End of I-280
With a conceptual plan to take down I-280 north of 16th Street in San Francisco, eliminating the ramps at Sixth and Brannan and at Fourth and King and building a street-level boulevard in its place, the Mayor’s office is testing the waters for an idea that a number of readers have been floating for years.
The plan to end the end of I-280 could help turn “over 30 acres of railyards and freeway shadow into $228 million worth of land for mixed use neighborhoods with housing, offices, entertainment, and hotels,” millions which could help pay for high-speed rails Downtown Extension to the Transbay Terminal, perhaps speeding high-speed rail’s arrival into San Francisco.
As we first reported in 2008, “While the Planning Department’s recommendations for building heights and development surrounding the new Transbay Terminal is currently the center of attention, don’t forget that the potential for San Francisco’s Fourth and King Street railyard is about to be studied as well.”
San Francisco's Fourth and King Street Railyard
Bold Proposal to Turn Freeway and Rail Yards into Neighborhoods [greencaltrain.com]
Fourth and King Railyard: Now You See It, Perhaps One Day You Won’t [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Can't think of Cool Name

    Can somebody elaborate on how removing this section of 280 speeds up the construction of HSR to the Transbay Terminal?

  2. Posted by Mike

    ^ I would assume it is because the current rail line runs under the elevated 280. If 280 is brought to street level the tracks will have to be rearranged or possibly sent underground which is where they will need to go anyways to eventually reach the transbay terminal.

  3. Posted by BobN

    Our cute little four-rail “train station” under downtown is going to prove utterly inadequate. Keep the rail yards for when we figure that out.
    And street-level highways? Oh, what marvelous things those are to walk next to.

  4. Posted by Dave

    Presumably, the pilings which support 280 make it technically challenging to tunnel HSR through that area.

  5. Posted by Mark

    There are some old rail tunnels blocked by the standards from 280 as well. Take Caltrain sometime and check it out.
    The rail line goes under 101 as well in 2 places… by Candlestick and at “tunnel road”… perhaps we should tear down 101 as well.
    How about a moat at the City limits?

  6. Posted by Scott

    I dunno about this one. If I were playing Sim City, I would love to get rid of the freeway and create a grand boulevard and create another new, hot neighborhood and accommodate high-speed rail and everything. It would look great and I would be mayor of Scotopia!
    Unfortumately, I think my Sims would revolt because of the impracticality of it all. I’m all for transit first, but this one requires a lot of thought and planning.

  7. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    I am torn on this one.
    While I agree that tearing down the 280 extension would benefit the neighborhood and the city overall, I wonder what the effect will be on the 101 and the Bay Bridge (I assume others, like myself, occasionally jump the 280 to 6th and then jump back on the 101/Bay Bridge to skirt back ups).
    It would be nice to see this done along with the commonsense plan (IMHO) to extend BART down the peninsula to help alleviate congestion. If the people living on the peninsula want all the economic benefits of the big tech firms, but continue to fight increased housing density, then they need to step up and support increased infrastructure to move people around the Bay Area as a whole.
    But as a resident of SF proper I tend to lean to the tear down side of the argument.

  8. Posted by curmudgeon

    Since 280 is incomplete (dead-ending at 6th), and doesn’t have very much traffic on it in this stretch, the proposal conceptually seems to be exactly right. And answering BobN…it would be as friendly as the Embarcardero Blvd which replaced the ugly elevated freeway…so I don’t see a problem there. But we would need to ensure that it makes HSR easier and not harder. Well worth a conceptual level planning study to figure these things out.

  9. Posted by futurist

    What a totally stupid idea. Have we learned nothing from the Octavia Blvd. disaster at street level?
    Thousands of cars per hour crawling along a surface street.
    What a concept.
    What a dumb mayor.

  10. Posted by intheknow

    @Mike is basically correct. The columns/piles for 280 make it difficult or impossible to underground the rail in its general current alignment. Also if the rail isn’t undergrounded, 16th St and 7th St will have to be submerged and the newly built Mission Bay Drive connection to 7th will have to be severed. A big ugly unpleasant mess of infrastructure unless you happen to be a fan of the environment around Cesar Chavez and Hwy 101 for example.

  11. Posted by Joan C.

    “Tear down that bitch of a freeway and put a neighborhood where it ought to be!”

  12. Posted by cantankerous

    @futurist:
    280 from Mariposa to 4th is a freeway to nowhere. It’s always empty because no one really uses it. I don’t know where these “thousands of cars” are coming from, but they certainly aren’t coming from 280.
    And the “Octavia Blvd. disaster” created an amazing, hip new neighborhood from what was previously a crack-ridden ghetto.

  13. Posted by Rob

    Fantastic idea… Octavia, Presido Parkway and the Embarcadero are all excellent examples of the potential for this.

  14. Posted by jj

    I like the idea. Sure it will be inconvenient for some people in the short run(myself included cuz it helps me to get to downtown a little faster sometimes from south side of the city). but if it pushes the city to be a more public transit friendly city and make the neighborhood more appealing to pedestrians. then bravo to the mayor!

  15. Posted by lyqwyd

    Yeah, Octavia is way better than the freeway that used to be there, and so is the surrounding neighborhood.

  16. Posted by anon

    If the people living on the peninsula want all the economic benefits of the big tech firms, but continue to fight increased housing density, then they need to step up and support increased infrastructure to move people around the Bay Area as a whole.
    You don’t reward folks refusing increased density with billion dollar per mile subway systems to their 1/4 acre lots. It’s just bad public policy and a complete waste of money.
    Improving transit down the peninsula should be done with electrified Caltrain (1/10th the cost of BART, and with the same technological capabilities once completed).

  17. Posted by Toady

    “Since 280 is incomplete (dead-ending at 6th), and doesn’t have very much traffic on it in this stretch”
    Eh? Someone apparently doesn’t drive on 280. It’s where a lot of people drive to get to south of market.
    And, it won’t speed up HSR. The cities on the peninsula will ensure that it won’t exist in our lifetimes, if at all.
    San Francisco is pretending to be the center of the Bay Area economy again. How quaint.

  18. Posted by sf

    Octavia blvd. works great. It shuttles car onto fell and he 101 in a very efficient manner.
    Stop being a grmp for grump’s sake.

  19. Posted by anon

    Hard to see how folks would consider Octavia to be worse than what was there before.
    I don’t really care about the impact to HSR, 280 should be torn down at least back to 16th – preferably back to 101. The city would gain a ton of tax revenue by the increased value of all the land improved by the removal. No one wants to live next to a freeway.

  20. Posted by cbf

    “San Francisco is pretending to be the center of the Bay Area economy again. How quaint.”
    SF is by far the single largest employment center in the Bay Area, and is a massive component of the Bay Area’s economy. But don’t let that get in the way of your delusions!
    And yes, plenty of people actually do use 280, contrary to what some people here are claiming.

  21. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    More details here below than the sfgate article:
    http://www.greencaltrain.com/2013/01/sf-mayors-office-unveils-bold-proposal-to-turn-freeway-and-rail-yards-into-neighborhoods-urges-caltrain-to-swap-railyards/
    Yes, the idea is a boulevard like Octavia. It seems to move traffic just fine.

  22. Posted by 94115

    “And, it won’t speed up HSR. The cities on the peninsula will ensure that it won’t exist in our lifetimes, if at all.
    San Francisco is pretending to be the center of the Bay Area economy again. How quaint”
    BRAVO TOADY!!! There is still sanity left in the Bay Area after all.

  23. Posted by futurist

    Octavia blvd brings 1000’s of cars with their exhaust at street level, adding slow crawling vehicles along Fell st waiting to enter the Blvd, creating dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians at Market St. By many planning standards it is not a huge success.
    Octavia should have put below grade at Market St.
    280 has a huge amount of traffic on it. Removing it to grade would NOT get rid of that traffic but create very similar problems to Octavia.
    What will our so genius of a mayor think of next? tear down the central freeway completely from the Bay Bridge and put ALL that traffic at street level?
    Removing 280 per the discussion is just a bad idea.

  24. Posted by Jeremy

    280 handles a modest amount of traffic during rush hour and ballgames, but that’s about it. A sped-up HSR and CalTrain could certainly handle that excess capacity. Not to mention that CalTrain and SF would benefit hugely from the sales of excess ROW, and Mission Bay might actually become a neighborhood. One of the main reasons HSR to downtown was so expensive was because of the two 90 degree turns to be made, and now this could help alleviate that as well.

  25. Posted by anon

    What a disaster of an idea. At the least, BART, Caltrain and Muni should be gleaming examples of world-leading public transit (instead of third or second world transit) before this is considered.
    I used to commute to and from work through 280…every day it was very highly utilized. Not to mention its use for Giants games and 250 days of events year at the proposed Warriors arena. I would imagine Mission Bay residents would be up in arms about this idea since it would mean their ‘hood would become unlivable.
    What’s next, a City official has an idea for free unicorns to all residents?

  26. Posted by cbf

    “I don’t really care about the impact to HSR, 280 should be torn down at least back to 16th – preferably back to 101. The city would gain a ton of tax revenue by the increased value of all the land improved by the removal. No one wants to live next to a freeway.”
    You do realize that the majority of that stretch of 280 runs trough industrial areas, right? And you do realize that tons of people in Potrero Hill and Dog Patch already do live next to 280, and that those areas have already gentrified a lot, right? So tearing the entire thing down might not boost land values or desirability quite as much as you think…people are apparently already happy to spend lots of money to live next to the thing, and you’d then have to tear down many acres of warehouses and rezone them to residential as well, in order to really make the majority of the area you speak of more desirable.

  27. Posted by CarHater

    how about we turn 280 into a massive park-n-ride. keep your stupid cars out of our city! park there, and use transit to get to where you are going. combine this with a significant car-entry fee for those bringing private cars into the city, and life would be much much better for all of us.
    cars suck.

  28. Posted by futurist

    No it wouldn’t.

  29. Posted by lol

    This could be a new DogPatch where you’ll notice there’s housing where industrial used to be. Once you make the area more livable you make it more suitable for changes in zoning. They could earmark some space for quality businesses and others for condos/lofts.
    This would help make Mission Bay and the DogPatch less isolated from downtown or the Design District.
    Driving-wise, that would be a net loss for some. But King street would look less like a freeway ramp and this could indeed strengthen the feeling of neighborhood these areas currently have. Also think about the impact on 6th street. Anything that can humanize and bring foot/bike traffic to 6th street is OK in my book.

  30. Posted by lol

    futurist,
    Freeing up valuable building land so close to SOMA and Downtown will create many opportunities for local architects. You should be the first one to ask for it!

  31. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    @cbf, The plan is not to torn down 280 through the industrial area, dogpatch or Potrero Hill. The plan covers the short stretch beyond 16th St near 7th St and Mission Creek.

  32. Posted by cbf

    “The plan is not to torn down 280 through the industrial area, dogpatch or Potrero Hill. The plan covers the short stretch beyond 16th St near 7th St and Mission Creek.”
    I know, I was responding to someone who proposed demolishing 280 all the way back to where it intersects with 101.

  33. Posted by anon

    @cbf – the amazing thing about industrial land is that it can be rezoned into residential or other commercial uses. I know, baffling.

  34. Posted by Mark

    @Joan C.: figures you would know where to find the boys AND the HSR.
    Seriously, eliminating this part of 280 will do nothing to “speed up” HSR to SF. There’s what, oh let’s say, another 400+ miles to complete that’s totally out of the city’s control. Lee should be concentrating his efforts on improving SF and regional transit first, like reducing the commute time from the western areas of town from 45+ minutes to something more 21st century, hopefully in our lifetime.
    As for this grand plan, does he propose extending the N-Judah from 4th/King down this fabulous new blvd connecting this vibrant new mixed-use neighborhood with the rest of the city?
    Also, I lived near the railyard project in Alexandria, VA that was built in the mid 1990s. The soil was so contaminated that the townhomes were built on cement pads to prevent disturbing the ground beneath. Let’s see how many years it will take to clean up the mess at 4th/King.
    Finally, 4 tracks at the Transbay Terminal is not enough capacity to handle the proposed “every 30 minutes to LA.”

  35. Posted by 101 and 280

    While we are at it why not take down 101 too?
    Ahhh didn’t think you’d like that idea one bit.

  36. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “Octavia blvd brings 1000’s of cars with their exhaust at street level, adding slow crawling vehicles along Fell st waiting to enter the Blvd, creating dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians at Market St.”
    You make a great case for discouraging car use in the city, futurist. Glad to hear that you’ve come to your senses!
    —————-
    “Finally, 4 tracks at the Transbay Terminal is not enough capacity to handle the proposed “every 30 minutes to LA.”
    That’s 4 tracks at the transbay. Not every HSR run need terminate at the Transbay (or LA Union for that matter either). There’s also extra capacity at San Jose and the existing 4th&King station can be configured to be an alternate terminus to pick up the slack.
    And don’t forget about the Caltrain tracks at the Transbay.
    If we hit HSR capacity limits quickly that is a sign that HSR was a huge success. Expanding beyond those limits is as straightforward as adding bringing new routes online. Up the East Bay to Oakland for example.

  37. Posted by lyqwyd

    @futurist, all those cars, and more, were coming through back when it was a freeway, but now the freeway has been replaced with a pleasant area.
    Just this weekend I was walking in the park that was once a freeway, and ate icecream from a shop in a location that was once freeway supports. I’ll take that any day over what used to be there.
    I have no idea how you come to the conclusion that what’s there is less safe for cyclists. Octavia now has side streets that see little traffic, have speed bumps, but the bumps have gaps just right for a cyclist to get through unhindered.
    I’ve both biked and walked that intersection, and it is not dangerous. It was when it was first opened as people were making illegal right turns onto the freeway entrance, but that issue was resolved years ago.
    The area was also a haven for drug use and other illegal activity, now it’s WAY better. Hayes Valley has been completely revived due to the removal of the Central Freeway.

  38. Posted by futurist

    @ MOD: you’re NOT listening,again. I said placing the Octavia Blvd. BELOW grade would have been a better solution especially as it crosses Market St.
    That is a dangerous point for cyclists and pedestrians as it exists now. READ more carefully.
    Placing a freeway below grade will NOT discourage car use, but make car use MORE invisible and less obtrusive at grade to pedestrians and cyclists.

  39. Posted by lyqwyd

    @Wai Yip, thanks for that link, very informative!

  40. Posted by anon

    @futurist – so your idea is to spend billions on underground freeways? Why not just build an underground freeway, subway, and pedestrian street under every street in the city!?!
    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

  41. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    Octavia should have put below grade at Market St.
    I asked a friend about this very idea when I first moved to SF in 2005, just before Octavia opened. He replied it wasn’t done because of the MUNI lines running directly underneath Market.
    However I never looked into it.
    Of course, I assume, there would also be the added costs of digging it out, the need to re-enforce Market (since it would essentially be a bridge), and (possibly) re-enforce the MUNI tunnel.
    I can only imagine the cries of ‘boondoogle’ due to the additional expense from the anti-spending crowd.

  42. Posted by lol

    lyqwyd,
    I still see a car doing the crazy right turn into the freeway entrance once every 3-4 weeks, and I cycle there daily. Anytime I see that, I want to chase that guy onto the 101. I hope they get the camera up and working soon.

  43. Posted by lyqwyd

    yes, it still happens, but 1-2 a month is not a particularly hazardous thing for cyclists. Before it was dozens of times per day, if not more.
    Those types of drivers are a hazard to everybody everywhere, and I don’t believe it has to do with the design of the intersection. Definitely agree a camera would be helpful.

  44. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    You don’t reward folks refusing increased density with billion dollar per mile subway systems to their 1/4 acre lots. It’s just bad public policy and a complete waste of money.
    Improving transit down the peninsula should be done with electrified Caltrain (1/10th the cost of BART, and with the same technological capabilities once completed).

    I am not sure why BART would need to go underground down the Peninsula since it runs at grade or above ground around most of the Bay.
    Also I wasn’t so concerned about the resident of Palo Alto, and their 1/4 acre lots, using BART but of SF and East Bay residents using BART to get to all those ‘high paying’ tech jobs.
    But I don’t really care if it’s BART or not. Just that the Peninsula residents stop fighting every transpo project and voting down the fraction of percent sales tax increases needed to fund it (as they did when BART was originally proposed)
    from wikipedia By 1961, a final plan for the new system was sent to the boards of supervisors of each of the five counties. The system’s initial plans were for four lines connecting Concord in the east, Richmond in the northeast, Fremont in the southeast, Palo Alto in the southwest, and Novato in the north-west. However, in April 1962 San Mateo County made the decision to opt out, citing high costs, existing service provided by Southern Pacific commuter trains, and concerns over shoppers leaving their county for stores in San Francisco. Marin County followed soon thereafter in May. Marin was forced out of the BART district because of engineering objections from the board of directors of the Golden Gate Bridge. BART officials refused to allow Marin supervisors to stay in the district because they were afraid Marin voters would not approve the bonds, which had to win more than 60% approval.[4] The BART plans were finally approved by the voters of the three remaining participating counties in November 1962.

  45. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: The Bold Vision For San Francisco’s Fourth And King Street Railyard which is at the heart of the proposal to raze I-280 north of 16th Street.

  46. Posted by Luke

    Has any agency looked at the possibility of connecting I-280 and I-80 via 7th St, and then removing US-101 north of Alemany Blvd/ Industrial St? US-101 and I-280 run parallel to each other here, and it seems like the neighborhoods bordering this section of US-101 (Bernal, Mission, Potrero, Soma) would benefit much more from freeway removal than the more industrial neighborhoods bordering I-280. Has any agency explored this alternative?

  47. Posted by Adam

    @Luke-
    An interesting idea, but the Hall of Justice is in the way as are numerous business that would object to the eminent domain required. Plus the developers building up around 7th would not look kindly on that proposal. The real problem is we are not forward-thinking enough with transportation in this country in general. Every time we allow for development on old rail right-of-ways and eliminate flexibility, we forget that we might need them again someday.

  48. Posted by Michael

    Think big: build a bridge from Candlestick to Alameda/880 and a ton of SF congestion would be eliminated. It’s silly having two highways run through SF, especially one that doesn’t connect to the Bay Bridge.

  49. Posted by Alex

    @Michael: The so-called “Southern Crossing”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Crossing_(California)

  50. Posted by anon

    I am not sure why BART would need to go underground down the Peninsula since it runs at grade or above ground around most of the Bay.
    Well, for one, take BART to SFO sometime and see how much was needlessly built as a subway precisely because of those Peninsula NIMBYs that you mentioned before. If South San Francisco and Millbrae were able to force BART to tunnel through portions of their towns, you can know dang well that Menlo Park and Palo Alto are too.
    Regardless, my term “subway” really meant more “third rail BART technology”, which even above ground is astoundingly more expensive than international peers and 10x the cost of Caltrain improvements that would bring similar performance. Put bluntly, BART’s a pig that will hoover up every available dollar of transit money offered to it, and likely shut down some other projects along the way (see BART to SFO, BART to SJ, BART to Pleasanton, etc).

  51. Posted by Michael

    @Alex, I thought I’d read something about the idea before, but couldn’t find anything via Google. Thank you.

  52. Posted by Toady

    “Well, for one, take BART to SFO sometime and see how much was needlessly built as a subway precisely because of those Peninsula NIMBYs that you mentioned before. ”
    Yeah, and those NIMBYs in San Francisco. Shoot. We should have put BART at grade on Market Street.
    Sheesh.

  53. Posted by anon

    ^Yes, because Market St is the same as empty land next to the Caltrain tracks by SFO…

  54. Posted by Toady

    There’s a lot of flat space on Market. Really, if you want to focus on efficient transport, get rid of the cable cars on Market Street.
    Talk about NIMBY…

  55. Posted by lyqwyd

    There’s no cable cars on market.

  56. Posted by lol

    lol at the comment criticizing streetcars. Toady is probably alone in his car going down Market and pestering for having to go around a streetcar carrying 40 people at rush hour (in probably less time it takes him to do the same trip including parking…)

  57. Posted by anon

    I have no idea what Toady is complaining about…I was talking about how needless it was to bury rail lines in low density areas where above ground rail wouldn’t impede anything, then he says “Why not build above ground on Market?”, then he says “Remove the above ground transit on Market”.
    Like, um, ok.

  58. Posted by james

    if you think no one uses 280 to get into 6th or King street you must be smoking something. go ahead and swing by any time from 7am-11am or 3pm-7pm. what? busy those times? ok, try any SF Giant game day…or when the Warriors move into the city and post up down in South Beach.
    And I’m not even getting into any of the start-up’s that are all over SOMA/South Beach…cause they all ride in on magical pixie dust hover fixies and don’t dare drive in and congest this road.
    Yeah, no one uses this part of 280.

  59. Posted by anon

    ^It’s not that no one uses it. But it’s never (NEVER) congested on the freeway portion. It’s insane to think that it could be, because the freeway portion has more lanes than King Street. The congestion that does pile a couple days a month (if that) comes from the “off-ramp” portion that is the beginning of King St.

  60. Posted by lyqwyd

    Not to mention that many of these workers come in on Caltrain or BART, and that this removal is in order to improve access for Caltrain as well as the future HSR line.
    280 is not busy, it’s sometimes backed up during commute times, and perhaps somewhat during rush hour games.

  61. Posted by Dan

    With the Warriors and other events at the new arena added to events at AT&T Park, that stub of 280 is necessary allow egress of cars after events.

  62. Posted by kathleen

    Cool. I’ll bike to sand hill road.

  63. Posted by anon

    ^Done that many times, though I wouldn’t suggest it for a daily commute.

  64. Posted by lyqwyd

    It’s such a joke to think that sports events will have a larger impact to commuting than daily work commute. The events bring a few tens of thousands of people, while almost 200,000 people come to work during rush hour. Of those people only a tiny fraction use 280.
    The 280 stub is unnecessary while improving Caltrain & HSR access are very worthwhile.

  65. Posted by Gregg

    Tearing down 280 would be a bad idea. Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, Octavia is nice. Yes, Embarcadero is nice.
    But at some point you have to draw the line and think about efficiency of transportation. If everyone living in that neighborhood is going to be happy with the idea of thousands of cars per hour racing through your neighborhood streets, along with a lot of big-rig trucks hauling freight right through your neighborhood, then have fun.
    280 isn’t Octavia or Embarcadero. I’m sure it was there long before most of the people who live in that neighborhood. They moved there, they can deal with it.

  66. Posted by Grumpy McOildriller

    I hate this idea. What they need to do is extend the 280 to connect to I-80, and then rebuild the Embarcadero Freeway to connect to the Golden Gate Bridge. They need to raze the Ferry Building, the Coit Tower, and the Palace of Fine Arts to make room for this Freeway. They then need to disband BART and fill the transbay tube with concrete to make it unusable. I also say, pave over the entirety of Golden Gate Park to make room for a 20 lane megafreeway. I hate public transportation, I love cars. The more cars, especially the gas guzzling ones we have that get 8 gallons per mile, the more I like it

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