It’s difficult to measure the public health benefits of urban parks, although intuitively we believe they must be good for our health and well-being. But some interesting statistics about Golden Gate Park are included in a recent report by the Trust for Public Lands’ Center for City Park Excellence, entitled: From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile: How Urban Park Systems Can Best Promote Health and Wellness . . .
“The successful Sunday test conversion of a road to a multiuse trail in New York’s Central Park in 1966 led San Francisco Supervisor Jack Morrison to propose a similar experiment in Golden Gate Park. The one-day, 15-hour car closure of the park’s Music Concourse in January 1967 was so well received that 1,000 enthusiastic supporters—including Mayor John Shelley—showed up at a meeting called by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association to discuss the possibility of future closures. The next month, the park and recreation board voted unanimously to begin Sunday closures of John F. Kennedy Drive in the eastern section of the park.
The public health benefit from Golden Gate’s car-free roadway is hard to overstate, and it’s not just because of physical activity and reduced air pollution. Even more important is increased use. According to careful attendance counts by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and extrapolations by the Center for City Park Excellence, offering a car-free park road lures as many as 2.7 million more users annually to Golden Gate Park. Regardless of weather, in 2006 park use on car-free Sundays was 216 percent of the use on Saturdays, when the road was not closed. In other words, for every 100 people out in the park on Saturday, there were 216 walking, skating, running, cycling, stroller-pushing, dog-walking, and otherwise enjoying themselves on Sunday.
Since that time, because of the study, partial road closures have been introduced on some Saturdays, too. In 2007, under the slogan “Healthy Saturdays,” an additional 1.5-mile stretch of the same road was closed for the full weekend between April and September . . .
A calculation by the Center for City Park Excellence indicates that closure of John F. Kennedy Drive seven days a week could increase total park usership by 69 percent, from about 12 million uses to 20 million uses a year. In addition, that larger group would be more physically active.”