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Street Widening Comes
with Many Hands on Deck

Photo: Bill Sywak

More than 150 people crowded into the Eureka Valley Community Center in late January to give direct input into the public works process.

By Bill Sywak

It was standing room only as more than 150 people attended the latest session of the Castro Street Design Workshop on Wednesday evening, January 23, at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center at 100 Collingwood St.

The planning project is a collaborative effort between the San Francisco Planning Department, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), and the Department of Public Works (DPW).

If the Rec Center auditorium layout looked familiar, with nearly a dozen tables around where attendees could use markers to sketch ideas on the big paper plans before them, it was because a similar process was held in 2008 under the sponsorship of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD) and Urban Ecology. That draft streetscape plan proposed sidewalk widening and improvements in lighting, landscaping, intersections and other items, and became the basis for Wednesday night’s sketches.

What happened between 2008 and 2013? Not much as the report went nowhere. In those intervening years, however, the plan for creating a community-based design for Castro Street was picked up by Supervisor Scott Wiener who continually pushed for its realization. In 2011 he supported the Road Repaving and Streets Safety Bond which gained voter approval. Finally funds for the project became available and the project moved into high gear again. Next steps include another public workshop at an undetermined date probably in March and the finalization of the conceptual design by April. The actual physical work would commence next January.

The design elements put forth by the Planning Department for comment and input Wednesday night were largely the result of the earlier sessions in 2008 and are limited to the blocks of Castro Street from the intersection at Market Street to the intersection at 19th Street.

David Alumbaugh, manager of the department’s City Design Group, described the tone for the project in these words: “In any design, we look for balanced solutions that work for everyone. In looking for ways to invigorate Castro Street by designing it to better accommodate pedestrians and shoppers, we have been careful also to accommodate transit, cars, and loading, and to retain current levels of parking.”

Some of the focus areas brought up in the presentations and discussion included ways to improve the intersections; the generous width of Castro Street itself and how useful this needed to be; the separate right-hand lane that takes drivers up from Castro and Market into 17th Street and whether the flow of traffic could merge later on Market Street and thereby open up the lane for pedestrian use; whether narrowing Castro Street to accommodate wider sidewalks would have an adverse effect on the annual Castro Street Fair in October and whether enough space remained for two rows of booths as has been needed; the proper siting of mid-block mini-plazas; and a lot more.

Whatever the eventual specifics, Alumbaugh maintains that, “We want the design to express the character of the neighborhood in ways that empower it to become an even stronger, more economically viable, and a more diverse and active neighborhood for those who live there and who visit.”

While it was too early to integrate all the input from the evening’s workshop, what the Planning Department did conclude days after the session was that they were “impressed by the level of community interest in improving Castro Street” and “by the broad agreement that Castro Street should be improved, and by the strong support for the design ideas presented.”

There is still time for citizens to share ideas on ways to improve and beautify the Castro. To get acquainted with the project, check out the project website at http://castrostreetdesign.sfplanning.org.

Nick Perry of the San Francisco Planning Department is the project lead. He can be contacted at 415-575-9066 or Nicholas.perry@sfgov.org.