Mayor Newsom, Caltrans Announce Plans to Remove Portions of I-280

fireball_2.jpgA controlled explosion from the filming of the TV series "Trauma," on a closed portion of I-280

Mayor Gavin Newsom yesterday announced one of his most ambitious plans for re-shaping San Francisco, telling reporters at a press conference with Caltrans Director Will Kemption and Caltrain Director Michael Scanlan that the city would move forward with plans to tear down sections of I-280 through San Francisco.  

"As we saw this weekend with the filming of the new TV series ‘Trauma,’ we can close a section of 280 and it doesn’t back up all the way to San Bruno," said Mayor Newsom.  "I’m committed to actively looking for projects where we can transform our streets into public open space, especially in neighborhoods that have so little of it.  Show me another project that gives back more space to our great city than this."

Mayor Newsom painted a grand vision of a ribbon park in the footprint of the current freeway and said the city would rezone much of the area for residential development, much of which would be affordable housing, he claimed.  "Think Rock Creek Park for the next century," said Mayor Newsom.  "If New York City can convert an old rail line through Manhattan into the Highline Park, surely we can transform our outdated infrastructure into green space."

Caltrans’ Kempton said that the agency had considered various freeways that underperformed their transportation function after the successful removal of segments of the Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway to Market Street, but said that they weren’t seriously thinking about this section of I-280 until Mayor Newsom approached Governor Schwarzenegger late last year. 

"We’ve understood that it was possible to make changes to further segments of the Embarcadero Freeway," said Kempton, "but we didn’t see it as a priority until Mayor Newsom made it so.  Now, we’re only committing to study it, but we know the Obama administration is looking for innovative transportation projects, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are unspent federal stimulus funds from other states that we can apply for in six months, a year from now."

"Highway de-construction can be just as shovel-ready as highway re-construction," said Kempton.

Caltrans will study the freeway removal in two phases, the first from the 101 interchange to King Street, a 2.9 mile segment running through the Excelsior neighborhood and the new Mission Bay developments.  Phase 2, from 19th Avenue to the 101 interchange, would include the restoration of Islais Creek and the construction of greenways along each side, funding for which could come from federal Rails-to-Trails monies.   Kempton said Phase 2 was a distant possibility, but that the agency was amenable to "looking at all the possibilities."

Caltrain Director Scanlan said his agency was working with the Mayor to study options for putting Caltrain below grade through the park.  "With our application for stimulus funds for the electrification of Caltrain, we need take the opportunity to improve all aspects of the Peninsula Corridor," he said.

Advocates were very supportive of the project.  Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City said:

Removing I-280 and placing the rail line below grade will allow the
SoMa street grid to connect to Mission Creek Channel, will connect
Mission Bay to Showplace Square, and will connect the Mission Creek
Greenway to the Mission Creek Channel Park.  I-280 dumps far too much
traffic onto the SoMa street grid, and getting rid of I-280 will
advance the community-based efforts to make SoMa’s streets safer and
more livable.

Jason Henderson, Assistant Professor of Geography at San Francisco State University, was more blunt:

It is wonderful that Caltrans is moving forward with this after fifty years
of denial. It will liberate the people of the Excelsior from fifty
years of being cut off from the rest of San Francisco, not to mention
rid the area of excessive noise, soot, and toxins from all those solo
commuters. It will also make the potential to redevelop around the
Balboa Park BART station much easier and definitely more attractive.

"To think that this mayor could find inspiration in both Washington DC’s
Rock Creek Parkway and the long lost Burnham Plan for San Francisco to
come up with such an innovative and literally groundbreaking concept!" said Chris Carlsson, founder of Shaping SF.  "What a pleasant surprise!"

SPUR Transportation Policy Director Dave Snyder, who had been briefed on the project before it was announced publicly, was supportive.  "With the downtown extension of Caltrain, I-280 becomes a superfluous transportation resource."

SPUR Policy Director Sarah Kurlinsky, who was at the press conference, said, "As we learned in the Market/Octavia planning process, we can extract a lot for affordable housing by using public land formerly occupied by freeways."

Caltrans said it hoped to complete the necessary studies by this fall. Kempton hinted that the precedent set by the state in relaxing CEQA requirements for highway projects slated for stimulus funding could bode well for an expedited timeline.  Mayor Newsom said this was a project he wanted to get started before he left office, which could be as soon 2010, if his nascent bid for governor is successful.

"This is the kind of bold thinking that we need in this city, and this state," said Mayor Newsom with a smile.

Happy April Fool’s Day, Streetsblog Nation! But wouldn’t it be nice?

Flickr photo: iandhd

  • Thank Bob this is a joke. Can you imagine how insane S.F. Giants gamedays would be if this actually happened? The downtown streets would be so gridlocked the cars would have no choice but to run over the bicyclists.

    On second thought…

  • Actually the Caltrain line already is tentatively planned to be undergrounded starting several miles south of 4th/King Sts. as part of the HSR project. You can see it in the CHSRA program EIR docs. that were created a number of years ago.

  • Good joke, but of course it will never happen – just as they will never remove portions of the Embarcadero Freeway or Central Freeway.

  • I hate you for getting my hopes up. This is a dream of mine

  • Keep hoping, Josh. I was reticent to be part of the joke, because I think this is a serious proposal (at least removing the portion from 101 north to King Street) whose time may have just come.

    The next decade will see High Speed rail, along with much-enhanced commuter and inter-city service on the Caltrain line, and this should be the impetus to remove one of San Francisco’s biggest planning mistakes. Over $50 billion in transit improvements will provide better and more sustainable mobility up and down the Peninsula than the 280 stub 280 can.

    I-280 was originally intended to continue along the waterfront and connect to the Embarcadero Freeway. With its original intent gone, all the portion north of 101 does is overload SoMa streets with traffic, blight the surrounding neighborhoods, and complicate the rail improvements.

    Livable City is working to get several I-280 alternatives, including removing the freeway north of 101, studied as part of the High Speed Rail Environmental Review and the Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Study.

  • Dave Snyder

    For this to work, I-101 would have to be tolled to control congestion, as this other freeway becomes the alternative to I-280. The funds would help to pay for upgrades to Caltrain including the downtown extension.

    Like the Central Freeway, this frees up some land for development, but not as much as you might think because most of the freeway is currently elevated over train tracks that we not only need to keep, but expand. Getting rid of the freeway may even reduce the cost of four-tracking and electrifying those tracks, as we don’t have to worry about the supports for the freeway being in the way.

    I made a map of potentially developable lands (without really researching it; it’s a work in progress). They exist in three locations: a great deal in North Mission Bay (highly valuable land that ought to be high rise and mixed use); a few parcels near Cesar Chavez and 25th Street; and a large number of parcels near Silver Terrace, where the removal of the freeway will allow us to restore the street grid a little bit and build new hundreds of units of new housing, in types ranging from single family homes to duplexes to 40-60 story medium-density apartments, as appropriate.

    here’s the map:,-122.402882&spn=0.010555,0.021737&t=h&z=16

  • I say we keep it but make it car free. This makes for some pretty good bike ridin’ and still cleans up the 4th/King mess.

  • Kristine Enea

    To those who support this idea – please consider how much it would further isolate the residents of the southeast sector. We’re out in the boonies with few amenities. We do *not* need more housing out here. All we have is housing. If you tell me you want to tear down 280 so you can build grocery stores, bookstores, movie theaters, museums and a symphony hall, maybe I’ll reconsider, but for now, I say we need 280. Please don’t tell me that the Third Street Light Rail solves all our transit problems. It doesn’t. It’s slow, and for many of us, too far away to be useful. Besides, what was wrong with the 15 bus? Please, please, focus on making public transit more efficient, connected and convenient before causing more congestion for cars. People out here drive cars because there is no realistic alternative. We need 280! Long live 280!

  • Spencer Gusick

    I get that this is a joke, but this would wreak havoc on the Peninsula. For one thing, if you are headed to SF for the day, 280 is the only realistic route for hundreds of thousands of people. 101 is always gridlocked from at least Cesar Chavez north. 280 provides fast access to Glen Park, Noe Valley, the Mission, Potrero Hill, SoMa and even the Marina. The alternative would put way more cars on the already miserable Franklin/Van Ness corridor, and it would take an hour or more to get across town. I would just stop coming. (Yes, now you can laugh about the benefits of keeping the B&T crowd out, but we spend money in restaurants and theaters same as everyone else, and see if that is really good for SF. BTW, I lived in the city for years before family-unfriendly policies like this sent me packing…)

    SF has effectively no mass transit accessible to folks from out of town. The real solution needed is better transit to all neighborhoods of SF, with parking lots at stations so that suburbanites can access the city and leave their cars at home. BART is great for the Mission and downtown, and CalTrain is great for, um, well, baseball games and not much else. Golden Gate Park? Crissy Field? Castro? Pac Heights? You need a car right now.

    Until that changes, we need as many good ways to access the city as possible, or else relegate 101 to permanent gridlock. May as well build a wall at the San Mateo County line at that point.


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