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The de Young’s Latest Exhibit is a Semi-Stealthy Push to Reopen JFK to Cars

2:08 PM PST on November 17, 2021

This article first appeared in the Frisc and is reprinted with permission.

If you didn’t look closely — and even if you did — you might not realize that a new website advocating to return cars to John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park’s main roadway, was paid for by the parent organization of the de Young Museum.

Only if you click on the “FAQ” page would you see this note:

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That’s not the only relevant information that the new site, at the URL parkaccess4all.org, obfuscates — or omits altogether. The site is the latest twist in a long fight over the post-pandemic future of Golden Gate Park. San Francisco has generally supported limiting cars on neighborhood “slow streets” to give residents safer recreational space and breathing room, but permanent plans to alter the park’s JFK Drive and the Great Highway, by Ocean Beach, have run into resistance.

The de Young brass has been adamant that the JFK Drive closure is bad for its customers and workers, and the new site pushes that view hard — and disingenuously. Take, for example, a claim that moving JFK Drive’s disabled parking spaces to Fulton Street would be dangerous for people with disabilities since Fulton is on the city’s “high injury network.”

Fulton is indeed on the network’s list of streets. But the site fails to note that JFK Drive, before it was closed to cars, was also on the high injury network. (See slide 8 of this presentation.) And the site wants to go back to that, full stop: “It is time to restore JFK Drive to its pre-pandemic configuration” — language that echoes what SF Fine Arts Museums chief Thomas Campbell said at last month’s board of trustees meeting.

(Pre-pandemic, JFK was only closed to cars on Sundays and holidays and some Saturdays.)

The Frisc reached out to FAMSF spokeswoman Helena Nordstrom about the website, which the de Young has also touted to its email subscribers. For most questions, including why the site calls for a reopening and cites bike and pedestrian safety, Nordstrom said she needed to consult with colleagues.

[Update: Nordstrom sent a response via email over the weekend. We have included it in full at the bottom of this story.]

The site’s main point is that the JFK Drive closure is severely limiting access to some of the park’s beloved sites, like the Conservatory of Flowers, the Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the de Young. Apparently that’s because people with mobility limitations cannot drive right up to them and park, either in ADA (blue zone) spaces or in regular parking spots.

That is a half-truth. Many places in Golden Gate Park, like the SF Botanical Garden, are not even on JFK, and pandemic or no, you can drive up and park — if you can find parking. Sure, closing JFK reduces total available spots. The stretch now closed to cars, roughly 25 city blocks long, had around 549 parking spaces.

What the site doesn’t say, though, is that the underground garage beneath the de Young and Music Concourse has 800 parking spaces. In fact, the site fails to mention the garage at all, except for an oblique reference to restricted access for “those who cannot afford to pay for parking.” There are also about 4,700 parking spaces in the park that are still fair game, according to the Recreation and Park Department.

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Parking available in Golden Gate Park. Even with road closures (in green), about 4,700 spots remain, split about evenly between the western and eastern halves of the park. (SF Recreation and Park Department)
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Since the site doesn’t mention the parking garage, there’s no way to know that the underground facility, which is accessible from the north and south sides of the park, provides exquisitely easy access to the de Young (walk right in from the garage), the Academy of Sciences (take an elevator up to the entrance), and the Japanese Tea Garden. Those attractions account for many of the park’s visitors. Nor does the site mention that using the garage for drop-off and pickup is free.

About those fees: Sure, it sucks for those who cannot afford to pay $6.25 per hour on weekends and weekday evenings. There’s movement to change those rates, however.

A nonbinding resolution from Sup. Connie Chan and adopted by the Board of Supervisors in September urges the city to consider free garage parking for some SF residents. (Chan’s proposal also aimed to allow cars back on one part of JFK, but it was watered down.) Other legislation before the board could give SF’s transit agencies the right to reset the garage rates, but there’s a big caveat: Changes cannot impact the garage’s ability to pay off its debt with parking revenue.

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