aerial view of project area
Base image: Pictometry
South of Market

Central SoMa Freeway Corridor Transformation Strategy

The Central SoMa Freeway Corridor Transformation Strategy will guide the transformation of a long-neglected area in the heart of the City consistent with community-identified goals and policies of the Central SoMa Plan: create an environmentally sustainable and resilient neighborhood; preserve and celebrate the neighborhood’s cultural heritage; provide safe and convenient transportation; and offer an abundance of parks and recreational opportunities.

The Central SoMa Plan calls for transformative change along the I-80 Freeway corridor, and requires the City to develop a comprehensive strategy to implement this change. The Plan outlines specific objectives and policies, however, budget and logistical constraints require prioritization of projects that can provide multiple benefits within the available funding.

Following unanimous adoption of the Plan by the Board of Supervisors, City staff met with community groups and with Caltrans to explore how this transformative process could unfold. During these early conversations, several common themes emerged:

  • Planting trees should be a top priority: SoMa has the sparsest tree canopy in the City and trees planted now will take many years to mature.
  • Improving active green uses along I-80 underpasses and off-ramps: the current condition of state-owned land adjacent to 5th Street is a major concern. The 6th Street underpass and 5th Street freeway off-ramp are important neighborhood gateways that should be prioritized for art celebrating SoMa’s cultural heritage.
  • Prioritize and implement smaller projects immediately: SoMa residents, workers, and visitors need a greener and safer freeway corridor now, not in the distant future. The City should favor an incremental approach to deliver multiple smaller projects as funding and land become available, rather than planning for one large project that may take decades to realize.

In response to this initial input, San Francisco Public Works’ Bureau of Urban Forestry (BUF) has proposed a street tree nursery on 5th Street between the freeway ramps. This early implementation project will activate a vacant and neglected priority site, provide SoMa with street trees adapted to local conditions, and serve as an anchor for further improvements. Initial concepts for the nursery include extensive planting, stormwater capture with green infrastructure, and opportunities for gateway art and community participation. Further details on this proposal are anticipated in late 2021.

The Central SoMa Freeway Corridor includes state-owned land under and adjacent to the I-80 freeway between 2nd and 6th Streets in San Francisco’s South of Market district. The largest concentration of usable land is between 4th and 6th Streets, where approximately 10 acres of mostly vacant and neglected state-owned land are potentially available for greening and other community-enhancing uses.

With many neglected spaces and underpasses, crossing the freeway corridor often provides an unpleasant and unsafe experience. Improving the corridor will not only add green space and amenities at the heart of the neighborhood, but it will also enhance residents’ access to existing and planned amenities in surrounding areas including downtown, SoMa, and Mission Bay.

As reflected in the Central SoMa Plan, the SoMa community has long advocated greening the freeway corridor to make it a safer and more enjoyable place. Following Plan adoption, staff from San Francisco’s Planning, Recreation and Park, Environment, and Public Works departments continued to work with community members and organizations to develop project concepts that address community needs and aspirations. Leaders and members of SoMa Pilipinas, SOMCAN, Friends of the Urban Forest, the SoMa Community Stabilizations Fund CAC, the SoMa Community Collaborative, the SoMa West Community Benefit District, and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District all helped generate ideas that will serve as seeds for broader community conversations as concepts are further developed.

With the help of these early partners, we are reaching out to other interested community groups and non-profits – all crucial voices in the conversation. Additional ongoing help is provided by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Urban Watershed Management Program, the San Francisco Office of Workforce and Economic Development, and the San Francisco Office of Real Estate. Finally, we are engaged with Caltrans, who owns the land, to ensure that its sustainability goals and ongoing maintenance considerations are also factored in.

If you or your organization are interested in participating in this process, please contact us to schedule a conversation, presentation, or walking tour.