$10 to drive 1 block? San Francisco mulls toll on crooked Lombard Street

Tourists make their way down Lombard Street, also known as the “most crooked street” in San Francisco.
Tourists make their way down Lombard Street, also known as the “most crooked street” in San Francisco. AP

Charging $10 to drive one block may seem excessive — but most blocks don’t attract 2.1 million tourists a year.

That’s how many sightseers flock annually to the crooked section of Lombard Street in San Francisco, according to the Northern California city. 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 Lombard Street, told KGO. “It has gotten pretty bad.”

To cut back on overwhelming tourism that locals blame for vandalism and congestion, the city is now considering charging visitors $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends to drive on the stretch — after they make reservations to traverse the stretch, according to the TV station. Residents of the street wouldn’t need to pay the toll.

San Francisco officials will hold a community meeting on Jan. 30 (at a school about a block from the crooked street) to share details about the proposal and see what locals think, San Francisco County Transportation Authority spokesman Eric Young said in an email to McClatchy.

“We’ll take what we hear at that meeting to further refine our proposal,” Young wrote.

A few months after Wednesday’s meeting, the refined proposal will go before the city’s board of supervisors to “give us direction on next steps,” according to Young. If adopted, the reservation system and $5 or $10 tolls could be in place as soon as next summer, SFGate reports.

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The problem has been getting worse in recent years, and tolls were floated as a potential solution as far back as 2016, the Sacramento Bee reported at the time. That year 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 an important local artery as a tourist magnet, and similar tolls are levied on other Bay Area bridges that aren’t attractions in their own rights.

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The San Francisco County Transportation Authority began studying ways to cut congestion on the crooked block of Lombard Street 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, Young said.

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

In the meantime, Brundage, a resident of 22 years, said 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.”

Tourists don’t love the idea of a toll system charging as much as $10.

“No, I think that’s far too much,” said Julie Caldicott, a visitor from South Africa, according to KPIX.

Caldicott suggested a car toll might drive tourists to get creative.

“We would come down on our bicycles and enjoy the ride,” she told the TV station.

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.

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