As they used to say about New York City, once they finally get it built, San Francisco should be a darn nice place. The Manhattanization of San Francisco remains in full swing, or rather, in full collapse, as anyone knows who has driven downtown—or just about anywhere in the Bay Area—in the past few years. Maybe it’s five years.
What’s your hurry, pal? It has only taken a quarter-century to rebuild the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, delayed by faulty bolts that might crack in bad weather. Getting that detail right should take an extra year or so more. Well, you know how long it takes to get spare parts from China, where the steel girders were built. I guess someone forgot to tell the bolt manufacturers about the damp fog conditions on the Bay Bridge. Hey, you can’t think of everything.
My theory is that the construction mania is all part of City Hall’s master plan to get rid of autos in town, where they continue to take up valuable space and just get in the way of trucks, Muni buses, tour buses, street cars, cable cars, bicycles, motorcycles, parades, protesters, pedestrians—and, to be sure, construction workers.
It’s no coincidence that every other city street is partly blocked off by workers allegedly repairing something or other; they never say exactly what. The philosophy of City Hall’s Department of Tearing Up the Streets seems to be: that’ll show these damn car owners that we mean business! When two blocks near my house in West Portal were strewn with no-parking signs for a month, a neighbor’s best guess was that they were patching the sidewalk, which actually looked fine to everyone—until they began ripping it up. Now the sidewalk really looks as if it needs repairing. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the work crew will be back for another month or two to fix the repairs.
You have to admire the skill with which the construction workers block off entire streets to cars, while they work on one teensy part of the sidewalk, forcing motorists to spend half an hour searching for another street on which to park. The barrier signs in my neighborhood read “No Parking” for six weeks between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The crew kept bankers’ hours, usually arriving around ten and knocking off around two, but you still couldn’t park there for the full duration of time. Some days the boys must have gone to a Giants game or something and didn’t bother to show up at all.
I suppose my favorite local construction site is the Golden Gate Bridge approach, underway since about 2000. I have gotten lost twice now in the Presidio while trying to navigate my way off the bridge from Marin. I love the Presidio, but it took half an hour to wend my way back to 19th Avenue. The four people whom I asked for directions had no idea how to get out of there either. When I tried to use my GPS, the screen flashed, “Expect Delays.”
The trick now is to use a street that, if you’re lucky, has one or even two open lanes out of four. The right lane is always blocked by double-parked delivery trucks and one or two other lanes are sure to be blocked by workmen. The biggest mess, of course, is the Central Subway to Nobody Is Quite Sure Where, which has turned Union Square into Afghanistan. I’ve read somewhere that the Golden Gate Bridge was built faster than they’ve been able to dig the new subway. When it’s finally finished, it’ll be just about time to start replacing it.
For some reason, the right lane on 19th Avenue has been under construction for about 15 years. Blinking signs, impossible to read as you zoom past, alert drivers when they can look forward to the next weekend that 19th Avenue will be torn up all night long.
Similarly, the left lane on the lower level of the Bay Bridge has been blocked during much of my lifetime. “Expect Delays,” it says. I would be sort of disappointed if it said, “No Delays Expected.” It would seem that the powers that be just weren’t trying. There have been some suggestions to rename the eastern span of the Bay Bridge for Willie Brown or Harvey Milk or maybe Joe DiMaggio. My suggestion—call it the Expect Delays Bridge.