Car-free San Francisco streets: Residents debate reopening

A woman on a bicycle rides along the car-free John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park with the Conservatory of Flowers in the background, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in San Francisco. At the start of the pandemic, San Francisco closed off parts of a major beachfront highway and Golden Gate Park to cars so that people had a safe place to run and ride bikes. Open space advocates want to keep those areas car-free as part of a bold reimagining of how U.S. cities look. But opponents decry the continued closures as elitist, unsafe and nonsensical now that the pandemic is over and people need to drive again. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

For Vanessa Gregson, the four-lane highway that borders the beach along San Francisco’s Pacific Ocean is now an automobile-free sanctuary where she can blissfully ride her bicycle and enjoy the quiet.

“You hear the beach. You hear the waves,” said Gregson. “You feel like you’re in nature, and you’re in San Francisco.”

Like cities from Paris to New York that shut roads to motorists when the coronavirus hit, environmentally friendly San Francisco closed miles of streets to automobiles so people could exercise and socialize safely.

Now, pedestrian advocates want to keep some of San Francisco’s most prominent streets off-limits, like the main road into Golden Gate Park. Others are pushing back, saying they need to drive to work, drop off kids and get around.

The debate has been marked by dueling rallies and strident arguments over safety and climate change in the densely packed city. On social media, customers threatened to boycott a bakery whose owner expressed support for reopening the main oceanside thoroughfare known as the Great Highway to cars; others came to her defense.