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Central Freeway of US 101 in San Francisco

Started by Max Rockatansky, June 16, 2024, 10:02:09 AM

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Max Rockatansky

The Central Freeway is a 1.2-mile elevated limited access corridor in the city of San Francisco.  As presently configured the Central Freeway connects from the end of the Bayshore Freeway to Market Street.  The Central Freeway carries the mainline of northbound US Route 101 from the Bayshore Freeway to Mission Street.

The Central Freeway has origins with the establishment of Legislative Route Number 223 and is heavily tied to the history of the once proposed Panhandle Freeway.  The Central Freeway between the Bayshore Freeway and Mission Street was completed during 1955.  The corridor was extended to a one-way couplet located at Turk Street and Golden Gate Avenue in 1959 which served to connect US Route 101 to Van Ness Avenue.  The Central Freeway was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and has since been truncated to Market Street. 

The Central Freeway as pictured on the blog cover was featured in the May/June 1959 California Highways & Public Works.

https://www.gribblenation.org/2024/06/the-central-freeway-of-san-francisco-us.html?m=1


The Ghostbuster

Is the remainder of the Central Freeway going to be demolished? I believe a state senator (Scott Wiener) proposed demolishing more San Francisco freeways in 2022, including the Central Freeway.

Max Rockatansky

I haven't found anything additional since he asked Caltrans for a feasibility study.  In general I didn't follow the story very closely since it felt like a publicity thing and nobody really was talking about it.  I could be wrong, I'll let others chime in case I missed something.

TheStranger

Quote from: The Ghostbuster on June 16, 2024, 11:08:02 AMIs the remainder of the Central Freeway going to be demolished? I believe a state senator (Scott Wiener) proposed demolishing more San Francisco freeways in 2022, including the Central Freeway.

I haven't heard anything new since then.  Caltrans in the past year or so recently completed a project redoing the exterior paint of the viaduct from light blue/aquamarine to dark blue.
Chris Sampang

citrus

I've been hearing a few waves very recently - but not from any kind of official source. There was press today, though: https://sfstandard.com/opinion/2024/06/17/sf-demolish-central-freeway-mission-soma-hayes/

This group of folks hosted a block party nearby a couple weeks ago. Basically, they want to replace the freeway with a surface boulevard (which is not hard, since most of it already has a surface arterial directly underneath) linking directly with Octavia. They're calling it "Vision Blvd" as a play on "Division St" which is what some of the current surface road is called.

Speaking of the existing surface roads, it's also interesting to see a bit of the history there. The Central Freeway is directly above 13th St, Duboce Ave, and Division St, but those didn't used to all connect seamlessly before the freeway was built. You can see an extra block of Division west of Bryant, south of 13th St, and the connection between is now a surface-level parking lot. There are also a lot of surface-level improvements planned on 13th Street/Duboce (protected bike lanes, etc.) regardless.

FredAkbar

I don't get it, are they trying to build stuff on the existing elevated surface (like Salesforce Park)? Or tear down the freeway entirely? If the latter, how would that create much extra space, since the freeway is already built on top of another road. I'm all for "building up" in dense cities, but it seems like the central freeway already accomplishes that in its own way.

Division St is already a pain in the ass to drive on because the lights take forever (many of the intersections are multi-way), surely that will get way worse if the freeway above it is gone, plus whatever car-unfriendly plans they have for the street itself.

TheStranger

Quote from: FredAkbar on June 17, 2024, 07:00:20 PMI don't get it, are they trying to build stuff on the existing elevated surface (like Salesforce Park)? Or tear down the freeway entirely? If the latter, how would that create much extra space, since the freeway is already built on top of another road. I'm all for "building up" in dense cities, but it seems like the central freeway already accomplishes that in its own way.

The way I read through that opinion piece:

They are hoping that demolition of freeway = more developable area to create districts like the Embarcadero waterfront or Hayes Valley.

One of the ironies of this, IMO, is that Hayes Valley's revitaliation is aided by the fact that while the freeway WAS partially demolished (the Central Freeway segment that ran from Market to Fell/Laguna) and some of that land indeed is now used by beer gardens, an outdoor theater screen, and the now-closed flagship branch of Smitten Ice Cream...

The remaining freeway segment to Market/Octavia is one of the main access points to the restaurants and boutiques that are now there in that specific part of town.  (I actually was out there about a week and half ago to eat at the Patxi's Pizza location on Hayes Street)

---

With all that being said, my attitude is always, "I don't want it to happen" (same with the 980 removal plans in Oakland) but if it does happen, I have no control over it, it is what it is, etc.  BUT I use the Central Freeway weekly to get to SF destinations, just as the 280 extension that the late Mayor Ed Lee wanted partially removed (and Embarcadero Freeway opponent ex-mayor Alioto fought, in accordance with residents and ultimately CalTrain's successfully stated wishes) has been a regular commute route for me for the last decade or so.

Chris Sampang

citrus

Quote from: TheStranger on June 17, 2024, 09:15:00 PMThey are hoping that demolition of freeway = more developable area to create districts like the Embarcadero waterfront or Hayes Valley.

Yes, that's my read too - the intent is "if you tear down the structure, the neighborhood will become nicer".
It will be more difficult than Hayes Valley precisely because there isn't any extra land, other than maybe some ramps. The theory is more like: if the structure is gone, all of a sudden some of the less-utilized land will be built up (like the big parking lot in front of the US Chefs store, or some of the industrial / auto repair places, or the surface parking lot at Best Buy, I guess). That's probably true but also requires a better economic reality than we have right now.

When I chat with people in the neighborhood that have been around for a while, they all say that Hayes Valley used to feel the same way as the area around the Central Freeway today.

IMO the main negative impact of the freeway is: it's loud, dark, and attracts a certain degree of sketchiness / grossness, as well as aggressive behavior from drivers transitioning from freeway <> city (not slowing down fast enough, or just wanting to GTFO quickly). It's not as much of a physical barrier to connection as the street grid underneath is extremely porous, but walking along the road underneath is a drag. It would be amazing if there were a way to fix that while still having the freeway there. Walking along Octavia is not exactly amazing either, but it's significantly nicer than 13th St.

The main positive impact is: it's really convenient for me to zip down to the South Bay or East Bay. But a lack of freeway to the GG Bridge hasn't really stopped me from going up there (more frequently than the East Bay, in fact).

One thing for sure - if they do tear this down, there's going to be temporary personal disruption / noise! My window is pretty visible in one of Tom/Max's photos in this set.

TheStranger

Quote from: citrus on June 18, 2024, 10:38:57 AM
Quote from: TheStranger on June 17, 2024, 09:15:00 PMThey are hoping that demolition of freeway = more developable area to create districts like the Embarcadero waterfront or Hayes Valley.

Yes, that's my read too - the intent is "if you tear down the structure, the neighborhood will become nicer".
It will be more difficult than Hayes Valley precisely because there isn't any extra land, other than maybe some ramps. The theory is more like: if the structure is gone, all of a sudden some of the less-utilized land will be built up (like the big parking lot in front of the US Chefs store, or some of the industrial / auto repair places, or the surface parking lot at Best Buy, I guess). That's probably true but also requires a better economic reality than we have right now.

I think immediately of that Target store in the area (maybe a block near that chef supply store and about four blocks from Best Buy) that replaced a Sports Authority...and lasted a year.

I point that out because that's not any different in this post-pandemic time from a neighborhood that has never had direct freeway access and historically (even before the Central Freeway was conceived) was much nicer, in Union Square (having high-profile break-ins in 2021, then slated to be losing its Macy's after 78 years, losing/having lost many other shops as well, and whatever replaced Crate and Barrel lasted a whole six months before iteslf shuttering). 

Another, closer example that may be more relevant is the Mission District south of the Central Freeway.  If any area can really highlight the economic disparities of SF, it would be that: Valencia Street's hipster boutiques (a bit more like Hayes Valley) parallel to Mission Street's run down storefronts save for the fancy New Mission Theater run by Alamo Drafthouse.   Mission Street's bus lane was not entirely celebrated by the locals when it became operational and it feels like in some ways, that has made that street feel a lot less busy than when Mission fully handled auto traffic.  The spots around the BART stations at 16th and 24th have been sketchy for decades.

Market Street northeast of the Central Freeway also can be another case study.  The area at the foot of the current freeway landing Octavia actually did get developed heavily over the last 20 years with restaurants and other things, with the former S&C Ford dealership southwest of there becoming a fancy Whole Foods Market.  Heading towards downtown, very much away from where the freeway once crossed...Mid-Market's issues after the theaters in that area economically collapsed (in part due to early 1970s BART construction, but also changing trends in movie watching) have never fully been assuaged even with Twitter's presence in the area starting ca. 2013 and empty storefronts also exist closer to what had been a decently thriving downtown core pre-pandemic; Ikea is the first business in recent memory to try to come in and see if they can make things better in that immediate vicinity.  Whole Foods gave up on their 8th/Market location after only a few months last year due to theft issues.

6th Street interestingly enough I would say is actually a lot more okay near I-280 than at its northernmost portion near Mid-Market/Tenderloin, the skid row part is at this point from about Howard to Market and not really all that much further south than Howard.

Quote from: citrus on June 18, 2024, 10:38:57 AMWhen I chat with people in the neighborhood that have been around for a while, they all say that Hayes Valley used to feel the same way as the area around the Central Freeway today.

The interesting thing about this is that the articles I've read on the push to remove the north of Market portion of the Central Freeway brought up how the campaigns used the "the AADT is too much like a city street, no need for a freeway" argument for that segment.

With Hayes Valley's development since 2005, the northbound Central Freeway has become a lot less of a random shortcut to Fell Street, and much more significantly used as a direct gateway to those restaurants and stores!   IMO a lot of that sudden traffic is because of intentional zoing choices to upscale the area from Octavia to Hayes in the first place, as opposed to say having Octavia function like Park Presidio or Sunset boulevards (with very limited commercial development for blocks).  That type of traffic/development growth is very much what Dogpatch locals brought up in opposing Mayor Lee's plans to remove the north part of the 280 extension a few years ago.


Quote from: citrus on June 18, 2024, 10:38:57 AMIMO the main negative impact of the freeway is: it's loud, dark, and attracts a certain degree of sketchiness / grossness, as well as aggressive behavior from drivers transitioning from freeway <> city (not slowing down fast enough, or just wanting to GTFO quickly). It's not as much of a physical barrier to connection as the street grid underneath is extremely porous, but walking along the road underneath is a drag. It would be amazing if there were a way to fix that while still having the freeway there. Walking along Octavia is not exactly amazing either, but it's significantly nicer than 13th St.

Absolutely can acknowledge the issues of that under-the-freeway area for sure (and one trying to access 101 from Duboce or Van Ness can see that on a regular basis).

I-80 nearby also has a lot of the same dynamic, particularly around 7th and 5th, though one huge difference is that the roads there (former US 40/50 along Bryant and Harrison) are parallel to 80, rather than directly underneath. 

Interestingly, some of the newest, more expensive condos and skyscrapers have grown up much much closer to I-80 near 1st Street, in part due to post-1980s height limits in the traditional north-of-Market Financial District, some of it due to the presence of Salesforce Tower in recent years.  There's also some modern cutting edge building projects on the southernmost part of the 101 routing along Van Ness, with a former Goodwill store at South Van Ness/Mission becoming a new residential tower, and some development in progress or proposed (albeit stalled) right at Market and Van Ness where a Walgreens once stood:
https://sfist.com/2024/06/17/one-oak-tower-at-foot-of-van-ness-might-get-built-after-all-but-with-smaller-affordable-component/


Quote from: citrus on June 18, 2024, 10:38:57 AMThe main positive impact is: it's really convenient for me to zip down to the South Bay or East Bay. But a lack of freeway to the GG Bridge hasn't really stopped me from going up there (more frequently than the East Bay, in fact).

One thing for sure - if they do tear this down, there's going to be temporary personal disruption / noise! My window is pretty visible in one of Tom/Max's photos in this set.

Coming from the Peninsula, the traditional route to the Golden Gate Bridge is more 280-1 (19th Avenue) rather than staying on 101 due to how slow the Van Ness area can be.  I do enjoy staying on 101 a bit more for the urban scenery (and also it's en route to pick up a friend near the Marina).  Most of my Central Freeway usage specifically is heading towards Japantown, Cathedral Hill, or to the Inner Richmond.
Chris Sampang

Voyager

Never having driven on the old double decked structure, it's so wild you used to be able to get up to Lower Nob Hill in just a few minutes on a freeway before 1989. It takes probably about 15-20 minutes to travel that distance now from the Mission St exit.
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TheStranger

Quote from: Voyager on June 18, 2024, 02:58:53 PMNever having driven on the old double decked structure, it's so wild you used to be able to get up to Lower Nob Hill in just a few minutes on a freeway before 1989. It takes probably about 15-20 minutes to travel that distance now from the Mission St exit.

I did get to go on the section from Van Ness/Duboce/Mission to Laguna/Fell back in the early 2000s, I think it was en route to the roadgeek meet where Kurumi, John David Galt, and a few others were there.

The old Laguna/Fell ramps were redevleoped into a community garden that then was replaced with modern multi-level housing and a grocery store.

The example of "quick commute using 101 and 480" I've seen brought up on other websites: going from the Haight/Ashbury area to the Mabuhay Gardens nightclub in about 10 minutes (the latter was near Broadway/Kearny).  This was aided by 40 MPH speed limits and synced lights on Fell and Oak.

These days, the stretch of Oak from about Laguna to Octavia gets backed up with cars trying to get onto Octavia southbound and towards the Central Freeway, mostly as part of the afternoon rush hour to 80 east.
Chris Sampang

bing101

Here is a tour of the old Central Freeway.

roadman65

Quote from: bing101 on June 18, 2024, 07:05:48 PM
Here is a tour of the old Central Freeway.

You can see the former flyover from the defunct Embarcadero Freeway to the Bay Bridge right before the Clocktower Building at the beginning.
Every day is a winding road, you just got to get used to it.

Sheryl Crowe

bing101

Quote from: roadman65 on June 18, 2024, 08:58:12 PM
Quote from: bing101 on June 18, 2024, 07:05:48 PM
Here is a tour of the old Central Freeway.

You can see the former flyover from the defunct Embarcadero Freeway to the Bay Bridge right before the Clocktower Building at the beginning.
True and the 76 Clock tower was demolished to make way for One Rincon Hill Tower.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Rincon_Hill



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