Former Trash-Strewn Lot Becomes An “Off-Ramp Park”

IMG_1881.jpgSixth and Brannan Park. Photos: Michael Rhodes

San Franciscans don’t often spend their days contriving ways to spend more time near freeway off-ramps, especially when proximity to freeways can be a risk to your health, but the city’s newest park along the I-280 exit at Sixth and Brannan Streets may make you think twice about it.

City leaders officially launched the park with an opening ceremony this afternoon, and with the success of the Pavement to Parks program, which reclaimed underused street space for public parks and plazas, the Department of Public Works and Caltrans have now embarked on a series of upgrades across the city on what we’ll unofficially dub, "Off-Ramps to Parks."

"Creating beautiful, livable, vibrant, and sustainable spaces is an important part of our work, however, we cannot do it alone," said DPW Director Ed Reiskin. "These types of partnerships are critical in an era when we are seeking the most efficient way to clean and beautify the city."

On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, it appeared the demand for green
space was strong — even along a freeway off-ramp. Several groups of
people lounged along the paths, and the hum of the exiting cars could
almost be mistaken for the babbling of a creek (the exhaust of the cars
was less mistakable, though a strong breeze and the trees helped
mitigate that.) The park includes walking paths, new trees, flowers,
and other landscaping upgrades like boulders, which serve as the only
seating at present.

"Before, it didn’t have all the greenery. All it had was a bum," said Megan Bluxome, an art student who used to live nearby, but hadn’t returned to the area recently. "It looks like it’s not part of the city, a very short natural walk — right next to the freeway."

"It’s an escape," she added.

Bluxome was lounging on the decorative boulders with a friend, Ken John. "It needs a bench — or more comfy rocks," said John, who quickly pointed out the major upgrade had made him prone to demanding even more.

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The park, which runs as a linear strip between a newly built apartment building and the off-ramp, was paid for and coordinated by DPW’s Street Parks Program, Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway Program, UMB Construction, and a group of neighbors who wanted to see less graffiti and illegal dumping in the space.

Over the summer, more spaces along freeway off-ramps will be cleaned up and greened by participants in the Jobs Now program and DPW’s Summer Youth Landscaping Apprenticeship Program, including the Eighth and Harrison street off-ramp, the entrance to I-280 at Cesar Chavez and Kansas, and the Mission and Duboce off-ramp.

While the intersection of Sixth and Brannan may always be an unpleasant
space to be a pedestrian, in a part of the city that lacks green space, the new park provides a small refuge.

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  • Boy, I don’t know. I want this to work, but I dropped by the other day and it just did not seem like the kind of place I’d want to hang out. Obviously, it’s an improvement; but until there’s something shielding the park from the cars — as those shrubs may do in a few years — I can’t imagine spending much time there.

  • I’ve been wondering what’s been going on there, seeing the gradual shifting of that space as I’ve taken the route from my work to my credit union. Thanks for reporting on this.

    Coming from Cleveland, where they have the Emerald Necklace that rings sustained greenspace along the greater metro area, these pocket parks slowly emerging in SF will allow for lovely oasis. It’ll kinda make the less pleasant pedestrian passages worth it, because you’ll know you’ll reach a few nice parks along the way. This may encourage more people to walk to experience this, hopefully ennabling further efforts to make those not so present walks more pleasant, such as providing a sidewalk along Townsend towards the alley that will lead to the park mentioned here.

    While we are sort of on the topic, if any of the Streetsblog crew could write about it, I’d love to hear more about that proposed sundial park at the bottom of the winding pedestrian bridge over 280.

  • Excellent. I’ve seen this turn from a patch of dirt by the freeway to a de facto doggie-park for nearby residents.

    Now what I’d like to see is the very dangerous pedestrian crossing at 6th and Brannan made safer.

  • word to making this whole area safer — folks coming off the highway blaze through red lights, the straight-aheads as well as the right turns — sucks. really, the right way to solve the problem is to tear down the highway.

    i’m hoping we can start building momentum for just that — maybe get the city to pass a ‘no rebuild’ resolution if and when all these elevated highways get ready to expire, or are expired by an earthquake.

  • Smash

    These little parks are nice, but they’ll be great when we get rid of the freeway.

  • TMTOWTDI

    It’s encouraging to see some beautification of this area. But “an unpleasant space to be a pedestrian” doesn’t even begin to accurately describe this intersection.

    There is some very dangerous alchemy of mixing pedestrian and highway speed vehicles going on at this intersection. Crossing Brannan from the location of this new “park” is very, very dangerous. Traffic coming from your left as you head toward Bryant is exiting a HIGHWAY, on a DOWNHILL slope and the shape of the intersection is even curved to support HIGHER SPEED! In addition, there is not 1. Not 2. But 3 utility/signal wiring boxes placed in such a way as to obstruct the view from vehicles of any waiting pedestrians.

    So what you get at that intersection is generally inattentive drivers rolling around the corner from the highway heading right on Brannan at very high speeds for a turn. And even attentive drivers have their view obstructed by the utility/traffic control boxes. Spend a few minutes crossing back and forth in this intersection as a pedestrian and you will discover this is San Francisco’s very own high-stakes game of Frogger.

    Cyclists using this area as a path to Caltrain will quickly discover that the signal timing of the light east bound on Brannan across 6th is waaaaay too short. If you are paying close attention and start pedaling hard as soon as the light turns green, you might make it through the intersection before it turns red. The timing is much too short for cycling traffic.

    And finally, in our “transit” first city where pedestrians are supposed to receive top priority, guess what? A pedestrian can’t even walk across 6th on the southerly side of Brannan. Whether it’s a safety consideration or just an accommodation for maximum flow of vehicular traffic, to stay on that side of Brannan means _3_ street crossings at this intersection.

  • I kinda like the City of Dixon model for slowing cars down when they come into the city off of a freeway ramp …. one of their exits (Pitt School Road??) features four-way stops at every block immediately following the exit ramp from I-80. I’d love to see a similar thing … force all vehicles to stop coming into the City off of northbound 280 or 101 at some four-way stops to break the speed demon/lead foot thing … and secondly, I want to see a 20 MPH speed limit on cars in the downtown area (at least SOMA).

  • “Spend a few minutes crossing back and forth in this intersection as a pedestrian and you will discover this is San Francisco’s very own high-stakes game of Frogger.”

    Word! I make this crossing every day on my walk to work. Now that we’ve invested in this nice park, how about reestablishing the crosswalk here and slowing down the cars as they exit the freeway. This is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

  • patrick

    “I want to see a 20 MPH speed limit on cars in the downtown area (at least SOMA).”

    make that 20 mph speed limit everywhere in the city and I’m with you!

  • Maybe I’ll put that into the ear of District 6 Supervisor candidate Jim Meko … he’s the only candidate I know of who bicycles/walks or uses transit to get around … and that’s the way he’s been getting around for the 33 years he’s lived in SOMA.

  • TMTOWTDI

    Take a look at the intersection on Google’s streetview. I can’t think of any rationale for having the exit curved except to support higher speeds and vehicle volume around the corner, exactly what you wouldn’t want if the hope is to have a natural transition from highway to urban street speeds. It’s this sort of quick transition from highway to street that gives me the impression that vehicle speeds are elevated on Brannan.

    I’d be really interested to see an objective comparison of vehicle average speeds from nearby blocks for a few classes of intersection types. For example:

    1) Exit/Entrance for highway multi-lane one way
    2) Exit/Entrance for highway multi-lane two way
    3) Exit/Entrance for highway single lane two way

    And then a comparison sampling from nearby blocks without highway access.

    Transportation geeks probably have precise names and descriptions for these sorts of things. But my guess is that we don’t do a great job of normalizing traffic speeds for these transition areas.

  • Kyle

    What do you think the price tag was for this? Who will keep it up? These aren’t going to work.

  • 1) While exhaust may be an issue now, 10 years fro now, assuming the electric car migration goes as planned it wont be. Combine that with mature shrubs and trees, and it will be even better. Noise however, will always be an issue.

    2) Speeding traffic – the only way to stop that is to make it a “no turn on red” and enforce it. The intersection, as is, is designed specifically to accommodate right turns on red. A tighter turning radius would also reduce speeds.

  • Those are exactly the dangers I’m talking about, TMTOWTDI.

  • Alex Ganiaris

    I’d like to share of few thoughts regarding this project, since I designed and built it, working with UMB Construction.

    It’s more accurately described as a “walkway” than a park – the intent here was not to provide a space for lounging, as Mr. Rhodes suggests in his opening paragraph. It was a neglected space that is used by many pedestrians, and the intent here was to make a more enjoyable walk, one that dog owners would respect (by curbing their dogs), and dissuade illicit activities. During construction we came across at least 5 used syringes, human feces, and trash galore. Having this landscaping will hopefully discourage such things from happening.

    The project was financed almost entirely by a private corporation (UMB), and the city only provided the garbage can and doggie litter bag stand. Water for irrigation is not provided by the city, and neither is maintenance – all this comes from UMB.

    Community participation was very helpful in preparing the design. We had 2 evening meetings (thanks to the Academy of Art for supplying the space) where individuals could make suggestions and voice concerns.

    In time the shrubs along the highway exit will fill in and block (visually) the continuous flow of cars. Not much can be done about the noise and pollution – but having more plants that expel oxygen certainly helps a little.

    Hopefully the walkway will continue to be a pleasant space to pass through as it matures over the next few years, and please enjoy the subtle changes that will occur (for example, the rugosa roses are about to bloom).

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