The Bay Area has a rich and storied history of completely and utterly screwing things up. Take the rebuilding of San Francisco after the Great Conflagration of 1906. After The City burned to the ground, they had the opportunity to build a perfectly planned out metropolis that would rise from the ashes. According to an 2005 SF Weekly article by Curt Sanburn, legendary architect Daniel Burnham even had a plan before the catastrophe to create a street grid with “a neoclassical scheme of wide boulevards and avenues radiating out from ceremonial plazas and mighty hilltop monuments, with a grand, state-of-the-art, waterfront parkway encircling the entire city.” Doesn’t that just sound wonderful?
Instead those in charge said “Nah, let’s go back to the one that makes no sense,” and they rebuilt it the way it was, with two competing street grids that only work together because Market Street bisects them at an odd angle.
It took another disaster to undo one of San Francisco’s most salient blunders. Someone in the 1940s stood on the foot of Market Street, looked East towards the magnificent view of the Ferry Building, the working waterfront, the luminous Bay and said, “You know what this needs? A multilevel freeway!” Built in the 1950s and left standing until the 1989 earthquake kicked its ass so hard it had to be taken down, the Embarcadero Freeway was an abomination abhorred by nearly everyone.
We actually don’t have to look that far back though to see other completely idiotic things the people at the top have either agreed to or set in motion. Just look at the Millennium Tower, the blue-gray SoMa building that looks like a 60 floor space heater. Questions have arisen about whether there was sufficient peer review of the project, the second tallest residential building this side of the Mississippi that is now sinking and tilting.
Then there’s the Transbay Transit Center which, after eight years of construction, was open for a little more than a month before someone realized that the beams holding it together were cracked. We’re all hoping it will open sometime before the Central Subway does, which might never happen if the people building the subway continue to lay down miles of the wrong track and have to pull them back up.
Then there’s the genius who gave the green light to build the new Golden State Warriors arena right across the street from a children’s hospital. When rightfully concerned citizens asked “Wait, what happens if a Warriors game is letting out and my kid breaks her head open and needs to be rushed to the hospital?” those behind the project – like the Mayor’s Office and the Planning Department – said, “Look, we’ve thought of everything and we’ve got a plan for that.” It’s amazing that after all the aforementioned blunders anybody believed them.
I’m happy to report though that somebody at some agency somewhere did have a brilliant idea recently that actually made things much better. It used to be that when you arrived at SFO, the combined traffic of rideshares, taxis, and people picking up their loved ones made finding your ride, and getting in it, like an obstacle course from Double Dare. But an incredible solution has been devised.
The way SFO is set up, all the terminals have a walkway that feeds onto the top floor of the parking garage. So now, if you’re calling an Uber or a Lyft you just have to walk there and there’s a quaint little covered waiting area for you to idle in until your car arrives. This frees up a lot of the traffic jams for cabs and folks nice enough to pick someone up at the airport and now nobody has to hurdle children, dogs, and smokers just to get in their ride! It’s amazing what out of the box thinking can do.
Whoever came up with that idea should run for office or join the planning commission, because they might just be able to help us finally get some things right.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.