City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco secures court victory affirming temporary westside road closures

Decision ensures residents can continue to recreate safely at the partially-closed Great Highway, JFK Drive, and MLK Drive during the pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (February 10, 2022) — City Attorney David Chiu, Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg, and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Director Jeffrey Tumlin released the following statements today after a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the City’s emergency, temporary closure of three roads under Park Department jurisdiction was authorized by law. The City has temporarily closed the Great Highway, John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive, and Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Drive to private vehicle traffic to provide the public safe opportunities for recreation during the COVID-19 emergency.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

The court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments and found Plaintiffs had not met the requirements for the preliminary injunction they sought. The Court found that the City had properly exercised its authority under state and local law to temporarily close the roads. Also, the Court found that there was a high level of interest to continue using the streets for walking, rolling, hiking, and strolling during the pandemic.

“I am pleased the Court agreed that the City was well within its authority to provide residents a safe space to recreate,” said City Attorney Chiu. “Over the course of the pandemic, these spaces have become some of the most utilized, beloved recreation areas in the City.”

“One of the pandemic’s few bright spots was our City’s willingness to try out bold new ideas, such as allowing safe, healthy recreation on streets previously open to vehicles. JFK Drive and the Great Highway became respites from isolation, places to connect with each other and improve our mental and physical health,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “I’m pleased these streets will continue to be a source of joy while the City continues to engage with the public on their long-term future.”

“Opening Great Highway and JFK to people has allowed thousands of San Franciscans to exercise outdoors every day, enjoy parks with their families and travel across town safely while Muni service is fully restored,” said SFMTA Director Tumlin. “We’re glad the court has supported the City’s current public engagement process which addresses safety, accessibility and traffic concerns, while expanding their benefits equitably to all San Franciscans.”

Case Background

In April 2020, the Great Highway and a portion of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park were closed to vehicle traffic in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect public safety, and give residents a safe space to recreate during the pandemic. A portion of MLK Drive in Golden Gate Park was closed to vehicle traffic in September 2020.

In addition to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries, the partial road closures turned these corridors into some of the most visited open spaces in the City. Almost seven million pedestrian and bike trips were made on car-free JFK Drive between April 2020 and September 2021, and each month, an average of 126,000 people use the Great Highway for walking, cycling, and recreating.

In August 2021, the City reopened the Great Highway to vehicle traffic on weekdays to support families getting to and from recently reopened schools.

To determine the long-term future of these spaces, the Recreation and Park Department and SFMTA have conducted a series of public meetings, surveys and tours to solicit feedback and gather information on the impacts of various potential options. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the permanent status of these spaces in the near future.

Despite the partial reopening of the Great Highway and the public meetings currently considering the long-term future of these spaces, the Plaintiffs filed suit in December 2021 challenging the City’s authority to close the roads to private vehicles. The Court did not find merit in their claims and rejected their motion for a preliminary injunction.

The ruling can be found here. The case is Open the Great Highway Alliance v. Philip Ginsburg, San Francisco Superior Court, CPF-21-517641.