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Head To San Francisco To Drive The ‘Crookedest Street In The World’

I doubt you will find a street in Manteca — or in any city in the 209 — that people will pay $10 a pop just to drive one block.

A toll as high as $10 may be coming soon to the 1000 block of Lombard Street between Hyde Street where cable cars stop at the top of the hill and Leavenworth Street in San Francisco. The California Legislature is considering a bill that would make it legal to charge a toll to use the public street that sees up to 17,000 cars per day on a busy summer weekend heading down it with vehicles backed up for as many as 12 blocks to turn onto it. The charge is designed to reduce congestion.

Lombard Street is the self-proclaimed “Crookedest Street in the World” given there are eight hairpin turns conquering a 27 percent grade over a distance of 412.5 feet. It was built in 1922 as the grade was too much for most vehicles of the day to handle.

The original cobblestones that typically sprouted weeds were torn up and the equivalent of 600 feet of linear roadway paved with red bricks was put in place,

The reason why 2 million people a year find their way to the 1000 block of Lombard Street is simple. It’s beautiful. And that is everything from arguably the most stunning view of the city below and the bay beyond from Russian Hill to the look of the whimsical red brick street and the stunning landscaping.

Planters were placed between the curves with high concrete curbing when the road was reworked in 1922. Hydrangeas were planted that — over the years thanks to the moist San Francisco air — have become spectacular sights along with other flowers and shrubs.

It’s little wonder that it is normal for 250 vehicles to drive the block per hour with a draw daily traffic topping 2,700 vehicles. It can take as long as 20 minutes to wait your turn to drive down Lombard.

It’s an even more magical walk up and then back down the street.

It is “up” first for three reasons. You get the heavy exertion out of the way first. You are then rewarded with a spectacular view at the top. And, most important of all, the odds of you finding a parking space within reasonable walking distance of Lombard Street is significantly higher near the bottom of the block than in the western end at the top.

But what if I were to tell you there is a street that actually is more crooked than Lombard and is not jammed with tourists?

It is Vermont Street in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill District. It runs north-south as opposed to Lombard’s east-west orientation.

A study using sinuosity — I’m not making this up as it is the determination of the degree to which something bends — determined Vermont Street was more crooked than the celebrated segment of Lombard Street.

The Vermont Street stretch between 20th and 22nd streets has five full turns and two half turns. The sinuosity of Vermont is 1.56 as opposed to 1.2 for Lombard. Based on that Vermont is hands down the “Crookedest Street in the “World” — or at least San Francisco.

But Vermont is not as steep — 14.3 percent grade compared to Lombard that is almost double at 27 percent. It is also not as spectacular in regards to landscaping, pavement surface; it is concrete as opposed to red bricks, and there is no stunning world-renowned view. It is far from the tourist traps that are near Lombard Street such as Fisherman’s Wharf and cable cars that climb halfway to the stars crammed with tourists snapping away on smartphones.

Instead of classy red bricks creating the street surface, it’s concrete. There’s landscaping but it is more pedestrian looking.

The crowds are non-existent except for the Bring Your Own Big Wheel Races that just took place on Easter Sunday and are hosted annually each Easter. It’s free to watch and typically draws plenty of participants and spectators.

There are a few rules. All Big Wheels must be plastic and no rubber tires are allowed. And it’s bring your own. Costumes are not required but they make the day even more fun.

Vermont Street parallels Highway 101. It begins at Division Street near the South of Market area and ends in the south end of Cesar Chavez Street.

My last drive down the street — I’ve been on it twice —was when I took two of the grandkids to the San Francisco Zoo some 10 years ago.

It is fairly easy as easy goes as measured in San Francisco standards to swing off Highway 101 to drive Vermont and then head west on city streets or get back on the 101 to take Interstate 280 or connect with 280 to head to the San Francisco Zoo.