San Francisco’s Unbuilt Freeway Network Revisited

Picture_4.pngSome of San Francisco’s unbuilt freeways

Hunter College student and photographer Andrew Lynch recently posted Google Map mashups of the unbuilt freeways that made up many of the master plans in cities around the country in the 1950s and 1960s.  San Francisco, New York City, and Boston avoided the worst of automobility, while the map of Los Angeles freeways was pretty well paved.

The maps are a stark reminder of how devastating the plans would have been to San Francisco’s livability had the public not revolted against the master planners.  I’d currently be huffing fumes from the Mission/Bernal Heights freeway, there’d be no Panhandle, and North Beach and the Marina would likely have much lower property values.  But you can imagine the pleasure of motoring past Ocean Beach at 70 mph without forced stops at traffic signals!

Alternately, can anyone tell me why the upper portion of Market Street where it becomes Portola Drive still has elevated segments?  I would think the value of new development with those views would have trumped the convenience of speeding through that neighborhood with limited stop lights.

  • These freeways did not stop themselves:

    Pioneers like Jane Morrison and the late Sue Bierman were the ones that did the heavy lifting to stop:


  • This map looks reasonably accurate, but where did they get the Sloat-Great Highway route from? That was never part of any of the Trafficways plans or adopted as a state highway route.

    The reason upper Market has viaduct segments is that, well, it’s on the side of a hill, and if you want a reasonably flat route, it’s either that or massive cutting and filling. Where would you route the street instead?

  • theo

    the upper portion of Market Street where it becomes Portola Drive still has elevated segments?

    It was either that, or tunnel. Or maybe build one of those half-open windowed tunnels like they have in the Swiss Alps.

    The amount of housing space taken away by upper Market Street is less than you might think. There are buildings along much of the downhill side along Grandview Ave., but many of them are below street level and invisible from a car. And the uphill side is mostly developed.

  • theo

    Speaking of Sue Bierman, she has a nice little memorial at the western end of the panhandle half a block from Stanyan St. (i.e. the path of one of the proposed highways).

  • Tony

    SF Cityscape has a map as well. It also has accompanying description about which freeways were not built:

  • We have some good history on this too, at

  • We have some good additional history here:

  • Chris, are you sure that Jack Morrison voted for the Panhandle Freeway? That would be strange, given that his wife, Jane, was a leader in the popular freeway revolt…I was under the impression that his vote was one of the six that killed the plans.


  • And I gotta say that watching the demolition of the Central and Embarcadero freeways back in the day was totally trippy. It was like there were these two metal snaggletoothed animals cooperating with their firehose friend to consume the concrete and rebar. One demolisher would attack a section of concrete while under spray by hose, once a truck load had been disgorged, the other side would commence to attack under a dust spray while the first side’s load was trucked off. Lather, rinse repeat.

    The site also forgot to mention the reconstruction of the Central Freeway from Mission to Market that resulted in the “successful” final Octavia Boulevard measure, one that led to the “rapid gentrification” of Hayes Valley while saddling the poorer, browner North Mission with another ugly freeway.

    Et tu, HVNA?


  • redseca2

    I do not miss the freeways that were built at all, but….

    I have lived in the upper Haight since the late ’70’s and people cannot believe there was a day when you could go out on a Friday night in a car with your friends, blast down Oak to the freeway, head east on the elevated to the Embarcadero freeway and be at Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway in like 10 minutes.