New elevator, upgrades coming to Milk plaza

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday August 17, 2016
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With transit officials set to add a second elevator at the Muni station in the Castro, they are also floating ideas to remodel the public plaza that surrounds it.

Named for Harvey Milk, the city's first gay elected official who was killed in office in 1978, the plaza has long vexed neighborhood leaders since it first opened nearly four decades ago. Its design has been derided as uninviting with poorly laid out spaces little used other than by smokers or homeless people.

Over the years various ideas have been touted to improve the plaza. In 2000 artists wanted to float a pink cloud over it, an idea that never got off the ground.

A decade later the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District presented plans to install benches to the walkway on the top level of the plaza in order to meet demands from the public for outdoor seating in the city's gayborhood. The colorful benches were ripped out two years later amid complaints they attracted homeless people and transient youth.

Now two city agencies, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco Public Works, are proposing to make several changes to the plaza's design as part of a project to improve pedestrian access throughout the space.

"We have been working with folks in the neighborhood and the SFMTA and DPW for a while now brainstorming ideas, with the overall goal being to open up the plaza and to turn this space into a useable plaza," said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, a gay man who represents the Castro at City Hall. "The way it is designed right now, it is so broken up with narrow spaces it is not useable. It ends up leading to problem activities."

One idea is to rip out the concrete planters along the upper walkway and leave the space entirely open. A memorial to Milk or the local LGBT community could then be installed on the newly exposed wall running the length of the plaza.

A rendering of the new elevator planned for Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Courtesy SFMTA

On the plaza's second level at the bottom of the stairs and escalator where Castro and Market streets intersect, planter beds could also be removed to increase the size of the plaza. A mural could then be painted on the newly exposed wall in the space, and special paving materials could be used to create a design on the ground.

"Right now it needs some work. People don't even know it is Harvey Milk Plaza," said CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello.

Other than the handful of photos of Milk and a bronze plague affixed to a nearby wall, Aiello said there is just one sign denoting the area is named Harvey Milk Plaza.

"I think a lot of people feel there should be more," she said. "We would be delighted to work with the community and SFMTA in bringing together something we can all be proud of."

A new elevator will be installed in the garden area behind the fence now affixed with a photographic tribute to Milk. It will be accessed via the upper most walkway and provide access to the station's concourse level and the inbound platform.

The current elevator is across the street from the plaza near Pink Triangle Park where 17th Street meets Market Street. When it is out of service, wheelchair users have no way to access the Castro Muni station.

By adding an additional elevator to the station, SFMTA officials note that the "existing elevator can be serviced without disrupting access and provides continuous access to the station and trains."

According to the SFMTA, it will be seeking input from Castro neighborhood residents and merchants on the elevator's "look and design." In September the agency expects to reveal as many as four different designs for the skin of the elevator bank that the public will be asked to vote on.

"In the coming months, SFMTA will solicit feedback in the Castro neighborhood via surveys and community meetings on the proposed designs of the elevator and plaza changes," states the agency on the project's website at

Aiello expressed hope that the second elevator would be "something really attractive" and not look like the original elevator banks built at the Muni stations along Market Street.

"It would be nice if they had some cool architectural design for this elevator so it is not an eyesore," she said.