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The future of the Upper Great Highway

The future of the Upper Great Highway will be voted on in November. In recent years it has served as a part-time park, with the road closed to traffic on weekends. Now voters will decide whether the city should convert the Upper Great Highway into a permanent waterfront park.

When discussing the Upper Great Highway, it is important to understand the following points:

• What has already been decided?

• What is planned for the future?

• What stays the same?

What already Have you decided yet?

Both directions of the Upper Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard will be closed due to coastal erosion. This has already been addressed by law. This means we will never again be able to use the Upper Great Highway as a direct route to Daly City and the 280 Freeway. Traffic coming from Daly City will have to use Skyline Drive and go around the zoo. Traffic coming from San Francisco will have to turn left at Sloat and continue south past Lake Merced.

What is proposed For the future?

Without a direct connection to Daly City, we need to think about the best use of the section between Lincoln Way and Sloat. This is an opportunity to reimagine the space for the next century as a waterfront park. This includes improving traffic flow on Lincoln Way and Sunset Boulevard to get people where they need to go.

What stays the same?

The Upper Great Highway remains open to cars 24 hours a day and stretches from the Richmond District neighborhoods to Lincoln, allowing full access to the Cliff House, Beach Chalet, soccer fields, Ocean Beach parking lot and all locations in the Sunset from Lincoln.

A big decision

Correspondence to my office is split on whether or not the Upper Great Highway should be a park. This reflects the results of Prop. I – a November 2022 ballot proposal that would have fully reopened the Upper Great Highway to cars. In Sunset, Prop. I failed 53% to 47%. Citywide, it failed 65% to 35%.

The failure of Prop. I meant that the part-time park pilot project could continue. The Upper Great Highway would serve as a park on weekends and revert to being a coastal highway during the week. But it’s a temporary arrangement set to end in 2025. As the deadline approaches, the battle between highway and park advocates will intensify.

That is why we must decide once and for all whether the Upper Great Highway will become a park or not. A decision of this magnitude should be made directly by the voters.

Lemon becomes lemonade

The already decided closure of the Upper Great Highway south of Sloat is a reality that we must accept, even if we do not like it.

But this inconvenience also offers the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.

I have focused my energy on finding a better way to travel south when it is no longer possible to use the Upper Great Highway for a direct connection to Skyline, Daly City and Interstate 280.

One solution is to optimize a new route. If the section of the Upper Great Highway south of Sloat is closed, southbound drivers will have to turn left at Sloat. But what if we made it easier to turn left at Lincoln instead? What if it was better to just drive to Sunset Boulevard for southbound destinations?

Lincoln is a pain right now because it’s full of stop signs. The intersection at 41st is a real mess. But we can replace all of those stop signs with traffic lights to greatly improve traffic flow.

We need to make some road improvements on Sunset Boulevard, such as moving the bus stops to the other side of the intersection so cars can turn right more easily. And we can time the traffic lights better.

The three-sided stop sign at the corner of Sloat and Skyline, which causes traffic jams, will be replaced by a traffic light.

These traffic improvements will benefit drivers by making it easier to get to their destinations. A seamless drive from Lincoln to Sunset Boulevard will also save drivers from having to take shortcuts through residential streets.

If we can improve the driving experience along Lincoln Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, drivers can get to the same point at the same time whether they turn left at Sloat or Lincoln. This is a win-win for a waterfront park between Lincoln and Sloat that can bring a lot of joy to San Francisco residents.

What about access to the Sunset Neighborhoods?

The ballot proposal only considers closing the section of the Upper Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat. There are no on- or off-ramps between Lincoln and Sloat, making this section of the Great Highway inaccessible to most Sunset residents.

There is no proposal to close the Upper Great Highway north of Lincoln. Outer Richmond residents will still be able to drive 24 hours a day from Cliff House to Lincoln and anywhere along Sunset Boulevard.

Now the question is, what will happen to the section between Lincoln and Sloat if everything south of Sloat is closed anyway? The section from Lincoln to Sloat will be less useful as a direct connection to Daly City. That’s the letdown we have.

Do we turn this section into a seaside park by creating a new traffic route with better traffic flow? That’s the lemonade we could make out of it.

The voters have made the decision.

How did that happen Get on the ballot?

A supervisor can put a measure to a vote directly with the signatures of at least four supervisors.

Supervisors Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar, and Dean Preston joined me in putting this to a vote. Supervisor Ahsha Safai also supports the ballot proposal.

Why visiting the Voting matters

It’s important to note that the current Board of Supervisors is already willing to legislate for a full shutdown. There’s a large majority willing to close tomorrow. And in 2025, there could be a new class of supervisors who are in favor of closing by a two-thirds majority. That means they could potentially override a veto if a new mayor opposes the shutdown.

We must be aware of the political reality. The group that fought to reopen the highway to cars 24/7 lost a key appeal before the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission’s response signaled that it would support a permanent park.

I have been pushing to put the future of the Upper Great Highway to a vote so that voters can influence the issue. Otherwise, the closure will simply be legislated. A vote will give those opposed to the closure a chance to organize and prevent it. Without the vote, they will not have that chance.

Why the Vote in November 2024?

Elections will not be held again until June 2026. By then, the Board of Supervisors will likely have closed the Upper Great Highway.

If voters want to have a direct say in what happens to the Upper Great Highway, they must do so this November.

Why is the part-time park option not on the ballot?

A part-time park/highway option is not sustainable. It is difficult to create permanent parking infrastructure when the weekend park has to be converted back to a street every Monday morning. Dedicating half the area to a full-time park and the other half to a full-time street would cost the most and provide the least desirable experience for both motorists and park visitors. This option would create one lane in each direction, which would not provide the convenience desired by motorists. It would also create hazards for people crossing traffic to use the park.

A hybrid park/highway system would still incur all the costs of maintaining the road for cars, even if the road is far less useful, since everything south of Sloat is already scheduled to be closed. For example, the traffic lights on the Upper Great Highway between Lincoln and Sloat have reached the end of their life. They are rusted and need to be replaced – at a cost of nearly $10 million that could be used for something else.

Advantages of a park

Personally, I believe that a seaside park would be good for our city.

We’ve already seen the potential of the weekend road closure. The part-time park has brought joy to over three million visitors – from senior yoga to dragon dances, jazz performances to art exhibits, from Halloween costumes in parades to marching bands in a Fourth of July Independence Day parade.

Aside from being fun, it’s good for the environment and just makes sense.

The New York Times named the part-time park on the Upper Great Highway one of “52 Places for a Changed World.” Now we have the opportunity to make it a full-time park and make it official.

We could call it the Great Sunset Park.

Remember when the Embarcadero was covered by a double-decker freeway? When Crissy Field was a garbage dump? San Francisco today is unthinkable without the park restoration at Crissy Field and the revamped Embarcadero waterfront.

The decision to demolish the Embarcadero Freeway was controversial 35 years ago, just as the decision to demolish the Upper Great Highway is today. I wonder if the Upper Great Highway will be forgotten about cars like the old Embarcadero Freeway?

Can our children and the generations after them imagine San Francisco without a seaside park? Will we be the lucky ones to create this joyful place that will shape San Francisco for the next century?

We can decide this November.

Joel Engardio is the 4th District representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at engardio.com/contact.