John King and Octavia Blvd: The love lives on
I have to give John King credit for his faithful, unflinching love for the new Octavia Blvd., which is now bringing about half the traffic that used to use the Central Freeway---45,000 cars a day---through the heart of Hayes Valley. Still that love is utterly blind to the realities---realities he himself has tried to cover up for two years with his puffery. I first took note of King's odd obsession with justifying the new, unimproved Octavia Blvd. two years ago, as King was boosting the street long before it was open to traffic, when it was still nothing more than architectural drawings. I cited the inaccurate language he was using to describe what was essentially a four-lane---six lanes, if you count the two lanes for neighborhood traffic---feeder street to get on and off the freeway.
King still thinks that once the trees and shrubbery around the street grows some it will look a lot better, (which is also what he said about the new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park): "Shrubs are filling in. Trees are spreading out. It's easy to imagine thick bands of greenery in five years that offer visual screens and a true sense of place." It's an odd role for an architectural critic---excuse me, "Urban Design Writer"---to play: rationalizing bad designs after the damage is done. The traffic? King acknowledges all the traffic that now fills the street and the neighborhood night and day. But he sees that as a sign of success: "But congestion doesn't mean the system is a failure. It means the boulevard is filling a need...And for whatever reason, slow-moving traffic is more irritating when you're on a city street than when you're on a freeway." Bullshit. Of course the street is filling "a need." Once city voters chose to tear down the Central Freeway ramp, all that traffic had to go somewhere. But the least we can do is look realities in the face, something King evidently will never be able to do with Octavia Blvd.: "Octavia Boulevard began as a beguiling idea. Today, it's a promise fulfilled. In a city like San Francisco, that's progress---the good kind."
King is also a big booster for the residential highrises that are now going up in the Rincon Hill area. Soon he will presumably be telling us that, yes, sooner or later we will get used to these new blots on our skyline---blots that he, Aaron Peskin, and Chris Daly facilitated. Alas, the highrises will be too high for the "visual screens" provided by landscaping.