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Car-Free JFK: The Push to Make San Francisco Safer for Pedestrians

The past year has led to many changes around the country. From restaurants switching over to contactless delivery to much of the workforce working from home, many things we used to take for granted now look entirely different. While getting to return to normal will be a huge relief for many, some people are fighting to keep changes they think are for the better.

For example, the people of the Car-Free JFK movement have made it clear that they want one specific change to become permanent. When the pandemic ends, they want the famous JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park to remain car-free – forever.

What Is Car-Free JFK?

John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive is one of the main roads cutting through the center of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The road is known for beautiful views in one of the most prominent green and open spaces in the entire city. That’s exactly why it’s now the target of pedestrian advocates and recreational enthusiasts.

Prior to last year, JFK Drive was closed to cars on Sundays to allow pedestrians and cyclists to use the road safely. In April of 2020, the city closed the road to cars all week long to encourage people to safely exercise and spend time outside during the lockdowns.

The Car-Free JFK movement has decided that they want to keep the roads this open. From its start as an email and letter campaign, the movement has grown to include in-person awareness events on the road itself. Groups supporting the initiative include:

  • People Protected Bike Lanes
  • The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
  • Walk San Francisco
  • Livable City
  • The I love San Francisco Skate Club

What do they all have in common? They want roads, parks, and the city of San Francisco as a whole to be less dangerous for pedestrians and other unmotorized road users.

Video from the JFK Car Free Rally in Golden Gate Park on Saturday March 20, 2021, via the San Francisco Examiner

Other California Pedestrian Safety Initiatives

Car-Free JFK is not the only pedestrian safety initiative in the Bay Area, of course. Pedestrian and cyclist accidents have become highly visible over the last year. As a result, multiple other long-term safety programs have been put in place over the past year to protect the people who are taking advantage of less crowded streets.

Three other notable plans in San Francisco include:

Bayview’s New Street Safety Improvements

Not every dangerous road can simply be closed to cars. After all, drivers need to complete their commutes too. However, it’s still possible to protect other road users by adjusting how roads are used.

That’s what Bayview transit authorities have recently done. Over the past year, they’ve put together a plan to improve street safety by adjusting the use patterns of some particularly dangerous roads. The project intends to reduce the number of traffic lanes on the streets in question and convert the extra lanes into dedicated pedestrian and cyclist spaces.

The plan is the direct result of two years of community engagement and a board of directors eager to change unsafe conditions. With help from the community, transit professionals, and local advocates, the new plan is designed to serve the needs of the people who live near these streets. For people who need better, more reliable forms of transit, the Bayview plan is a huge step forward.

The MTC’s Regional Safety/Vision Zero Policy

Some pedestrian safety schemes are broader in scope. For example, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) released their Regional Safety/Vision Zero (V.Z.) policy last June. As of February, elements of the plan are finally starting to come to fruition.

The VZ project includes a team known as the Vision Zero Working Group, a dedicated panel of 40 officials from Bay Area cities, counties, agencies, advocacy groups, and schools. Their goal is to find safety solutions that work for everyone in the greater San Francisco area without sacrificing any one group’s needs. The group met for the first time in February to start identifying genuine problems in Bay Area transit.

Meanwhile, the MTC has already started developing an online data system that will collect information about accidents and safety hazards. The Working Group will focus on making data-driven to find solutions that actually work to make the city and surrounding areas safer.

Innovative Program Makes S.F. Street Safety Child’s Play

Finally, it never hurts to help people keep themselves safe. That’s the goal of the L.A. Street Smarts program, developed by UCSF and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. While the program was piloted in L.A., it has since made its way to the Bay Area to help children learn how to keep themselves safe outside.

The program focuses on making street safety fun for kids by modeling it after video games. Unlike other programs where children are kept in the classroom, L.A. Street Smarts creates immersive worlds that allow kids to practice risk avoidance in a safe environment.

The first step is a genuine video game. Kids get to steer their character along their walk to school and practice following traffic lights and crossing streets. Then they get to explore a life-size recreation of a street and practice the same skills in person. Kids get to shout at cars to stop and learn how to get toys out of the road safely.

By making street safety a game, kids are much more likely to enjoy the education process and remember what they learned later. The result is a new generation that’s better prepared to stay safe even when other precautions fail.


As the pandemic winds to a close, California has the chance to pick and choose what changes to keep. It’s clear that many people want to keep the safer streets and reduced traffic that the stay-at-home orders have caused. Whether or not the Car-Free JFK initiative succeeds, San Francisco will undoubtedly benefit from safer roads.

Of course, all these programs are new and have only just started to impact the Bay Area. . If a driver is being actively negligent or driving dangerously, they may cause an accident regardless of pedestrian safety programs. If you or someone you love has been injured as a pedestrian on San Francisco’s roads, you’re not alone. Reach out to an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer today to learn more about your options going forward.