Online Extra: Political Notes: Public input sought on CastroStreet redesign
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco planners are seeking the public's help in redesigning the streetscape in the heart of the city's LGBT neighborhood.
With a long list of ideas for how to make Castro Street more pedestrian-friendly – but working with only a set budget of $4 million for the project – planning staff have turned to residents, merchants, and visitors to the gayborhood for assistance in prioritizing the proposed changes.
As the Bay Area Reporter has reported, the project aims to widen the existing 12 foot sidewalks on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street by as much as 10 feet in certain sections. There would be one lane of traffic for both directions, and left-hand turn lanes would be maintained at 18th Street.
Planners point to the changes recently made to the sidewalks along Valencia Street as a model for what they are proposing to do in the Castro.
"Valencia Street shows you the positive changes we can do for the businesses and residents of the Castro," said Ed Reiskin , the city's director of transportation. "We are poised to make this a great project."
The first public workshop on the project held Wednesday, January 23 drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 people to the Eureka Valley Recreation Center. Following a presentation on the plan, audience members gathered around schematics of the project to give feedback on what they like and what they have concerns about.
For those unable to attend last week's meeting, a survey has been posted to the project's website at http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=3343 that anyone can fill out. The completed forms must be submitted by February 8 so the responses can be tabulated ahead of the second community hearing planned for later that month.
The two-page form includes specific questions on if there is support for several elements being proposed that could mean a loss of parking. Although planning staff have stressed their goal is not to reduce parking, they want to gauge if there is community support to trade parking spots for certain amenities.
One idea calls for corner bulb-outs at the three intersections on Castro Street between 19th and Market streets. The form explains that corner bulb-outs can improve pedestrian safety but require removing up to two on-street parking spots.
A second concept would see bulb-outs be built at the Muni bus stops on 18th Street, which would mean relocating the two stops to the other side of the intersection from where they are now. Replacing the existing bus loading zones could result in several additional parking spots. But they would require cars to wait behind stopped buses as customers boarded, causing some traffic delay.
Input is also being sought on altering the layout of where westbound 17th Street meets Market Street. Currently, cars traveling south enter 17th Street from the intersection in front of the gas station on the corner.
The proposed plan would reconfigure westbound 17th Street so that the curbside lane on Market Street that feeds directly onto 17th Street would be removed. In its place would be a new 15-foot bulb-out for pedestrians that vehicles would need to first pass and then veer right onto 17th.
The surveys also ask respondents to list their top three choices for streetscape improvements. Items that could be added to the sidewalk area include public art, street trees, benches, bike racks, mini-plazas on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro, or improvements to Jane Warner Plaza.
"At the February meeting we will talk about the streetscape amenities," said Nick Perry, a Castro resident who is an urban designer with the Planning Department and acting as the project lead.
Concerns voiced during last week's workshop included seeing only the homeless make use of street seating and losing any parking spaces in the Castro. One woman noted that many businesses rely on out-of-towners during the weekends.
"We've heard a lot about pedestrians, what about parking?" she asked.
George Roehm, one of the owners of the Twin Peaks Tavern, said he was less concerned about the parking than how bicyclists would be routed through the area.
"Parking spaces for us are not a concern. Our business is mainly people in the area," he said. "I am concerned about bicycles zipping through Jane Warner Plaza. They shouldn't be riding their bike through the plaza."
Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener , who lives in the Castro and helped secure the funding for the project, said the design phase allows planning staff and the neighborhood to review the existing parking along the street to see if it can be better managed.
Loading zone locations and hours could be changed to better accommodate delivery trucks and free up parking for customers. One idea being floated is to have angled parking on one side of the 600 block of Castro between 19th and 20th streets.
It would create additional parking spaces, though it remains to be determined if doing so would cause problems for buses on Muni's 24-Divisadero and 35-Eureka routes.
"We do have an opportunity to look at the parking on Castro Street with this project," Wiener said.
Andrea Aiello, class=st>executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, said another key concern she has heard raised is seeing double parking be eliminated along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro due to the widening of the sidewalks. Customers, food delivery drivers, and trucks all double park along the street as they conduct their business.
"That is an issue and I think planning knows that," said Aiello.
Nonetheless, she noted that the project "is going to happen" and voiced confidence that the concerns will be addressed. For now, though, the CBD board is remaining neutral until the final plans coalesce, said Aiello.
"We are definitely going to sit back and listen to what the neighborhood wants. We will formulate a position after these meetings," she said.
With close to a dozen new residential projects either already under construction or in the approval pipeline, several merchants told the B.A.R. they are not concerned about seeing a few parking spots removed. Over the next several years, more than 1,000 new residents will be calling the Castro and Upper Market area home.
"For many years we needed to do this," Cafe Flore owner J.D. Petras, who is on the CBD's streetscape committee, said about the redesign of Castro Street. "It helps everybody having people on the sidewalk and sitting at tables enjoying the weather. It makes you want to go to the Castro."
Hot Cookie owner Dan Glazer class=st> added, "It is fantastic. This is a pedestrian city and a pedestrian neighborhood."
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