Bay Bridge Closure Temporarily Tames Some of SF’s Worst Traffic Sewers

IMG_5042.jpgViaducts leading to the Bay Bridge were empty today but for construction vehicles. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The streets of SoMa were eerily silent today, in the words of one resident, who took a break from working at home to enjoy walking his dog down a pleasantly calm Harrison Street. Gone was the persistent hum of Bay Bridge traffic, both overhead and on feeder streets. The first Bay Bridge workday closure since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake seemed to bring an unusual tranquility to SoMa’s worst traffic sewers.

Down the block, at Gabby Café, owner Sam Adam said the reduced traffic was a welcome relief. If it were always this way, Adam said, it would be fine with him. "If it stays that way, it’s much better anyway," since cars are noisy and dusty.

He wasn’t concerned about lost customers, since his store mostly serves a neighborhood clientele. "From traffic, we don’t get any business."

Next door, at Shine Cleaners, Inna Daniliuk echoed that sentiment. "It’s Friday as usual," said Daniliuk, who hasn’t heard any complaints from customers about the bridge closure. "Almost all the customers live in this area."

quietstreet.jpgHarrison Street in SoMa was nearly empty for much of Friday. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Across the street, Conor O’Rourke stopped by the post office, which he said was the closest to his workplace. Since he doesn’t own a car, and commutes from the Mission by bike everyday, O’Rourke said the light traffic was good for bicycling. "It has been nice that the bike lanes are easier to drive in when the cars aren’t around."

"There definitely isn’t as much traffic right now as there usually is," he added.

Over at Market and Spear Street, it was business as usual at the street-side stands that offer a variety of knickknacks and art for sale to tourists. Ravit Maman, who operates a jewelry stand on the sidewalk there, said she was experiencing her usual Friday bump in business.

Tourism didn’t seem to be suffering from the bridge closure, but Maman said she did experience a busier BART ride than usual, even though she wasn’t on it until 11:30 a.m. According to BART, the ridership increase today was modest: about 10,000 extra riders by 8 a.m., compared to last Friday’s numbers.

Businesses serving the Financial District seemed to be holding their own as well. At the Tadich Grill on California Street, the lunch crowd was no smaller than usual. "We were good," said Tracy Prather, a Tadich Grill employee. "A lot busier than what we all thought."

Asked how the restaurant was able to remain unaffected by the bridge closure, Prather responded readily: "Because we’re the Tadich Grill. Everybody comes here."

While business tends to be "feast and famine" across the street at Let Us! Copy, Billy McMorrow said today wasn’t slower than a usual Friday, especially considering the holiday. It’s been a quiet day, McMorrow said, but "not necessarily because of the bridge."

Given that 280,000 vehicles cross the Bay Bridge daily, business owners and employees seemed surprisingly unfazed by the closure. Somehow, even without the bridge, San Francisco seemed to carry on, a little less noisy than usual, but not less busy.

Did the Bay Bridge closure affect your commute today? Will you be taking advantage of the extra-quiet streets this Labor Day Weekend? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

  • From caltrain to broadway on my bike I saw like 7 cars total. Eerie. This was at 5 PM!

  • Somewhere I read the suggestion the closed Western section of the bridge should have been opened up to cyclists from the weekend. Seems like a brilliant way to draw people out but leave their cars behind for the final bridge closure in a couple years.

  • I bike down First and Fremont streets every morning. The congested traffic I bypass every morning is actually safer for me because everyone’s jammed and there’s less chance of someone swerving quickly. Today there was only a few cars on First street, but they were cruising at about 40MPH.

    But I really enjoy the now-quiet neighborhood I live in. Very little traffic and I don’t hear the motorcycles and semi’s revving up on the lower deck. I guess I’m just used to the noise there all the time. It’s quite serene now!

    Question: Is biking on the bay bridge permitted for the weekend to Treasure Island? I see no reason why it shouldn’t be.

  • ZA

    Leaving at 8am, and returning at 5pm along Harrison and Howard, I didn’t see any significant change to my typical cycling commutes with the following exceptions:

    – Slightly more morning delivery trucks than usual
    – A handful more parents and guardians taking kids to school on bikes (way to go!)

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I would like to see rider figures from previous, non-bridge-closure Fridays before Labor Day. Intuitively, I suppose that BART ridership is usually way down on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Therefore ridership being up 10k compared to last week might actually have been a much larger net gain compared to a traditional long weekend.

  • NoeValleyJim

    On my bicycle commute to work, the streets were practically empty. Even way out at 30th and San Jose, traffic was way down. Where I work in SOMA was even emptier.

  • Though I almost rarely drive, I had to borrow a car to take friends to the Oakland airport, so I was definitely worried about the closure and getting back to SF. But despite driving from Palo Alto to Oakland (Dumbarton) and back to SF (92) Friday night around 7, I barely saw any traffic! Eastbound 92 wasn’t moving well, but everything else seemed to be business as usual.

    Maybe a lot of people took those sick days they were going to for the BART strike and used them today?

  • ZA

    I can confirm that a lot of people in my workplace planned their holidays around this Bay Bridge closure, as well as tele-commuted instead of braving BART or the lost Bridge on Friday. Add in the Playa exodus, and it’s as ideal as it can get for the Bridge workers.

  • I bicycled around during Friday’s afternoon rush hour, and was struck by the lack of traffic, especially on Folsom, First, and Harrison.

    Traffic was light, but moving rather fast. It reminded me that the goal of the Transportation Authority’s Congestion Charge study – reducing traffic congestion – will not, by itself, make downtown and SoMa streets more livable. These three-lane and four-lane traffic sewers, together with SoMa’s long blocks, need to be calmed and made safer for pedestrians and cyclists. A congestion charge can be an effective tool for reducing private auto traffic in the downtown, especially during commute hours, but it ought to be used to reclaim road space for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit and make streets safer, rather than just make traffic faster.

    The other thing that struck me is how San Francisco has run two high-volume traffic sewers (First and Fremont) through its future grand central station high-density residential, and emerging financial district neighborhood, and another pair of high-volume traffic sewers (3rd and 4th) through its museum, convention center, and hotel district. This is bad planning. How can we reclaim these streets, and help make these quarters, so important to the life of the city, walkable and livable?

  • Best weekend of sleep I’ve had at home since … well, the last time the Bay Bridge was closed. 🙂 Rincon Hill was nicely quiet for a few days at least.