Straightening Out Lombard

Planners mull a reservation-and-pricing system that could charge cars $5 to drive down that one block of Lombard Street.

On the face of it, residents of the 1000 block of Lombard Street are blessed to live on a famously scenic thoroughfare, the “crookedest street in the world.”

But that also means having to share it with cars that pile up blocks in advance and flocks of pedestrians — more than two million visitors a year. Muir Woods sees roughly half that number, but it was enough for the National Park Service to require reservations for cars to park there, starting in 2018.

City leaders have heard enough complaints about congestion on Lombard to explore a similar reservation-and-pricing system that could operate as soon as next summer, a proposal that residents will weigh next week. As it stands, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is considering a $5 fee at all times or a $5 fee on weekdays and a $10 fee on weekends and holidays. According to spokesperson Eric Young, visitors without a 30-to-60-minute reservation could be charged even more to drive from Hyde to Leavenworth streets.

“We think that with a reservation-and-pricing system, it would help better mitigate this traffic than just having one or the other,” Young says. “If only reservation, then there isn’t a steady revenue stream to implement that system. If you only have a pricing system, that doesn’t help you smooth out the traffic.”

The agency has studied the issue since 2015, finding that more than 2,700 cars pass through the crooked street on an average weekend day. Data previously recorded in 1999 shows that number hovered around 1,500 cars.

Drivers surveyed by the SFCTA were more willing to pay $5 or $10 instead of fees up to $20. With reservations spaced out in 30- or 60-minute increments, planners expect a line with an average of only eight cars at a time (instead of queues stretching past three blocks away to Van Ness Avenue).

The study recommends increasing the number of SFMTA parking-control officers to mitigate current pedestrian congestion, which is expected to rise 10 percent as a result of reservations. Young adds that the SFCTA may also consider parking restrictions in nearby residential areas, given that some Muir Woods visitors have found parking otherwise. (Lombard Street and surrounding Russian Hill are already in lettered permit-parking zone A, so non-neighbors can’t park there for too long.)

Planners also must determine how to implement the changes. The operation could either be a staffed with people, or it could take a cue from the Golden Gate Bridge and have an automated system with a kiosk and a camera to capture images of license plates, likely through Fastrak. At least one of the Hyde Street entrances would need blocking to create one line and an increase in pedestrians is expected, according to a 2017 report by the agency.

The block’s residents would be exempt and could either waive the fee for guests by inputting their license plate numbers or providing a code. The SFCTA would decide which department the responsibility falls under.

State legislators have the ultimate say on the proposal, as it involves charging a toll on a public street. Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the district, is continuing the work of predecessor Mark Farrell and communicating with the California Legislature. 

Residents surveyed in past outreach commented that there was little police presence or SFMTA enforcement of street signs prohibiting tour buses and illegal turns, which offers a short-term solution until a reservation and pricing system could kick in. 

When the report was released in 2017, Supervisors London Breed and Sandra Lee Fewer had reservations about charging to enter the street, the Chronicle reported. SFCTA is holding a community meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at the Yick Wo Elementary School from 6 to 8 p.m. to refine the plan based on feedback.

Depending on how supervisors on its board react to the new plan, Young says the new system could be put in place as early as next summer. But in the meantime, Lombard isn’t even San Francisco’s crookedest street. Vermont between 20th and 22nd streets in Potrero Hill holds that distinction — and there’s no line to drive down it.

Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly. |  @idamoj

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