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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