SF project adds Milk nod to Castro arterial

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday October 19, 2022
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The former Z-shaped crosswalk in front of Whole Foods has been redesigned as part of the Upper Market Street Safety Project. Photo: Cynthia Laird
The former Z-shaped crosswalk in front of Whole Foods has been redesigned as part of the Upper Market Street Safety Project. Photo: Cynthia Laird

The colorful orange railings appear to be made out of scrap metal from the Golden Gate Bridge. Cut into them in all capital letters are the lines, "Hope for a better world," and "Hope for a better tomorrow."

They are lines from the late gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk's famous "You've Got to Have Hope" speech he gave June 24, 1977. Also included on the safety guardrails now found at the Muni boarding platforms along upper Market Street are the final words of Milk's speech that Pride Month day, "You gotta give them hope."

The phrase is carved out of the railing under an image of the Harvey Milk Streetcar PCC 1051, which in real life is painted green and cream colors. Dedicated in 2008 to the first out member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the trolley car is part of Muni's historic fleet that runs on its F-Line surface street route from the LGBTQ Castro district to downtown and Fisherman's Wharf.

"It's been really positive. I've seen people, visitors, take their pictures with them. The railings, in themselves, have become landmarks," said Frank Tizedes, a gay man who is president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, of the new nods to the pioneering LGBTQ historical figure.

They were installed as part of the Upper Market Street Safety Project overseen by both San Francisco Public Works and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. It aims to make the upper Market corridor's "complex six-legged intersections," as described by traffic engineers, easier to navigate for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicle drivers.

Tizedes has followed the project since it was first proposed in 2014. He and his husband have called the Duboce Triangle micro-neighborhood within the greater Castro area home for 21 years.

Talking to the Bay Area Reporter this week, Tizedes said a main reason he believes the project is already a success is that it has delivered on making upper Market Street safer for pedestrians. The new bulb-outs found at several intersections along the roadway require vehicle drivers to slow down as they drive by, he noted.

"I really love it," said Tizedes, adding of the nearly finished project, "it is good for the neighborhood, it is good for visitors, and it is good for business."

As the B.A.R. first noted in 2016 about the planned improvements, the changes for one of the city's main arterial roadways are part of the Vision Zero plan to end pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. Collisions along upper Market Street have been a serious problem for years.

"In general, the work happening to Upper Market will make it safer for pedestrians and for cyclists. That is all good, and we need more work to address that. The way those streets come together is hard for people to have to cross when traffic is coming," said gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the area, in a recent editorial board meeting with the B.A.R.

Safety guardrails contained quotes from the late San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, like these at a boarding platform near Guerrero and Market streets. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Work started last summer
Work on the street safety project began last summer and has sped up over recent months. It included another historical aspect, the installation of more than a dozen Rainbow Honor Walk bronze plaques memorializing deceased LGBTQ luminaries along Market Street earlier this year, noted SFMTA deputy spokesperson Stephen Chun.

"The Upper Market Safety Project is entering the final leg of construction and expects to be wrapped up by early next year. The work that remains is largely focused at the Market/Octavia intersection, a top bicycle collision location where we hope to deter illegal vehicle right-turns onto the freeway with revised medians and signage," Chun told the B.A.R. this week.

Other final pieces of the project to be completed in the coming weeks, noted Chun in an emailed reply, are new decorative crosswalks at two intersections, likely in a brick pattern similar to ones found in Noe Valley on 24th Street. The first is Sanchez and 15th streets on the north side where the Chase bank is, and the other is by the city's Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing and services complex located at the corner of Hermann and Laguna streets.

According to the SFMTA, new sidewalk extensions and/or ramps have been constructed at 17 street corners between Castro Street and Octavia Boulevard, while the traffic signals have been either fully rebuilt and/or modified at the intersections of 16th and Noe streets, 15th and Sanchez streets, and at Hermann, Laguna, and Guerrero streets.

At that intersection left-turn signals for both directions on Market Street have been added. Meanwhile, the former Z-shaped crosswalk on Market Street at Dolores Street that ran from the Whole Foods to the Safeway parking lot was reworked to be a straight line.

"I am very happy with what is going on," said Jamison Wieser, a gay man who lives at Noe and Market streets and has followed the project from its early planning stages.

Having recently dislocated the big toe on his right foot and needing to wear a boot for three weeks as it heals, Wieser said he has personally been able to take advantage of the pedestrian improvements made along the corridor.

"It highlights the necessity of pedestrian safety since I am limping along right now," said Wieser, a former director of the Market Street Railway, which advocates for the historic trolley cars, who had pushed to honor Milk with one that had carried transit passengers during his time in the 1970s. "I think it is easier to walk around because I have less road to be in."

Ten London Plane trees were planted in the empty tree wells on the 2100 block of Market Street between 15th and Church streets, creating "a grove there," noted Wieser. Additional London Planes and shoestring acacia trees were planted at other locations along upper Market Street.

Uplighting fixtures have been installed for the palm trees in the median of upper Market Street. They will add additional luminosity to the area in time for the important holiday shopping season.

"The project team is tentatively planning a celebration/event to mark the substantial completion milestone and turn on the palm tree uplighting before the holidays. More information will be shared as a date is solidified," Chun told the B.A.R.

Not included in the project is a complete repaving of upper Market Street, which has potholes and crumbling roadwork in numerous spots on it. Only spot repaving has been done where the sidewalks have been worked on as part of the project.

"You are not the only person who has brought up the poor paving of upper Market," Mandelman told a reporter when asked about it, adding that he wasn't sure when the street would be repaved.

Chun with the SFMTA directed questions about repaving the roadway to Public Works. Rachel Gordon, a spokesperson for that city agency, told the B.A.R. that segment of Market Street will be considered for paving starting in 2027.

"Work will need to be coordinated with SFMTA with the track in the corridor," wrote Gordon in an emailed reply.

As for the eye-catching Muni safety railings, the first at each stop has a large "HOPE" carved into it. All of them also include the phrase, "Hope will never be silent." While widely credited to Milk, it is unclear when, or if, he spoke those words. They are not found in an edited version of his "Hope" speech found in the San Francisco Public Library's archives and uploaded online earlier this year.

To learn more about the street safety project, visit the SFMTA's website.

Public Works also has a dedicated website for the project.

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