Thursday, September 30, 2010

Octavia Boulevard: a "progressive" fiasco


My criticism of the awful Octavia Boulevard created when city voters chose to not rebuild the earthquake-damaged Central Freeway goes back to my second post to this blog way back in December, 2004. Since then I've written several dozen more posts on the "Boulevard of Dreams," but, unlike my posts on the bicycle fantasy, they've never gotten much of a response from readers.

But my mocking a clueless Tom Ammiano in the previous post on Masonic Avenue flushed out someone (below in italics), albeit anonymous, who's willing to defend that traffic/planning fiasco.

To allege that Octavia Boulevard traffic is actually worse than the freeway shows an intolerable level of historical ignorance, embarrassing even for a rant-fueled fictional 'journalist' such as yourself.

What "Anonymous" and those responsible for creating Octavia Blvd. have been in denial about from the start is what not rebuilding the Central Freeway was going to mean for traffic in that area. The Central Freeway used to carry 100,000 vehicles a day over the Hayes Valley neighborhood. Octavia Blvd., six months after it opened for traffic in 2005, was already carrying 45,000 vehicles a day on a surface street through the heart of the neighborhood. Is that "worse" for the neighborhood than the freeway? I think so. The shadows cast by the freeway are gone, and all the former freeway property is now available for new housing to be built. But Octavia Blvd., and other streets in the area, are now gridlocked for most of the day with traffic to and from the freeway entrance at Market Street. Maybe people of good will can still claim that this is better than the freeway overpass, that it's the best of two bad alternatives, but I think it's awful.

One of the things that's irritating about the defenders of Octavia Blvd. is that they refuse to admit that the Octavia Blvd. project always involved that trade-off---traffic going over the area on the freeway or the traffic coming through the heart of the area on a four-lane---six lanes, counting the frontage roads---surface street.

Tom Ammiano and supporters of the Octavia Boulevard Plan---Proposition I on the November, 1999, ballot---still want to believe that that trade-off wasn't what city voters faced when they voted for Prop. I and rejected Proposition J, which would have allowed CalTrans to rebuild the freeway. As a supervisor at the time, Ammiano---along with three other progressive Supervisors, Bierman, Katz, and Leno---voted to put Prop. I on the ballot in the first place, so naturally he would hate to admit now that it was a mistake. (Supporters of Prop. J, on the other hand, had to go through the initiative process and gather more than 10,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.)

In short, the present Octavia Blvd. fiasco was the creation of the city's progressive political community, led by, among others, Tom Ammiano. Who were the others? Here's a list of those supporting Prop. I culled from the November, 1999 Voter Information Pamphlet: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Green Party, San Francisco Tomorrow, Calvin Welch and the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Jane Morrison, SPUR, John Burton, Art Agnos, Carole Migden, Tom Radulovich, the San Francisco Democratic Party, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, Robin Levitt, the Harvey Milk Club, Walk San Francisco, and, oddly, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

A partial list of those who opposed Prop. I, to their great credit: the San Francisco Republican Party, Harold Hoogasian, Terence Faulkner, Howard Epstein, Arthur Bruzzone, David Heller, Paul Kozakiewicz, Ken Cleaveland, Espanola Jackson, John Barry, Barbara Kaufman, and Leland Yee.

Has Hayes Valley not flourished since the freeway removal? Has the Embarcadero not become a huge draw for tourists and locals alike since the removal of the freeway? Don't you consider that the Embarcadero is a huge financial engine for the city? Didn't a huge percentage of Hayes Valley residents vote and actively campaign to remove the Central Freeway?

Anonymous tries to conflate the Embarcadero Freeway with the Central Freeway, but their removal resulted in two completely different outcomes. Taking down the Embarcadero Freeway has been good for that part of town which, unlike Hayes Valley, was never primarily a residential neighborhood, and the Embarcadero already had a wide boulevard running along the waterfront. I don't know what percentage of Hayes Valley residents voted for Prop. I, but the Central Freeway issue took three elections and four ballot measures before it was decided. In 1997 city voters chose to rebuild the freeway, but they reversed that vote in 1998. It took the two propositions on the ballot in 1999 for a still-divided electorate to finally decide the issue.

Isn't the opportunity to build infill housing where the freeway once stood a very good thing? Is that not enough evidence to convince you that the same civic improvements will happen to Division Street once we remove the remaining stub of the Central Freeway? 8 years and counting!

The design to rebuild the Central Freeway on the ballot in 1999 left most of the previous freeway property available for building housing, though freeway opponents argued disingenuously that the issue was a choice between housing and no housing. But look out, Mission district! The anti-car, anti-freeway zealots aren't done yet; they want to "improve" Division Street by taking the rest of the freeway down, which will create more traffic gridlock in that part of the city.

It's interesting to note that Anonymous has nothing to say about Masonic Avenue, which was the topic of the post he was commenting on. The moral of the story: if you think Octavia Blvd. "enhances" and "calms" that part of town, you'll like what the city is going to do to Masonic Avenue, with the support of the same people who brought us gridlock in Hayes Valley.

The two situations are different: once city voters chose to not rebuild the freeway, something awful like Octavia Blvd. was inevitable in Hayes Valley. But even though Masonic Avenue now works well for more than 44,000 people a day, the city is going to deliberately "calm"/jam up traffic on that vital North/South street on behalf of the Bicycle Coalition and clueless city progressives, who still insist, in spite of contrary evidence, in believing that the creation of Octavia Blvd. has been good for the city.

Anonymous wrote:

I would guess that most YELP users weren't sitting in their cars in the perpetual traffic jams that occurred on the pre-1989 quake double-decked Central Freeway. People jokingly referred to the Central Freeway as a 'parking structure' with good reason. To allege that Octavia Boulevard traffic is actually worse than the freeway shows an intolerable level of historical ignorance, embarrassing even for a rant-fueled fictional "journalist" such as yourself. Has Hayes Valley not flourished since the freeway removal? Has the Embarcadero not become a huge draw for tourists and locals alike since the removal of the freeway? Don't you consider that the Embarcadero is a huge financial engine for the city? Didn't a huge percentage of Hayes Valley residents vote and actively campaign to remove the Central Freeway? Isn't the opportunity to build infill housing where the freeway once stood a very good thing? Is that not enough evidence to convince you that the same civic improvements will happen to Division Street once we remove the remaining stub of the Central Freeway? 8 years and counting!

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13 Comments:

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

Maybe you should start advocating a Masonic Freeway. Traffic should be lifted above the city where drivers won't have to deal with pesky pedestrians and cyclists. Driving will finally be elevated to heights it deserves!

And the Embarcadero Freeway did feed residential areas - North Beach and Chinatown. But not that I was expect you to know what you are talking about. Also, the Embarcadero Freeway coming down is the #1 reason we are now dealing with the Central Subway. Whatever that is worth.

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Another dumb comment, Mike. The point on Masonic: even though it's working well now for everyone but cyclists, the city is going to deliberately jam up traffic on behalf of your obnoxious minority.

Of course the Embarcadero Freeway fed North Beach and Chinatown, but the Embarcadero neighborhoood itself was not primarily a residential neighborhood like Hayes Valley.

Yes, Mayor Brown made the subway deal with Rose Pak and Chinatown as political cover to demolish the freeway. I have consistently opposed the subway as the major boondoggle that it is.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

"Another dumb comment, Mike."

Thanks!

And I think the people who live on Masonic will disagree with you on it working well for everyone but cyclists - otherwise they wouldn't be out in droves to have something changed. But what do I know, you have numbers and whatnot.

And I'm sure if the Central Freeway was still around you'd be bitching about homeless living under it.

And if traffic is really that bad, why do people continue to drive that route? It's not like we live in a grid city where you can easily get from A to B a million different ways - oh wait, we do.

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Rob - you are not paying attention to current events. There was a meeting held on Masonic, and there were many supporters for calming Masonic. Since you are smarter than these sheep, but they outnumber you, you needed to take the key lesson from Joel Panzer and JUMP UP AND START SCREAMING.

That would have done the trick. Rookie.

Not to mention I would probably pay cash money to see the video.

 
At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the freeway is removed back to Division then the mad rush to the south van ness ave on ramp will swamp that part of the city. Traffic backups north on Van Ness Avenue will be grow worse than they already are. Remember also that the Mission/VanNess/So VanNess location is planned for 400 foot monster residential highrises that will have no parking. People who buy those places will still own cars...and will be driving around looking for on street parking in the midst of the back up of traffic down to the South Van Ness ramp. The entire west SOMA will be inundated with cars...SOMA has and will be the dumping ground for all the City. OK so the Progressive and Bike Nazies love it that gridlock occurs, they want to make it so bad that people will not drive their cars, that is their goal.

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, traffic in that area is bad now, and it's only going to get worse in the near future, as UC's 450-unit housing development on the old extension property is finished in a few years, which means 1,000 new residents in the area in a development that of course will have limited parking.

And the Market/Octavia Plan, which includes the 40-story highrises you mention. The M/O Plan also changes zoning to provide incentives for developers to build new units---eliminating setbacks and backyards so they can build up to the property line, raising height limits, restricting the number of parking spaces allowed, and relaxing density limits to encourage another 10,000 new residents to the area. Neither of these projects provides any money for Muni, which is already running near capacity. Let them ride bikes!

And the ban on the easy right turn onto the freeway at Market and Octavia will stay in place as per the wishes of the bike people, which means continuous traffic jams down at the nearest freeway entrance at 13th and South Van Ness.

Joel Kotkin is right when he says that the whole density movement is part of the gentrification push and, not incidentally, a boon for developers.

 
At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Chan Chan said...

Bob - when you start you monkey dance again, you know you're going to get sniffed. I'm off for a bike ride and I'm going to be a self righteous prick in your honor! Watch out little doggies!

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for what seems to be a thankless task. And unfortunately hopeless. I agree with you about the absurd lack of reality concerning traffic planning. Motion activated exits at metro stations? Is there any doubt about what Mirkirimi's replacement will be like.........Thanks again.

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous whir said...

I'm certainly no fan of Octavia boulevard as it currently exists - in particular, the little benches that they installed in the medians between the 6-lane "boulevard" and the side streets are quite laughable, nobody in their right mind would want to sit there and watch cars go zipping by.

But as a kid I lived right next to the former Oak Street onramp and I can tell you that the freeway was a complete disaster for anybody who was nearby it and wasn't in a car. Cars were constantly speeding down the hill and my mom was terrified to let me cross the street alone. Meanwhile the area under the freeway was a classic Jane Jacobs dead zone, full of extremely sketchy characters who were very likely the source of the constant break-ins in the neighborhood. In the little apartment my mom and I lived in there was always soot on the sills from exhaust and we didn't open the windows on sunny days. So good riddance, Central Freeway, you are not missed.

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, the little benches are a good symbol of the folly and futility of Octavia Blvd. But the soot and all the traffic is now on the surface streets of the neighborhood, and it's moving a lot slower, which I suppose is the only good thing that can be said about the present situation. Traffic in Hayes Valley has been definitively "calmed," though most people would just call it a chronic, area-wide traffic jam.

There's no free lunch when dealing with traffic. The city and the bike people can do all the anti-car theorizing they want, but what they have created in Hayes Valley should be a cautionary tale. Instead, they are about to duplicate the fiasco on Masonic Avenue.

 
At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the chronic speeding on Masonic Ave? You know most people speed down that road, especially at night. Spend about 10 minutes at the new radar sign, longer if you want more proof. If you really think that cops can do anything about that on a regular basis, then you certainly have more faith in them than I do.

I live in the area and want that changed. If I have to choose between slower, denser traffic, or high volumes speeding through my neighborhood. I'm going to for the latter.

I don't agree with the bike lanes in the new plan, but if that's what I have to deal with to have slower traffic, then I'll go with it. Hopefully some of what's happened at Octavia can be averted.

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Jeffery K. said...

I have lived on Page St. half a block from the Page/Octavia intersection for over 20 years. Octavia Boulevard is noisier than the freeway was, it is far more dangerous for pedestrians, and Page St. is now basically a freeway on-ramp five days a week. I hate it. What used to be a quiet area is now a fucking mess. And let's not forget that the "progressives" who tore down the freeway are Hayes Valley property owners. The value of their property shot up after the demolition.

 
At 9:34 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, the leadership of the HVNA are mostly property owners in the area. They supported tearing down the Central Freeway, and they support allowing UC to hijack the old extension property for a major housing development---450 new housing units on six acres---that will bring another 1,000 new residents to the area. The only thing delaying this over-large development is the bad economy, but it will be done eventually.

And then there's the Market/Octavia Plan, which means another 6,000 new housing units,10,000 more people, and 40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness. Again, the only thing delaying this greed and stupidity is the bad economy.

Both of these massive projects discourage developers from providing adequate parking for all that new housing. Nor do they provide any more money for an already-maxed out Muni system. Let them ride bikes!

All this is called Smart Growth!

 

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