San Francisco’s Cyclists Cheer a Highway Much less Traveled. Museums Mourn It.

San Francisco’s Cyclists Cheer a Highway Much less Traveled. Museums Mourn It.

SAN FRANCISCO — From the highest of the Hamon Remark Tower on the de Younger Museum, with its sweeping views of San Francisco, John F. Kennedy Drive cuts a delicate curve via Golden Gate Park under. It’s, as of late, a street with out vehicles, put aside for pedestrians and bicyclists because the starting of the pandemic, which pressured the museum to close down for almost a 12 months.

However because the de Younger comes slowly again to life, this six-lane street has turn into a flash level, pitting two traditionally influential constituencies — cultural establishments and park fans — towards one another in a divisive debate about public house, the humanities and the priorities of a metropolis rethinking its future after the pandemic.

For park-goers, closing the street to vehicles has proven what might be and ought to be: A broad boulevard that cuts via the town’s premier park, reworked right into a secure, quiet refuge for individuals to get pleasure from on foot, Rollerblades, skate boards and bicycles.

For the museum, the closed street has turn into one other impediment because it tries to attract individuals again to an establishment barely off the crushed path. The street closing has minimize off the vehicular strategy from the north facet of the park, made it harder for vehicles to make deliveries and eradicated free parking spots, together with some put aside for individuals with disabilities.

“It’s the very last thing we want as we attempt to reopen and get the museums again up and functioning, ” stated Thomas P. Campbell, the director of the Effective Arts Museums of San Francisco, which oversees the de Younger.

The de Younger, which is thought for its assortment of American, African and Oceanic artwork and artwork of the Americas, along with intensive holdings of costumes and textile work, has been urgent to reverse the ban on autos on the 1.5-mile stretch that runs by the museum. Its objections have been echoed by the California Academy of Sciences, a natural-history museum throughout the road. The museums wish to return to the prepandemic coverage of closing the street solely on Sundays and a few Saturdays.

However park fans stated that the explosion of bikers, joggers, runners and scooters through the pandemic was proof of the necessity to completely ban vehicles from the street. Jodie Medeiros, the manager director of Stroll San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, known as it a “silver lining to an actual robust pandemic” that far outweighed any inconvenience suffered by the museum.

“We noticed the advantages of this via the pandemic and we wish to maintain it that means,” stated Medeiros. “It is a small slice the place individuals can let down their guard, be extra relaxed.”

The talk is shaping up as a take a look at for the humanities neighborhood at a time it’s grappling with declining revenues, competitors for philanthropic {dollars} and the problem of bringing guests again after a 12 months of shutdowns.

Few cities can match San Francisco for the dedication its authorities and philanthropic donors should the humanities. That devotion is mirrored in its community of high quality museums, in addition to the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, all of which have lengthy performed outstanding roles in society life right here.

However the museums and their supporters could also be outmatched on this combat — an outdated guard utilizing old-school strategies because it confronts a coalition of well-organized, passionate advocates who’ve packed conferences of the board of supervisors and have surprised museum executives with barrages of assaults on social media.

Megan Bourne, the chief of employees for the museums, stated they had been confronting a coalition that had been organizing for 20 years. “It has a big voice within the metropolis,” she stated. “It has quite a lot of affect of how the roads are used.”

However it’s not solely park customers and advocates who’ve applauded closing the roads within the 1,017-acre park to autos. Metropolis recreation officers stated they had been delighted by a pointy enhance in bicycle site visitors because the shutdown started. The town counted 664,437 bikes on the street between October 2020 and April 2021, greater than 5 instances the bike site visitors measured throughout those self same months two years earlier. They stated they had been intent on discovering an answer that will construct on these beneficial properties, whereas accommodating a number of the museums’ issues.

Earlier than the Covid shutdown, officers stated, three-quarters of the vehicles that handed via the park used the drive as a shortcut to keep away from the site visitors lights and congestion of the encompassing metropolis blocks.

“It could turn into much less handy for some guests that would like to park only a few steps from the museum at no cost all day,” stated Phil Ginsburg, the final supervisor of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Division. “We get it. However that comfort ought to be balanced with this unimaginable enhance in wholesome park makes use of on J.F.Okay.”

The Effective Arts Museums of San Francisco, the group that runs the de Younger and Legion of Honor museums, took in $68.5 million in revenues in 2019, the 12 months earlier than the pandemic. That dropped to $56.4 million final 12 months. Whereas donors and the town contributed more cash in 2020, the museums noticed a pointy decline in earned earnings, as admissions revenues dropped to $2.3 million from $9 million the prior 12 months.

At instances the controversy has grown heated.

“What you may have are museums which are full of the richest and most linked individuals in San Francisco they usually wish to inform us who can play within the park,” stated Matthew Brezina, a bike owner and a frontrunner of the motion to shut the streets.

“They’re on public land,” he stated. “They’ve been having their means with this road for many years.”

Campbell, the director of the Effective Arts Museums of San Francisco, stated that advocates of closing the street had seized on the pandemic as “the proper alternative to push this via.”

The street had provided 280 free parking areas inside a half-mile of the museum’s entrance, and 17 for disabled individuals inside 1 / 4 mile of the doorway. There’s an 800-car storage close by, however it prices $5.25 an hour, and extra on weekends.

Campbell took a customer to the highest of the tower and pointed down on the drive which was, on this weekday morning, pretty empty — no vehicles, in fact, however not many pedestrians both, although it will replenish because the day bought later. “All of us share the imaginative and prescient of zero accidents and fewer vehicles, however the abrupt closure, beneath cowl of the Covid disaster, with out full evaluation, is actually impacting entry to the park and entry to the museums,” he stated.

Ike Kwon, chief working officer of the California Academy of Sciences, stated his patrons had complained of congestion on alternate routes to that museum. “It actually does have an effect on these with mobility challenges, and in addition individuals with youthful kids who come from far-off,” he stated.

Shamann Walton, the president of the board of supervisors, argued in an op-ed within the San Francisco Examiner that banning vehicles was “leisure redlining”; chopping off the park to individuals with disabilities and minorities who don’t reside close to Golden Gate.

But many individuals consider that even throughout this troublesome time for the humanities — and in a metropolis identified for its vibrant arts scene — the priorities in a post-Covid world have turn into clear. David G. Miles Jr., a roller-skater who has been pushing to ban car site visitors from the park for 40 years, stated he doubted vehicles would ever return, irrespective of how a lot the museums object.

“Individuals need the park closed to automotive site visitors,” he stated. “There’s an vitality that’s stronger than it’s ever been. You may combat all of it you need, however I believe they’ll lose this. The individuals need this.”

Campbell, who beforehand served as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York till he was pressured to resign within the face of stress from trustees and employees, stated he had been unprepared for a way fraught this combat would turn into.

“It is a very political metropolis,” he stated. “There are some very highly effective lobbying teams just like the bike coalition. We don’t really feel that our standpoint is being taken into consideration as metropolis establishments.”

The board of supervisors, which can make the ultimate resolution on the street later this 12 months, has requested for extra examine of the problem within the face of excessive feelings on either side, however notably from Golden Gate denizens who’ve been preventing this battle for many years.

“They’re much less skilled at advocacy and the sort of civic engagement than the bicycle coalition and the opposite teams of activists who’re pushing for a car-free J.F.Okay. Drive,” stated Gordon Mar, a member of the board of supervisors whose district abuts the park. “The management of establishments just like the de Younger and the Academy of Sciences don’t interact in native policymaking and political efforts as a lot as the folks on the opposite facet.”

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