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Posts from the "Highway Removal" Category

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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.

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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

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First Polk, Now Geary: Half-Measures Won’t Fix the Problems on SF Streets

The removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, and the revitalization that followed, was the result of political leadership, not half-measures. Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

For those who dream of better transportation options on San Francisco’s streets, which were engineered in the 20th century to maximize space for cars at the expense of safety and efficient transit, the lack of city leadership on two recent major re-design projects has been troubling.

The concessions offered by city planners and politicians will probably do little to appease the parking-obsessed merchant groups fighting upgrades on Polk Street and Geary Boulevard. But they will mean that Polk won’t feel safe enough for most San Franciscans to try biking there, and that Geary won’t provide the kind of world-class transit service that the city needs on its surface streets.

For city leaders like Supervisor David Chiu, finding a position somewhere between sound, evidence-based transportation policy and those who simply yell the loudest is appealing because it’s considered a “compromise.” To them, the point isn’t to make city streets as safe as they should be, or to make transit more appealing than driving — it’s to avoid upsetting anyone too much.

That’s how Chuck Nevius described the Polk situation in his SF Chronicle column last week. “Both sides get some of what they want and think the other camp is getting too much,” he wrote:

The ongoing controversy over bike traffic along Polk Street will probably never be solved to the satisfaction of everyone. But there are signs of progress.

Polk is a primary north-south route to and from the Marina for cyclists, has a relatively gentle slope and isn’t as clogged with high-speed traffic as nearby Van Ness. Bicyclists wanted two separated lanes on both sides of the street, but merchants complained that the plan would wipe out too much parking and kill business.

The problem with framing the current Polk proposal — which includes one stretch of protected bike lane and many more blocks that don’t fundamentally alter the dangerous, car-centric status quo — as the “middle ground” is that the group opposing safety improvements has staked out a position so opposed to change that the plan is far from the people-friendly, bike-friendly street the SFMTA originally set out to create.

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Highway Revolts Break Out Across the Midwest

The evolution of state and regional transportation agencies is painfully slow in places like Missouri and Ohio, where officials are plowing ahead with pricey highway projects conceived of decades ago. But plenty of Midwesterners have different ideas for the future of their communities, and they aren’t shy about speaking up.

Protesters picket outside the headquarters of the Southeast Michigan Regional Council of Governments against plans to spend $4 billion on two highway widenings. Image: Transit Riders Union

One after another, residents of major Midwestern cities have challenged highway projects in recent months. People in Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oklahoma City have reached the conclusion that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on road widenings might not be in their communities’ best interests.

And it’s not just a few activists. Challenges have come from people like Council Member Ed Shadid in Oklahoma City, institutions like the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and local governments like the city of Maplewood, just outside St. Louis.

Detroiters held signs outside a meeting of their regional planning agency earlier this month, picketing plans for $4 billion worth of highway expansion projects. Though the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments ultimately green-lighted the plans, members of the agency had to sit through two hours of negative public comments first. Not only was the public moved to speak out, so were the city of Detroit and the county of Washtenaw, which officially opposed the project.

And in Oklahoma City, the grassroots group Friends of a Better Boulevard has twice fought back state DOT plans to install a wide, highway-like boulevard in a developing area near the city’s downtown. As we reported this week, the FHWA recently intervened on the group’s behalf and forced ODOT to consider a proposal to restore the street grid instead of building a new road.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, environmental and civil rights groups may soon obtain a court injunction against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee, on the grounds that project sponsors did not consider its potential impact on sprawl and transit-dependent communities. And in Cleveland, a few scrappy activists and the Sierra Club are opposing a $100-million-per-mile roadway that would displace 90 families on the city’s southeast side.

Now St. Louis has a highway battle on its hands. In many ways, this fight echoes the other protest movements. The South County Connector — like Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor” — is a “zombie” highway project. It was first conceived in 1957. The original concept was for an “inner belt expressway.” Its stated purpose is to “improve connectivity between south St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, and central St. Louis County” and “improve access to Interstates 44, 64, 55, and 170.”

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SPUR Urges City to Reap the Benefits of Removing Highway 280

“If the freeway were removed, Mission Creek Park would become an asset to the entire area. The lower drawing shows a future view of Seventh Street to Mission Creek and beyond.” Image: SPUR

Taking down the northern spur of highway 280 is the cover story in the latest issue of the Urbanist, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association’s member magazine. SPUR makes the case that if San Francisco is to reap the full benefits of moving Caltrain and high-speed rail underground and re-developing the Caltrain yard at 4th and King Streets, taking down the freeway is a can’t-miss opportunity:

Currently, the stub end of Interstate 280 creates a barrier between the developing Mission Bay neighborhood and Potrero Hill. At the same time, the Caltrain railyard — 19 acres stretching from Fourth Street to Seventh Street between King and Townsend — forms a barrier between Mission Bay and SOMA. The obstruction will only get worse if current plans for high-speed rail proceed, forcing 16th Street and Mission Bay Boulevard into depressed trenches beneath the tracks and the elevated freeway.

Check out the rest of SPUR’s analysis here.

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The Case for Removing the 280 Freeway

Urban Design student Ben Caldwell's vision for an alternative way to use the land currently occupied by the 280 freeway.

Talk of San Francisco’s next freeway removal has heated up since a proposal from the Mayor’s Office to take down the northern spur of I-280 went public. The highway teardown would open up land for housing, connect neighborhoods, and help bring high-speed rail and Caltrain downtown.

“The good news is this would be the third segment of freeway we will have removed,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, referring to the removal of the Central and Embarcadero Freeways, which revitalized the neighborhoods the roads used to divide. “Before each of those freeway removals, carmageddon was predicted, and it didn’t happen.”

While San Francisco officials say they’ll have to go though years of analysis and negotiations before any decision is made, building public support will take some work, judging by the outraged listeners who chimed in on the issue on an edition of KQED Forum last week.

On the forum, SF Planning Department Director John Rahaim stopped short of endorsing the proposal, but acknowledged, “If it works from a transportation standpoint, we think there could be some substantial benefits: increased park space, reconnecting Mission Bay to the rest of the city, opening up land for development, and connecting that part of that city that is kind of divided right now by the freeway.”

Transportation agencies certainly seem to be thinking seriously about the highway removal. Ben Caldwell, a masters student at UC Berkeley’s Department of Urban Design, did recent a project [PDF] analyzing the removal of the same same section of freeway (completely coincidental to the mayor’s proposal), and he’s already been invited to make presentations for staff at the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and Caltrans. (He hasn’t presented it to them yet.)

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