Battery Bluff: San Francisco’s New Park

Plus some Streetsblog grousing about a massive, missed opportunity

The view from San Francisco's newest park. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
The view from San Francisco's newest park. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

The completion of Battery Bluff, a new six-acre park in the Presidio, was celebrated Friday morning during an event with Mayor London Breed and other lawmakers and dignitaries. The new open space, located across from the Korean War memorial, includes picnic tables and benches, native plants, and newly restored historic artillery emplacements.

Mayor London Breed during Friday's event
Mayor London Breed during Friday’s event

“I’m in awe of the view and the magic I feel today,” said Mayor London Breed during the occasion. She added that such public spaces are essential for mental health. “During the pandemic we saw how important parks and open spaces are to people.”

Some of the new landscaping and one of the newly cleaned and painted gun emplacements
Some of the new landscaping and one of the newly cleaned and painted gun emplacements

Michael Boland, Chief of Park Development for the Presidio Trust, explained how Doyle Drive, a six-lane roadway, used to divide Crissy Field, just below the Bluff, from the rest of the Presidio. But after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it became obvious that the drive and the bluffs were not seismically sound. A proposal was floated that as part of the $1.2 billion project to rebuild the road, Caltrans should put a cap over the Drive at the Bluffs and just to the east with its companion project, Tunnel Tops Park, which will open in July. “Caltrans said it was not feasible,” explained Boland. But the Presidio worked with SPUR and together they hired their own engineering firm, which found that Caltrans’s engineers were just wrong. The County of San Francisco chipped in and eventually a collaborative effort resulted, with the cap-parks being added to Caltran’s rebuilt “Presidio Parkway,” as Doyle would be renamed. “We allocated local sales tax which was matched by the feds and state, thanks to Prop. K in 2003,” said Rafael Mandelman, Chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board.

A view of the Presidio Parkway from the edge of the bluff
A view of the Presidio Parkway from the edge of the bluff

More background from the Presidio Trust web page:

Battery Bluff’s name nods to the historic gun batteries nestled in the hillside above Crissy Field – Blaney, Baldwin, Slaughter, and Sherwood. Built by the U.S. Army between 1899-1902, they defended San Francisco Bay. Recently cleaned and repaired, they’re accessible to visitors for the very first time. Battery Bluff includes so much more. Picnic tables and benches make this a great place to enjoy a meal with a bay view. Three scenic overlooks offer sweeping views of the Golden Gate, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. And 60,000 native and ornamental plants bring seasonal color and life.

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There’s also a new dedicated bike path through the park, although cyclists haven’t yet discovered it.

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It’s an amazing new space. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to get to by public transit.

The free PresidiGo bus from downtown to the Presidio Transit Center stops close enough for able-bodied people to reach the park, although it only runs once an hour outside of peak times and the last bus leaves at 6 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends. And Muni still hasn’t restored pre-pandemic, 43 Masonic service into the Presidio, so it’s impractical to reach the park without a car or bike from most parts of the city.

Which brings Streetsblog to the elephant in the room: for $1.2 billion, wasn’t the Presidio Parkway underneath the Bluff an opportunity to build space for BART (or SMART) tracks that would one day lead to the bridge? It’s 2022, there’s a climate emergency, and it’s Earth Day. Shouldn’t this be a story about a park built over an ongoing transit extension that would one day lead to Marin? Yet somehow Caltrans, the state transportation agency (to be clear, it’s actually not the state highway agency), once again managed to overbuild and enlarge car infrastructure without any transit component. Thank goodness the Presidio, in addition to getting these two highway cap parks, at least stopped Caltrans from doing what it originally intended: widening Doyle from six lanes to eight. For the full story on that, be sure to check out Streetsblog’s previous coverage.

A few more pictures below:

One of the benches
One of the benches

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Cars, cars, cars, cars… asphalt. Cars, cars, cars… concrete! Pollution. Global warming. Reducing VMT? Nah. Room for train tracks in there? A bus-only lane? Nope, not if your name is Caltrans.

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