San Francisco may charge motorists to drive famous crooked street

Thousands of tourists could soon have to pay as much as 10 dollars (€8.85) to drive down world-famous Lombard Street in San Francisco.

City and state officials have announced a bill that would give San Francisco the authority to establish a toll and reservation system for the street that winds down a steep hill, in an effort to reduce crowds and traffic congestion.

“We must implement a system that enables both residents and visitors to enjoy the ‘Crookedest Street in the World’,” said councillor Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat sponsoring the legislation.

Residents say the scenic thoroughfare feels more like an overcrowded amusement park than a neighbourhood street. They have been calling for years for officials to address the traffic jams, rubbish and trespassing by visitors.

In the summer months, an estimated 6,000 people a day visit the 600ft street, creating lines of cars that stretch for blocks, clogging the Russian Hill neighbourhood.

“The cars really impact the neighbourhood because they line up, they back up, they are sitting idling,” said Greg Brundage, president of the Lombard Hill Improvement Association.

Cars make their way down Lombard Street (Eric Risberg/AP)
Cars make their way down Lombard Street (Eric Risberg/AP)

Transport officials have proposed requiring visitors to make a reservation online and pay $5 for each vehicle. Another plan calls for online reservations and a $10 charge on weekends and holidays.

The city needs state approval to charge people to use a public road but it would be up to city officials to determine how and what to charge and how to use the funds.

The new toll system is not expected to be in place before 2020, officials said.

Cars wind their way down Lombard Street (Eric Risberg/AP)
Cars wind their way down Lombard Street (Eric Risberg/AP)

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said the fee would help sustain the reservations system and help pay for more traffic control officers, more police patrols in the area and tourism ambassadors who would make sure visitors have a good experience.

“It’s a pilot programme but it’s something we must try to address the traffic congestion,” Ms Stefani said.

Residents built the hairpin turns on the red brick road in 1922 because its 27-degree grade was too steep for the era’s cars to climb. Neighbours added lush gardens filled with hydrangeas and roses 30 years later.

The sweeping views and the fact that a cable car stops at the top of the street contributed to its popularity. Its worldwide fame increased after it was featured in movies and commercials and now the street gets about two million visitors a year.

- Press Association

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