San Francisco Rethinks 10 Spaces Under Freeways

(Photo by Daniel Ramirez)

San Francisco could soon become the latest city to transform the spaces beneath its overpasses into parks, joining the ranks of New York and Miami, among others.

The power to make it so — allowing S.F. to take part in what’s become quite the fad among densifying cities — lies with California Governor Jerry Brown, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. That’s because the 10 plots of shaded space belong to the state DOT, Caltrans, which owns 75 across the city and makes about $9.2 million each year by leasing them out, mostly to private companies that use them as parking lots or storage space. A bill, currently waiting on Brown’s signature, directs Caltrans to give San Francisco the opportunity to rent each plot at a 70 percent discount once the individual leases expire, so that the city can develop them into public spaces.

“We have such little space for kids and families to go to,” San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, who worked with Mayor Ed Lee’s office to craft the bill, told the Chronicle. “Every space not utilized is a waste.”

Officials believe that converting the spaces could play a key part in meeting the requirements of SB375, California’s 2008 bill that binds cities to greenhouse gas reduction targets through planning efforts.

Caltrans reportedly spends a good deal maintaining the lots. Last year, it spent $7.5 million clearing homeless encampments that formed underneath the freeways. Under the arrangement proposed by the bill, the city would pay for building and maintaining the new parks. The cost of renting the parcels would be about $1 million annually.

Parks are certainly one of the more popular amenities popping up under freeways these days, but cities are also using the space for public art installations, community gatherings, marketplaces, and even mixed-use developments.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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