The second phase of the Planning Department’s study to explore the potential for redeveloping San Francisco’s 20-acre Caltrain Depot at 4th and King Streets, connecting rail to the Transbay Center (and possibly the East Bay), and re-configuring the terminus of I-280 in the city has been funded.

The first phase of the study, assessing the technical feasibility of any redevelopment, began last month and is slated to be completed next March.

Phase two, which will be funded with grants totaling $1,190,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the California Strategic Growth Council, will begin to flush out the possibilities and alternatives, including the potential to replace the elevated portion of I-280 north of Mariposa or 16th Street with a surface boulevard (similar to the Embarcadero or Octavia Boulevard), and opportunities for new public spaces and housing at the Railyard and along the freeway/rail alignment between Townsend and Mariposa.

Potential alternative plans are expected to be delivered by the middle of 2016.  And assuming the alternatives are deemed feasible, follow-on phases would include the selection of a Preferred Alternative, a 12-18 month project, and the securing of Environmental Clearances, for which 18 months to 4 years have been budgeted.

Implementation could follow sometime after 2020, “as money and priorities allow.”

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Serge

    I don’t think the Planning Department understands how rail works. You can’t just remove a railyard and have two tracks going to a station. Where are the trains going to wait? Brisbane? No more yards there and if there still were it would dramatically slow down rush hour transit by having them stored there.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Agreed – there will continue to need to be a staging yard. However since Caltrain’s going all-electric, it’d be easy to underground the yard a la Grand Central in NYC. (Easy to implement, I mean – obviously complex to do while it continues to be operated as an active rail yard… but even there, if they could do it in NYC in the early 20th century, surely we can do it here in the early 21st.)

      • Posted by R

        Chicago handles it pretty well… just as the planned development over the Hudson Yards in NY. The dev just gets built on top… Submerge the yard or build over it—I don’t think it’s completely unrealistic at all. Especially when there is potentially over half a billion dollars in real estate in the mix.

        • Posted by Sierrajeff

          It’s possible to build above. But particularly with this smaller footprint, doing so creates a use-less window-less wall along at least 2 block fronts (because there’s not enough space for retail along Townsend or King, with a surface level yard). Bury the yard, and you can have street-enhancing retail on all sides.

        • Posted by gml

          Yup. 3rd and Kind should become San Francisco’s Hudson Yards project:
          http://www.hudsonyardsnewyork.com

    • Posted by BobN

      The rail station they’re suggesting is similar to the one in the Italian town where my grandmother lived. It had 15,000 inhabitants.

    • Posted by Orland

      Given the tremendous footprint of the existing structure and corresponding land which would be freed up for the building of an elaborate surface roadway, it really makes sense to take it out all the way back the C. Chavez thereby eliminating its disruptive influence on the burgeoning Dogpatch neighborhood as well as the salutary effect it could have upon the rebuild of the Potrero SFHA project.

  2. Posted by Conifer

    It seems that no one has noticed that the closure of 280 over the Memorial and July 4th weekends created misery for driver.

    • Posted by Serge

      To play devil’s advocate: I am sure removing the Central Freeway and 480 caused traffic as well, but we’re doing fine and have a better (aesthetically) city because of it. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that section of 280 being removed.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        Correct – not everyone sees the removal of the Central Freeway and creation of the Octavia “Boulevard” as a success story. And the *partial* closure of 280 on a holiday weekend is hardly a test of how traffic would perform on a typical weekday commute, or during a heavy-use period such as a ball game (inter aliak, the Giants were at the Padres over the 4th of July period).

      • Posted by NoeNeighbor

        @Serge: actually removing the Central Freeway has caused tremendous congestion on City Streets leading to the new on ramps. Aesthetical there have been some improvements, but those have been undercut by the long lines of idling cars. All of this was predicted, but for some reason the City does not seem to care about congestion.

        • Posted by Futurist

          Walking along Octavia most hours, especially at rush hours is not very pleasant: very very noisy, pollution from cars that you can smell, and tremendous traffic backup to actually get on the freeway. Do we really want this similar experience if the 280 someday is put at street level?

          • Posted by BobN

            Having lived in the neighborhood for a long time, I can attest that walking around Hayes with the elevated freeway was A LOT more pleasant.

          • Posted by anon

            Perhaps you never walked beside or under the elevated freeway when it was there? I guarantee you that it was much, much less pleasant than rush hour along Octavia.

          • Posted by NoeValleyJim

            Actual Hayes Valley residents overwhelming voted to tear down the freeway and are overwhelmingly happy with the results.

          • Posted by Anon

            Oh please, there was a huge battle in Hayes Valley at the time. Interesting how you never respond to Jake’s facts or to questions as to why you own a car yet spend so much time online moaning about automobiles .

  3. Posted by Sierrajeff

    Regular readers know I’m opposed to the 280 tear-down, but *if* it’s tied to and contingent upon completing the Caltrain connection to the Transbay Terminal, then I might grudgingly support it.

  4. Posted by jill

    this is a ridiculous waste of money again. the freeway is very highly used and necessary. 101 is now backed up to candlestick almost every day. without this outlet, it will be backed up to the airport. how do they want people to get in and out of downtown?

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Bicycles and irregularly scheduled, unreliable Muni trolleys, of course! The collective hive mind has spoken, cars are verboten!

    • Posted by gribble

      On buses, foot, trains and light rail?

    • Posted by Sam

      We’ve reached the point in our city where we should be more concerned about allowing people to live there than allowing people to rapidly move through it. This will open up a large tract of land, and with land at an absurd premium it’s basically insanity to devote it to a train yard and some 1950’s style transportation model.

      • Posted by jill

        we are not talking about moving people rapidly through it. we are talking about residents, workers, tourists coming and going. what is the 2010’s transportation model? well , we havent built good transport, and bikes are 1920s transport model. even the politicians in SF are not dumb enough to take this down.

    • Posted by James

      Not everyone is going downtown. This will improve access to lower Potrero Hill and Mission Bay, and help knit those emerging neighborhoods into the city. Once it hits surface streets, traffic diffuses as everyone goes their own way (unless the street is designed as a funnel, like Octavia). Some will go down 16th, others up Bryant, others up 7th. Many routes to many destinations not currently accessible by the “necessary” freeway.

      • Posted by BobN

        Octavia isn’t a “funnel” because of its design. It’s a “funnel” because virtually all of its users are going somewhere else.

        • Posted by jill

          exactly, they are trying to get to and from the freeway, same as it will occur here. but this situation will be worse. the section of 280 is much lon ger and the 101 traffic is already a nightmare. 280 gives it the ability to diffuse a bit.

          JAmes “not everyone is going downtown”. we build transport to take the most people to the most dense place. that’s downtwn, not potrero. most people taking this are going downtown.

  5. Posted by hmmmm

    People also couldn’t imagine the Embarcadero Freeway being torn down, nor the Central Freeway. In fact the voters voted to keep the Embarcadero Freeway! It was the planners and city leaders who pushed forward with the vision despite the people’s lack of vision and understanding. The City is not just doing fine without either, it is immensely better without them. The same will be here. People never learn, moreover the average person cannot envision a life or landscape different than the one they are settled in to.

    And to @Confier’s point: replacing 280 with a Boulevard is not remotely comparable to the recent closure of 280. It’s replacing one roadway facility with another one in roughly the same alignment that makes roughly the same connections, only more connections. Closing the freeway for construction did none of that — it just eliminated the access altogether. It’s not like we tore down the Embarcadero Freeway and didn’t put in the Embarcadero roadway. However I should note that the City survived and thrived just fine during the interim years after the Central Freeway was demolished but before it was rebuilt connecting to Octavia.

    • Posted by S

      some sanity!!

    • Posted by yao

      Ummm no. The city is worse without the central freeway. Lines along oak, added travel time for tens of thousands of people every day. Terrible.

      • Posted by Orland

        BFD! It is a much, much better neighborhood and city without that destructive eyesore.

      • Posted by TheRobin

        @yao, do even remember what it was like getting on and off the Central Freeway 20-25 years ago? I do, and was only a little tiny bit better… and the city was like ~100,000 people less in population.

  6. Posted by Snark17

    It looks nice in the picture but can this be done without swamping UCSF, the new hospitals and Mission Bay with traffic?

    • Posted by jill

      no it cannot. but possibly with the new pollution caused by the congestion, UCSF can make more on lung transplants

  7. Posted by S

    to be fair, if you’re stuck in traffic on 280 or stuck in traffic in a boulevard, you’re still moving about the same speed and the road capacity is about the same (provided there are the same amount of lanes). The main difference will be when traffic is light and you can’t speed out of town straight from King st – you’ll have to slug along a couple more [blocks]s before you can do that :-p

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Good point. The other main difference is that with 280, that stalled traffic is above the street grid and not interfering with bikes, pedestrians, local car and truck traffice, etc. When it’s a surface boulevard, that’s all thrown together and everyone is impeded equally – classic ‘lowest common denominator’ planning.

      • Posted by Futurist

        Yes.

      • Posted by jill

        good point. i cant imagine pedestrians or cyclists would want this. much better to have the traffic separated

        • Posted by anon

          Yes, yes definitely. Everyone prefers the old Embarcadero with separated traffic to Champs Elysees with everything mixed.

  8. Posted by another

    Here’s a painting of SF without the freeway: https://sites.google.com/site/californiarailmap/san-francisco-2030.jpg

    • Posted by BobN

      The artist appears to have taken some liberties. The at-grade highway has been morphed into a pleasant two-lane-in-each-direction street with no traffic.

  9. Posted by c_q

    To me it’s not the money but how so gosh darn long it takes to decide what to do. 18 months to wait for a plan to then spend up to 18 months to decide what to do which then requires up to 4 years for an EIR and then spend 6-12 months bidding out the project which would presumably take about 5 years to actually build. If they could get all this done before 2026 I would be surprised – and in the meanwhile we have to deal with what we have in place now – why do these steps have to take so darn long?

    I know everyone wants to have their say, but frankly the study should be done in 6 months, the selection process limited to 6 months, and the EIR max one year – then we could start in a couple years and maybe have a chance of this done by 2020.

    • Posted by jill

      how about saving up this colossal waste of money and investing in a subway system

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        ^ yes, times 1000. Build a 2nd tube, build a 2nd centray subway down Folsom or Harrison, extend the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf, extend Muni or BART down Geary or Van Ness – do any of those, before tearing down a functional freeway.

        • Posted by jill

          if it makes sense, then our city planners likely to do the opposite. they need to focus on the greater good instead of pork projects

  10. Posted by BigV

    I want to know more about this idea of connection rail to the east bay! That is very interesting! I can see the need too — the BART tunnel is near capacity. If the transbay terminal also had a new under-bay connection eastward, that would open up a significant new transit option. I assume it would connect to the east bay somewhere besides West Oakland, just to avoid being an exact duplicate of BART.

    • Posted by Alex740

      I agree, I’d like to see some big plans to expand rail transit in the bay area, that’s the only real solution to the worsening traffic. Caltrain might be more difficult to take across the bay due to the size of the trains, but I’ve seen ideas tossed around to bring BART across the bay from Alameda to the Transbay terminal. From there I’d say it should be taken down the peninsula by tunneling under 101 or building over it all the way to San Jose. That would alleviate some of the pressure on Caltrain and get a lot of people off 101 as most places that people work on the Peninsula are just off 101 anyway.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        A 2nd Transbay Tube, connecting a 2nd BART line with the Transbay Terminal, is a no-brainer. Yet it’s barely even on transit agencies’ extreme wish lists, let alone being planned. And as c_q notes above, even if it were formally proposed today, between EIRs and public input charettes, etc., it’d be over a decade before a shovel hit dirt. Ridiculous.

  11. Posted by Alex740

    With the addition of the Warriors stadium, this plan makes even more sense to me now, the small on/off ramps to 280 at Mariposa are already a mess and are going to become ridiculously messy with the addition of the stadium traffic. Having the highway touch down at 16th will create a much larger exit for traffic directly on and off the highway. I’d also add a Caltrain Station near 16th to serve UCSF, the Warriors stadium and possibly AT&T as well, since 4th & King will be gone. Could be a station that is only used during games but making it walkable to the stadiums will be very attractive.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      First, 4th and King is not going away. Even with the connection to Transbay, the proposal is to have a stop at 4th & King (underground). They pretty much have to, given that they built the Central Subway there… (though the future undergrounding of Caltrain underscores the stupidity of building the Central Subway as a street trolley here – to xfer from Caltrain to Muni, people will have to exit, go above ground, and access median platforms. It should be seamless, like changing from Amtrak or Metro North to the subway in NYC.

      Second, there’s already a Caltrain station at 22nd. Adding yet more stations would just slow service and thereby reduce ridership.

      • Posted by Alex740

        Thanks for the clarification, my comment about the additional station was because I thought 4th and King was going to be no more, I googled the plan and I’m glad that it’s staying. I also agree that too many stations would just make the line slow and unattractive to users. I also agree that the lack of connectivity between Muni and Caltrain is a problem and illustrates the lack of overall coordination for Bay Area transit.

      • Posted by RobBob

        I believe under grounding the central subway was problematic due to it needing to make an at grade crossing over mission creek. There is not enough distance between king and mission creek for light rail to go from below to street level.

        • Posted by Sierrajeff

          Should have gone under Mission Creek. (Not arguing with you; just underscoring the point that the implementation of the Central Subway was nutty – another example being stopping it in Chinatown, even though they’ve dug to Columbus, and even though it’d make eminent sense to dig all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.)

          • Posted by NoeValleyJim

            No it wasn’t nutty, it just did what it could with the resources available. Everyone involved always wanted it to run to North Beach (hence the boring equipment exiting in North Beach) but the money hasn’t been there. MTA and CTA are studying what a North Beach station would cost right now. I am cautiously optimistic that this will get a green light pretty soon.

            It will eventually run to Fisherman’s Wharf, possibly even all the way to The Marina.

            Sometimes you have to build things in pieces.

  12. Posted by gribble

    I like the idea of dropping the freeway at 16th or Mariposa. Major technical hurdles will be how to maintain rail service while digging the replacement tunnels underground. The freeway has to come down before any tunneling can be done along the same route because of the freeway foundation.

    However it is sliced it will be messy for a long time, but it is really needed for safety once the Arena begins operation. You can’t have that much traffic at 16th crossing the railroad tracks without some horrible tragedy happening. Somebody is going to get stuck sitting on the railroad tracks and killed.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      Not true, there are extensive studies for the high speed rail that show tunneling being done between the 280 piers. In fact if the powers that be had any cojones, they’d bore a new rail tunnel straight north from 16th street (avoiding 280 altogether, whether it’s above-ground or a boulevard). Such a line hits 4th & King and then terminates almost directly at the Transbay Terminal. Instead they’re proposing the Caltrain extension to roughly follow surface streets, which means 2 more 90 degree turns, which means slower service.

      • Posted by RobBob

        It has to be this way due to piers sunken for the high rise buildings. In fact buildings like the infinity were constructed specifically so that their foundations avoided problems with the Caltrain extension to the transbay terminal.

        Also boring a tunnel is quite a bit more expensive than cut and cover. The bore diameter probably has to be a bit larger for Caltrain compared to light rail.

        • Posted by Sierrajeff

          Re: your latter point, true – but we’re not talking great distances here, not even 2 miles. And if “they” had thought ahead, they could have planned the route (and hence high rise foundations) before approving the high rises. (After all, not 20 years ago most of SoMa was warehouse and industrial space.) And if this were part of a larger 2nd transby tube – all the better, and more justifiable.

  13. Posted by Greg

    I say tear it down IF and only if we build the Southern Crossing and connect the 280 to it — i.e., a second bridge across the bay south of the current bay bridge. That way people traveling from south of SF to the east bay could bypass downtown.

    • Posted by Mr. E.

      Greg, I love the idea; my understanding is that the maxed out capacity of 880 is the hurdle to the Southern Crossing (as a new bridge would merge into 880 at some place instead of the modest dispersal at the 580 maze). This would likely reduce some 101 traffic, but, due to induced demand, the total number of cars crossing the bridges would likely increase. But, yes, running a bridge off of Pier 80 or 90 and carving 280 back to Ceasar Chavez would be amazing for the Central Waterfront.

      Now, if we could tunnel 101 under Potrero Hill. . . . and build a second BART crossing . . . and run BART down Geary. . .

    • Posted by Alex740

      Undoubtedly the Bay Bridge is a bottleneck of multiple highways coming together to cross at one point, adding a second crossing would certainly help relieve this bottleneck but wouldn’t solve the real issue of overly packed highways, it would just create a better connection from packed 101 to packed 880. I think the south bay to east bay connection would be better served with a rail connection via a 2nd trans-bay tube that continues down the peninsula as part of a major bart extension.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      I think to be most effective the Southern Crossing should be more, er, southern. People going from the E.Bay to south of the City are pretty much headed to SFO or environs… if they’re going further south than that, and in the know, they’d take the San Mateo Bridge. But of course the problem with that is that the bay’s wider down by Candlestick / Brisbane, so a bridge would be more expensive (uglier, more environmentally destructive, etc.).

      The best bet for NIMBY and environmental purposes would be a sunk-segment tube tunnel, with both road and rail segments – maybe just 2 lanes each way, but limited to freight traffic (e.g., Port of Oakland semis, etc.) and buses / transit. Getting even that traffic off the Bay Bridge might help measurably, while the restriction would keep the 2nd tube from contributing to induced demand for passenger vehicles.

  14. Posted by SFRealist

    San Francisco cannot possibly be stupid enough to do this, right? Right?

    During commute hours this would back up traffic to Candlestick, and completely jam surface street.

    • Posted by NoeValleyJim

      Motorheads said that tearing down the Embracadero Freeway would cause gridlock. They said tearing down the Central Freeway would be a disaster. Neither of those things came true.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        “Motorheads said that tearing down the Embracadero Freeway would cause gridlock”
        Ever drive the Embarcadero at rush hour, or for that matter most weekend days? Ridiculous.

        “They said tearing down the Central Freeway would be a disaster.”
        Ditto the Octavia Boulevard – equally ridiculous, especially the tussle to get into the right turn lane off Oak… and the stub freeway frequently backs up to the Duboce exit or earlier, due to the Market lights and cross-traffic.

        • Posted by EBGuy

          Is it wrong to hop into the second right turn lane on Oak at the last minute? Don’t worry, I only make it across the Bay a couple of times a year. They should really eliminate street parking on that block of Oak and run the two right turn lanes the length of the entire block.

      • Posted by yao

        Newsflash. Both are true.

        • Posted by NoeValleyJim

          Where along the waterfront is there gridlock?

          • Posted by Jake

            Rush hour backups a mile to a mile and a half long are common on the Embarcadero southbound during PM rush hour, though not everyday. You can see these backups in the Google traffic data (change the traffic overlay to day and time of your choosing).

            The primary gridlock intersection is 3rd and King, where the southbound Embarcadero traffic headed for 280 has to cross the northbound traffic turning onto 3rd. The pressure to squeeze more cars through and the multiple transport modes there (muni train, car, pedestrian, bike) makes it very dangerous. Sadly, you may recall a lady on a bike stopped at the light was killed there by a truck.

            Gridlock sometimes happens at Harrison and/or Bryant when the queue for the Bay Bridge backs up all the way onto the Embarcadero.

            There is less AM rush hour backup on the Embarcadero because the inbound traffic on 280 is forced to backup on the highway itself. Then the traffic lights on King St throttle them onto the street grid.

    • Posted by James

      I’m glad your magic 8-ball says “certainly.” Why is the city even bothering with actual research? They should have just called you.

    • Posted by jill

      its already backed up to candlestick everyday. this will take it to the airport

  15. Posted by Timmy L

    Tear it down! 280 barely backs up with traffic today. It takes 5, maybe 10 minutes to get from Mariposa to AT&T park on 280 during rush hour. Hospital curve is the same….10-15 minutes to get to downtown during rush hour. Knocking down a 1/2 mile of freeway is not going to back up traffic to candlestick….it won’t even back up to 101. In fact, I would argue the disbursement would be better and reduce traffic in the immediate vicinity as some cars will head west, some to the east and some continuing north. Those heading to the East Bay from 280 will have issues but a) why take 280 in the first place and b) it is not SF’s responsibility to provide easy fast access through the city via car for anyone, especially those that live and work outside of that city. This is great for SF, its residents and its workers!

  16. Posted by BobN

    Future generations are going to wonder why we didn’t bury the whole thing and build on top of it. See Montreal.

    • Posted by Sierrajeff

      That’s my first desire (there’s even sufficent room at 5th to bring it above ground and tie directly to 80). But people wring their hands over cost and say it’s impossible. Just like bridging the Golden Gate strait.

  17. Posted by Joseph A

    Going from a Highway to a Boulevard is less of an issue as long as the number of intersections is minimal ,

    adding an intersection at 16th makes sense , but I could easily see them taking it to 20th or 22nd so it ties in the SF Ship Yard Development

    • Posted by BobN

      What is the point of bringing this roadway to ground level if you’re planning on minimizing crossings?

      • Posted by Joseph A

        Because by taking it to ground level you create something thats just not another bare raised highway , you could add 2 new key entrance points , and at the same time add a tree line the length of the boulevard

        • Posted by Jill

          And also add more congestion, accidents and bike vs car arguments.

          • Posted by Joseph A

            I dont think so , there should be enough room to maintain existing lane count , a way to add 2 intersections at 16th , 20th , and maybe 23rd , and also an isolated lane

            I think that it could be done in a way that minimizes congestion, and also done in a safe way

  18. Posted by Joseph A

    BTW , I also think that the Public Housing along , Turner Terrace, Watchman, Dakota, Connecticut & 25th should all be removed , and the residents relocated to new subsidized housing being built ,

    that the land should be sold , and that those huge amounts of funds raised be used to build higher density housing for those that need assistance

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