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Should You Knowingly Move Next To Top Tourist Spot, Then Want It Shut Down?

SF to close "Crookedest Street in World" to vehicle traffic on busiest tourist weekends after residents complain about congestion and safety.

"Crookedest Street in World" - Lombard Street in San Francisco. Credit: Wikimedia.
"Crookedest Street in World" - Lombard Street in San Francisco. Credit: Wikimedia.
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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday'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 Tuesday'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 Tuesday's meeting. "We want it to be a safe tourist attraction."

--Bay City News
Geo Kitta May 22, 2014 at 12:42 PM
So typical of the "having your cake and eating it too" mentality. (seeing oneself as the center of the universe - screw all the people around them) They I have the money to buy property wherever they choose (why not a world renowned scenic spot?) and once they do they feel privileged to tell everyone where to go. Same thing happens around 11th st in SF where the nightclubs are - "let's move in to this groovy area - oh, but it's so noisy and congested - we'll need to put a stop to that!" I know someone who moved right behind the UPS facilities in Emeryville and then complained about the trucks starting up in the early hours of the morning. Can't have it both ways but add money and a loud voice and the inner Iyn Rand (selfishness as a virtue) comes shining through.
MadMonkey May 22, 2014 at 02:44 PM
San Franciscans are ruining their own city. Do you really want to take actions to curb tourism? Tourism that provides valuable tax revenue, income to thousands of people, pumping millions into our economy. I feel the same way about blocking buses in Alamo Square. These people consciously moved to a tourist location and then want to ban the tourists? Get a grip on reality and what those tourists bring to the city. Just like the whole "techies are evil", block tech busses and being against tech firms and residence. People can't get through their heads that these people provide tax revenue and pump millions of dollars into our local economy. The more people of SF do things like block major tourist destinations and combat businesses the faster they are going to move to the Detroit model of city planning.
Geo Kitta May 22, 2014 at 03:11 PM
I hear you loud and clear MM but in the same breath careful what you wish for as some of those "techies" are the very ones likely to push this kind of libertarian attitude. Tech booms come and go and change is inevitable but as you say SF's tourism industry is a constant and will always be of economic importance. If people don't like the congestion in these long-standing tourist areas - they should move away from it.
MadMonkey May 22, 2014 at 03:40 PM
I hear you, things will change, it is the one thing you can count on. Many times the same person that complains about the tourist in their tourist destination location are the same as the ones that typically complain about the techies in 'their' city changing things. I lived in SF for over 20 years and through a couple booms, this is nothing new. My main point is that people need to step back and use some common sense. Look at what the tourist or business brings to the city before you kick them to the curb. Many cities wish they had SF's "problems".
JKS May 23, 2014 at 02:43 PM
In the area I live, not so famous as SF, people move next to a school or an open space preserve and then lobby to get restrictions on the street in front of their house like resident only parking, no right turn from the main street to their street and no drop off zones. It's disgusting that this can happen when the taxpayers are paying to maintain these (not their) streets. Also, those destinations were there when they purchased their house and they bought it at a market price when those restrictions didn't exist.

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