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San Francisco officials and activists celebrated completion of a safety improvement project they hope will protect pedestrians and bicyclists as they roam and ride through Golden Gate Park. Heather Miller, the woman whose death largely inspired the project, was remembered as results were unveiled with a commemorative final striping. 

Wednesday marked completion of an extensive safety project three years in the making, which Tom Maguire, interim director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said was a collaborative effort with the community and the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks.

The work included installation of 10 speed humps, 13 raised crosswalks with high-visibility striping, median extensions, floating red curb bike lane protection and other safety improvements throughout the park.

Maguire said during the final striping ceremony that all improvements were designed with an eye toward traffic calming. 

Jerold Chinn/SFBay District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown helps stripe a crosswalk at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, October 2, 2019.

Maguire said:

“We know that we have an epidemic of speeding in San Francisco and that speeding is the cause of most of the traffic fatalities we face in San Francisco.”

Heather Miller, 41, was killed in 2016 while riding her bike along John F. Kennedy Drive near 30th Avenue. A vehicle speeding inside the park struck Miller and the driver, later identified as Nicky Garcia, fled the scene. Garcia was later arrested and charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run and auto burglary.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said:

“In Heather’s memory and in the memory of so many others who have been injured or killed on our streets, we push and advocate for the kind of safety improvements that you see behind us, like raised crosswalks that are proven to slow vehicles down, improve safety and save lives.”

After Miller’s death, late Mayor Ed Lee issued the transit agency a directive to identify short-term traffic calming measures for JFK Drive.

In 2016, the SFMTA installed nine speed humps and one raised crosswalk on JFK Drive, just west of Transverse Drive.

After those initial changes were made, the SFMTA teamed with Rec and Park to solicit input from the community. They held an open house to gather public feedback and refined many of the safety measures in place now.

JFK Drive is on The City’s High-injury Network, a map of identified corridors representing only 13 percent of city streets but where 75 percent of severe and fatal collisions occur.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay SFMTA Interim Director of Transportation, left, spoke about recent bike and pedestrian safety improvements at Golden Gate Park at a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, October 32 2019.

Marta Lindsey, communications director for Walk San Francisco, said that although weekends once posed the most threat, increasing weekday traffic through the park is subsequently increasing overall risk.

Lindsey said:

“We shouldn’t have to worry about vehicle traffic. We shouldn’t have to worry about our safety.”

Supervisor Vallie Brown said:

“These improvements (are) a way to get people’s attention and let people know this is a safe zone. Slow down. Look for pedestrians because this park is the people’s park and it is really the jewel of San Francisco.”

Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg said about 25 million people visit Golden Gate Park each year, and keeping residents and park visitors safe is the department’s top priority.

“We have to remember that this is fundamentally a park where people should be on a bicycle and people should be walking and enjoying and literally smelling the flowers.”

Although safety advocates want city officials to go further, vehicle-free areas are offered during limited times. According to the Rec and Park website:

“Sundays and all holidays, John F Kennedy Drive (JFK) is closed from the East End (Kezar Drive) to Transverse Drive and on Saturdays from April through September, JFK is closed to vehicle traffic from 8th Ave to Transverse Drive.”

Wiedenmeier said:

“I want us to think creatively in a way that is pushing the envelope about care-free space in Golden Gate Park because this park is first and foremost a place for people, not for cars.”

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