The famous crooked section of Lombard Street in San Francisco will be closed to most vehicle traffic for four of the busiest tourist weekends this summer as part of a pilot program designed to reduce congestion in the area.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors unanimously approved the pilot program at its meeting this afternoon. The program will close eastbound Lombard between Larkin and Leavenworth streets between noon and 6 p.m. on four summer weekends: June 21-22, 28-29, July 4-6 and 12-13.
The plan grew from complaints by neighbors in the area that tourist congestion has increased in recent years leading to residents having difficulties getting in and out of their houses, particularly along the single-lane, winding stretch of Lombard between Hyde and Leavenworth streets.
Backups of cars queuing up to enter the crooked street are stretching all the way to Van Ness Avenue, disrupting San Francisco Municipal Railway and cable car service, city traffic engineer Ricardo Olea said at today’s SFMTA meeting.
He said that foot and vehicle traffic from tourists has been increasing over time, and despite the addition of new traffic control officers in the area, the problems have persisted.
Tourists often stand in the middle of the street to take photographs because the best pictures came from the street while other tourists stop while driving down the crooked street and get out of their cars for a photo opportunity, Olea said.
The numerous cars and pedestrians create not just a congestion issue, but a safety issue as well, Olea said.
“The residents are not anti-tourist as has been portrayed sometimes,” he said, pointing out that it is neighbors who maintain the streetside decorative flowers.
Several residents spoke during today’s public comment period, saying that the high density of tourists in the area also causes deterioration of municipal infrastructure and even that the tourists themselves can create a danger through a “mob mentality.”
Richard Juster, who said he has lived at 2304 Leavenworth St. for the last 30 years, said that while the proposed pilot addresses some of the auto traffic, he said that more and more pedestrians have been crowding intersections there and that should be addressed as well.
“It’s a mess right now and has become qualitatively worse in the last two to three years,” Juster said.
He said that tour buses have been letting 20-50 tourists off at a time on Columbus Street who then walk up to Lombard Street and that the crowds are there on weekends and weekdays all year, not just in the summer season.
James Hickman of the Lombard Hill Improvement Association said that the issues are about safety because the tourists can be aggressive and have threatened him and his wife.
“What you essentially have here is thousands of cars a day directed onto a tiny one lane, one block, difficult to pass street that is only designed for a few cars at a time,” he said. “It’s like selling 100,000 tickets to a Giants game that can only hold 38,000 people.”
Taxi driver Tariq Mehmood said that the problems were overstated and closing the street to traffic is not a safety issue, but an issue with a few neighbors getting annoyed because they chose to live at a tourist destination.
He said when he drops people off at Lombard Street, no matter their age, “they are behaving like 10-year-old kids. Their faces light up when they see the crooked street.”
By closing access to a popular tourist destination, he said it sends the wrong message to the millions of tourists from all over the world who visit the city: “Don’t come to San Francisco! We are closing!”
The board of directors agreed to start the pilot program with a unanimous vote, but said that it would be closely monitored in case it impacts traffic in other areas or sees pedestrians spilling into the streets along the crooked area of Lombard Street.
Residents who live on the crooked street will be able to access the street by vehicle in order to reach their homes, and the directors instructed their staff to look into the feasibility of allowing taxis to use the street so that people physically unable to climb the steep hill because of disabilities would have another option.
Olea said that a system would have to be devised for traffic officers to check if people entering the street lived there and it wasn’t clear at this point what that would look like.
The request for the pilot program came from Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office, who represents the area.
“Whether or not this is the answer, we don’t know, but we think something needs to be done,” Farrell legislative aid Catherine Stefani said at today’s meeting. “We want it to be a safe tourist attraction.”
Scott Morris, Bay City News