Tuesday, May 13, 2014

John King's amen chorus: Norquist and Macdonald

Elizabeth Macdonald and John Norquist

John King and some of the other perps who brought us the Octavia Boulevard that replaced the Central Freeway ramp in Hayes Valley revisited the scene of the crime this week. The Central Freeway used to carry 90,000 vehicles a day over Hayes Valley. Shortly after it opened to traffic, Octavia Blvd. was carrying 45,000 cars a day through the middle of the neighborhood, and by 2012 that traffic was up to 63,000.

Back in 2004, King consulted John Norquist in a column that declared the city's plan for Octavia Blvd. a success long before the street opened to traffic in 2005:

"This is an area where San Francisco is really leading the nation," says John Norquist, executive director of the Chicago-based Congress for a New Urbanism and former mayor of Milwaukee. "Not everyone has the benefit of an earthquake like San Francisco did, but if the boulevard works, it could end up being replicated across the country"...Octavia's attention to detail intrigues Norquist. 

His Chicago-based organization of architects and planners has teamed with traffic engineers to create new national guidelines for urban thoroughfares that are neighborhood-friendly. There's a practical reason: Many elevated freeways are near the end of their structural lives. "If you design it right, you can have a civilized place," Norquist says. "Even with lots of traffic, it can still be a pleasant place to be."

King and his pal Norquist revisited Octavia Blvd. the other day and declared it a success:

The group was organized by the Congress for the New Urbanism, a Chicago planning advocacy organization. Executive director John Norquist has made freeway removal a priority, and he saw the Bay Area as a showcase to drive home the point that turning back the clock can be beneficial. "It helps when people see physically, with your own eyes, that you can take down a freeway and life goes on," said Norquist...

Yes, life goes on---does it have any choice?---even when there are more than 60,000 vehicles a day coming through the middle of your neighborhood. Commercial life? Not so much. Unlike nearby Hayes Street, there are few businesses on Octavia Blvd., since it's essentially an expressway leading to and from the freeway, a function the Central Freeway used to perform by bringing the traffic over the neighborhood.

Like Norquist King likes the life-goes-on trope, especially in conjunction with a lot of landscaping to cover up planning blunders and all that traffic:

Now the freeway touches down at Market Street before shifting to a boulevard with two lanes of traffic on either side of a median filled by thick poplars. On either side, there's an additional lane for local traffic, set apart from the central lanes by elms and shrubs to buffer the adjacent blocks from the commuter slog. The visitors from New Orleans and Syracuse, N.Y., were greeted by Elizabeth Macdonald, an associate professor at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design. 

Her firm, Jacobs Macdonald: Cityworks, designed the boulevard with the city's Department of Public Works. "One of the big issues we faced was the transition of the freeway to the city," Macdonald said. "Touching down at Market Street has some issues." Indeed, the central lanes are jammed for much of the day and cause backups on Page and Oak streets...

Yes, there are "some issues" with the freeway touchdown at Market and Octavia.

There are "backups" not just on Page and Oak Streets; the whole area is now a chronic traffic jam for most of the day. Think traffic is bad there now? Soon it will be a lot worse after some other planning fiascos are completed---the UC development a block off Octavia Blvd. will bring 1,000 new residents to the neighborhood, and the Market and Octavia Plan's residential highrises will bring another 10,000 new residents to the area. Neither of these projects provides more money for Muni.

Maybe all those new residents will ride bikes after they get here.

The highrise zoning for the Market and Van Ness area.

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