San Francisco Embarcadero

The Situation

  • Elevated highway, partially constructed in the 1950s, separated San Francisco’s waterfront from its downtown.
  • Major opposition to the freeway existed from the outset of its design, leading to the partial build of the project.
  • Originally designed to connect the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Led to a devaluation of waterfront developments such as the historic Ferry Building.
  • Traffic on the Embarcadero surpassed 100,000 vehicles per day, making it an extremely busy highway. Despite opposition from neighborhood groups, the freeway was regularly used by individuals traveling to and from San Francisco’s downtown.
  • Waterfront properties blocked by the freeway were used as parking lots.

The Solution

  • In 1985, the Board of Supervisors voted to remove the unfinished freeway with support from the mayor and planners. The $171 million dollar project would be paid for largely by the federal government, with $10 million paid by the city.
  • In 1986, San Francisco voters rejected the plan after an opposition campaign, led largely by merchants who benefited from the traffic flow to their area, claimed the removal would cause gridlock.
  • In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the freeway and forced a long-term closure, resulting in traffic problems at first. Normal flow resumed quickly, however, and the city ultimately decided that removal, rather than repair, was the best option.
  • In 1991, Mayor Agnos struck the symbolic first blow against the freeway.

The Outcome

  • The new Embarcadero is a pedestrian oriented, tree lined boulevard, constructed for $50 million.
  • Landmark for San Francisco, frequently used as a gathering place and the first off ramp site was used to enlarge a park and provide greenspace near downtown.
  • The Ferry Building was redeveloped into a natural foods market.
  • The Gap Corporation relocated its headquarters to the area and one of the largest residential towers in San Francisco, One Rincon Hill, was constructed in formerly blighted land.
  • Historic trolleys carry visitors and residents up and down the Embarcadero along various office and retail spaces.
  • Property values in the area increased by 300% while traffic remains stable.

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