I was thinking about freeways the other day.
Recently, photos of Hayes Valley (in central San Francisco) before the freeway demolition have been doing the rounds. The Central Freeway used to pass through the area, flying over Octavia Street.
Now, Hayes Valley is desirable, full of fancy ice cream and brunch places, and generally a nice place to hang out, but as recently as fifteen years ago it was, frankly, a bit of a dump. Luckily, after the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished in the wake of suffering damage during the Lomo Prieta earthquake, SF residents had come to realise that these roads didn’t have to be there, and Octavia was the next to go.
The thing I realised last week is that this was only possible because the original freeway revolt, in the 1950s, stopped the entire plan from happening. If the Embarcadero Freeway had connected, as the map above shows, to Broadway and then the Golden Gate Bridge, the pressure to rebuild it would have been much greater.
Similarly, the Central Freeway spur was intended to connect to both the Panhandle Freeway and an expressway carrying 101 north along Van Ness. If those had been in place, pushing the freeway’s exit to street level to Market would have been impossible.
The thing is, SF still has loose ends and spurs. The remainder of the Central Freeway runs above 13th from I-80 to Market Street at Octavia, while I-280 ends abruptly at 4th and King, by the Caltrain station. The fact that the latter needs grade separation has led to feasibility studies in removing its flyovers, too.
In other words, it’s mainly thanks to the original freeway opponents that the incomplete system can now be unravelled bit by bit. Thanks, 1950s.
(Map source: Eric Fischer’s fantastic Flickr collection of San Francisco traffic plans. See also.)