San Francisco Shovel Ready for Freeway Project Through a Park

Picture_2.jpgSFCTA Graphic

Five decades after activists killed plans for a major freeway traveling through San Francisco’s Panhandle, construction companies are lining up for the contract to break ground in August on another major freeway through a park – the Presidio Parkway, which will replace Doyle Drive in the Presidio National Park.

Plans to improve or replace the state-owned road have been in the works since at least the early 1990s.  The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) is managing the project.  It received approval of its Environmental Impact Report in December 2008, but some issues – and a few detractors – still remain.

“The primary purpose is a seismic safety job and an operational safety job,” said Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), adding that Doyle Drive as it is now rates a two out of 100 on state safety criteria and that it and the Golden Gate Bridge serve as economic links to the North Bay.

The current roadway, which connects the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood, is 68 feet across, and has six lanes, no shoulders, and no median.   In the morning, traffic cones delineate four lanes for the drive into San Francisco.  Workers in the back of trucks move the cones after the morning commute to create more lanes for outbound traffic.

The Presidio Parkway will be at least double the width – over 146 feet at points – and medians will separate the inbound and outbound traffic. The lanes will be 12 feet across, and planners have added one more lane and shoulders.  At two points, the roadway will travel underground through tunnels that are landscaped on the surface.

3322506091_bf51a8d728.jpg.jpegMayor Gavin Newsom announces Doyle Drive is shovel ready. Flickr photo: mayorgavinnewsom.

A gash across the Presidio

Arguably the new design does not increase vehicle capacity. It is bookended by bottlenecks, the Golden Gate Bridge at one end and the streets of the Marina at the other. Still “it’s too big,” said Howard Strassner, a retired engineer and the long-term chair of the Sierra Club Transportation Committee.

“It could be cut down to three 11-foot lanes in either direction with a little median, and every now and then a shoulder.  That would be a much smaller impact on the park.”  Such changes would also reduce the current price tag by several hundred million, and make funds available for other projects such as the proposed train box at the Transbay Terminal, said Strassner.

The new design, added retired transportation engineer Jerry Cauthen, “will make it possible for drivers to drive faster” contrary to the very purpose of the rebuild.

“Personally, I think it’s going to be a really big roadway.  We won’t realize how big it’s going to be until it’s built,” said Becky Evans of the Sierra Club.

“The era of freeway building is long gone,” said Norm Rolfe, a retired engineer and long time civic activist who got his start during the freeway fights of the 1960s and has been fighting freeways ever since.  “This is going to be a big gash across the Presidio.”

Who pays?

In 2003, when San Francisco voters passed Proposition K, a sales tax measure to refund the SFCTA and the rebuild of Doyle Drive, the project was estimated to cost around $400 million.  That price tag has since ballooned to $1.045 billion.  A hodgepodge of local, regional, state, and federal funds will pay for the rebuild, but despite efforts by some environmentalists to attach direct costs to driving, no tolls or congestion pricing are included.

“We worked as hard as we could to get tolls,” said Rentschler.

But according to Dick Spotswood, a former board member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBD) and former mayor of Mill Valley, when tolls and congestion pricing were proposed last year as funding sources, a donnybrook ensued.

If tolls were to be imposed, said Spotswood, they should apply to drivers going in both directions.  “Marin County feels tolled to death on the bridge.”

Politicians representing the North Bay – including the three candidates for state senate, Mark Leno, Carole Migden, and Joe Nation – came out in opposition to tolls and congestion pricing.  Even San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has been campaigning for governor, said during a February press conference on Doyle Drive that congestion pricing was a “threat” and noted, “No one wanted to create a second toll booth on Doyle Drive.”

ddrl_1.jpgGraphic: Marc Salomon

The possibility of tolls or congestion pricing has been tabled, and as it stands now, the project costs will be spread out with the state shouldering the largest amount at $420 million.  The federal government will chip in over $200 million in federal funds, including close to $100 million in anticipated stimulus money.  The region will contribute $84 million from the Regional Transportation Improvement Program, $80 million in tolls collected from seven Bay Area bridges managed by the MTC, $75 million from the GGBD, and $5 million from Marin and Sonoma counties, among other sources.  Locally, San Franciscans will chip in $68 million in sales tax money and another $21 million in partnership monies with the state.

Many environmentalists are disappointed that drivers will pay no direct fees for use of the Presidio Parkway.  But, said Strassner, “There’s no way that the GGBD can contribute $75 million without raising tolls.”

Additional concerns

Aside from concerns about the size, expense, and funding, there are concerns about storm water runoff.  Right now, storm water runoff from Doyle Drive flows directly into the ground below, but new federal laws require treatment of storm water runoff.

The goal is to get as much of that storm water treated onsite – not shipped to the city’s Southeast Treatment Plant for reasons of environmental justice and the energy expense of transporting the runoff, said Ruth Gravanis, a long-time member of the Sierra Club.

Another concern is assuring public input into the landscaping process, according to Peter Brastow of Nature in the City.  The landscaping above the tunnel near the Presidio Main Post, he said, should be restored to be contiguous with the Crissy field lagoon.

  • I think these are concerns that should be brought up just to make sure the replacement of Doyle Drive is successful. However, we’ve been talking this issue to death for years now, and in the meantime, Doyle Drive is close to collapse (get one more quake stronger than today’s and it’s gone!)

    Maybe it needs to collapse completely before people stop playing hot potato with it and fix it in such a way that serves the public well with as little destructiveness as possible. Then at least the politicians could stop the ribbon cutting and duck as people throw Doyle Drive debris at them for screwing this up.

  • Better yet, do a controlled demolition of it so no one gets hurt — and the freeway stops when the bridge lands in the Presidio. This would enable a number of ways to create a controlled reduction (or rather choking off) of traffic into the city. Marin will reconsider its choice to forego BART access to the city, etc. etc. Why not? We don’t have the money for Doyle Drive right now–it can and should fail. Why bail it out?

  • Moser

    So SF can generate a lawsuit against the bike plan but not against this thing? Hold it up in court and it won’t meet anyone’s stimulus criteria.

  • Justin – here, that’s amusing. Try posting that on another progressive board that is not the anti-car zealots and see how you do (I tried a “why bail out GM” on DailyKos – and was run off with a pitchfork).

  • I believe you John–even here there are many would disagree with such an idea, at least at some level. In some moods even I would disagree with it.

    In all seriousness though (this comment goes beyond your true point JM, now I’m digressing), what I’m suggesting with my seemingly absurd point is not so much anti-car zealotry, but rather an argument for equity and the real possibility of mode choice. Even if we were to have radical and revolutionary changes in transportation policy, built-space, etc. in the bay area as a whole (let’s say) there would still need to be at least two lanes of automotive (truck, bus) roadways where Doyle Drive currently is. Instead of six lanes dedicated to machines that are increasingly impractical to make and environmentally harmful though, some of the space would be reapportioned to rail, etc. We have to denaturalize the notion of the automobile (just because there are still times now when ‘it is ok,’ it ‘is best to use a car’ instead of a more sustainable mode, in the future this need not be the case). And not only that, that such a difference is possible, but also that it can be comfortable. I think seemingly hyperbolic ideas such as the one above in my first comment are important for bringing that future into being. ((the same snags and difficulties of parsing CM’s effectiveness/ineffectiveness apply to this claim for hyperbole)).

    In the meantime, Obama is going to offer us tax incentives to buy new cars this year.

  • L

    I agree it Moser…. bizzare that a bike plan can get held up in court over questions of its environmental impact, but building a 12 lane speedway through a park is good to go?

  • This article couldn’t get beyond the progressive script and had to spin Doyle Drive as a pro-car project. Here are the ways in which Doyle Drive is progressive in ways:

    -This is not a freeway expansion or widening: four lanes of travel in the peak direction. It now provides 4 lanes in the non-peak direction and allows Saturday and Sunday reverse-peak traffic to not spill over into the Marina. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
    -Dumping all the GG bridge traffic onto at-grade boulevard through the Presidio(presumably the next best option)? That would be far worse! No matter how much you price Doyle Drive, traffic volumes will remain high. Marin users have a very low elasticity of demand for tolls. Grade separation is entirely appropriate and the tunnels will allow the Main Post to be connected seamlessly with the waterfront. How is that a bad thing?
    -The proposed design improves views from places like the National Cemetery by lowering the grade of Doyle Drive.
    – 12 ft. lanes help GG transit’s reliability and operability on Doyle Drive.
    – Even if the will of the people were behind it, there is no viable transit option to replace Doyle Drive besides GG bus service and ferries. BART or SMART will not go over the GG bridge and tunneling under the Bay is a pipe dream.

  • Alexei

    It’s going from 68 feet to 146 feet across, but it’s “not expansion or widening”? That’s loony. I’m all for replacing and I like some aspects (tunnels) but the size of it is ridiculous.

  • Sue

    Not 12 lanes — at its widest, seven 12-foot lanes, with two shoulders where there are none now. In addition, a number of historical structures will be demolished to make way for the rebuild but space limitations precluded the inclusion of that information.

    I don’t know why the seventh lane has been included in the redesign, but a number of people I talked to told me that the shoulders are required by state law.

  • Norm Rolfe

    Let me try to rebut the myths about Doyle Drive with a few facts.

    It’s dangerous:

    The last fatal accident on Doyle Drive was in 2003. Freeways built to the standards the Presidio Freeway will be built to have many fatal accidents every year.

    It is structurally unsafe:

    A San Francisco County Transportation Authority staff member stated at a public meeting that it is not about to fall down. The complete Southern Approach to the Golden Gate Bridge (Doyle Drive)consists of three viaducts. One is owned by the Golden Gate Bridge District and the other two are owned by Caltrans. The Bridge District has strengthened its viaduct and brought it up to modern standards. Caltrans has done some seismic bracing on its viaducts so they won’t fall down in the next earthquake. Somebody or something is stopping them from doing a complete job like the Bridge District did on its viaduct. As to that 2 out of 100, very little of it has to do with structural strength. Most of it it how closely it adheres to arbitrary design standards.

    It is old; it has reached the end of its useful life:

    It is the same age as the Golden Gate Bridge. Is someone going to propose that the bridge be torn down and replaced with something wider?

  • Schtu

    Thank you for a voice of reason Seth. This project is not a “new freeway through a park” it mitigates the impact of the existing freeway going through the park. It provides wider lanes so buses can travel at speed with more than 6 inches of clearance on each side.

    The current structure IS unsafe. It is not possible to “bring the current structure up to modern standards.” It is possible to retrofit to buy some time but it is not possible to economically retrofit the current structure to meet the post Northridge seismic standards.

    Most importantly, it reconnects the Presidio with the Bay by sinking Doyle Drive underground. This is a good project.

  • This is a necessary project and a done deal, but it would be improved with some tweaking, particularly on the storm water runoff issue. Given the fact that we have the money, and Caltrans will at this point put it’s (his?) head down and plow forward with eyes tightly shut, it will be a challenge to get any changes at all. But it doesn’t hurt to ask!

  • If the purpose of the wider lanes is to be for improved bus transit, I assume these lanes will be bus only, right?

  • I shut my eyes very tightly coming down that thing in a GG Transit MCI bus. I can’t believe there aren’t many many accidents there. Testament to the drivers I guess.

  • Peter

    We should start organizing against this monstrosity, even at this late hour. It should be taken down and never rebuilt. Simple. Safe. Effective. Inexpensive. Good for the environment. Good for the city. Good for the park. Good for the planet.

  • jerry

    A roadway can be seismically upgraded and made safe without bulging to over twice its current size. A narrower roadway, absent the useless “tunnel” in front of the military cemetery and landscpaped no-man’s land between the lanes would be both cheaper to build and less intrusive on the Presidio of San Francisco.

  • karl

    Rebuild the Embarcadero Fwy, as it was planned! Bring SF into the 20th century!


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