MTA Board Agrees to Consider Studying Central Freeway Alternatives

2401938410_f6ec8ff72a.jpgThe Central Freeway over Division Street.

Nearly five years after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling for a study of alternative future configurations for the remaining Central Freeway, the MTA Board of Directors agreed this week to consider doing it in the Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Implementation Planning Study (EN TRIPS).

"This feels like progress," said Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City, who has been nudging the MTA and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) to do a Central Freeway study. "When Caltrans goes to retrofit this sucker we need an alternative project we can hand to them that we’ve done a study of."

In 2004, at the urging of Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the supes called on Caltrans and the TA to "investigate replacing the elevated freeway with a surface boulevard for all or part of its length" before any future seismic or roadbed replacement projects were undertaken. Caltrans has not set a date for the retrofitting but has said the freeway needs to be fixed. The TA has yet to take up the study and Radulovich has accused the agency of dropping the ball.

A Central Freeway study would examine the option of tearing down the freeway and building a boulevard in the North Mission/West SoMa neighborhoods that would extend from 13th and Division to Octavia Boulevard.  Dubbed the Vision Boulevard Project, Radulovich believes it "could increase the
neighborhood tax base, allow for new land uses, including housing, bring
sunlight to the area and help many businesses."

462010872_56309ce239.jpgShould San Francisco tear down the remaining Central Freeway South of Market?

Radulovich isn’t sure that’s the best option for the area but he believes it should be studied. He also thinks reconfiguring some of the existing off-ramps, like moving the Mission
Street off-ramp back to South Van Ness, could improve traffic flow and
benefit transit and cyclists, even if the freeway continues onto Market

José Luis Moscovich, the TA executive director, said studying the Central Freeway is a worthy cause but he prefers to include it in the update of the San Francisco Countywide Transportation Plan.

"Something of that magnitude needs to be put in that context. It doesn’t mean it would take 35 years to happen," said Moscovich. "It’s such a big thing. It would cross half of the city."

His more immediate concern would be a circulation study to take a look at how people are using Octavia Boulevard and the freeway.

"We believe that it’s entirely possible that the boulevard and the way the freeway function now are having impacts on mobility and circulation around the city that were not predicted," said Moscovich.

For example, he said there are drivers who commute from the Sunset into Civic Center who used to take the Central Freeway but are now using the Guerrero and South Van Ness corridors "and that has had an impact on those neighborhoods."

Moscovich adds that he isn’t so sure about including a Central Freeway study in EN TRIPS: "I think there is some danger in assuming it can all be absorbed into the MTA study."

But Radulovich said the countywide transportation plan is typically ignored:

Most of the traffic and urban design impacts, as well as potential
benefits will be on the South of Market and Mission neighborhoods.
Since EN trips study is already focused on these areas, it is likelier
to foster public participation by those most affected than a citywide
study would do.

EN TRIPS will be the MTA’s first big chance at integrated neighborhood planning and test whether the agency will stick to the city’s policy of prioritizing transit, bicyclists and pedestrians over cars.

Flickr photos: octoferret and dtweney

  • This is great news. Removing this disgusting structure is the only way to get rid of the chasm of blight that cuts across our neighborhoods.

  • Frederick Gault

    Some provision for moving automobiles across San Francisco from North to South should be made. To simply dump all the frantic drivers who are attempting to transit the city onto our local streets – results in unsafe streets. Yes, yes, yes, I know! People should get out of their cars. But this isn’t going to happen without a mass transit solution to and from Marin County and The South Bay – and we know how likely that is in the near term. All one has to do is look at the carnage on 19th Ave. to see what I’m talking about. These transit vehicles don’t want to be on our city streets (just passing thru) and we don’t want them on our streets. Tearing down freeways makes us feel better, but how the heck do we get these commuters across San Francisco?

  • The harder it gets to commute from Marin to the South Bay or vice-versa, the more likely people will be to move to where they work. It’s not like the difference is between living in inexpensive Tracy vs expensive Palo Alto. If they still want to commute – caveat emptor. It’s not the responsibility of San Francisco to be a freeway.

  • @Frederick Gault

    Moving these cars from one cross-town arterial onto the city’s grid will make traffic flow more smoothly and increase the safety of the streets in one move:

    The problem with 19th Ave is that everybody tries to take it, rather than spreading out across the 30 or so other fully cross-town avenues. To accommodate those people, transportation planners made the wrong decision to widen it and increase vehicle speeds. That’s why the street is dangerous and gridlocked.

    The Central Freeway isn’t even a cross-town link, it ends at Market Street. At that point cars are “dumped” onto city streets. The elevated structure above Division does nothing to stop that.

  • This freeway does nothing to get people across the city. A surface boulevard would be great here, and it could be a great connection to Caltrain and Soma with dedicated bikeways from Valencia.

  • jr

    If there needs to be a better transportation option for people living in the North Bay commuting from SF, then people up there need to subsidize their GG Transit a bit more. Either that or begin paying taxes into Bart or begin building Smart.

  • If the MTA insists on incorporating the discussion of the central freeway into the EN-TRIPS, then The TA Board needs to direct Jose Luis Moscovich at the TA to study taking the Central Freeway down to Bryant in real time, independently of any EN-TRIPS study.

    EN-TRIPS is a complicated ambitious study which has incubated anaerobically, cancerlike, over the past 5 or so years into something that will take five more years to finish at the earliest, another case of a mega omnibus plan that requires a mega contract for an long and expensive EIR to clear. They’re still studying how to study it after they were supposed to begin the study in 2003. Sounds just like the Bike Plan.

    Note that the critical land use planning in the EN was done in advance of any rational transportation planning, the height bumps were there irrespective of the capacity of the system to adsorb that many more new trips, cheers, Gus.

    Too often bureaucrats feel a sense of self edification based on how large the contracts are that they let for consulting services. EN-TRIPS is a whopper already, and this would balloon that out further. The last thing we need is for mission creep in a mega study to crowd our repairing this scar. We know how these things work around here.

    The matter of the Freeway south of Market predates my involvement in local politics, but let’s just say that most everything good about the Octavia Boulevard project and the associated Market Octavia plan accrued to north of Market, to a relatively recently gentrified and bleached Hayes Valley, while most everything undesirable was foisted on the south of Market areas, especially the North Mission which has median incomes of 1/2 of that of HV and is minority caucasian.

    Nobody really cared about the N. Mission and SOMA at the time, just as now a neighborhood of “people who do not count” where decision makers feel free to play Sim City to pay their political debts.

    Given Planning’s recent demonstrated lack of attention to detail in EN, and their generali hostility to the impacted communities and the TA’s more professional culture, I’d imagine that if the community were able to weigh the choices, they’d want the TA to do this. But, of course, the community AMIs average out to $30K/yr, many do not speak English, few have completed high school, fewer college, and this is complex stuff.


  • Katherine Roberts

    Marc —

    I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. The planning process for the Central Freeway spanned many years and three separate ballot initiatives. Nothing would have made the anti-freeway faction happier than a South of Market touchdown (hell, they could tear the whole damn thing down & you wouldn’t hear a peep out of me). As I understood it, the main opposition to a touchdown further south of Market came not from the Hayes Valley activists who spearheaded the fight against the freeway, but a) from the automotive & motorcycle shops along South Van Ness, who didn’t want freeway traffic spewing out in front of their stores (and yes, the irony of that should NOT be lost on you), and b) residents of the Outer Richmond, who just hated the thought that their commutes downtown through the park might take a couple minutes longer, and who came very close to winning their fight to reinforce and widen the freeway overpass, rather than destroy it. Then the South of Market residents, once they realized how the new onramp was going to affect them, started trying to organize legal action to stop it (I know, because I found an attorney for them), but by then it was too late.

    Most of all, though, I feel that the best thing we can do at this point is look forward, instead of looking back and finger-pointing (not that I’m always against finger-pointing, but I feel in this instance it is particularly counter-productive). If we do finally have a chance to correct this grievous mistake, that’s great news, and let’s try to stay on top of it & take advantage of it as much as we can.


  • The best place for a touch down IMHO is where the wye junction is at the large block bounded by Alameda, Potrero, San Bruno and Division, it is pretty desolate there already:

    Rarely is it this beautiful:

    Demolish the remnants of the central freeway with SVN and Mission/Duboce/Van Ness ramps, touch down the WB I-80 connector to US-101 at 9th and have entrance ramps for US-101 and I-80 in the public ROW where the wye is now.

    WIth a touchdown around 9th, traffic travelling north can articulate easily for about 180 degrees, to points west via Duboce or the boulevard into HV, points north via 9th, and points east on Brannan or Townsend.


  • Have a got a more radical proposal for you, Marcos 😉

    The intersection of Potrero, 10th and Brannan is insane as is… I don’t think adding a freeway on/off ramp would improve the mix.

    I say phase the freeway out in the blocks owned by Caltrans btw San Bruno and Vermont right after it leaves the ground off Potrero Hill. (

    Close the Vermont/Mariposa off-ramp, which dumps freeway-speed traffic onto a residential block. Then have the lanes peel away at 16th and at Division to allow the cars getting off to go East-West along those streets, North along San Bruno/9th/Larkin and South of Market at Brannan or Townsend.

    Then tear down the whole freeway along Bryant all the way to the bridge approaches.

  • Filamino

    This was already studied by the TA when the people around the freeway (the ones pointed out by KRoberts) tried to sneak legislation by to remove the freeway further. The study showed traffic would back up on the mainline (80-101) and would require a 10 lane roadway with no turn pockets plus frontage roads in order for the boulevard to handle what the freeway could. There will be three HUGE future intersections at Market/Octavia/McCoppin/Elgin Park/Vision, Vision/Valencia, and Vision/Otis/Mission/Duboce. I would hate crossing these wide roadways and intersections. When I bike on Velencia, I now have a clear shot to Market Street. This new street would now force me to cross not one, but two wide roadways (Duboce and Vision) within 500 feet of each other. NOT comfortable. Having all the traffic on the freeway above makes it much safer to cross. I don’t believe for a second that crossing on foot or bike a 10-12 lane roadway is safer than the existing 4-6 lane roadway.

    Josh: Whether you like it or not, Marin to/from Peninsula drivers HAVE to go through SF. Telling people to go around is ridiculous. Last time I looked, the Central Freeway provides a vital link through SF and the ONLY link to the ENTIRE WESTERN HALF of the City from the Bay Bridge/Bayshore area.

    You talk about spreading the traffic load onto 30 streets. I’d like to know what the reaction of the residents on those 30 streets would be. I’ll tell you right now – not happy.

    KRoberts: You make it sound like a small group of people opposed the freeway removal which is not true. Many people in the north and west (Richmond and Sunset) opposed the freeway removal. That’s almost half of the city! That 5 minutes of delay adds up quickly.

    What really needs to be done is to improve the environment under the freeway. The neighborhood should concentrate their efforts on that instead.

  • @Filamino:

    Where is Vision St? I’m not aware of any street with that name. If you are referring to Division, you should not worry about having to cross both it and Duboce on Valencia, since Division St does not cross Valencia – it stops at Bryant.

    To say that the Central Freeway is the only link to the Western half of the city from the Bridge is silly. There are hundreds of streets that go there. Drivers should take those streets since they have the capacity to allow far more cars to flow smoothly across town than a 1-mile elevated freeway does.

    I would never argue that Marin/Peninsula trips should all go around SF. But those of us unfortunate enough to live in their way have no obligation to blight our city for their near-exclusive benefit. I welcome suburbanites to visit and even drive through our city… just don’t make us pay for it.

  • Marty

    San Francisco should just do what they did in Boston, put the freeway underground. Out of sight, out of mind. Nobody likes to sit in traffic all day.

  • I agree that US-101 should be undergrounded somewhere between Bryant and Mission with entrance ramps at Masonic and Geary onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Many enviro urban pioneers who moved here from the suburbs don’t like that idea, hell, they’re afraid of any significant capital projects to speak of. We should all take our BRT and like it so they can get on with enjoying the rich and vibrant “experience economy” (TM) that San Francisco offers.

    but then again, most of them do not live in close proximity to the freeway either, being forced to breathe the diesel particulate in our homes, or navigate on and off ramps by bicycle or foot to get most anywhere.

    Undergrounding US-101 would also allow for air filtration to capture particulate matter for disposal.

    And taking through traffic off of surface streets would clear the way for a much more efficient Muni.

    Were the City to incorporate TBM capacity, in addition to boring subway tunnels, we could bore freeways.

    If the freeway were taken down around San Bruno and Division, in the middle of the wye, then traffic could articulate 180 degrees, from Townsend to the east, 7th, 9th and 11th north, and division to the west.

    Josh, to be nitpicky for no reason at all in response to not knowing where Duboce, 13th and Division–the same street–begin and end, there are not hundreds of streets that connect the freeway to the Golden Gate Gridge.



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