Toll Considered for San Francisco's 'Crooked' Lombard Street | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Toll Considered for San Francisco's 'Crooked' Lombard Street

A suburb of Dallas considered a similar toll, but it never made it to the town council



    A possible toll, parking officers, reservations and a fully funded "Lombard Ambassadors" program are being considered as ways to curb congestion along San Francisco's most crooked street. Jean Elle reports. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016)

    A possible toll, parking officers, reservations and a fully funded "Lombard Ambassadors" program are being considered as ways to curb congestion along San Francisco's most crooked street.

    After more than a year of study, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has issued several potential solutions on better managing the tourists who flock to Lombard Street, and who inevitably clog the access for those residents who actually live there.

    On Tuesday night, frustrations boiled over at a community meeting as longtime Russian Hill residents said what used to be a weekend inconvenience of gridlocked traffic and people spilling into the streets is now a daily headache.

    Longtime resident Judith Carlson said that it's not just traffic, but trash and toilets that are also a burden on those who live there.

    "There's no place for people to sit, so they're all sitting on our steps and throwing trash on our steps," Carlson said. "There's no bathrooms, so they knock on my doors."

    As far as the transportation authority knows, it's the first time a toll has ever been considered for Lombard Street, spokesman Eric Young told NBC Bay Area. How much the toll would cost and who would pay it, hasn't yet been hashed out. The specifics of a toll, if it is approved, he said, would require yet another study.

    The fee is one of several options to offset the average 16,000 visitors on peak days, and roughly 2 million tourists a year who flock to see the multimillion-dollar homes and 600-foot stretch of winding street, which is now the second most popular tourist destination in San Francisco.

    Tolls are commonplace on bridges and highways, and even for driving to see redwood trees. But they're unusual in residential areas. In a suburban town outside Dallas, transportation leaders once considered the idea of charging a toll on Mockingbird Lane for non-residents in 2008, which at the time, would have been the first toll on a surface street in the United States. It never passed, however, because the idea died before it ever made it to the town council, according to Highland Park town spokesman Lance Koppa.

    Young said he wasn't aware of any other U.S. tolls on residential streets - that question wasn't part of the study focus.

    "Clearly, Lombard has been a tourist destination spot for many years," Young said. "But there seem to be waves of popularity. We're in a peak period, right now."

    Greg Bundage of the Lombard Hill Improvement Association has lived on Lombard for 20 years.

    "This used to be a great place to live, but the city has turned its head and let this happen," Bundage said. "And even though it may be an icon, we deserve to have some privacy."

    Bundage liked the idea of dynamic pricing. "Tolls with surge pricing cheaper during the week vs. the weekend," he said. "And night should be max. Nobody knows unless they live here. At night, people go down 2 or 3 a.m., honking, yelling, boom boxes."

    Some tourists on Tuesday said they understood the residents' frustrations and said they would be willing to pay a small fee for access to the street.

    But a toll was not the answer for many others. "Insane. Greedy," Kayrn Pierce tweeted.

    "It's kind of a highlight for people to come here to San Francisco to see this pretty street, and to charge to see the street would be an injustice, actually," said tourist Anand Raivaderaand of London, while enjoying the unusual street and stunning surrounding views.

    Aside from the toll, the study's other possible recommendations include adding parking control officers to direct traffic and shepherd pedestrians meandering along with their iPhones, and creating a permanent funding base for an ambassador program first started in August 2015. The program currently costs $110,000. Other ideas include asking people to make reservations to drive down Lombard, now a victim of its own popularity.

    The transportation authority will consider the feedback from Tuesday night's community meeting and forward some ideas to the Board of Supervisors by the end of 2016, Young said.

    Lombard Street is "the second most popular spot next to the Golden Gate Bridge," Supervisor Mark Farrell's legislative aide, Jess Montejano, said Tuesday. "Within the last year and a half, the congestion and quality of life have gotten worse and we need to get our act together."

    NBC Bay Area's Pete Suratos, Marianne Favro and Jean Elle contributed to this report.