Lombard street, known as “the crookedest street in the world,” is a famous tourist attraction and landmark. People from around the world recognize and visit this world-class destination for the classic views and experience.
Tourism is vital to our local economy — it is one of our biggest economic drivers. Thankfully, over the past couple years, tourism continues to be on the rise as more and more visitors come to visit our beautiful city. In our roughly seven-by-seven-mile city, residents and visitors alike can feel the strains of more people on city streets and at destinations. The “crookedest street” is no different.
In the last five years alone, visits to Lombard Street in Russian Hill have more than doubled. It is the second most-visited tourist attraction behind the Golden Gate Bridge and now welcomes approximately two million visitors annually. That’s two million visitors a year in a largely residential neighborhood with no tourism
infrastructure in place to support the sheer amount of traffic and visitors.
The behavior by some visitors and the amount of people frequenting the attraction has more recently created a “wild west” atmosphere and real quality-of-life concerns not only for the residents who live on the crooked block, but for the surrounding neighborhoods and residents as well.
My office regularly receives photos and reports of this behavior. We’ve seen children in strollers placed in the middle of the crosswalk at the top of a cresting hill for photo opportunities. We’ve seen elderly visitors pushed in wheelchairs right down the middle of the street. We’ve seen cars overheat and catch on fire in the summer months. Residents report tourists using their gardens as restrooms or knocking on doors of people’s homes to ask to use their restrooms. I have witnessed skateboarders flying down the street at dangerous speeds and young people scaling retaining walls to get their selfies. The street presents a mix of dangerous behaviors and is a real public safety concern.
I believe we need real solutions on congestion management to give Russian Hill and surrounding neighborhoods relief while still managing visitor access to the street. I have been working diligently year after year to do just that.
You may remember that during the summer of 2014, the SFMTA piloted a closure of the block, making it accessible only to pedestrians. This just pushed vehicle congestion to the surrounding blocks and neighborhoods. It was not the overall best solution for the neighborhoods.
In 2015, I secured funding through the city’s budget process to launch the Lombard Street Ambassador program. The program hires workers to serve as a go-between for residents and tourists to help make sure visitors stay off private property and out of the middle of the street. The ambassadors also help provide information to visitors and act as a deterrent to bad and disruptive behavior. While the ambassador program has been successful and is still running today, the program has its limits.
That is why I also secured funding in the same year for the Transportation Authority to do an exhaustive study of the corridor and give recommendations that will provide relief to our neighborhoods. For its report, the Transportation Authority did onsite observations of traffic circulation, traffic volume counts, and intercept surveys and conducted various interviews with local residents, transportation experts, and small businesses. We just released the report late last month that provides short-term and mid-term recommendations to deal with the growing issues in and around the corridor.
For the short-term recommendations, we will be working with SFMTA and SFPD to beef up the enforcement of existing laws and are working with the entire tourism industry as partners in helping to educate visitors about the attraction and relevant rules. I am also fighting to secure more funds in the budget this year to staff the additional enforcement officers and add engineering and signage enhancements.
One of the mid-term solutions that recently got a lot of attention was the idea of creating a toll — through a reservation and pricing system similar to the Golden Gate Bridge — for visitors and noncity residents to pay to access the street. While the idea of a toll might cause some to double-take, the solution is backed by solid data, analysis, and deep community support.
The toll is not meant to be a cash cow for the city. The reservation system will be demand-driven, so we can appropriately manage access to the street and pay for the staff and appropriate resources necessary to better manage the issues happening in the neighborhoods.
While the tolling system needs further study and legislative approvals to be implemented, I believe we should actively be working toward making it a reality. Later this month, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board (comprised of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors) will discuss the report in further detail and give further direction on which recommendations merit implementation and further study.
With more than two million people a year visiting Lombard Street this community- and expert-driven approach is essential to maintaining public safety, the quality of life, and ensuring that visitors can continue to enjoy this world-famous landmark for years to come.
I look forward to continuing my work with the surrounding neighborhoods, the Transportation Authority, and all relevant city agencies and departments to push for implementation of all the report’s short-term and mid-term solutions.