Urban Freeways in Question

City planners weigh whether S.F. might be better off without Interstate 280.

In 2012, city planners pitched a seemingly crazy idea: What if the last portion of Interstate 280, between King Street and Mariposa or 16th streets, was demolished?

San Francisco agencies might not reach a conclusion for several years, but they’re analyzing the impacts of taking down I-280’s final northern stretch — about 1.2 miles in length — and turning it into a surface boulevard. In theory, it could open up space, improve circulation, and better connect the area.
Freeways have tumbled in San Francisco before — part of the Central Freeway is now Octavia Boulevard, and the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway restored the market-and-business-friendly Embarcadero. But in both cases, the Loma Prieta earthquake spurred immediate and necessary decisions on whether to spend a chunk of money fixing damaged freeways or take them down altogether.

This new opportunity comes out of multiple transportation developments, each big in its own right and tied together by the Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study. A 1.3 mile tunnel to make way for the downtown rail extension would connect California’s high-speed rail and Caltrain — which will undergo track electrification — to the Transbay Transit Center at Howard and Beale streets, making room for other types of transportation.

City planners are also studying where to relocate the Fourth and King rail yard as they assess train storage and capacity. To add another piece to the puzzle, agencies are looking at creating a track loop at the yet-to-be-completed Transbay Transit Center, so that trains aren’t forced to go out the same way they came in (or else extend it to the East Bay via tunnel).

The San Francisco Planning Department found that many cars on I-280 take it to bypass Highway 101, in order to get to Interstate 80 through city streets. Without that last segment, engineers say there would be room for other modes of transportation, like buses and bikes, to balance the traffic and link surrounding neighborhoods.

For the Dogpatch, a boulevard starting around 16th Street or Mariposa Street wouldn’t rid the neighborhood of much of its de facto western border. Neighbors are split: Some think it could mean more traffic in their area, others believe it would be a better use of space and transportation.

About 45 percent of questionnaire respondents who attended a citizen working group in 2016 considered the I-280 proposal “not important,” while 40 percent found it “somewhat important” and 15 percent said “very important.” Sample comments range from feeling the freeway works just fine, to saying urban freeways are a mistake, or thinking the proposal is crazy and not really a way to unite the city.

Respondents also ranked improved local and regional transit connections, neighborhood connectivity, improved pedestrian safety, and better traffic flow as top priorities in the proposals.
Former Mayor Art Agnos — who played a role in tearing down the Embarcadero and Central freeways — is vehemently opposed to the idea, and said the area would be choked up with the absence of I-280, the Examiner reported in 2016.

City planners, who received about $1.7 million to study the feasibility of these proposals, will wrap up the second phase with another citizen’s working group at the end of the year. Then, they will have to determine the cost, funding, and construction schedule.

What happens to I-280 will be up for discussion for several more years, with the Planning Department estimating that it would take 10 to 15 years to actually bring it down, if that’s what’s decided.

In the grand scheme of multiple transportation projects, I-280 has the longest timeframe, the Planning Department says.

An even more critical decision that needs to be made soon is whether to make room for train tracks by trenching the streets, putting them at-grade (which is to say, on the same level as the street).

Each was considered unacceptable by 85 and 90 percent of questionnaire respondents, respectively — which would leave a tunnel as the only alternative. The Planning Department estimates the decision will be made in the next six months.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Dogpatch here:

YIMBY-Land: Change Comes to the Dogpatch
But it has to be done smartly to keep the neighborhood livable, according to one activist who champions high levels of growth.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Where to Eat in the Dogpatch
This industrial quadrant is heavy on the artisans and dense with dining options.

A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Dogpatch may have the weirdest name origin story.

Better Late Than Never?
In the next 10 years, the Dogpatch’s population is expected to quadruple.

What’s In A Stub?
Dogpatch holds the ever-quieting ghosts of Irish Hill’s raucous past.

A Knotty History
Hella rope was made in the Dogpatch back in the day.

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