Panhandle Park access at Central Avenue and Fell Street: a chronic condition
Panhandle Park Stewards scraped wide swath of mud of the sidewalk earlier this month
Unnecessary eyesore and maintenance expense goes untended by Rec & Park
The deep, swampy ruts and muddy mess at the Central Avenue entry to the Panhandle have long annoyed NOPA residents and other park users whether on foot or spinning on two wheels. Neighbors complain that repeated requests for maintenance and long-term solutions go unanswered by Recreation and Parks Department administrators. What gripes many people the most is that Rec & Park cause the problems.
Michael Varner is a long-time NOPA resident who lives a half block from park entrance. He recently described in an email his frustration with the chronic conditions. "The main problem is Rec & Park. Their own vehicles continually drive off the paved walking/biking paths when working in the area, chewing up the soil on the verge, generating mounds of mud." Varner believes Rec & Park could address the problem by simply making sure department employees only use paths that are wide enough for their vehicles. He also suggests not transporting materials in such large trucks to the park.
Varner notes that the Central Avenue access is much more than just one of several entrances to the Panhandle. "It's a major crossing point for lots of people coming down from the Haight as well as those going to the shops and restaurants in NOPA. Given the amount of foot traffic on Central, it should be considered an entrance to Golden Gate Park itself. Also tourists frequently use this route coming from downtown and going to the park and museums."
The much-loved and greatly used Panhandle presents any number of problems for visitors. Most of them are due to delayed maintenance or inadequate planning. The south-side pedestrian-only path has not been fully repaved for years, although several stretches were recently patched.* The north-south cross paths feature similar deep ruts and muddy stretches as along the Central entry. Overall, the Panhandle gives every indication of needing a reconsideration of the pathways, the widths of each of them, and the uses. Without such a plan, repair work becomes more expensive through repetition, when it comes.
NOPA residents recognize that the city's dire fiscal situation prevents an overhaul of the park, one that might include a widened multi-use path on the north side and a more expansive, level and smooth surface on the south with cross paths wide enough for necessary vehicles. But being understanding only goes so far when the city is unresponsive about many reports of problems. Michael Varner notes that he has tried to deal with the Manager of Golden Gate Park for years with little or no response. Earlier this month I registered a 311 request about the muddy overflow on the Central Avenue entry and checked the box for wanting a reply. So far, no reply and no fix.
The Panhandle Park Stewards, a revitalized community group devoted to park improvements, recently shoveled back the mud flow from many of the paths as part of its monthly workday. NOPA neighbor Dale Danley leads the Stewards, and he offered suggestions for how to deal with the park access issue. "I think this problem can be solved, and it may be by reducing the number of vehicles that enter the park or by changing which paths are used for park entry or by fortifying the soil and surface next to the paths."
The Central Avenue entry will play a significant role in upcoming events planned for the Panhandle or along Fell Street including Bay to Breakers, the Tour of California, the April 11th Sunday Streets through the park to the Great Highway, and the September 19th Sunday Streets when thousands of people are expected to start the open-street route from the Panhandle and head north on Central Avenue.
Currently North Panhandle neighbors are discussing how to improve the Panhandle for all users, from parents with kids in strollers or on Skuut bikes to commuting bicyclists. They're committed enough to the effort to also seek funding for needed projects. The irony is that these willing and energetic park advocates have not yet been able to forge a partnership with Rec and Park itself.
* Dale Danley confirmed with Rec & Park that the south patch paving resulted from a 311 request. In a different area of Golden Gate Park -- the JFK repaving now underway -- I have found the Park and Rec Project Manager to be consistently responsive to inquiries.