Castro Muni elevator project slated to begin in March

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 7, 2023
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A rendering shows the new Castro Muni elevator during the daytime. Illustration: Courtesy SF Public Works
A rendering shows the new Castro Muni elevator during the daytime. Illustration: Courtesy SF Public Works

San Francisco officials are eying a March start date for the construction of a new elevator at the Castro Muni station in the city's LGBTQ district. The $11.5 million project is expected to take 20 months to complete.

Under that timeline the four-stop glass and steel elevator would be ready for usage by subway riders sometime in early 2025, nine years after the new lift was first proposed. Last summer, Castro residents had received a notice in the mail from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to expect construction on the project to begin "in Winter 2022."

Yet it wasn't until their January 20 meeting that the four members of the commission that oversees San Francisco Public Works unanimously approved a contract with CLW Builders Inc. to build the elevator. The city agency is overseeing the design and construction of the project for the SFMTA.

The San Francisco-based construction company was the lowest bidder last August out of three firms that had applied for the contract. The two others, Rubecon and Trico Construction, had submitted bids both roughly around $19 million, largely due to higher estimates for construction materials.

Security concerns had complicated the issuance of the contract. Because the project involves a subway station, the design schematics included aspects of the underground structure deemed to be confidential, requiring bidders to obtain the necessary paperwork in person and sign nondisclosure agreements.

Protests filed by the two losing bidders further pushed back the timeline for selecting a contractor. It required additional legwork by city staffers to address the issues raised before bringing the contract before the Public Works Commission last month.

Lauren Post, chair of the oversight body, said the elevator had a "lovely design" and added that "it looks like a terrific addition to the neighborhood and the city."

Final sign off on the permit for the construction project is still needed by BART. The regional transit agency built the Castro Muni Station in the 1980s and leases it to SFMTA.

As of Monday, February 6, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Bay Area Reporter the agency had completed its review of the elevator project but it had yet to sign off on the necessary permit. Until that happens, the project can't break ground.

"The SFMTA Castro Muni Station elevator plans have been reviewed and approved. The permit is pending insurance certificate from SFMTA, which our real estate team is working with them to finalize prior to issuing of BART permit for the construction," wrote Trost in an emailed reply.

Years of debate

After years of debate and pressure from neighborhood leaders and transit advocates, SFMTA in 2020 had agreed to include four stops in the new elevator on the other side of the Castro station. They will be located on the platform level for eastbound trains, the concourse level with ticket machines, a walkway accessed via the station's entrance plaza off Castro Street, and via a short bridge to Market Street where several bus lines make stops.

It is purposefully being made out of glass so it is easy to see inside the elevator when it is being used, and passengers can observe what is happening outside. It will also provide more light for Harvey Milk Plaza, the public parklet that serves as an entryway for the Muni station that can be rather dark at night in certain areas of it.

"The idea of the design is we didn't want this just to be an elevator. It serves the functions of an elevator, but we also wanted it to be a destination, a landmark at this corner of Castro and Market streets," said Jane Chan, an architect with San Francisco Public Works who is the project manager. "We are envisioning a lantern, if you will, at that corner."

Public Works Commissioner Paul Woolford, a gay man who previously had voted on the design of the elevator when he served on the city's arts commission, said the project would go a long way toward improving access to the subway station for people with mobility issues. Once complete, the elevator should become a new defining feature for the Castro neighborhood, he added.

"The design of it is intended to be a beacon of light," noted Woolford, a licensed architect.

The current elevator used to access the Castro Muni Station is across the street near Pink Triangle Park where 17th Street meets Market Street, which can be hard to access for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues. The elevator, which services the Castro station's platform for westbound trains, was upgraded last year.

It was done as part of the Muni Elevator Safety Modernization Project that is upgrading a dozen elevators at various subway stations with "modern, state-of-the-art technology," according to the SFMTA. When it is out of service, there is no way to access the station without using stairs or an escalator.

"The new elevator adds multiple points of access," said Woolford.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the elevator project includes several upgrades to Harvey Milk Plaza, named in honor of the city's first gay supervisor who represented and lived in the Castro. Several of the existing lighting fixtures will be replaced, plus the red paver bricks will be removed to install sparkle grain integral color concrete that matches the paving installed when the sidewalks along Castro Street were widened.

The elevator project will also result in a wider segment of sidewalk fronting Market Street headed toward Collingwood Street so it is usable for people in wheelchairs. New plantings, bench seating, and interpretative signage about Milk will also be installed in the plaza's below-grade area adjacent to the subway concourse level.

City officials had pushed back their initial timeline for the elevator project in order to allow for community discussions to take place on a proposal to completely redo Harvey Milk Plaza. It is a separate project being overseen by the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza that has also faced delays, and gone through multiple architects and design concepts.

Initially estimated to cost $10 million, an exact price tag and funding source for the plaza project remains unknown. Its proponents now expect the plaza renovation to be "shovel ready" this summer, and are seeking private donors and other fiscal sources to pay for it.

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