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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tourists swamp San Francisco’s famously curvy Lombard Street

Tourists make their way down the world famous Lombard Street in San Francisco on Sept. 21. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
By Olga R. Rodriguez Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Lombard Street, the scenic San Francisco thoroughfare known as the “Crookedest Street in the World,” has become so thronged with gawkers that residents say it feels more like an overcrowded amusement park than a residential road.

City transit leaders are considering possible solutions, including charging a toll, requiring reservations, adding more parking-control officers and encouraging visitors to reach the single-lane street on foot or by cable car.

In the summer months, an estimated 6,000 people per day visit the street, which offers views of the city that are as beautiful as the road is winding.

“There have been days when you have 250 people at the bottom of the street taking pictures and hundreds of people up and down the sidewalks and another hundred at the top,” said Greg Brundage, who has lived on the hilly street for 20 years. “It’s a mob scene.”

Sightseers have visited the landmark road for decades, but in the past four or five years, they have flooded it. Cars waiting to drive down the 600-foot-long street often stretch back for three blocks, clogging the Russian Hill neighborhood, residents said.

The curvy street wasn’t intended to be a tourist attraction.

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. Neighbors added the 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 only increased after it was featured in movies and commercials.

The recent congestion has been compounded by tour buses that drop off hordes of tourists in the morning, leaving them to wander the residential area for up to two hours, residents said.

“A lot of airplanes from Asia arrive early in the morning, and tourists can’t check into their hotels, so the buses pick them up, bring them down here and drop them off for an hour, two hours, and it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Brundage, who heads the Lombard Hill Improvement Association, which pays for the street’s upkeep.

Lombard Street’s visitor overload coincides with a tourism spike in San Francisco, which welcomed 24 million visitors in 2015, compared with 18 million in 2010, according to city figures.

Residents say they are not equipped to handle an increasingly chaotic scene where visitors leave behind trash, pick flowers from the landscaping, disregard signs, use doorways as toilets and, at times, become aggressive.

They point out car break-ins and robberies also have increased.

Brundage said his wife has been attacked twice after honking at people standing on her driveway, one of the few flat areas about halfway down the street. He’s had to chase away people who climb to his roof for a better photograph.

On a recent Sunday, the street bustled with tourists. Some of them ignored signs and directions by traffic control officers in neon yellow vests, and jaywalked or stepped into Lombard Street to take pictures, among them a man in a white fisherman’s hat creating a 360-degree video in the middle of the street.

Jim Hickman, who has lived on Lombard for more than two decades, said managing crowds and enforcing the rules need to be top priorities for city officials.

A report with potential solutions will be presented before the end of the year to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which will then make recommendations.

“I’m a tourist, too, and I understand people want to enjoy the place, but we’re not the Eiffel Tower, we’re not Union Square, we’re not the Golden Gate Bridge,” Hickman said. “These other places have facilities. There are laws that are enforced, and we don’t have any of that available to us.”

Sophie Arnoux, who was visiting from Southern France with her family, said they first drove down the street, then parked their car and went back on foot to walk down the sidewalk.

“It’s one of the most beautiful streets in the world,” Arnoux said. “It’s a must-see, like Champs Elysees.”

Aaron said she would be willing to pay a fee to drive down the street as long as it was reasonable.

Asked if she would live along the street, she said, “No way!”

“It’s a beautiful place, but there are too many people and lots of cars,” she said. “It would be annoying to live here.”