17 Replies to “Tearing Down The Embarcadero”

  1. The flaw with the video is that it mentions the concerns of local merchants, such as those in Chinatown, over potential loss of business due to removing the freeway, but then it never addresses how those concerns proved to be unfounded, if indeed that is the case.

  2. I guess there’s an implicit assumption that you’ve been to San Francisco and seen how North Beach and Chinatown are as vibrant as any neighborhood in any American city

  3. Thanks for putting that on the blog. I was amazed to see what they had done with the old Central Freeway; life returned to an otherwise scarred neighborhood.

  4. It’s not a black and white tale. I worked for two years on the Embarcadero under the Bay Bridge as the boulevard came back to life in a post-quake era 1996-98.

    It’s true that after the quake the boulevard and waterfront became integrated and humane — palm trees, a trolley, easy pedestrian flow between downtown and waterfront.

    But the approach traffic to the Bay Bridge on a weekday afternoon is really horrendous. We have no Seattle congestion that even approaches this, and the destruction of the Embarcadero did exacerbate the approach traffic. I knew this well, commuting from Berkeley, and normally took BART, which, conversely, was a faster rail commute than we will ever have.

    And easy access to I-80 and US 101, to either the South Bay or the East Bay, became much harder for those in Chinatown and North Beach, which are indeed some of the most walkable, Euro-like neighborhoods in the West. You can’t have it all ways.

    1. I’m looking for the problem here. Not being able to easily drive into a dense part of a major city just doesn’t rank on my list of concerns, especially since parking is very expensive in such areas.

      1. Agreed. I can imagine a Seattle waterfront built along the same lines as the Embarcadero, and even see a few parallels, such as:

        Ferry Plaza:Colman Dock
        Trolley Line:Waterfront Streetcar

        I hope that the measure to prevent the tunnel goes forward. What a horrible solution that would be. We really need an Embarcadero-esque solution.

        As it is today, the Seattle waterfront is a neat place to go walking. When I have guest that come in from out of town and want to show them Seattle, I have us start at King Street Station, head to the ferry dock, usually take the run to Bremerton and back so show them the Sound, Walk up along the waterfront to Pike Place, and in one extreme case we made it all the way up to Interbay on foot.

        Replacing the Viaduct can only improve the area. It is an imposing wall that casts nice long shadows for the entire year. We need that sun down there when we can get it!

    2. I am with Matt on this one, why do we care how bad it is that traffic sucks in Downtown San Francisco? Especially for through traffic?

      conversely, was a faster rail commute than we will ever have.

      Data doesn’t back that one up, Tom. Even from the Embarcadero to Downtown Berkeley it’s 22 minutes, more from the stations in actual Downtown SF. That distance is only 10 miles, which fits in with rainier beach to downtown at 10 miles and 21 minutes.

      1. I think a more fair comparison is Seattle –> Bellevue – a significant city across water, also about 10 miles. With that comparison, both systems are pretty close in performance (though I’m sure BART is much more frequent).

      2. BART actually isn’t much more frequent. Each line only comes about once every 10 or 15 minutes at most because they only have one tunnel under the bay. So they add up to about 3-4 minutes headways to the other side of the Bay at peak times, but with 15 minute headways to Berkeley. East Link will probably have about 6 minute headways at peak times, I’m guessing.

  5. The video is misleading. Yes the space along the Embarcadero is pleasant. But I would argue it’s out of scale and most of the buildings are empty or underutilized – even after 15 years.
    The Embarcadero Freeway was alwasys a stub freeway. They mention the ramps in the movie because that’s what people used it for. It was basically a long offramp into the west side of downtown. Businesses every relied on the that spur for through transportation. I don’t believe it EVER carried the kind of traffic volumes of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

    I support the replacement of the AWV with a deep bore tunnel. I would like to see Elliott/Western ramps included. Seattle can learn from SF, but we aren’t the same as SF. We still have an industrial base within the city. That is something that SF lost a long time ago. In fact, because of that loss, most of the old piers along the Embarcadero are now used either for low paying tourism jobs, or parking. SF is the most expensive city to live in (followed closely by NYC). Is that what you want Seattle to be? The loss of family wage blue collar jobs will be accelerated by rerouting 99 to surface streets.

    Finally, you should note, the Embarcadero Stub Freeway, was torn down AFTER the building of BART. Even Seattle’s upcoming LINK Light Rail will not serve the same constituency as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. If we build light rail along 99 and the waterfront then over to West Seattle, I may reconsider my position. For now, LINK will only serve the east side of the city.

    We can build a tunnel, open the waterfront, maintain most of the through traffic volume, maintain our in-city industry AND add transit. No, it won’t be cheap. When has it ever been cheap to do a high quality job? Let’s not be San Francisco. Let’s be Seattle.

    1. John, you’ve got a few good points that I agree with, and a I don’t. My response:
      1) The Embarcadero carried slightly more traffic than the alaskan way viaduct, according to California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

      2) BART doesn’t serve the same corridor as the Embarcadero did. BART goes along market, which is at the near end of where the Embarcadero went, where I-80 and the Bay bridge still go. At Least Link goes sort of parallel to the AVW, BART goes perpendicular to where the Embarcadero Free way was.

      3) I’m coming around to a deep-bored tunnel, though I still think it’s too much money.

      4) I don’t understand why you think jobs going away is some how going ot make seattle more expensive… Now that WAMU is out of business will Seattle get more expensive? What if the port of Seattle shut down over night? That argument is spurious at best.

      5) I agree with the “let’s not be cheap”. Transportation is one case where you get what you pay for.

      1. This has been very informative. I really don’t have a strong opinion on the Viaduct. I’ve used it maybe a half dozen times and I’ve been in the Seattle Tacoma area for over 40 years. Not having lived or work in an area directly affected by the viaduct (or it being gone) it’s hard to get a sense for what the outcome of the different choices would be. It sounds like there’s definitely some lessons to be learned by looking at SF’s experience with the Embarcadero. One question I have is how does the area which the Embarcadero bypassed compare to the Seattle downtown core? I know less about the Embarcadero than I do the viaduct, which is to say just about nothing.

        Given the caveat that I know very little about the issue I do have to question the cost benefit ratio of a $2 billion dollar a mile four lane road. On face value that seems absurd but maybe not. I just haven’t seen anybody put a monetary value on the no build option (lost time, jobs, fuel savings, etc.). While I agree that if you are going to build something it’s better to spend the money to do it right (unlike sinking bridges) I am surprised that there’s been next to no interest in the option of seismically strengthening the existing structure. In hindsight, could the Embarcadero have been retrofitted prior to the quake and been OK?

      2. Andrew, I appreciate your well reasoned and point by point expression of your ideas. I think we mostly agree. However, please allow me to counter:

        1) I will assume you are correct about the total traffic on the Embarcadero Fwy compared to AWV. I don’t have the facts. I will trust yours. But, AWV carries 70% through traffic. It is a different corridor. The embarcadero carried virtually no through traffic. The Central Freeway carried most people from I-80 to 101 and the Golden Gate. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is different because of the percentage of traffic that uses the highway as a throughway alternative to I-5 (destinations other than downtown). I belive my main argument stands: we should not compare the two highways as equal. AWV needs a different solution than that advocated in the video. One of the reasons SF has no industrial base anymore is because as traffic grew worse over the decades, industrial uses moved to other parts of the Bay Area. I don’t want to see that happen to Seattle. I treasure or economic diversity. It makes us healthy.

        2) BART serves predominantly the East Bay into the SF financial district. The Embarcadero Freeway took East Bay traffic off I-80 and dumped it into the west edge of the SF financial district. No mater what the geometric configuration, it served the same origin and destination. In no way does Link serve the same inbound traffic as HWY 99. AND, in no way does Link serve industrial transport traffic. Link will not take pressure off 99 if the AWV is not replaced. If we want 99 to be a surface route along the waterfront we need light rail along the 99 corridor first.

        3)Everything costs too much money. LOL – such is life. My groceries cost too much, but I insist on buying healthy food because it’s good for me even though it’s expensive.

        4)My argument about industrial jobs is complex. Let me be more clear and systematic. The loss of industrial transport options along the waterfront (aka viaduct rerouted to surface streets) makes Seattle less competitive for industrial jobs. Loss of industrial jobs accelerates (that process has already begun). Seattle’s economic and residential population becomes less economically diverse when jobs leave. When the population skews toward wealthier white collar jobs, competition increases for upscale housing and ammenities. Real estate prices rise faster and upscale development increases because that is what the market demands. It is well known among economists, that prices are always higher in places where people have more money. When you have more money, you are willing to pay more.

        Thus, the loss of blue collor jobs creates a vacuum that is filled my higher wage jobs, resulting in a higher cost of living. This process is already active in Seattle and it has overwhelmed SF. Tearing down the AWV and using only surface streets will accelerate that process. WAMU jobs are white collar jobs. They are not central to my argument. In fact, they will eventually be replaced with more white collar jobs. Bringing WAMU up indicates you didn’t understand my argument. I hope I have offered a more clear argument now.

        Those advocating most loudly for a surface option are primarily idalogues – environmentally focused white collar professionals who are blinded by their ideology and sometimes forget the effect of their ideology on people today. Their hearts are in the right place, don’t get me wrong. In fact I often agree with them. But their willingness to compromise has been lost. I believe the deep bore tunnel is a reasonable compromise. I am a rail/bus/streetcar transit advocate, but I try not to be an idealogue.

        5) Basically, I think you and I agree.

  6. Finally! As a S.F. transplant I have been saying this forever- just tear it down. The Embarc. was hideous and now is a wonderful asset. Go figure- somehow folks just learned how to adjust.

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