Sunday, June 26, 2005

The new Octavia Boulevard: enjoy it while you can

From the "San Francisco Central Freeway Replacement Project: Environmental Assessment," by the US Dept. of Transportation and Caltrans, April 1997:

Prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Central Freeway carried approximately 100,000 vehicles per day over Market Street. The removal of the Franklin and Gough Street ramps caused the daily traffic over Market Street to drop to approximately 80,000 per day and resulted in substantial changes in local street traffic volumes, affecting many arterials and key intersections. During the period when the viaduct over Market Street was closed, approximately 93,000 additional vehicles were added to surface streets or other freeway facilities in San Francisco (page 3).

There's no free lunch when it comes to traffic. Much of the traffic that used to bypass the neighborhood via the Central Freeway will be back, but no one knows what the volume will be when the six lanes of the new Octavia Blvd. open up later this summer, along with the new freeway ramp just across Market St. There are 900 new housing units already on the drawing board for the old freeway parcels in the neighborhood.

If UC gets its way on the old extension parcel a block off Octavia, there will be up to 450 additional new housing units on that site, bringing about 1,000 more new residents and hundreds of more cars into the neighborhood. Even if the UC housing proposal is rejected, and New College, for example, ends up occupying the 5.8 acre site---a desirable outcome, compared to UC's proposal---it will still mean more traffic in the neighborhood. And the Planning Dept., with its appalling Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan, wants to put even more new housing units in the area---up to 6000 over the next 20 years---which will expand the population of the neighborhood by 50%, along with an unspecified number of "slender" residential highrises---up to 40 stories high---in the South Van Ness/Market St. area.

Before all this happens, as we stroll through that neighborhood, we should realize that this is the calm before the storm: This neighborhood is about to be transformed into something completely different than it is now, with a much higher population density and a lot more traffic. This, in effect, is a radical experiment in urban planning by our hubristic Planning Dept., with the whole Market/Octavia neighborhood as the guinea pig.

We may look back on the era of the Central Freeway with nostalgia when the results of that experiment begin to come in.

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