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Posts from the Highway Removal Category

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SoMa Freeway Ramp Mistake Fixed at Nearly Twice the Estimated Cost

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Image: SFCTA

Image: SFCTA

SF agencies opened a newly re-aligned freeway ramp yesterday that lands on Fremont at Folsom Street. The ramp fix came in at a cost of $5,274,000, nearly twice the original estimate of $2,883,900.

The design of the original Highway 80 off-ramp, installed after the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway to whisk drivers from the Bay Bridge into east SoMa, was widely considered a mistake.

The purpose of the realignment project, as stated by the SF County Transportation Authority, was to change “the off-ramp configuration to function better as a gateway into a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood,” as well as to reduce the footprint of the ramp to make room for a building development.

The old ramp configuration, which shot car traffic diagonally into the intersection of Fremont and Folsom, represented the type of 20th-century freeway engineering that has made for deadly intersections along Highway 80 through SoMa. The ramp forked as it touched down, consuming additional land and encouraging drivers to merge onto Fremont without stopping.

The new ramp doesn’t split in two, instead landing mid-block at a perpendicular angle to Fremont, where there’s now a traffic signal.

The ramp fix was originally supposed to wrap up in January, but crews discovered that the soil was more heavily contaminated than expected with lead and motor oil [PDF], much of it likely from the heavy motor traffic passing by. That drove up the costs, along with “unexpected” changes in Caltrans engineering standards, planners said.

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How Freeway Removal and Zero Parking Can Fend Off SF’s Triple Threat

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Upzoning in the eastern portion of the Market and Octavia Plan area without allowing any parking has great promise to bring more affordable housing to the center of San Francisco. Photo: Jason Henderson

There is an urgent triumvirate of crises looming over San Franciscans. With median rents now exceeding $4,200, hyper-gentrification is tearing lives apart. Except for those surviving on rent control, the city is no longer welcoming to teachers, artists, and the entire middle class. Things are looking difficult in the East Bay, as speculators and realtors spread their tentacles of greed around every BART station.

Meanwhile, on the city’s streets there’s an onslaught of untenable motor traffic, visionless drivers imposing violence and rage on the streets, Ubers blocking bike lanes, private buses grabbing Muni stops. It’s not just hard to get around. It’s deadly.

And in the back of every decent thinking person’s mind there’s the specter of climate change. What kind of Mad Max world comes with a 4° increase in global mean temperatures? How can we stabilize at 2°? Will the Bay Area be viable as Sierra snowpack dries up and the seas rise? What can we do here? Now?

Many people feel despondent at what is unfolding. In San Francisco, a proposed moratorium on new market rate development in the Mission has gained traction and will be vetted at the Board of Supervisors. In Oakland, a city hall meeting was bum rushed and shut down by activists.

Sustainable transportation activists push a Vision Zero agenda to tame traffic but the mayor defends parking over human lives. And affordability and the traffic mess are tangled up in a planning quagmire, with the impotent Plan Bay Area the only coherent climate strategy in town.

There’s a lot to grapple with here, and not much time to make a difference. But lately a few planning ideas — zero parking, freeway removal, and upzoning for affordability — have come to my mind as ways we can quickly, practically, and deliberately address this converging madness — right here, right now.

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Freeways Without Futures: I-345 in Dallas

In this Streetfilm, Patrick Kennedy, founder of A New Dallas, talks about the movement to replace Interstate 345 in downtown Dallas with connected streets and walkable development. Shot at the “Freeways Without Futures” session at the Congress for New Urbanism’s recent conference in Dallas, the piece provides views of I-345 from heights most people never get to see.

Kennedy was joined by Peter Park, who was instrumental in the removal of the Park East freeway in Milwaukee, and Ian Lockwood of the Toole Design Group. Their take on urban highways like I-345 was too powerful and logical to not share with the rest of the universe.

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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. “I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. “We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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Planning Department Takes a Serious Look at Highway 280 Teardown

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The 280 freeway looking from Potrero Hill, where it divides the neighborhood from Mission Bay. Photo: Michael Patrick/Flickr

The idea of tearing down a section of highway 280, north of 16th Street, is taking a firm step forward with the launch of a new study by the Planning Department. Although the department has already released a study of the option in December 2012, the new initiative would take a deeper, more comprehensive look at the “spiderweb” of interconnected transportation infrastructure plans in the area, said the Planning Department’s Susan Gygi.

Altogether, plans for the area include the conversion of the 280 stub into a boulevard and housing, the Caltrain railyard redevelopment, and the planned rail electrification and downtown extension of Caltrain and CA High-Speed Rail to the Transbay Transit Center. “Once you touch one, it radiates throughout the web and affects everything within the area,” said Gygi.

The study certainly won’t be quick — it’s not expected to be completed until as late as June 2016. But it could set the stage for funding and implementation, preceding the environmental review process and the development of a detailed plan to pursue.

Streetsblog USA
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Dallas Official: Without a Highway Teardown, Park Gets “Free Shade”

Getting officials on board with a highway teardown in Dallas is no easy task. Just ask Patrick Kennedy, a Dallas planner who has led the charge to remove IH-345, an elevated stump of a highway near central Dallas.

A Dallas official described this setting as a good place for athletic courts. Photo: Dallas Morning News

Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation dismissed the teardown proposal out of hand, refusing to even consider it in the range of alternatives being discussed for the aging viaduct.

Local officials, meanwhile, seem to think that won’t be an entirely bad thing for the park they’re planning nearby. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan recently told the Dallas Morning News that IH-345 might actually provide an amenity to park-goers.

“One nice thing about an elevated freeway is that it provides free shade, which is important, and you can do things like athletic courts that would be appropriate for underneath a freeway,” she said.

Kennedy and his supporters at A New Dallas have been arguing for years that tearing down the elevated highway stub is the best thing for the city. They argue that removing the highway would cost about as much as repairing it: around $100 million. But rather than saddling the city with an expensive maintenance liability, the teardown would open up enough space to support $4 billion worth of development, returning up to $100 million in property tax revenue annually to the city.

Despite the unfortunate comments by Jordan, a growing number of local leaders have been warming to the idea, Kennedy says. He’s not giving up just because TxDOT is being dismissive.

“This is just TxDOT issuing an administrative edict,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t mean we should not call them out for abandoning any pretext of a public process.”

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Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built — and is considering removing another section — doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

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SFCTA Considers Removing Freeway Ramps at Balboa Park Station

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Balboa Park may be a major transit hub for BART and Muni, but it’s hard to tell as you approach the station, which is surrounded by dangerous roads swarming with car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. The design of the area around the station — not to mention the 24,000 people who use it daily — feels like an afterthought to a freeway exit.

The SF County Transportation Authority is considering options to remove some of the “redundant” freeway ramps to reduce the number of points where pedestrians and cars mix, while also simplifying traffic patterns and making the pedestrian environment less hostile. The agency has embarked on a study to explore how certain ramp removals or re-alignments would affect the area, and fielded input at a community meeting this week.

“If you change the circulation patterns around the station, you might shake loose a solution that would allow us to improve the current conflicts that are happening at certain hot spots around the station,” said SFCTA planner Chester Fung. “There’s no silver bullet solution.”

Robert Muehlbauer, chair of the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee, said he wants “to make sure that we don’t just design for cars, that we design for people, too.”

“Sometimes, the best design for cars excludes people, and sometimes the best design for people excludes cars. Bicycles have to fit in there, too.”

Geneva at Balboa Park Station, where riders are greeted with a northbound on-ramp and off-ramp (out of shot). Photo: Google Maps

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John Norquist: “Time to Talk About a Freeway-Free San Francisco”

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Brian Vargo's "Highlink," a winning entry in a design competition called "What if 280 came down?" held by the Center for Architecture + Design. Image via CADSF

San Francisco is considered one of the leading American cities in the growing movement to tear down freeways. Fortunately, San Franciscans got a head start by averting the freeway-riddled fate of most other American cities in the 20th century by successfully protesting the construction of most of the proposed structures, which would have torn apart some of the city’s most livable neighborhoods.

John Norquist. Photo: Project for Public Spaces

But John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, wonders why SF doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised. “If you didn’t want them to build the ones they didn’t build, then why do you want to keep the ones that did get built?” says Norquist. “It’s time to start talking about a freeway-free San Francisco.”

Norquist, the former Milwaukee mayor who took a freeway down in his tenure, flew into SF for a panel discussion held last night called “Freeways Without Futures,” where he made the case that freeways have only degraded the value of cities where they’ve been built, and that cities that have removed or avoided building the structures have generally thrived because of it.

With Mayor Ed Lee’s office pushing for the removal of the northern spur of highway 280, replacing the elevated structure with a boulevard and opening up room for housing development seems like a no-brainer. It would be the city’s third freeway removal, and the first one prompted not by damage from an earthquake, but by the benefits it would bring to the economy (as well as the engineering solutions it would open up for the construction of high-speed rail).

Norquist pointed to Vancouver as a city on the North American west coast that never built freeways near its downtown, has decreased car traffic even as its population grows, and which has “the best appreciation of real estate value in North America over the last 20 years.” By contrast, Detroit has gone bankrupt trying to expand freeways in its never-ending quest to eliminate car congestion.

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Freeway Sign “Eyesore” Comes Down on Cesar Chavez

Photo: Lynn and Margo via Bernalwood

With an ongoing overhaul, western Cesar Chavez Street is looking less and less like a freeway these days, but the changes aren’t only happening on the ground. At about 2 a.m. Friday morning, city crews took down an overhead navigational freeway sign pointing drivers to the 101 freeway — the kind of motor-oriented infrastructure expected to be seen on freeways themselves, not on a street running through a neighborhood.

Bernalwood posted pictures of the removal of the “ugly-ass roadsign” taken by a couple, Lynn and Margo, who said they have lived with the “eyesore” at their home on Hampshire Street for 25 years.

Cesar Chavez, previously known as Army Street, was widened in the mid-20th century to serve as an “arterial” connector between 101 and the Mission Freeway, which was envisioned by freeway planners but never built. Step by step, the mistakes which the Freeway Revolt didn’t prevent are slowly being undone.

Streetscape work on western Cesar Chavez is expected to be completed in January, according to the Department of Public Works.

Army Street in 1931, before it was widened to serve as a traffic sewer between freeways. Photo: SF Public Library/Flickr