How to Make Holly Park Safe Again


Lilia S. lives in Sunnyside, but she wrote to Bernalwood last night with an astute list of reforms that might be undertaken in the aftermath of Christy Svanemyr’s death last week in Holly Park, to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again:

I am heartbroken and dismayed by the tragic killing of Christine Svanemyr in Holly Park last Thursday, September 5, 2013. I can’t imagine how such an event could even take place – and yet it has. The point of city parks is to be a safe haven for people to relax and children to play away from dangerous traffic. If that isn’t the case, as clearly it isn’t, we need to take a long hard look at our priorities.

I am on half a dozen local parents’ lists and the outcry over this tragedy has been overwhelming. Below, I have compiled a brief list of actions needed to change our broken system so that the parks can be safe and tragedies like this never repeat themselves. These concerns are compiled from a range of San Francisco residents and parents; I don’t pretend they are all mine.

Increase the effectiveness of the 311 customer service line: I understand from the parents’ email lists that people have been complaining to 311 about motor vehicle driving in Holly Park for some time now. I personally have been hung up on more than not by the customer service representatives whom I reach through 311. All customer complaints must be followed up and resolved. This tragedy never would have happened if that were already the case.

Prohibit motor vehicles from driving in the parks unless there is significant construction or object (like a large tree) removal: human power should be plenty for most regular park maintenance. Unless there is something significant and unusual going on, there should never be motor vehicles in the parks.

Use the smallest vehicle that will do the job: if a motor vehicle is needed for a specific, larger than usual, park maintenance activity, it should be very smallest one that can do the job. Unless a giant thousand-year-old redwood has died and needs removed, there is no reason for anything larger than a golf cart to be in the parks.

Enforce existing rules when motor vehicles must drive in the park: I understand there are a range or rules in terms of MPH limits, not driving on the grass, and having a second worker spotting the vehicle during any time they are within park grounds. I also understand that thousands of parents using our parks have seen Rec and Park workers ignore these rules.

Assign job responsibilities appropriately: the job of maintaining our parks is a privilege that should only be offered to workers who respect the vulnerable nature of recreational space. If a worker takes a different view of recreational space, I am sure the City can find another job responsibility for him or her.

We have lost more than a local mother; we have lost our ability to feel safe in our parks. Christy is gone. But significant action, including the items described above, can return our parks to their intended role as a place for safe recreation. We all grieve in different ways – mine is to try to address the cause of this tragic loss so that it never happens again.

Thank you for listening.


Lilia S.

PHOTO: “Jenny Naps” in Holly Park, by Jeff Gray, 2007 via Flickr

7 thoughts on “How to Make Holly Park Safe Again

  1. I have noticed that since this tragedy, Bernalwood has not included the usual, more everyday items. This seems appropriately respectful. Many of us continue in a somber mood, so I appreciate the discretion that Todd has shown at this time.

    • Agree, and was wondering what the “first post back to normalcy” would be, and feel like Todd nailed it with the great shot of the cosmos. Thanks, Todd!

  2. How about a CROSSWALK at any of the Holly Park Circle Park entrances (Appleton, Murray, Highland, Bocana) or at least at the stroller/wheelchair friendly entrances (Appleton and/or Highland). When I am pushing my daughter in our stroller it is always a dicey crossing to get into the park. That isn’t too much to ask, is it? I have called 311 on it before, haven’t heard anything concrete.

    • Completely agree with you Matthew. It certainly wouldn’t have had any effect on this particular tragedy but could avoid another in the future.

    • A crosswalk might not actually be effective. If a car is coming around a curve too fast, the crosswalk would only give the pedestrian a false sense of security. A stop sign, coupled with a crosswalk, would be more likely to create a safe crossing space.

      I think there is research that shows that crosswalks aren’t necessarily effective in high-traffic situations.

  3. The author raises legitimate concerns and proposes ideas that are worthy of consideration, but I worry that the hyperbole dampens the effectiveness of the letter. Have “thousands” of parents really noticed unsafe driving in parks? Is there really never any reason to have a truck inside a park? Are there even “giant 1000-year-old redwoods” inside SF?

    I understand the drive to want to do something to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future, and it is laudable. But there are always unintended consequences that flow out from big changes. For example, just to speculate, if trucks are not allowed in parks, perhaps trees can’t be trimmed as often, and then a eucalyptus (known for “self-pruning”) drops a heavy limb on someone.

    The crosswalks Matthew mentions would probably improve safety in and around Holly Park more than anything else – I always hate the dicey crossings, when you have to hurry across and hope no one is speeding around the blind curves of the park.

    Another takeaway for me is that we should take the time to report things we think are dangerous. Two people filed complaints in the past two years. Even if 311 is totally incompetent (which has not been my experience), I think we can still gather that most people didn’t do anything about what they had noticed – they assume it’s a one-off occurrence or that someone else is taking care of it, or they just forget about it when they’re back at a desk or near a phone. I can relate to this – we all have busy lives. I applaud the people who did take the time to file the reports, and I assume Rec & Park is going to be looking at complaints very closely, at least for a while.

    • Valid points, but for the filing complaints. Most thought Park Rec was self-policing on this, when in reality for years they’ve been ignoring widespread abuses of policy in place regarding this casual driving through parks. It’s been a SOP and convenience thing for them and we can’t let Ginsburg and Co. act shocked about it now. And as citizens, we once again shouldn’t assume anything, until something like this happens and we get Reactive Response. Bureaucrats and politicians don’t do Proactive.

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