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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Highways, Development Pollute San Franciscans' Lungs, Mission Is Unhealthiest Hood

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge Bad Breathe In - MIKE KOOZMIN

Every day may as well be a Spare the Air day.

A few key congested roadways help make lung problems -- including cancer and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- along with heart disease the chief long-term health problems in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, according to a new review of what makes American cities sick.

While MIT's report on Health and Urbanism finds San Franciscans healthier than most folks in Atlanta, Chicago or New York City, riding bikes and taking transit no further than 1.5 miles away from a big-time road means the C&C of SF mean the most densely populated county in the Bay Area may be its unhealthiest.

Obesity and diabetes clock in as the worst worries in most other cities, which means that they can at least run off their problems -- we can't move highways or densely packed blocks.

And the worst neighborhood for "health outcomes"? It may surprise you (and all its fixies, too).

The Mission District. And the reason is: density.

San Franciscans do report higher levels of fitness and lower rates of obesity than more car-centric Los Angeles and Sacramento. And while the last few weeks of cold, windless days have created a smog soup over the Bay SFist compared unfavorably to Shanghai, L.A. still has the worst air of all, the report found.

That said, wherever you are, there are cars -- and they're polluting. It may be easy to forget, but there are no less than four major highways slashing through the city (Highway 1, Interstates 80 and 280, and Highway 101). With everyone no further away than 10-15 minutes from a busy truck and car route, there's particulate matter to spare, which is directly related to chronic obstructed pulmonary disorder, or COPD.

There's one way to fix the highway air, and it's not a route San Francisco planners are taking. Most might expect neighborhoods like South of Market, next to the Bay Bridge, or Bayview (which sits in between a nuclear-related Superfund site and Highway 101) to be the city's unhealthiest.

In the Outer Mission, where highways are just as close by, the housing stock allows for courtyards and backyards -- backyards that abut each other, giving the air plenty of space to breathe. That's not the case in the Mission proper, where smaller and denser blocks of old wood-frame housing leave less permeable space.

Denser areas have the worst air. While the report suggest residents demand street trees near highways and planners accommodate them, there's a "direct link" between no open space and lung problems, according to the report. As if the anti-development set needed another reason to hate Mayor Ed Lee's beloved construction cranes.

Another woe for San Francisco: heavy drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. About 21 percent of San Francisco residents say drinking is a health concern, and STD infection rates are double rural counties.

So, we're a party town. And a highway town.

We can breathe easier than we have for most of December, anyway. After stagnant pollution gave sunsets on Tuesday a brilliant coppery glow, winds and Karl the Fog have at last returned and blown much of it away, with air quality two-thirds better today and Friday.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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