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Drive crooked Lombard Street quickly: San Francisco just approved a toll up to $10

Planning to visit Lombard Street? San Francisco is implementing a toll to drive through

San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street could charge tolls up to $10 after city supervisors voted to back a pilot reservation and price system on the tourist attraction. It still needs California state approval.
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San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street could charge tolls up to $10 after city supervisors voted to back a pilot reservation and price system on the tourist attraction. It still needs California state approval.

Tourists visiting the crooked block of Lombard Street, one of San Francisco’s top attractions, will have to open their wallets to drive the stretch under a proposal city leaders just approved.

The city’s board of supervisors voted unanimously at a meeting Tuesday to back state legislation allowing the city to charge fees to drivers on the tourist-clogged roadway, according to Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the area.

Drivers would have to go online before their visit to schedule a time to drive down the stretch, and fees for the one-block journey could range from $5 on weekdays to $10 on weekends or holidays, KRON reports. Officials said the new toll could be imposed next year, NBC Bay Area reports.

Charging $10 to drive one block may seem excessive — but most blocks don’t attract 2.1 million tourists a year, which is how many sightseers flock annually to the crooked section of Lombard Street in San Francisco, according to a study by a local transportation agency. And while the zig-zagging drive is a delight for sightseers, it’s gone from novelty to nightmare for those who actually live on the street and need to use the road daily.

“People go to the bathroom in your carports. They go to the bathroom on your door fronts. They climb on your roof,” Greg Brundage, who lives on the winding block, told KGO in January. “It has gotten pretty bad.”

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Residents of the street wouldn’t need to pay the toll, KGO reported.

San Francisco’s supervisors approved the plan after officials held a community meeting Jan. 30 on the proposal to get feedback, San Francisco County Transportation Authority spokesman Eric Young said in an email to McClatchy earlier this year.

The problem has been getting worse in recent years, and tolls have been floated as a potential solution as far back as 2016, the Sacramento Bee reported at the time. Back then, the block was getting as many as 16,000 visitors each day.

“This is a catastrophe each and every weekend,” Sal Romano, a longtime resident of Lombard Street, told the Bee. “Outside the bedroom window there’s a line of cars idling. It takes an hour for them to go two blocks. There is the squeaking of tires, people losing their clutches.”

Lombard Street wouldn’t be the only road-related San Francisco attraction to charge a fee: Driving U.S. Route 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge in a car costs $8, or a dollar less with a FasTrak account — though the bridge is as much a local artery as a tourist magnet, and similar tolls are levied on Bay Area bridges that aren’t attractions themselves.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority began studying ways to cut congestion on the crooked block of Lombard in 2017, at the request of then-Supervisor Mark Farrell, according to Young. That study yielded the idea of a reservation and pricing scheme, which piqued neighbors’ interest. But the city can’t just impose the price system on its own.

“We need state legislation so that the city can implement such a system,” Young said.

Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting of San Francisco introduced a bill Monday that would give the city the authority it needs, according to a news release from his office. It’s Ting’s proposal, Assembly Bill 1605, that the board of supervisors voted to support.

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State Assemblyman Phil Ting talks about a bill he authored allowing the city to have a reservation and pricing system to drive on Lombard Street in San Francisco. Listening third from right is San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani. Eric Risberg AP

“In recent years, the crowds and traffic congestion have become a safety issue for that neighborhood,” Ting said in a statement “We must implement a system that enables both residents and visitors to enjoy the ‘Crookedest Street in the World.’”

Stefani said in a statement that the new pricing and reservation system is needed to “address the blocks of bumper to bumper traffic that build up on the way to the crooked street, improve the experience for tourists, and better the quality of life for the residents.”

Currently, local agencies are barred from imposing taxes and fees to use streets and highways, Ting’s office said. The Assembly Transportation Committee will consider his bill next week, according to the news release.

In the meantime, Brundage, a resident of the area 22 years, said earlier this year that he’s taken matters into his own hands.

“I have a golf club right outside my door,” Brundage told NBC Bay Area. “I walk up — because I hear them them the minute they’re on the roof — I walk up there and tell them to get the hell out of there.”

The dainty red-brick switchbacks were built on the street in the 1920s, so cars of the era would be able to make it up the steep 27-degree grade, the Associated Press reports. Those eight sharp turns between Leavenworth and Hyde streets earned the road international fame — and the nickname the “crookedest street in the world,” according to the 2017 study.

Material in this story appeared in an earlier article the author wrote on the subject in January

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