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Monday, September 12, 2011

Octavia Boulevard Is Devouring Upper Market

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 7:50 AM

click to enlarge Let them wait in the traffic they created, for heaven's sake. - MATT SMITH
  • Matt Smith
  • Let them wait in the traffic they created, for heaven's sake.

Billed as a "livable" alternative to the freeway offramp that once shadowed Market Street, Octavia Boulevard has, in reality, been a confusing, deadly grid of expressways and frontage streets.


Accidents are plentiful along Octavia Boulevard. On July 14, a big rig collided with a UCSF shuttle van, killing 52-year-old Kevin Mack and injuring three other passengers. Last year 12 accidents resulted in deaths or injuries along Octavia near the intersections of Fell, Oak, Page, and Haight streets. 

The city's response to this: Impede traffic everywhere but Octavia, making it the street that devoured the Upper Market neighborhood.


Octavia Boulevard  was created as a cutting-edge urban design alternative to the freeway overpass that used to connect traffic from Highway 101 to Fell Street. Legendary urban planner Allan Jacobs sold the project as San Francisco's Champs Élysées. But in reality, dumping an extraordinarily wide freeway onramp into a dense section of downtown without slowing drivers down has been kinda disastrous.

The confusing, faux-Parisian grid has perplexed motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and anyone else passing through.

We shared with prominent civic affairs chronicler Jim Herd a Municipal Transportation Agency report on the MTA's safety solutions to the Octavia Boulevard debacle, including retiming the lights to hold up all traffic along nearby streets except for Octavia.

Herd's blog, SFCitizen, has been the go-to place for news on Octavia Boulevard. The "solution," Herd said in an e-mail, amounts to nothing more than Octavia Boulevard taking over the neighborhood.

"What they've done with the lights is bias [toward] the Market and Octavia intersection in favor of Octavia. People traveling outbound on Market get a relatively short amount of time to cross while those on Octavia and those turning left onto Octavia from inbound Market are treated like royalty, IMO," Herd wrote in an e-mail. "Oh, yes, Octavia "works" but at the expense of Market, Haight, Page, Oak, and Fell [streets]."

A real solution would be to acknowledge that Market Street at Octavia, just blocks from the Castro neighborhood, is a pedestrian area in need of aggressive traffic calming. Rather than terrorizing locals, freeway motorists should be made to bide their time behind traffic lights.

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Matt Smith

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