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The history of reclaiming SF roads for pedestrians and people-powered vehicles

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Co-authored by Peter Tannen

Many of the open spaces we take for granted in our city’s parks were formerly roads for vehicles

From Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden and Skatin’ Place to the multi-use path on McLaren Park’s Brazil Avenue, it’s hard to imagine cars in these places when today they are so popular with pedestrians and people-powered vehicles.

You can still see evidence that cars used to drive up to the top of hilltop parks such as Buena Vista, Mount Davidson, Bayview Hill, and Mount Sutro. Incredibly, the beautiful viewing area at the top of Buena Vista was a parking lot up until 1987.

This 1943 map offers clues to many of the changes that have occurred in Golden Gate Park.

What was “Marx Meadow Drive” is now a path that borders spacious Marx Meadow, a peaceful picnic area, outdoor music venue, and disc golf tee-off. You can also see that 6th Avenue and the Presidio Parkway both continued into the park at the time.

“Main Drive” was a road that went right up the middle of the Panhandle! While we might question the wisdom of the early park planners, bear in mind that the Panhandle was designed in the era of horse-drawn carriages.

The western road along North Lake and Spreckles Lake Drive from the lake to 30th Avenue was converted to multi-use paths in the 1980s. Making Arguello Boulevard by Kezar Drive a car-free space happened just in the last few years. It was first converted from a through street to a dead end street so that cars could not cross the bicycle path along Kezar Drive.

Thinking about the next people-first spaces

There’s still a lot of work to be done to create more people-first spaces in our city. We hope that these examples serve as inspiration to continue to reclaim roads for people.

Be sure to sign the petition in support of a car-free Upper Great Highway. And if you want to take a unique walk through Golden Gate Park, check out Walk SF’s Lakes of Golden Gate Park walk.

Nancy Botkin is a longtime Walk SF volunteer and walk organizer. Nancy is part of “Walk Lab”: a group of knowledgeable and creative volunteers who research routes for Walk SF. Pete Tannen is a retired transportation planner and engineer and was San Francisco’s very first Bicycle Program Manager. He uses his passion for exploring out-of-the-way places to lead hikes and bike rides for the SFSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Sierra Club, and the Friends of Recreation and Parks (now SF Parks Alliance).