Last Friday, SFHAC’s Regulatory Committee heard a presentation on a topic well outside of our usual policy area of housing production in San Francisco: our growing transportation predicament. Gillian Gillett, the City’s Director of Transportation Policy, and Chris Sensinig, with Van Meter Williams Pollack, showed us how two key freeways indicate where regional transportation planners, urbanists and futurists are headed in their thinking.
San Francisco’s I-280
Outdated, decrepit transit infrastructure has become a significant obstacle to achieving the Bay Area’s housing and employment goals. The Bay Area is at a historic point, similar to where it was in the years after World War II, when constraints in transportation were collectively recognized by elected, civic and business leaders as threatening the region’s economic future. Out of that loose affiliation came the seeds of BART and other ideas on knitting the region together.
CalTrain’s secured its funding to switch from diesel to electric power, however still faces the challenge of its physical path into the City. Specifically, the existing line runs at grade to the 4th and Townsend station which obstructs transit access to the rapidly growing Mission Bay and southeastern neighborhoods, the worst choke point being the 16th Street crossing at 7th Street.
Ms. Gillett outlined a few possible plans under consideration to physically separate the CalTrain rail line from key crosstown corridors like 16th Street. The funding necessary to improve them is huge. Solving the CalTrain problem will likely require figuring out the future of the decades-old elevated I-280 freeway, which shares virtually the same right-of-way as the CalTrain line. This is a conversation that will occur locally, but it will also necessitate engaging our representatives in Sacramento and Washington, since that’s where the most funding can be obtained.
Chris Sensinig, who presented on behalf of ConnectOakland, discussed the prospects of removing the elevated freeway and showed SFHAC some ideas of what could replace it. Started in 1968, completed in 1985 and substantially modified in the 1990s. Built when it was considered acceptable to bulldoze through low-income neighborhoods on the premise of progress and economic development. The neighborhoods never recovered from the enormous miscalculations and hubris that backed them. New thinking, however, holds the promise of reconnecting West Oakland to Downtown and removing the physical barrier that separates them. As Mayor Libby Schaaf said recently, “Infrastructure mega-projects profoundly affect people on the ground. Our I-980 is a cautionary tale – a broken promise of a 2nd crossing that remains a scar on our urban fabric. In its place, we want livable infrastructure that creates local economic opportunity, reconnects neighborhoods, and connects the region,”
Current Condition of I-980
Bottom line from both speakers
Imagining and designing attractive alternatives to these two old freeways is only the first task. Equally important is finding the immense amounts of funding necessary to rebuild alternatives. If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, we might’ve begun one last week. Stay tuned as SFHAC tracks this emerging topic.