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Posts from the San Francisco Freeway Revolt Category


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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Whose Streets?

Market and Kearny and 3rd Streets, 1909. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library)

“Whose Streets? OUR Streets!” yell rowdy demonstrators when they surge off the sidewalk and into thoroughfares. True enough, the streets are our public commons, what’s left of it (along with libraries and our diminishing public schools), but most of the time these public avenues are dedicated to the movement of vehicles, mostly privately owned autos. Other uses are frowned upon, discouraged by laws and regulations and what has become our “customary expectations.” Ask any driver who is impeded by anything other than a “normal” traffic jam and they’ll be quick to denounce the inappropriate use or blockage of the street.

Bicyclists have been working to make space on the streets of San Francisco for bicycling, and to do that they’ve been trying to reshape public expectations about how streets are used. Predictably there’s been a pushback from motorists and their allies, who imagine that the norms of mid-20th century American life can be extended indefinitely into the future. But cyclists and their natural allies, pedestrians, can take heart from a lost history that has been illuminated by Peter D. Norton in his recent book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. He skillfully excavates the shift that was engineered in public opinion during the 1920s by the organized forces of what called itself “Motordom.” Their efforts turned pedestrians into scofflaws known as “jaywalkers,” shifted the burden of public safety from speeding motorists to their victims, and reorganized American urban design around providing more roads and more space for private cars.

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Revisiting the San Francisco Freeway Revolt

Editor's note: This piece was written for Shaping San Francisco and is now incorporated into the new wiki version, your best place to research San Francisco history,

Ecology1_freeway_protest_embarcadero.jpgProtesters march along Embarcadero in early 1960s, stump of Embarcadero Freeway ends behind them at Broadway.
Photo courtesy San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

In the 1950s, the California Division of Highways had a plan to extend freeways across San Francisco. At that time the freeway reigned supreme in California, but San Francisco harbored the seeds of an incipient revolt which ultimately saved several neighborhoods from the wrecking ball and also put up the first serious opposition to the post-WWII consensus on automobiles, freeways, and suburbanization.

Fwy_NBeachIntx.jpgEarly plan for 8-lane freeway to cut under Russian Hill on its way from the Embarcadero to the Golden Gate Bridge.



Of Teamsters and Turtles, Plumbers and Progressives

filipino_guy_w_two_violins_and_a_snger1011.jpgCultures meet over real work at Heart of the City Farmers' Market

Ever since the much-promoted alliance between “teamsters and turtles” at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, there’s been a renewed hope that the decades-long opposition between organized labor and environmentalists might be resolvable. The original Teamsters and turtles weren’t really in much of an alliance in 1999, what with AFL-CIO leaders trying their best to keep the labor march away from occupied downtown Seattle on November 30, 1999. But we don’t have to rehash that old story because we have a new, local angle on this here in 2009 San Francisco.

Steve Jones wrote about a split between “progressives and labor” in the SF Bay Guardian recently. It is an interesting framing of the current possibilities for social liberation, improvement, or—gasp—even revolution. While thoughtful and well-researched, Jones fails to escape a recurrent set of assumptions that continue to confuse the possibilities of a more thorough-going reshaping of oppositional politics in this era. The most delusional assumption is that “pwogwessives” of a green hue should find a common platform with old-style unionists, most likely over the empty demand for “green jobs.” Before laying out why ‘jobs’ don’t work, let’s recap the recent tempest in a teapot:

The basic story is that Larry Mazzola, Jr., the son of Mazzola Sr. (together they run the nepotistic Plumbers Union), was denied a seat on the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Board of Directors that has traditionally gone to a Labor representative. Mazzola Jr. was fully backed in his attempt to get the appointment to the seat by the San Francisco Labor Council and other local Labor leaders, but was thwarted by a 6-5 majority at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The Board’s Rules Committee, chaired by lefty Chris Daly, rejected Mazzola and quietly asked local labor leaders to advance an alternate candidate at least vaguely qualified to address transportation issues, but the Labor Council and Building and Construction Trades Council and other labor luminaries refused, insisting that Mazzola get the nod. The impasse was resolved by the full Board vote which appointed Dave Snyder to the seat instead of Mazzola or any other labor choice. Snyder (a personal friend of mine) is widely credited with resuscitating the SF Bike Coalition in the mid-1990s, and later helped launch Livable City and most recently has been the transportation policy analyst for SPUR. (He took this appointment as his chance to resign from SPUR, which he generally found too conservative, especially when it comes to class issues and development.)