COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Octavia Boulevard: Creating a Vibrant Neighborhood from a Former Freeway

Apr 28, 2013
Dec 14, 2017

San Francisco, CA
Elevated Freeway → Boulevard

Originally envisioned as part of a grand spider web of freeways cutting through San Francisco, the Central Freeway never materialized as anything more than a spur that blighted swaths of historic Hayes Valley neighborhood. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake rendered the freeway unsafe for driving, community residents were inspired to start envisioning its removal. In addition, the removal of the Embarcadero Highway, also damaged by Loma Prieta, along the waterfront set a precedent for highway decommissioning in the city.

The city permanently closed the Central Freeway in 1992 and built Octavia Boulevard in its place. The new Octavia Boulevard was designed to be both visually appealing and pedestrian friendly. The city accomplished this by including generous landscaping, side lanes for local traffic and parking, and special considerations for aesthetic details. These details included views from side streets and pedestrian amenities such as special light fixtures and brick color.


Rightsizing Summary 

  • The Central Freeway was considered vital to connectivity in the San Francisco region. 
  • After the Loma Prieta earthquake, gridlock never materialized and planners began to consider the idea of removal. 
  • In 1992, the Freeway was replaced with a median, four through-lanes, and flanked with boulevard-style parking lanes.


  • Development of Octavia Boulevard 
  • A new park, Patricia’s Green, was developed 
  • Large increase in housing production 
  • Significant increase in jobs (Employment up 23%) 
  • 75% increase in transit trips 
  • Gridlock never materialized 
  • Increase in home values (~ average of $118,00 per unit) 
  • Trendy restaurants and high-end boutiques replaced liquor stores and mechanic shops 
  • Condominium prices grew from 66% of San Francisco average prices to 91% of city average


  • Loma Prieta earthquake allowed residents and planners to visualize traffic models without the Central Freeway
  • Supported by San Francisco’s Mayor Willie Brown
  • Neighborhood organizations united to advocate for removal
  • Made way for significant economic redevelopment


CNU Highways to Boulevards Profile: San Francisco's Octavia

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