Should San Francisco Reopen the Great Highway?

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COVID-19 changed many things about the world, one of which was how we move around cities. In San Francisco, two major roadways were closed as a result of the pandemic. That change was great for some residents but problematic for others.
Now residents and city officials are forced to grapple with a complex issue: do the positives of highway removal like reducing pollution outweigh the potential side effects?
Pedestrian symbol and bike symbol painted on the street to indicate lanes
Many San Francisco residents want to see car-free roads stay closed | Twenty20

Two of California’s major roadways closed during the pandemic

According to Autoblog, in April of last year, San Francisco barred vehicles from stretches of selected roadways, and turned them into pedestrian and bike-friendly paths. In total, San Francisco residents saw over 45 miles of roadway closed to cars. 120 days after the mayor of the city lifted their COVID-19 emergency declaration, the roadways are set to reopen.
Two of the roadways affected included John F. Kennedy Drive and the Great Highway. The city closed 1.5 miles of JFK Drive and two miles of the Great Highway. 24 million people pass through JFK Drive each year, and over 18,000 cars drive through the Great Highway in a day.
The challenge for the city now is determining which streets to reopen and which ones to keep closed to pedestrians. They have three main options: fully reopen them to cars, keep them fully closed for the benefit of bike riders and walkers, or open them partially. The ultimate decision will fall to the city’s Board of Supervisors.

Pros and cons of reopening the Great Highway and JFK Drive

The pandemic has impacted our lifestyles in many negative ways, but it has also exposed different ways to do things. Road closures gave San Francisco residents more opportunity to walk or bike without the presence of vehicles.
Currently, with rising gas prices, increased remote work, and other considerations, driving might not be the most attractive option. Closing a highway can reduce noise, pollution, and the threat of auto accidents.
The main issue is figuring out what to do with displaced traffic. The city cutting off portions of the roads means that people might need to drive through neighboring streets. Autoblog reported that some residents found that the noise, car fumes, and traffic has simply moved from the highway to residential streets.
As businesses reopen, drivers will need accessible ways to get to work and move around the city. Before San Francisco makes these main road closures permanent, the city will have to consider how different groups of residents will be impacted.

San Francisco residents’ reaction to the closure varied

Charles Oppenheimer, a San Francisco resident with an 11-year-old daughter, is all in favor of the move. He said that in the past, walking through these areas was scary for pedestrians. “There’s cars double-parked and rage drivers through the park, honking at kids, and now that it’s shut down, it’s so much better,” Oppenheimer said.
Connie Chan, a local supervisor, doesn’t agree. She noted the need for traffic options for local drivers. “They just want to be able to go where they need to go, and not be stuck in traffic,” Chan said.
It’s easy to see it from both sides. However, it’s hard to argue with the need for more pedestrian-friendly and eco-friendly solutions in the future. Photographer Steve Rhodes actually wants more closures, and said that “people are going to have to rely less on cars.”
Self-driving cars, electric vehicles, and other innovations are in progress that aim to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and keep pedestrians safer on the road. Cars likely aren’t going away anytime soon. For now, San Francisco will have to balance making roads safe for pedestrians with having accessible roads for drivers.
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