Two of the most controversial issues in Pacifica are the Highway 1 widening and Rockaway Quarry, so let me further complicate matters with a flippant proposal that combines the two issues into one giant uber-controversy. And it just might be our best option.
The way I see it, the main problem with the highway widening is that it’s just too damn wide. There is already not enough room for the businesses on either side, and it’s a long way for any pedestrian who (heaven forbid) needs to cross. Add two more lanes plus an optional center island and many of us would rather take our chances tightrope-walking Niagara Falls.
Next door in the quarry, the problem is that in the present economy nobody in their right mind would want to develop it anytime soon, and we don’t have much time until the redevelopment zone turns back into a pumpkin. Meanwhile, the businesses at Rockaway Beach hang on by a thread awaiting something, anything that will attract more visitors.
So what can we do now that would increase the viability of the quarry while simultaneously easing traffic congestion and attracting more visitors? Allow me to introduce the “Rockaway Business Loop,” a term I would have copyrighted if absolutely no effort were required to do so.
The loop would simply go through the quarry from the stoplight at Reina Del Mar to Old County Road and/or Dondee way in Rockaway. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of room for a two-lane road in the quarry. Heck, Peebles was going to put in a road AND hundreds of homes, businesses, a ballpark, a town square, and still have room for “open space,” so a road is pretty much the least we can put there. At the moment, much of the area is mostly a breeding ground for gophers and pampas grass, so on an environmental level, there’s really not much to miss.
The real question is whether this would actually alleviate traffic on Highway 1, and the answer is: a little bit. All drivers heading to or from Rockaway could avoid the bottleneck, and during peak traffic, some brave commuters would choose to take the business loop, effectively allowing the traffic on ighway 1 to keep moving while the light is red.
More important, it would diversify the traffic flow. Right now there is only one way to drive from Reina Del Mar to Fassler, and if it’s blocked for any reason, your only choice is which swear words to utter and at which volume. But if there were a frontage road, or “business loop” available, you would have a real choice, and that is important, especially if you happen to be driving an emergency vehicle.
It’s been said that adding more lanes to cure traffic congestion is like adding more belt to cure obesity—it just encourages more driving and the new capacity is quickly filled up. But adding alternatives is another matter. In San Francisco, there is no correct way to get anywhere; every driver has his or her own way of getting around, and this works remarkably well. For example, when the Embarcadero freeway was torn down, traffic actually improved because drivers spread out across multiple alternatives.
As the name implies, a business loop would route commuters toward existing businesses, while enticing new businesses into the area, hopefully leading to the critical mass needed to become a thriving destination. And even if nothing is ever built in the quarry, the Rockaway area is also in the redevelopment zone, so revitalizing that area would boost the city’s bottom line.
The real obstacle to this idea: reality. For one thing, Caltrans is pretty much done choosing its plan, and this ain’t it. It has already received 11 alternate plans from the public and has shown no interest in considering any of them, so there’s no reason to think it will consider the 12th. But it once famously said that it doesn't “do tunnels,” so it is capable of responding to public pressure and doing the right thing, once all other options have been exhausted.
Even if Caltrans could be convinced, the area is ground zero for more warring factions than in the Middle East, so the odds of something like this actually coming to pass are only slightly better than the Pope converting to Judaism.
Nevertheless, this can be a useful mental exercise, an example of the possibilities that open up when we break free of the environment/development dichotomy that has paralyzed our city for years. If both sides are willing to give some ground, then maybe we can find some common ground, and maybe even some common sense—an increasingly uncommon commodity.