Imagine removing the traffic from a freeway in the middle of a city. The mayor's office of San Francisco is considering just that, and has asked for ideas to fill the space left over by the removal of interstate 280
. Highlink is a winning proposal that asks for something more substantial – Rather than just remove the overpass, can we repurpose its existing structure to create new value for the city?
The existing structure of the 280 interstate lies at a special place in the city, immediately between the inner city and the growing Mission Bay area. This unique context defines the arrival to the city - There is nothing like that fleeting moment, when the overpass to Brannan Street vaults upwards to frame a view of the city's skyline worthy of a postcard. As an urban planner, the city's initiative to take the freeway down is exciting. But as a resident, it is almost disappointing to lose that special vantage point into the city.
What if that view could become a preserved – and celebrated – experience of the city? Imagine giving that experience to a pedestrian rather than to a car. Rather than simply removing the entire freeway, is there some potential in repurposing some of the existing structure with a more creative spirit? This project reclaims one overpass to create a public amenity that provides the city with a vital pedestrian/bicycle link that will guide its sustainable future.
The HighLink is a vibrant promenade, filled with a natural landscape of recreation areas, gathering spaces, and refuges for wildlife. This new urban space will add value to the adjacent parcels freed by the removal of the freeway, and help shape a cohesive identity for Mission Bay's further development.
The $4 billion invested in Mission Bay hinges on the success of its connection to the city. That link is ultimately severed by the 20 acre rail yard between it and the city. For that reason, the existing overpass between Brannan Street and Irwin Street has tremendous value – It is the physical link between the inner city and the heart of Mission Bay. With the traffic of 280 removed, this can become a resource for the city's pedestrian and bicycle networks.
Keep in mind this a resourceful adaptation of the existing overpass substrate. Built to withstand heavy traffic, the overpass is already structurally robust. By supplementing that structure with a simple irrigation and drainage network, large trees can line a vegetated pathway of community gardens, grassy fields, and imaginative landscapes. Moreover, the entirety of the HighLink can be universally accessible – All members of the public can safely scale its gently slopped pathway.
This new connection provides a basis of growth for Mission Bay's future and sustainable life. It promotes walking and biking as the main transit method between Mission Bay and the inner city, and also provides an instrumental social link between one part of the city and the next. The variety of spaces along the pathway create a diverse environment, ensuring an active daily use from all groups in the community.
The HighLink is both a connection and a destination in itself. But just as important, it renews San Francisco's identity as a city committed to resourceful sustainability. Rather than simply remove the entirety of the existing freeway, the HighLink accepts the layers of the city over time, and adapts them to productive urban environments. The Highlink ultimately reimagines, reconnects, and restores 280 into an urban environment that is distinctly for the community of San Francisco, and a resource for the further growth of Mission Bay.