Doug Wright, Chair of Market Street Railway’s Board of Directors and a noted urban planner who helped transform San Francisco’s waterfront by leading the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway and replacing it with an acclaimed ground-level boulevard, died July 30, 2014 at Marin General Hospital. He was 68. His death resulted from a stroke.
As Deputy Mayor for Transportation under Mayor Art Agnos, Wright was director of the Embarcadero transportation program, responsible for planning, designing, and financing the integrated boulevard, pedestrian and bicycle promenade, light rail, and streetcar project stretching from Fishermans’ Wharf to the site of the Giants ballpark and the Caltrain Depot on King Street. The initial plan for the boulevard left the double-deck freeway, which blocked off the Ferry Building from the city, in place, respecting voter’s wishes. But after the Loma Prieta Earthquake badly damaged the freeway in October 1989, Wright led successful efforts to demolish it, enabling the complete transformation of San Francisco’s northeast waterfront.
“I could never have made that decision to tear down the freeway without Doug Wright by my side, convincing me that it was the best thing to do for the people of San Francisco,”said former Mayor Art Agnos.
Wright’s work in San Francisco was only a part of his nationwide influence in replacing planned and partly built urban freeways with sustainable transportation systems that created more livable cities.
Douglas G. Wright was born April 28, 1946 in Des Moines, Iowa. After graduating from that city’s Roosevelt High School, he attended the University of Iowa, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1968 and a Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning in 1970.
From 1970 to 1973 he served as a city planner in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to Portland, Oregon, where he served from 1973 to 1979 as City Planning Director and Chief Transportation Planner under Mayor Neil Goldschmidt.
In Portland, Wright led the replacement of the Harbor Drive freeway along the Willamette River with a park. He also led the city’s successful effort to transfer federal funding from a freeway proposed by Robert Moses to a new light rail system, a first-of-its-kind event that became a model that numerous American cities have since followed. Wright even helped Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) draft the successful Congressional legislation that enabled such federal funding transfers.
In 1979, Wright became Associate Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the Carter Administration, under Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt. In this role, he represented Goldschmidt in cities across America that were grappling with outdated freeway plans. Wright’s command of transportation, development, and political knowledge created a practical, achievable framework that showed leaders of these cities a path to a more livable urban environment, while still retaining mobility. Numerous cities used Wright’s counsel and the legislation he had help create to “trade in” federal freeway funding for transit and appropriately scaled roadway projects.
In 1981, Wright joined the administration of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein as Director, Planning and Development and Assistant General Manager of the Public Utilities Commission. In this latter role, he served as General Manager Rudy Nothenberg’s designee on the San Francisco Planning Commission.
In 1988, Wright became Mayor Agnos’ Deputy Mayor for Transportation, a position he held until 1991, when he opened his own consultancy, Douglas Wright Consulting. In his consulting role, he initiated and helped manage the development of a Muni bus turnaround at Steuart and Mission Streets into the Hotel Vitale, a project that brings its parent agency, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, well over a million dollars a year in revenue and will ultimately result in city ownership of the hotel. Extending his achievements in San Francisco and Portland, Wright played a key role as a consultant in the City of Seattle’s decision to tear down its elevated double-deck waterfront freeway on the waterfront, known as the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
At the time of his death, Wright was consulting for BART and on transportation and development projects for the cities of Oakland and Sacramento. He had become Board Chair of Market Street Railway in January and was working on several important initiatives, including extension of historic streetcar service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Aquatic Park and Fort Mason Center.
“Doug was one of the most complete people I have ever met,” said Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher. He was a deeply knowledgeable, passionate yet practical advocate who achieved great professional success. At the same time, he nurtured a full, rich family life and achieved a rare level of work-life balance. All who knew him will greatly miss him, no one more than his colleagues at Market Street Railway.”
Wright was a long-serving member of the board of directors of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy as well as Market Street Railway. He was also a devoted Giants fan. After nearly 20 years of treks to Candlestick Park, Doug cheered on the Giants at more than 340 games at AT&T Park.
He is survived by his wife Lillian Hames, 61, with whom he shared 24 love-filled years of marriage; by his daughter Alison, 31, with whom he has hiked countless National Parks; by his daughter Alexandra, 23, who he has proudly cheered on in softball, Little League baseball games, and in life; and by his brother Denny Wright, 63, of Oregon City, Oregon.
A memorial service for Doug is planned on August 28 at 2 p.m. at Cavallo Point, Fort Baker. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Doug’s memory may be made to Market Street Railway or to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.