Gridlock at the World-Famous “Crooked Street” Prompts Legislation to Soothe Residents' Woes.

Pati Navalta Poblete | August 23, 2019 | Lifestyle City Life Culture

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Perhaps the world’s most famous road, Lombard Street has up to 17,000 visitors a day, tangling traffic for
its residents.

Looking to take a drive down the famed twisty segment of Lombard Street? There’s an app for that—or so California State Assemblyman Phil Ting hopes there will be in the near future.

When residents built the hairpin turns in 1922 on the brick road, they hoped to tackle its 27-degree grade, which made it difficult for cars in that era to climb. Never could they imagine they were laying the foundation for what would become one of the city’s most popular tourist spots, attracting more than 2 million visitors per year. In fact, between cars queuing up to take their turns down the road and people capturing selfies at the bottom of the street, what once was an answer to transportation woes has now become the exact opposite.

“On a busy summer weekend, that street can see 17,000 visitors a day on one block,” says Ting. “What ends up happening is that the block gets overrun; then, at the bottom of the hill, you have people taking pictures while all the cars are coming down. You also have all the traffic on the side streets, with cars queuing within four blocks from that street in gridlock. We want to make it a better experience for tourists and residents.”

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Pay-to-Pass Pilot Program
Ting’s AB 1605, he says, is the first step to doing just that. The bill, which was approved by the state assembly May 2, gives the City and County of San Francisco the authority to charge drivers by establishing a reservation and pricing system, similar to what is implemented at neighboring national monument Muir Woods. Ting says the bill must be passed in order for the pilot program to launch because existing law prohibits local agencies from imposing a tax or permit fee for the use of a public street or highway.

“The reservation system will make it a nicer experience,” says Ting. “Someone can pay a little, get a reservation and not have to wait in line for hours. If you had a choice of paying $5 for a reservation or waiting two hours in line, what would you choose?”

For nearly a decade, Supervisor Catherine Stefani (District 2), has worked to find ways to alleviate the congestion surrounding the tourist hot spot, first as a staffer for Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, then with Supervisor Mark Farrell. These efforts included an exhaustive study conducted by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority headed by its executive director, Tilly Chang, which concluded in 2017. The study cited “… increasing safety concerns related to vehicle congestion, pedestrian congestion and tourism, with these issues spilling over to surrounding blocks on both ends of the crooked street.”

Balancing Residents’ Peace of Mind with Tourism Draw
In an effort to prevent the long lines of cars, the pilot program would allow for the flow and demand of automobiles entering Lombard Street (popularly known as the “crookedest street in the world”) to be regulated. According to language in the bill, “an all-electronic system, supported by a website, mobile app and on-street kiosks would enable reservations, payments and user support without the need for a staffed physical booth or toll gate on-site, thereby minimizing visual impact and operational cost.” Before accessing the crooked street by vehicle, visitors would go to a website, app or kiosk to select a day and time to visit the street, registering with their license plate number.

The proposal now moves to the state Senate for approval before being sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. This year’s deadline for all bills to reach the governor is Sept. 13. According to Ting, if the proposal is signed, the city will start planning and designing the pilot program with community input.

“I remember going down the street for the first time about 20 to 30 years ago,” says Ting. “I was studying at Berkeley at the time, around the early ’90s. People love the city because it’s beautiful and a little quirky, and the street personifies this. We just want to make this a better experience for everyone.” What do you think of the proposal? Send a letter to the editor at letterssf@sanfranmag.com



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Photography by: Gersh Daniel Gerstenhaber/Getty Images & Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock