Thursday, November 19, 2015

Revisiting two planning failures: The de Young Museum and Octavia Blvd.

Herzog de Meuron's mistake

In the last week, the Chronicle's John King has revisited two significant city planning failures of the past ten years: the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and Octavia Boulevard in Hayes Valley. 

King fell in love with the awful Octavia Blvd. long before it was completed, and he defended the boxy, warehouse-like de Young building as "a splash of innovation in the staid local architecture scene." (See also this and this.)

King only mentions the de Young in passing but has this to say about designers and planners:

The familiar is the sense that today's world is being sold a bill of goods by design professionals who pontificate as if only they can see tomorrow---the ones who roll out chilly glass towers as a hot trend...

King was an early buyer of the highrise bill of goods and was still buying it a few years ago.

But Octavia Blvd. is the failure that has had the most horrendous impact. Shortly after Octavia Blvd. opened to traffic, it was carrying more than 45,000 motor vehicles a day through the Hayes Valley neighborhood to and from the freeway connection on Market Street.

Like other defenders of Octavia Blvd., King likes to conflate taking down the Central Freeway over Hayes Valley with taking down the Embarcadero freeway:

Getting rid of a freeway in an often-gridlocked region might sound foolhardy---it took the Loma Prieta earthquake to nudge San Francisco to raze the elevated freeways along the Embarcadero and through Hayes Valley that neighbors hated but drivers relied on.

But tearing down those freeway overpasses resulted in completely different outcomes: the Embarcadero already had a wide boulevard and was never primarily a residential neighborhood, while the Central Freeway used to take 90,000 cars a day over the Hayes Valley neighborhood, but now Octavia Blvd. brings 63,000 vehicles a day through the middle of the neighborhood.

Octavia Blvd. now creates area-wide traffic gridlock in that part of town for most of the day even before the 1,000 new residents occupy UC's massive housing project a block off Octavia.

More John King on Octavia Blvd: here, here, here, and here.

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