San Francisco Debates Reopening Streets Closed During Pandemic

    29 May 2021

    San Francisco closed some major roads to cars during the coronavirus pandemic to provide more space for people to safely exercise and socialize. Now, a debate has begun over whether to permanently keep vehicles off some of those roads.

    Some citizens are pushing to keep cars off some of the city's much-used streets, like the main road into Golden Gate Park. Others support reopening the roads to traffic, saying the step is a necessary part of returning to normal life.

    San Francisco closed more than 72 kilometers of neighborhood streets. The closures began in April 2020 after mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency.

    City officials are now trying to decide which roads might remain closed permanently. Debate over the issue has been marked by demonstrations on both sides that have centered on safety and environmental concerns.

    People rally to reopen the Great Highway to vehicles again in San Francisco, on May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Janie Har)
    People rally to reopen the Great Highway to vehicles again in San Francisco, on May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Janie Har)

    Shamann Walton is president of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors. He has argued against the continued closure of John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive in Golden Gate Park, a major road. He said closing the street and its free parking spaces will affect low-income families who cannot easily bike or take public transportation to the park.

    San Francisco's Vanessa Gregson loves the fact that JFK Drive, a four-lane road that runs along the beach, is automobile free. She now rides her bicycle through the area and enjoys the quiet. "You hear the beach. You hear the waves," Gregson told The Associated Press. "You feel like you're in nature, and you're in San Francisco."

    But Tim Boyle, who lives near the road, says life has been anything but peaceful since the street was closed to cars. This is because trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles now move through his neighborhood because of the closures. He said his street used to be very peaceful. Now he finds traffic near his home is very heavy.

    About 2.4 kilometers of JFK Drive remain closed to vehicles. The road through Golden Gate Park is normally used by more than 24 million visitors a year. Another closed street, the city's Great Highway, usually carries more than 18,000 vehicles a day.

    San Francisco's streets are set to reopen 120 days after the mayor lifts an emergency declaration, which could come next month. A city spokeswoman said the Board of Supervisors will make the final decision about JFK Drive and the Great Highway. They could decide to fully or partly reopen the roads or keep them permanently closed to vehicles.

    Seattle and New York are other U.S. cities looking to permanently ban cars from streets temporarily closed during the pandemic. In Europe, Paris officials announced plans to ban most traffic in the city's center, with exceptions for public transportation, delivery trucks and residents' vehicles.

    Connie Chan is the supervisor for an area affected by the closures along the beach and in Golden Gate Park. She told the AP she thinks most people are probably in the middle on the issue, wanting both open space and clear transportation paths. "They just want to be able to go where they need to go, and not be stuck in traffic," Chan said.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    parking n. leaving a vehicle in a particular place for a period of time

    deliveryn. the taking of things to a person or place

    residentn. someone who lives in a particular place