City seeks limits on ‘crookedest street’ cars

San Francisco’s “crookedest street” — Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth —  could soon be temporary closed to vehicles on certain summer weekends.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is proposing a pilot to temporary close Lombard Street between Larkin and Leavenworth to eastbound traffic because of safety concerns. Thousands come every year to drive down the picturesque winding block.

The two block-stretch would be closed to vehicles during four summer weekends starting June 21 to July 13. The pilot would also include closing the streets on July 4 holiday, which lands on a Friday this year.

The transit agency highlighted in a report major accidents on the crooked street over the past three years, including a vehicle hitting the metal railing back In July 2011 causing injuries to pedestrians.

Another collision involved a car traveling over the speed limit that ran over a fire hydrant flooding the area including residential buildings.

Russian Hill residents told the San Francisco Chronicle in January that the mix of pedestrian and traffic is a cause of concern. Tourists frequently stop in the middle of the intersection of Lombard and Leavenworth streets to take photos with the crooked street behind them.

The pilot has already received written support from the Lombard Hill Improvement Association and the Russian Hill Neighbors. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who presents the neighborhood, is also in support of the project.

Steve Taber, a member of the Russian Hill Neighbors, told SFBay that traffic congestion is getting worse in the area:

“Frequently, traffic backs up on Lombard several blocks, with cars often waiting on block between Van Ness and Franklin, in line to go down the crooked street.”

Transit officials said they have looked at alternatives for years to deal with the congestion issue on Lombard Street including putting a gate on the street and privatizing the street.

Current state law prohibits the SFMTA from placing a permanent gate on any street allowing a few select individuals like residents to enter the street.

Property owners who live on the crooked street could decide who can have access to street if they acquire ownership of the block. That could be a costly solution for property owners who would now have to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the street.

The transit agency has restricted right turns from northbound Hyde onto Lombard, which helps prevent the Hyde Street cable car from backups. It does not, however, address the number of vehicles lined up on Lombard Street.

A task force was even convened in 2000 by the former Department of Parking and Traffic to come up with possible solutions for Lombard Street. The department released a report but there was no agreement on permanent solutions.

The task force talked about the possibility of closing Lombard street between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street during peak traffic periods but feared traffic would shift to other parallel streets as long as the crooked street remained opened to vehicles.

The SFMTA for years now have deployed parking control officers to help alleviate the queuing of vehicles wanting to drive on the crooked street during the summer weekends — a peak time for tourists to visit the attraction.

If SFMTA board members approve the pilot, the transit agency said it will monitor the temporary street closure to see if congestion improves on Lombard Street between Van Ness Avenue and Hyde Street, and how parallel streets react to the temporary street closure.

SFMTA board members will take up the pilot at their Tuesday board meeting at City Hall, 1 p.m. in Room 400.

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