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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Highway removal: Patricia’s Green in San Francisco

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Some people, judging by the furore over the proposed removal of the Dunsmuir viaduct in Vancouver, seem to believe that removing a highway in an urban setting is just impossible: where would the traffic go?

I happened to be in San Francisco where a highway was indeed removed – Route 101, the Central Freeway through the city, was damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.  Instead of repairing it, the city decided to tear it down under the pressure of community activists led by Patricia Walkup. Instead a new ramp was built below Market street, leading to a street level artery on Octavia street.  The traffic is diverted sideways and the rest of the former highway is Patricia’s Green.

This used to be a depressed, crime-ridden  neighbourhood.  Aside from noise and pollution, highways tend to have this effect on a neighbourhood – a scar that tears through the urban tissue.



But you wouldn’t know that, looIMG_0472king at it now.  Patricia’s Green, when I saw it on a summer Saturday, was filled with kids and families.  It is surrounded by a few posh boutiques and some interesting architecture – including a modular store built out of containers.

Just south west of it, where an exit ramp used to be, is one of the latest city initiatives: the Hayes Valley Farm, an urban block devotes to urban agriculture and permaculture education.

IMG_0476San Francisco removed another, better known highway at the same time: the Embarcadero highway.  If you’ve ever been a tourist in San Francisco, you can thank the earthquake for the beautiful waterfront downtown – it used to be a highway.

One axiom about highways is “if you build it, traffic will come”; highways are rarely a solution to traffic jams and transportation issues, since they attract traffic and, at best, simply displace the problems (as anyone who commutes from Langley to Vancouver can attest: it still jams up, but now it jams after the bridge, not before.

But a corollary of this axiom is: tear it down, they stay away.  The predictions of traffic chaos, of rat-running in residential streets, never happened.  If anything, people just switched to the MUNI and the BART, the remarkable subway and tramway systems of San Francisco.  IMG_0477

San Francisco is far from the only city to have removed some highways, by the way; Alyssa Walker at Gizmodo describes six of the better examples.  A more technical document written for the City of Seattle also highlights case studies of highway removals.



Written by enviropaul

September 3, 2016 at 8:52 pm

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