HIGHWAYS TO BOULEVARDS BLOG: Interview with Jeff Tumlin

 

This post is a part of CNU’s new Highways to Boulevards Blog series, which features interview summaries and insights from some of the best minds at the frontline of our Highways to Boulevards Initiative.

CNU sat down with Jeff Tumlin to discuss the removal of San Francisco’s Central Freeway and subsequent conversion into Octavia Boulevard. Read our Highways to Boulevards post on Milwaukee's Park East Freeway here.

How did the removal of San Francisco’s Central Freeway impact its surrounding neighborhood (Hayes Valley)? Jeff Tumlin is a principal at Nelson & Nygaard with over 20 years experience and focuses mainly on helping cities use transportation investment to improve quality of life and further economic development. 

In terms of the removal of the Central Freeway, Jeff Tumlin worked on the neighborhood plan for Hayes Valley, a plan that thoroughly examined the local impacts of removing the Central Freeway (supplemental information on San Francisco’s Central Freeway can be found here).

 sfcondomap.com.Jeff described the changes in the neighborhood: “A big increase in housing unit production, a significant increase in jobs (around 23 percent) largely due to increased retail activity and the small secondary office market, a huge increase in transit trips (about 75 percent), and an increase in home values in the blocks around the removal of approximately $118,000 per unit.” 

Nonetheless, these encouraging changes also resulted in new community concerns, issues such as gentrification and neighborhood affordability. 

Jeff shared a few key insights learned from his experiences dealing with freeway removal. The first (and also iterated by Peter Park in our first Highways to Boulevards series) is the public process. Public meetings can help residents to imagine what the space could be without the freeway. In addition, the public process can help engage those who are opposed to the project, allowing them time air their grievances and work through their objections.  Jeff Tumlin also noted that opposition to the project dissipated  quickly once the project was completed and fears over potential negative impacts never materialized.

In terms of projecting impacts to traffic, Jeff Tumlin emphasized that current traffic modeling is not capable of accurately assessing the impacts of removal. In the case of the Central Freeway, models predicted back-ups stretching all the way to Sacramento after removal. Instead, traffic dispersed through the street grid, transit trips greatly increased, with only a minor, acceptable increase in travel times. 

Because of these limits to assessment, Jeff Tumlin emphasized the importance of taking a systems approach to analyzing urban transportation systems. Instead of each road being analyzed independently, it is essential to look at how the grid as a whole operates.

One of the other key lessons Jeff Tumlin shared was of the importance of land value capture. Freeway removal projects tend to open up land for development and can dramatically increase local property values. Effective use of value capture strategies, such as the creation of TIF districts, can help fund removal and development in new areas made available through freeway removal. 

As transportation budgets continue to be strained, these strategies become an evermore attractive option for funding removal and can help pay for reinvestment in the community.

This interview and summary were conducted by CNU intern Tim Huff, Master's candidate in the UIC MUPP Program.

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