Thursday, June 23, 2005

Reinventing the freeway on Octavia Blvd.

The Neighborhood Parks Council has a story in its newsletter on the new Hayes Green that succinctly summarizes both the good intentions and the wishful thinking that have accompanied the redesign of Octavia Blvd. from the beginning ("Hayes Green," Jeanne Alexander).

First there's some self-congratulation on getting rid of the Central Freeway, which used to travel over the neighborhood. Granted that the freeway was ugly and cast a shadow over the neighborhood. But it looks like what has been done with the new Octavia Blvd. is to bring traffic that used to run over the neighborhood down to ground level. 

Caltrans has estimated that 100,000 cars a day used the Central Freeway; the freeway ramp is now located on Market St., just across from Octavia Blvd. and its six new lanes of traffic. 

It's easy to forget that, regardless of how ugly it was, the Central Freeway performed a useful function by keeping all that traffic off the surface streets of the neighborhood. Now that traffic---or a considerable portion of it---will be on the surface streets of the Market/Octavia neighborhood when the boulevard and the freeway ramp open up later this summer.

There's a typically rosy account of what has been created with the new Octavia Blvd:

The boulevard's designers, Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, created Octavia Boulevard as a "Parisian" thoroughfare stretching from Market Street to Fell Street, where it ends in the new Hayes Green. Three freeway lanes move in each direction, separated by tree-lined medians (think Champs d'Elysee and Park Presidio Boulevard)

I don't know about Champs d'Elysee, but the Park Presidio analogy is not reassuring, since it is indeed a six-lane, freeway-like north-south road through the western portion of the city.

Alexander expresses a prematurely celebratory attitude in the neighborhood: "After much effort, local merchants and neighbors will celebrate not only convenient and well-designed freeway access, but a new green space as well." 

Freeway access may now seem convenient to those who live north of Market St.; those south of Market, where the new freeway ramp is located, may have a different view. And is a small green space with six lanes of traffic leading up to it really worth much celebration? 

The green looks rather forlorn now, even before Octavia Blvd. opens up to traffic. It's not going to look any better when thousands of cars a day invade the neighborhood later this year.

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