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The Embarcadero and history of Interstate 480/California State Route 480 on the Embarcadero Freeway

On a recent Bay Area trip I drove the entirety of the Embarcadero on the waterfront in downtown San Francisco.


My interest in the Embarcadero was two fold.  The Embarcadero in it's own right is a historic roadway that was worth visiting.  But more so the path of the Embarcadero Freeway was something that I wanted to track in a blog following the Alaskan Way Viaduct series in Seattle last year:

Alaskan Way Viaduct Legacy Part 1; Alki Point, Duwamish Head and Railroad Avenue

Alaskan Way Viaduct Legacy Part 2; Alaskan Way, US Route 99 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct

While the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems to have had a level of reverence and charm the Embarcadero Freeway seems to draw almost universal scorn.   It really isn't my aim to be opinionated on a double decker freeway but rather it is a topic of fascination for me.  While I hesitate to use a heavily opinionated article the San Francisco Chronicle did post numerous worthwhile pictures on the link posted in 2017:

An ode to the Embarcadero Freeway; the blight by the Bay

The Embarcadero is a waterfront roadway which is plotted along San Francisco Bay in downtown San Francisco.  The Embarcadero directly translated from Spanish into English means "Place to Embark" and is lined with waterfront piers.  The Embarcadero stretches from King Street north/northwest around San Francisco Bay to Pier 45 near Jefferson Street.

Much of the Embarcadero was constructed along a sea wall that was plotted out in the 1860s but was not completed until the 1920s.  The 1857 Coast Survey Map of San Francisco below shows the original shore line between Telegraph Hill and Rincon Point.  Yerba Buena Cove is shown as already partially filled in.

1857 San Francisco Coast Survey Map

The 1859 Coast Survey map below shows a new sea wall extending out to Spear Street near present day Embarcadero.

1859 San Francisco Coast Survey Map

The 1869 shows a sea wall lining the waterfront of San Francisco.  Only a small part of present day Embarcadero is show present as East Street.

1869 San Francisco Street Map 

The 1912 map below showing the Embarcadero complete to Folsom Street.

1912 San Francisco Street Map

The 1935 map from the Division of Highways shows a complete  Embarcadero between King and Jefferson before the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

1935 California Division of Highways Map of San Francisco 

Before the Bay Bridge was completed the Ferry Building at Embarcadero and Market Street was the primary means of direct transportation between San Francisco to Oakland.  The Ferry Terminal building was completed in 1898 and withstood the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake relatively undamaged.

n 1947 the route of LRN 224 which would become the Embarcadero Freeway was added by the State Legislature.

CAhighways.org on LRN 224

The Embarcadero Freeway was planned to connect the western approach of the Bay Bridge to US 101 at Lombard Street and Van Ness Avenue.  This projected alignment of LRN 224 would have required tunneling through the massive Russian Hill on Lombard Street to reach US 101.  The projected path of the Embarcadero Freeway first appears on the 1948 State Highway Map City Insert.

1948 State Highway Map City Insert

On the 1958 State Highway Map the first segment of the Embarcadero Freeway is shown connecting from the western approach of the Bay Bridge to the Embarcadero near Howard Street.  The double decker portion of the Embarcadero Freeway began near Fremont Street.

1958 State Highway Map City Insert

On the 1960 State Highway Map the Embarcadeo Freeway is shown extended to Broadway from the western approach of the Bay Bridge.  The projected path of LRN 253 appears on the State Highway Map connecting from US 101 north to the Embarcadero Freeway underneath the Bay Bridge.  On the East Side of San Francisco Bay the planned route of LRN 257 is seen connecting the eastern approach span of the Bay Bridge

1960 State Highway Map City Insert

During the 1964 State Highway Renumbering there was substantial changes to numbering conventions in San Francisco Bay which saw the Embarcadero Freeway being assigned as part of Route 480.  The change in designation from LRN 224 to Route 480 on the Embarcadero Freeway can be seen by comparing the 1963 State Highway Map to the 1964 Edition.

1963 State Highway Map City Insert

1964 State Highway Map City Insert

 On the 1966 State Highway Map the route of the Embarcadero Freeway from the Bay Bridge appears signed as I-480.

1966 State Highway Map City Insert

According to CAhighways.org I-480 was approved as a chargeable Interstate at some point before 1965 but it's designation was deleted.

CAhighways.org on I-480/CA 480

Nonetheless I-480 still appears connecting to the Bay Bridge via the Embarcadero Freeway on the 1967 State Highway Map.

1967 State Highway City Insert

In 1968 the planned alignment of I-280 was officially moved off of CA 1 onto the planned CA 87 connection to the Embarcadero Freeway underneath the western approach of the Bay Bridge.

CAhighways.org on I-280 

The change in route of I-280 towards the Embarcadero Freeway can be seen on the 1969 State Highway City Insert.

1969 State Highway Map City Insert

The connection to of I-280 to I-80 or for that I-280 was never complete.  The City of San Francisco apparently asked the state to stop construction of the connection to CA 480 in 1969.   By 1973 according to Kurumi.com I-280 had been built on an elevated freeway segment that reached 3rd Street but would go no further towards I-80. 

Kurumi.com on I-280

In 1989 the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake (also known as the World Series Earthquake) occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Loma Prieta Earthquake caused significant damage to the double deck Embarcadero Freeway.  CA 480 on the Embarcadero Freeway was deleted from the State Highway system in 1991 and the extended legislative definition to the Golden Gate Bridge was transferred to US 101.  Demolition of Embarcadero Freeway occurred in 1991 and the ramp from the western Bay Bridge approach to Fremont Street is the only part of CA 480 to remain.

In 1990 the extension of I-280 to I-80 was cancelled following the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  A new north terminus of I-280 was built in the 1990s which connected it indirectly to the Embarcadero via King Street.

My approach to the Embarcadero began on I-280 north at the freeway terminus which becomes King Street.





Past Oracle Park the path of King Street leads directly into the Embarcadero.


Approaching Pier 40 Embarcadero traffic is advised of how many garage spaces are open ahead on a VMS.


Approaching Townsend Street the Bay Bridge comes into view.



North of Townsend Street the Embarcadero is adorned with 49 Mile Scenic Drive shields approaching the Bay Bridge.


49 Mile Scenic Drive is an auto-tour route of San Francisco which was created in 1938.  49 Mile Scenic Drive was created by the San Francisco Down Town Association to showcase the most scenic parts of the city during the Golden Gate International Exposition.  Various realignments over the years have reduced the route route to 46.3 actual miles.  A map of 49 Mile Scenic Drive can be found below.

49 Mile Scenic Drive tour map 

The Embarcadero passes under the Bay Bridge between Bryant Street and Harrison Street.





Rincon Park is located at Embarcadero and Folsom Street.  Folsom Street was the southern terminus of Embarcadero on the 1912 map displayed above.


Approaching Howard Street the Ferry Building can be seen looking north on the Embarcadero.  Howard Street is where the double decker Embarcadero Freeway would have appeared over the roadway.



Yerba Buena Island and the Bay Bridge can be seen from Embardaero and Howard Street.


At Mission Street the Ferry Building comes into full view looking north on Embarcadero.


Approaching Market Street the clock tower of the Ferry Building is obvious.  Market Street is no longer a open street but a pedestrian plaza.


The Embarcadero Freeway as completed would have terminated north of the Ferry Building at Broadway.  When the Embarcadero Freeway present it greatly resembled the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.  Both designs were of a similar era which were more utilitarian in nature than anything else . 



At Pier 27 the Embarcadero intersects Battery Street and Lombard Street.


Traffic to the Golden Gate Bridge is directed to exit Embarcadero on Bay Street.



At Pier 39 the Embarcadero enters the Fisherman's Wharf District of San Francisco.  Pier 39 is located at the corner of Embarcadero and Jefferson Street.  Traffic headed to Jefferson Street is directed to stay on the Embarcadero.



At Powell Street the Embarcadero takes a somewhat obtuse right hand turn towards it's terminus at Pier 45.  From North Point Alcatraz Island can be seen in the waters of San Francisco Bay.  I stayed headed west onto Jefferson Street towards the Hyde Street Pier to pick up the original alignment of US 101.



As stated above the Fremont Street Exit on the western approach of the Bay Bridge on I-80 is the only remaining segment of the Embarcadero Freeway left.  None of the double decker structure the Embarcadero Freeway was known for remains.


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