(Slow) Streets of San Francisco - Quiet Country Lanes of the Bay Area - CycleBlaze

March 30, 2021

(Slow) Streets of San Francisco

San Francisco, like many places around the world, instituted a Slow Streets program during the pandemic. That's where certain streets have limited motor vehicle traffic so the streets can be taken over by pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, families, old folks, you name it. Locals here are really working hard to make sure as many as possible of these slow streets stay that way permanently. Pushback on making it permanent on a couple of those streets is pretty strong so I wanted to ride them before anything changed. I somehow managed to choose yet another beautiful day with temperatures in the 70sF.

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I started at one of my happy places, Crissy Field, which is at the very northern tip of San Francisco, right at the Golden Gate. It's part of the Presidio, a former military installation since the Spanish days in the 1770s, now a rather peculiar yet special part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It's peculiar because Congress decided that if people really wanted to add this to the GGNRA instead of selling it off and developing it, it had to become an economically self-sufficient unit. Which it did and is. It's special because they've done a fanastic job of restoring creeks and wetlands and beaches and fields, installed artwork, repurposed buildings, got high-end tenants like Industrial Light and Magic, and reached out to all segments of the city to come enjoy it. 

When I lived in SF in the early 1980s I used to jog along this waterfront between the Marina Green and Fort Point, which sits under the Golden Gate Bridge. You had to go over chunks of concrete and asphalt, through some knocked-down chainlink fence, blown sand and rundown buildings. You could ignore all that because of the view of the water and the bridge and the hills of Marin County across the way. Now look at it. 

The view from East Beach at Crissy Field in the San Francisco Presidio, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Starring Pokey. Photobomb by the Golden Gate Bridge.
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Spanish Revival architecture is typical of the Presidio. Typical of California, there's a freeway up above it.
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After a short climb there's a nice view of Crissy Field. It started as a racetrack but when aeroplanes of the biplane variety started buzzing about, the track was used as a landing field. Then the Army decided to make it official. You can see that in the archival photo of the field from the early 1900s.

Above Crissy Field. In the foreground are former hangars. In the middle distance is the former Coast Guard station. In the background is the San Francisco skyline.
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Crissy Field in the early 1900s. You can see how it used to be a racetrack. You can also see the old Coast Guard station that predates the field. (Wikimedia)
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I rode bike paths all the way from East Beach then up and around the southern anchorage of the bridge. On a day like today it takes a long time to go the couple of miles because the scenery is breathtaking and you just have to stop every five feet. Today I am unashamedly a tourist.

Here's Fort Point, built in the 1860s and never a shot fired in anger. The only casemate fort on the west coast, I read. Photobomb again by that bridge.
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Looking back where we came from.
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Looking where we're headed.
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Soon after leaving the bridge I turned on to Washington Blvd., the first of the slow streets on my route. It meanders past some concrete bunkers, a WWII memorial, the Only Campground In San Francisco (Rob Hill - $125/night, max 30 people per site), and old but still used base housing. There was a fair amount of bike and foot traffic for a weekday - something I saw all day as it turned out. 

I turned off before the end of the street to head to the next slow street, Lake Street. It goes through a mostly well-to-do section of the city. Again, pretty fair representation of walkers and cyclists for a weekday.

The hills near San Francisco on the ocean side are filled with concrete gun batteries and bunkers.
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An old public health hospital on the Presidio grounds was left derelict for years and years. About 5 years ago someone finally took it over and converted it to condos.
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Lake Street, the second of my slow streets.
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We have reached Land's End, overlooking the ruins of Sutro Baths.
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I could never understand why they call this Ocean Beach.
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One of the contentious slow streets is the Great Highway, which runs right along the ocean from just south of Golden Gate Park until it connects with another arterial about five miles away. The People have renamed it the Great Walkway, and it has its own social media accounts and everything. The route is very popular. However, the neighbors have had some issues with the diverted traffic.

Due to how the road had to be blocked off to vehicles you get on the Great Walkway using the northbound lanes, even though you are heading south. There are crosswalks at every street intersection along the Great Highway so it's easy to go back and forth between the two sides. Sometimes your view of the water is blocked by high dunes, sometimes the entire Pacific is at your feet. I love driving this road but it was even better on a bike.

Heading south on the northbound lanes of the Great Highway.
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Heading south on the southbound side of the Great Highway.
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When I turned around to head to Golden Gate Park, the breeze was refreshingly cool. Not a bad headwind but I decided to amp up the juice a touch on my e-assist.

Next stop was at one of the two genuine Dutch-type windmills that sit near the ocean in GGP. The Murphy Windmill (and the Dutch Windmill a little ways north) were built in 1908 to pump water for irrigating the park because the privately-held city water company was charging a fortune. Electric pumps superseded them by 1913, so their use was short-lived. Back when I was riding out here a lot the poor thing had no sails, just a stump of an axle, and it was fenced off. Both windmills now looking great.

The Murphy Windmill. Those sails are 114 feet (35 meters).
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Golden Gate Park has slow streets from the beach to its panhandle. I did not pay sufficient attention to the exact route so spent some time off-piste, thinking it was one road all the way but I wasn't on that road to begin with. In my attempt to get back on track I actually crossed the correct road on my way to what I thought was the right one. Ah the heck with it. I hadn't been anywhere in GGPark in a few years so I went into tourist mode again.

This ride renewed my appreciation of Golden Gate Park. It is full of wide open spaces but also with loads of nooks and crannies that reveal the most wonderful things. There are meadows, Hippie Hill, polo fields, world-class museums, playing fields, archery, flycasting pools, Shakespeare garden, tea garden, botanical garden, flower conservatory, bison paddock, model boat lake, paddle boats on another lake, waterfalls, memorial groves ... if you take a side path you never know what you might find.

I found myself at the polo fields. That meant I got to see the old stables. It was a lot more fun when horses were actually boarded there. Next I went over to the bison paddock on a path I'd never been on before and didn't realize I could go on to get to the side of the paddock where the bison usually hang out. So that was cool. Then I got on the right road but not the part that was a slow street. Ack! Traffic! Cars driven by tourists! Or by exasperated locals! I pulled over at Speedway Meadow, home of many a Summer of Love event, for lunch and a lie-down.

If only I'd paid closer attention to this map. And to the route I planned.
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Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park. I did actually once see a polo game played here, back in the 1980s. In the Before times it was heavily used by sports leagues, and I imagine it will again soon.
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Close to the polo fields are the old stables, closed down in 2001. The police department used to keep their horses here, and you could board your own. The park had miles of bridle paths. Now these are storage for the Parks and Rec department.
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Bison paddock. I have seen them thunder across this field but not often and not for long.
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Speedway Meadow. It actually used to be a speedway for a few years in the 1890s for rich men to race their horses but they stopped paying to maintain it and then it became a refugee camp after the 1906 earthquake and fire. And been a meadow since then. It was pretty comfy to lie down in.
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Finally, on the part of JFK Drive that is a slow street.
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I finally got on to the part of JFK Drive that is closed to traffic. A main objection to closing this section to vehicle traffic is that it limits access to some of the major attractions in the park, which are the deYoung Museum of Art, the California Academy of Science and the Conservatory of Flowers. There are other ways to get to them though, so I don't think that argument holds a lot of water. This particular section of JFK Drive has been closed on Sundays for decades and everyone has survived. I would come here on Sundays specifically to ride on JFK. It was a party and fun and it was the same today. Hope the city can find its way to keep it closed to cars.

This ferris wheel is a new and supposedly temporary addition, opening (briefly) last fall and now open again. I'm undecided about it. On the right is the California Academy of Sciences, a very cool place.
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Turning slightly to our right we see the Music Concourse. Concerts are held here, such as the annual free opera concert. If I had turned a little more to the right I would have shown you the deYoung, a fab art museum.
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Must stop to visit prehistoric-looking tree ferns.
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Conservatory of Flowers.
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New art installation titled Entwined. Would like to come back here to see it at night.
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Just before the panhandle section of the park I turned off to head back to the Presidio. I rode on a normal arterial street that I wasn't particularly looking forward to but I forgot how much better SF is with bike infrastructure. Arguello had a lot of green paint delineating bike territory, bike lane buffers, and bike-friendly right turn lanes. The only real problem turned out to be the abrupt upturn at the end of the street just before it hits the Presidio, but thanks to the E in Poke-E it was no problem. 

My next stop was a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy called Spire. This was a piece of art that I came across serendipitously the first time I saw it, so that made it all the more wonderful. Spire is created from Monterey cypress trees that were on-site and had reached the end of their natural life. You used to be able to easily see it from the path, and you could go right up to it. Now the cypresses that were planted to replace the old guys are 15 feet tall. And there's a fence around it now because some idiot set fire to it this past winter. It was singed but not structurally damaged thank goodness.

Andy Goldsworthy's Spire, made from nearby old Monterey cypress trees. Singed by an arsonist a few months ago but still standing. 100 feet (30 meters) tall. Had to use the panorama setting on my phone to get it all in.
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Through the woods, some Monterey cypress but eucalyptus forests were planted throughout the Presidio starting in the 1880s.
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Ah. The bay in view.
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So I took a marked path to continue to my next objective but I came across this very untrikeworthy gate. I thought I might need to take the seat off but turned out only had to remove the flag and waggle the trike on its wheels a bit to get through.
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Once I got past that pesky gate I flew downhill to the main post. That's where the parade ground, officer's club and visitor's center are located. I wanted to show you some adobe ruins.

The location of the original Presidio chapel. What's inside the metal box is part of the original foundation, and the layout of some of the original adobe walls.
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A few more adobe walls showing the location of original adobe buildings. Nice backyard, huh?
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From the main post it's a straight shot back to the beach. I noodled around bit before taking a last look, then headed home.

Back where we started.
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Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 175 miles (282 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 6
Mike AylingSlow streets. What a great idea!
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8 months ago
Suzanne GibsonThanks for the ride with the pictures and all that interesting background information!
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8 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Mike AylingHi Mike. Yes, it's great fun. Boulevards for people instead of cars - what a concept.
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8 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Suzanne GibsonYou're welcome!
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8 months ago
Lednar De NallohGlad I could virtually accompany you through the street of SF. It's a magnificent city alright and I loved walking around it in 1986. Hope they can make many of those streets pedestrian only for ever and reverse 'Carmageddon'. That pesky bridge just keeps getting in the way, ha ha
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8 months ago
Kathleen JonesTo Lednar De NallohLednar raed,

Thanks for following along. Yes, that bridge is just everywhere. It is such a ham.
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8 months ago