Friday, September 09, 2005

Octavia Boulevard: "gateway to a new template"


Photo by Jessica Brandt Lifland

From where I was standing at the ceremony to open up Octavia Boulevard and the new freeway ramp on Market St., the traffic noise often drowned out the speakers---before either Octavia Blvd. or the freeway ramp on Market St. were even open. And it only took the normal Market St. traffic to make enough noise to do that.

Rachel Gordon in the SF Chronicle: "Gone for good is the double-decker freeway that cut through the Hayes Valley neighborhood, a concrete monster that served as a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes and cast unwelcoming shadows over the area." ("Boulevard of Dreams," Sept. 8). Yes, but Gordon also reminds her readers that the Central Freeway used to carry 90,000 cars a day. If it was noisy today, how much noisier will it be when thousands of cars arrive in the neighhborhood starting next week? Not to mention the air quality---diesel fumes and carbon monoxide, etc. Making the best of a bad bargain is one thing, but all the hype and wishful thinking about the new Octavia Blvd. is just that, I'm afraid.

Gordon quotes the head of the Transportation Authority: "There's no question that this is going to be better." Better than what? Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, perhaps. Whether it will be "better" than the freeway is the question, though the Central Freeway was indeed a monster and shouldn't be a hard act to follow. The shadows and the hookers---and, by the way, all the parking under the freeway overpass---are gone, but the through-traffic will now be on ground level, coming through the heart of the neighborhood in six lanes.

Robin Levitt, bike zealot and pro-development HVNA member: "When the freeway disappeared, so did a lot of the problems...Now the neighborhood feels like a neighborhood." This is mindless boosterism, since the neighborhood has yet to experience the effects of all that traffic. Levitt doesn't seem to understand what thousands of cars a day will mean to that area.

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, in suit and tie, made an entrance riding a bike with members of the Bicycle Coalition. Does anyone think that Mirkarimi rides a bike to work at City Hall from his home in the Western Addition? Not really. So what does the bike symbolism mean? Nothing much, really, except still another sign that Mirkarimi and the city's bicycle community have a symbiotic political relationship. The Bicycle Coalition gave Mirkarimi its endorsement in last year's D5 campaign, not bothering with the IRV thing that involved choosing three candidates. Like a lot of city progressives, Mirkarimi thinks riding a bike in the city is a great idea---for other people. But Ross may have a gift for mixing metaphors. When, in his remarks to the crowd, he called the new Octavia Blvd. a "gateway to a new template," I had the title for this post.

Former Mayor Agnos pointed to the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway and the economic benefits that resulted for that area as a precedent for the new Octavia Blvd. But the Embarcadero wasn't a residential neighborhood like Hayes Valley, and there was already a wide boulevard-like street running the length of the wharf area.

Patricia Walkup, another pro-development neighborhood "activist" with HVNA, is quoted by Gordon in words that should send dread rippling through her neighborhood: "We've only just begun...In another five years you'll see as much change as you've seen in the past five years." Yes, indeed, the 900 units of new housing are yet to be built on the old freeway parcels. And the Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan pushed by Walkup and a pro-development Planning Dept. is paving the way for residential highrises in the area, along with 6,000 additional housing units planned for that unfortunate part of town.

The progressive fantasy about Octavia Blvd. and the Market/Octavia area provides more evidence that the city's progressives often fail to see the plain realities in front of them: They failed to comprehend the city's homeless crisis---and how upset voters were about it---until Gavin Newsom swept in and used the issue to get himself elected mayor; Graffiti/tagging is supposedly an "art" genre that continues to deface much of the city; Chris Daly's Rincon Hill deal is somehow a bold stroke on behalf of affordable housing in the city, though in fact it means encouraging thousands of highrise condos for the rich; and bicycles could/should be a serious transportation "mode" in a city that, according to the DMV, already has 464,903 registered vehicles. (A consequence of the bike delusion: The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to make the 400-page Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan with no environmental study, not even a measly Neg. Dec.).

And now the six lanes of freeway traffic on the new Octavia Blvd. somehow translate into a "Parisian boulevard"? Merde!

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