Published Tuesday, April 1, 2003, in the Los Angeles Times
It's End of the Road for Unloved Freeway Offramp in San Francisco
The Fell Street portion of a never-completed elevated highway won't
be missed by people in the Hayes Valley neighborhood.
By Chris O'Connell
Special to The Times
SAN FRANCISCO -- Looking out the front window of Momi Toby's
Revolution Cafe in San Francisco's trendy Hayes Valley neighborhood
Monday morning, owner Terry Chasen noticed something distinctly
missing. Cars. About 40,000 cars.
"It's quiet out there," he said with satisfaction as his customers
read and drank their lattes in peace at outside tables.
That conspicuous silence is a sweet refrain to the tired ears of many
San Franciscans, who have been waiting for years to see an unsightly
portion of the city's elevated Central Freeway torn down.
After a spirited ceremony over the weekend, with Mayor Willie Brown
wielding a golden sledgehammer, construction workers began in earnest
Monday to dismantle U.S. 101's Fell Street offramp.
The elevated freeway snakes a mile generally east-west through the
heart of the city and was once intended to be part of a major freeway
system that would have connected to Golden Gate Park.
That project was never completed and the Fell Street section became a
loud and dangerous interloper that spread noise and grime above the
roofs of old Victorian homes.
Dozens of homeless people slept in the garbage-strewn parking lots
beneath the road. The exit disgorged about 40,000 cars every day,
many of them speeding, into a neighborhood that once was blighted but
now is burgeoning.
Since the early phases of planning in the 1950s, any freeway
expansion has always met with strong opposition in this city. So
intense was the outcry against freeways that the project to connect
the city's neighborhoods was ultimately abandoned before it was even
close to finished.
"It was part of a larger scheme intended to crisscross the city with
freeways," said Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the San
Francisco County Transportation Authority. "San Franciscans voted it
down and, as often is the case with truncated projects, it's caused
us some problems."
The exit is the last remaining northern section of the freeway
damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Although other portions
of the freeway were destroyed altogether, the top level of the exit
was removed and the lower part seismically retrofitted.
The offramp served it's purpose for a time, but it had become
obsolete, says Robin Levitt, a member of the Central Freeway Citizens
"We were left with a stub of a freeway that was a vestige of a
freeway system. We've learned that you don't have to build freeways
The ramp will eventually be replaced by a more "neighborhood
friendly" two-lane ramp that exits onto a tree-lined boulevard. The
new exit will allow for a more even distribution of traffic, with
less noise and congestion, Moscovich said.
Plans for the land beneath the freeway include 900 units of housing,
a park, and possibly a retirement village catering to members of the
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
But in the short term, drivers will have to put up with slightly
longer commuting times. Rush-hour traffic Monday morning was backed
up for about a half mile as surprised commuters searched for
alternative routes to enter the heart of the city.
Moscovich predicted it could take a few weeks for drivers to get used
to the new routes.
"It's going to make San Francisco a much more livable place,"