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Temporary 17th Street Plaza to Be Created mid-May

The stretch of 17th Street where a public space will be temporarily created this summer.

By Ted Andersen

The Castro will soon lend credence to an idea that has struggled to become a reality for ten years: the creation of a public plaza.

A plan to establish a public space and close off traffic on 17th Street southeast of the Castro and Market street intersection from May 11 to July 11 received approval at the April 23 Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) meeting. The result will be a small and temporary area this summer for people to sit where the F-line terminates on 17th Street between Hartford and Castro streets. In July, an extension of the closure for an additional two months will be considered.

A lack of outdoor seating coupled with a dangerous intersection for pedestrians were key reasons why 17th Street became a focal point, according to Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro Benefits District (CBD).

“I think that it will provide a place where people can congregate and have a sandwich or a cup of coffee. It will provide an outdoor destination; it’s a great people-watching place. I think it will also encourage more foot traffic to the neighborhood,” she said.

For seating, salvaged granite slabs that do not encourage loitering, together with temporary tables and chairs that can be taken away at night, are being planned by the Dept. of Public Works (DPW), Aiello said. Moreover, she said that the CBD has made a commitment with an organization to bring small quartets to play music on the first Saturday in July, August and September. For other organizations, however, she said the permitting process to use the plaza had not yet been clarified.

“I think it is a new experiment for everybody,” she said. “The CBD is totally behind the idea. There have been glitches here and there with the little details of making sure all the different agencies have approved or signed off on it. That process is a complicated process but at this point it looks like it has been approved.”

According to Astrid Haryati, greening director for the Office of the Mayor, several departments selected this stretch of 17th Street as the first pilot location based on the amount of community vetting and widespread support that surround this concept. She noted that the idea was formalized in the Upper Market Vision and Recommendations document, covering recommendations from four public hearings between 2007-2008, and unanimously endorsed by the Planning Commission in October 2008. Closure of 17th Street and work on the plaza would begin the week of May 11, she added.

Discussions on the concept began more than a decade ago, according to DPW Director Edward Reiskin, who said the pilot design was developed between December and January.

“The area was chosen due to an existence of support as developed through the planning process, existing vitality of the site, and an opportunity for improvement to an awkward intersection, among other reasons,” Reiskin said. He added that exact costs are still unknown until the design has been finalized.

The Castro has very little open space, according to Scott Wiener, president of the
Eureka Valley Promotion Association (EVPA), and a reversible closure like this would provide some in the heart of the neighborhood and fit well with its beautification plan. However, although the EVPA membership endorsed the project at their March meeting, he noted the project could have unintended consequences.

“There are concerns that the 17th Street Plaza may attract homeless people as well as intoxicated people when the bars close,” he said. “There are also concerns that 17th Street traffic will be diverted onto Hartford Street, which is a narrow residential street not designed to accommodate significant traffic.”

Supervisor Bevan Dufty will soon give an update to the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) and the Hartford Street Association neighbors on what to expect. Haryait said Mayor Newsom’s attendance in the plaza opening would not be confirmed until the second week of May.