A BRIEF TRANSPORTATION HISTORY OF VAN NESS AVENUE
Development was slow along Van Ness until the 1906 Earthquake, when businesses and residents fled a devastated downtown. Redevelopment of Civic Center and the need to move throngs of visitors to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in the Marina also fueled development along the avenue, which included a new Municipal Railway line. A nascent auto industry and its array of support sectors found a home as businesses moved back to a rebuilt downtown, and the Van Ness corridor quickly became one of the west’s largest Auto Rows.
After the Golden Gate Bridge united San Francisco with points north, Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street became integral auto corridors carrying US 101 and the burgeoning local and regional commercial, commuter, and recreational travel. Van Ness was widened in 1936 and extended south to Howard Street to connect with the southern portion of the city and the Peninsula.
Post-war highway planning saw the removal of rail lines, which were paved over for use by motor buses. The H Line, running up Van Ness since the 1915 Exposition, was abandoned in 1950. But in the late ’50s citizen protest against proposed freeways throughout the city led the Board of Supervisors to halt construction on most of them, and Van Ness was left as the main conduit for US 101.
By the ‘70s, Auto Row had fallen into decline. In the late 80s, the Planning Commission adopted the Van Ness Area Plan, which called for an increased mixed-use and residential character—which is now being realized—and encouraged tree-planting on the street, echoing the boulevard plans of the late nineteenth century.
Starting in the mid 90s, long range transportation plans prepared by the Authority and Muni recognized Van Ness Avenue as one of the city’s top transit corridors in need of rapid service. Prop K, passed by 75% of San Francisco voters in 2003, provided the local funds that now attract federal investment in Bus Rapid Transit on Van Ness Avenue. Continue to the Planning and Environmental Studies page to read about the evolution of the BRT Project.