Earthquake and Transformation

588px-Memorialchurch The San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake was 20 years ago today.  (I believe I’m the only person who spent the entire quake inside Stanford’s Memorial Church, my closest brush with death to date.  I wrote about that experience, in a more self-consciously literary voice, here.)

What would the Bay Area look like today if the quake hadn’t occurred?  I’m almost sure the Embarcadero and Central Freeways would still be towering over the city, and the cars that they delivered into Chinatown and Hayes Valley would still be there, circling, looking for parking.

Oakland wouldn’t have Mandela Boulevard, formerly Cypress Street, but nor would there be a new freeway looming over West Oakland BART station.  We might not have seen the permanent modal shift to BART and AC Transit buses triggered by the temporary closure of the Bay Bridge, or at least not so suddenly.

What else do you think would be different? What would be the same?

Photo of Memorial Church by Michael Connor from

5 Responses to Earthquake and Transformation

  1. anonymouse October 17, 2009 at 11:18 am #

    Don’t forget downtown Santa Cruz, which was pretty much completely destroyed by the quake.

  2. EngineerScotty October 17, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    Candlestick Park survived–which was fortunate (no matter how much you might otherwise despise the place), as there was a World Series game being played there at the time. Given that it was a SF-Oakland series, one wonders if the large number of people who were at the ballpark at the time reduced the casualty count.

  3. EngineerScotty October 17, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    It’s probably worth noting to compare this to the Northridge Quake in LA five years later, which did extensive damage to the LA freeway system.
    The freeways in LA were quickly rebuilt.

  4. Winston October 18, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    The situation was pretty different. Los Angeles lost a few interchanges on very well used freeways, San Francisco lost a pretty big segment of a unfinished and underutilized freeway. In both cases the powers that be probably made the right decisions. It wasn’t all bad news for Los Angeles transit. The earthquake did lead to Metrolink’s Antelope Valley line getting started.

  5. 21st Century Urban Solutions October 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    Don’t forget the broader impacts of the quake–the demolition of the Embarcadero freeway is one of the most widely-used examples of successfully converting a freeway into a boulevard, and is a key component of other freeway-removal campaigns, such as Seattle’s Alaska Viaduct.