaps there was an emergency declaration to allow cars to return here?

We're hoping this documentation can be sent our way now.

I know our city's leadership agrees "one person killed on San Francisco streets is too many."

A 2016 vigil for Heather Miller, killed in Golden Gate Park a short distance from where SFMTA and the city have now made drives "smoother." Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

That must be true because the mayor has said it so many times. So presumably the studies or the emergency declaration that justified prioritizing ceding another section of street back to motorists also show that you have done everything possible to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe throughout the city. After all, the city has limited resources and surely you didn't decide to spend them "smoothing" commutes for a handful of motorists before finishing the job of making all streets safe for everyone.

We look forward to reading these documents and studies and thank you in advance for sending them over.


Roger Rudick

Editor, Streetsblog San Francisco

Note: For more on the sloppy and dangerous implementation of the reversal on MLK, check out Cyrus Hall's Twitter thread.  

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