SOMA alleys revamp moves forward
by Matthew S. Bajko
Reviving Ringold Alley's historical significance to the gay community's leather past moved closer to reality this week. It is part of a plan to revamp three alleyways South of Market into pedestrian-friendly corridors that city officials approved this week.
The trio of streets runs parallel to nearby Folsom Street, long home to a multitude of leather bars that earned the roadway its "Miracle Mile" moniker back in the 1970s. Today only three gay bars remain on the stretch of Folsom that runs between 8th and 10th streets.
Ringold was once known as the go-to place to cruise for sex after the bars closed at night. It was the home of the city's first Up Your Alley daytime leather fair in 1985.
Under the new transit plan the alley would become a meandering "shared street," meaning pedestrians and vehicles would share the roadway. Color or texture treatments and landscaping would be used to demarcate the pedestrian-only versus shared space within the alley.
Five of the current 12 on-street parking spaces would be converted to seating areas or bicycle parking. The changes are meant to complement Archstone's proposed mixed-use development project at 350 8th Street, which would include more than 400 units of housing, retail, and a small new park with a clubhouse at 8th Street and Ringold Alley.
The street project design would also include public art recognizing the alley's historical and cultural significance to the LGBT community.
"What's exciting about Ringold is that it's a work in progress," said Jim Meko, a gay man who chairs the Western SOMA Citizens Planning Task Force. "We stand a very good chance of getting funding for some commemorative art. Perhaps some displays in the community building, maybe some leather memorabilia."
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority unanimously signed off on the plans at its meeting Tuesday, March 27. The authority is comprised of the city supervisors and is chaired by out District 9 Supervisor David Campos.
"I think it is great. It is an important part of that history," Campos said of Ringold Alley. "We need to recognize it and make sure when people come to visit that part of San Francisco they are aware of its history."
In addition to Ringold, both Natoma and Minna streets between 7th and 9th streets would see changes under the proposal. The ideas include bulb-outs, landscaping elements, and enhanced entry and exit features.
To reduce traffic speeds parking will alternate between the two sides of the streets while the alley entries and exits will be enhanced with raised crosswalks and bulb-outs. The changes are designed to reduce vehicle speeds and enhance pedestrian visibility.
Of the existing 97 street parking spaces, 18 will be repurposed as pedestrian areas, with new trees planted and public art installed honoring the areas' Filipino heritage.
New signalized midblock crossings at 7th and Minna streets and 8th and Natoma streets will be installed to help pedestrians who already cross the busy thoroughfares at those points. The signals will be pedestrian-actuated, and bulb-outs will be added to reduce the distances pedestrians must cross.
Transit and city planners have been working with the public since 2009 on developing plans for the three streets. Several transit agencies awarded $100,000 toward its development.
The proposed changes to all three alleys are estimated to cost between $2.4 and $4.7 million. If funding can be secured, the transit agency predicts the improvements could be in place by 2014.