Monday, January 28, 2013

Anti-carism and the freeway mythology

Mayor Lee and anti-car bike gal Gillian Gillett on the right
with a negligent parent endangering his child in the middle

The mythology about the city and freeways is now firmly in place. In this morning's Chronicle we learn that San Francisco is "a city known for demolishing freeways." Let's count the number of freeways the city has demolished: the Central Freeway ramp in Hayes Valley and the Embarcadero freeway, a grand total of two. The city is famous for refusing to allow Caltrans to build freeways over Golden Gate Park more than 50 years ago. Maybe that's what the writer had in mind.

The anti-car folks now complain about the traffic on the Panhandle and on Masonic Avenue, because it makes cyclists "uncomfortable." That's the real-world consequence of taking down/not building freeways in San Francisco: either that traffic goes over the city or it ends up on our surface streets. We can't have it both ways. The anti-car bike people---and City Hall---seem to think that if we take down the freeways all those cars will magically disappear. The reality is that Fell Street, Oak Street, and Masonic Avenue are important regional traffic arteries, not just neighborhood or city streets.

The myth about the results of tearing down the Central Freeway---or, to be exact, the decision to not rebuild it after the 1989 earthquake---is that it has been a great planning triumph and the Hayes Valley neighborhood has thrived as a consequence. If you think that having most of the traffic that used to go over the neighborhood now on its surface streets is a triumph, that's true. But almost all of that traffic---more than 50,000 vehicles a day---is now on Octavia Blvd., which, not surprisingly, is devoid of commercial activity and nothing but the freeway connector that it always had to be[Later: the total number of vehicles using Octavia every day is now more than 63,000]. John King hoped that the landscaping would mitigate all that traffic, but the reality is that you can't really mitigate/hide the presence of that traffic.

Hayes Street itself is doing fine---in spite of all the traffic on Octavia, not because of it. The Octavia Blvd. boosters are still in denial about the inevitable trade-off that was a consequence of taking down the Central Freeway. The Bicycle Coalition and all right-thinking city progressives supported tearing down the freeway under the apparent assumption that whatever replaced it was going to be a lot better. That's obviously debatable, but denying that that was/is the inevitable trade-off is now the assumption underlying the discussion about tearing down the I-280 ramps.

Gillian Gillett has now been anointed as some kind of transportation expert, but she's really only another trendy, anti-car bike person, like Dave Snyder and Cheryl Brinkman. She was also an assistant to Supervisor Wiener. As I've pointed out before, whenever something dumb is happening in the city, Scott Wiener is there to support it: here, here, here, here, and here.

John Blanchard for the SF Chronicle

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