May 16, 2020
JFK Drive, closed to car traffic
Back in November, we moved to a new part of the city known as the Haight-Asbury. Our apartment faces into the South side of the Panhandle, a strip of park space that connects to the Golden Gate Park. The move was a financial stretch for us at the time, right up against 30% line of our take-home income. However, two and a half months into our covid-19 quarantine, it couldn't have been a better choice for us. Golden Gate Park, and in particular JFK Drive, has made a huge difference for my mental health during quarantine.
Coming from our last home in SoMa (South of Market), it's like being in an entirely different city. San Francisco does a decent job including trees and other decorations along its streets, but SoMa is mostly a sea of pavement and buildings. There are a few scattered parks, but in general we would have to make a plan to get out somewhere where we were could just be somewhere with open space. I find myself reflecting often on what it's like for our former neighbors during all this. I hope they're doing as well.
Having space available to get outdoors and exercise has been an important outlet for the generalized anxiety that everyone seems to be experiencing. I've tried to get outside every day, and to go for a run a couple days a week. Since I lost my bike commute, I've had to replace it with some kind of physical activity. Initially, I started by running laps around the Panhandle, but I always found the paths to be uncomfortably narrow for social distancing. The Panhandle paths are only a little over 6 feet wide to begin with, and with people walking, jogging, and biking in both directions, you frequently end up near someone else.
Fortunately, after years of campaigning by activists, including those behind Car Free JFK, the city finally caved and closed down half of JFK Drive, and it's been incredible.
Here's a look at a time-lapse I captured riding down JFK toward the Panhandle since the road closed to cars:
It's hard to express how freeing it feels to be outdoors in the city without a single car in sight. I've said above that I can step right outside into the Panhandle, but I omitted the fact that there are two lanes of parking and four lanes of traffic between me and the park. Cars are like water in our living environment - they are absolutely everywhere and you learn to tune them out. That said, I constantly hear the rumble of cars outside my apartment, and have to always be looking over my shoulder from the moment I set foot outdoors, because drivers will come racing down my street at 40mph in their rush to go to and from downtown.
Shutting down JFK gives people so much more room to move around, to ride roller skates, skateboards, scooters, and bikes. I'll see people jogging and riding bikes with young children who are learning to ride at any given time of day. With so much of our lives being thoroughly disrupted, Car Free JFK is a reminder of what's beautiful in life, and it reminds me of the old labor slogan, "A better world is possible". That's what I'm holding on to right now.
With that, I think now is a good time to go outside.