| DPW is Reimagining the Mission's Streetscape
By Jonathan Farrell Sep 25, 2009
On Aug 12th staff members of the SF Planning Dept. presented the Mission Streetscape Plan to the community at a workshop style meeting. This was the fourth of such meetings. Their goal was to get public reaction and input to the plans drawn up so far.
Project manager Ilaria Salvadori explained to the audience of about 50 people in the Women’s Building that Wednesday evening that these plans are only ideas and that the planning dept. is eager to receive comment from the community.
Twelve large charts and various displays were set up for the public to view. Concepts like “traffic calming,” and “road diet” was mentioned frequently in the presentation. Representatives from Supervisor David Campos’ office were there as well as other city agencies like SF Municipal Transit Authority (MTA) and SF Recreation and Park to also participate in the discussion.
Planning Dept. staff such as director John Rahaim, David Alumbaugh acting director of citywide planning and SF Planning Commission vice president Christina Olague were in attendance, lending their support to this bold vision.
The Mission Streetscape Plan is as the planning department describes it a community- based process. The plan seeks to identify needed improvements to streets, sidewalks and public spaces in the city’s Mission District.
The boundaries of the study of the Mission Streetscape Plan area are roughly Division Street on the north, US-101 on the east, Precita Avenue, Mission Street and San Jose Avenue on the south, and Dolores Street on the west.
The goal of the Mission Streetscape Plan is to re-imagine Mission District streets as vital public spaces that serve the needs and priorities of the community.
As Salvadori and others explained in the presentation, 25 percent of the city’s land area is asphalt. And, that is more space even than is found in all of the city’s parks. Many of our streets are excessively wide and contain large zones of wasted space, especially at intersections.
The Mission Streetscape Plan, which also includes San Francisco’s new “Pavement to Parks” projects seek to temporarily reclaim these unused swathes and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks. An example of this now incarnated is the mini-plaza on 17th Street and Castro that was unveiled this past spring.
During the temporary closure, the success of these plazas will be evaluated to understand what adjustments need to be made in the short term, and ultimately, whether the temporary closure should be a long-term community investment.
The outcome according to the planners will be a system of neighborhood streets with safe and green sidewalks; well-marked crosswalks; widened sidewalks at corners; creative parking arrangements; bike paths and routes; close integration of transit; and roadways that accommodate automobile traffic but encourage appropriate speeds.
The Mission Streetscape Plan designs will improve pedestrian safety and comfort, increase the amount of usable public space in the neighborhood, and support environmentally-sustainable storm water management.
Highlights of the plan as the planning dept sees it will include new flexible parking strategy for gathering and outdoor seating uses. New gateway plazas and a temporary plaza
The idea of having a “gateway” was another concept talked about at the meeting. Streets like Dolores Street or Guerrero having an entrance or distinguishing portal of sorts to pronounce that people are entering a neighborhood.
The highlights include traffic calming ideas for residential streets; Greening of mixed-use streets in the Northeast side of the District; A re-envisioning of residential throughways; An alley network strategy for small residential streets such as Osage, Hoff or Cunningham; and Design review for improvements of existing public spaces.
The audience was impressed and they were asked to help select which one of these ideas would be most beneficial for the Mission. Obviously, all the ideas presented were appealing and well received. Yet some observers in attendance like long-time Mission businessman Phil Lesser noted “these plans are lacking something.” “These plans are sort of piecemeal, not fully bolted together,” he added.
Calling to mind the current condition of the Mission and the areas considered for revitalization, he said, “Osage Ally is presently a drug addict haven.” “No one who values his or her life dares walks towards Osage Ally,” said Lesser.
To clean up and clear out the drug addicts that alone by itself would be a major undertaking.
Lesser pointed out the planners at the meeting making the presentation like Salvadori and co-project manager Amnon Ben-Pazi were young people. “I am of an older generation, been around much longer,” he said. “These are plans made by younger people who frequent the Mission or who now live or work in the Mission,” said Lesser.
Lesser also noted from his observation that, “these younger people want to make it so that cars and people can co-exist in a much easier.” The plans in some ways appear to be a more pedestrian-centered environment. This is all very nice but for Lessor the plans are not comprehensive.
“Nothing was really said about parking except how to minimize it,” Lessor told the Mission Dispatch after the meeting.
Lessor has been very outspoken in his critique about the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan and this Streetscape Plan is an offshoot and an outreach of that plan.
“The Planning Department's planning effort in the Mission ground on for nearly a decade until the adoption of the Eastern Neighborhoods zoning last year,” said BART District director Tom Radulovich. “Unfortunately, the Planning Department didn't generate a single neighborhood project,” he said.
Radulovich was not present at the meeting on Aug. 12. He contacted the Mission Dispatch with comments later.
In his job as non-profit executive of Livable City he is very close to some of the ideals this current plan has. Yet in his support, Radulovich sees drawbacks.
“Our goal for the Mission Streetscape plan was to address that shortcoming,” said Radulovich, and generate a build-able plan for the Mission's streets. Radulovich was not forthcoming with what exactly the shortcoming were from his point of view. Instead he focused on the vision the current plans wish to achieve.
“The planning department's effort goes some way towards that goal. It establishes a few templates for streets of different types in the neighborhood. “ “And concrete proposals for two streets – Bryant and Folsom – and for a number of intersections – Valencia and Mission, 16th and Harrison, and Dolores and San Jose,” he added.
Yet Lesser like many others agrees with Radulovich the Mission District does need to be revitalized. But Lesser questions the way in which the planning dept and other city agencies are envisioning the future.
As Lessor has said before in interviews with the Mission Dispatch, the traditional PDR – production, distribution and repair type of industry that dominated the area has moved or been dismantled by a new structure to the economy.
Lesser senses that these current plans while ideal are not realistic. “Not much was said about the role UCSF Medical Center has in the area. Bio-tech is the future,” said Lesser.
Minimizing parking sounds well and good, noted Lesser. But the Mission has not one but two BART stations. As Lessor sees it this is significant. How does the plan balance that out?
Even though Radulovich was absent from the Aug 12 meeting, he review the plans as they are now posted on the web. He did not say anything about the role BART might play in the future plans but he did give further comment as follows.
“We were hoping for 'road diet' proposals on South Van Ness and Guerrero. These streets run through dense residential neighborhoods, but both are dominated by high-speed traffic,” he said.
As executive director of the non-profit Livable City Radulovich reviews many ideas and plans that hope to make a positive impact on the future. He shared thoughts about the Streetscape plans with its concept of “road diet,” and explained some of the purpose.
“Road diets reduce the width of the roadway by replacing the two innermost through lanes a left-turn lane in the middle. This frees space for wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, or both,” said Radulovich.
Comparing to previous ideas, Radulovich noted, “the Valencia road diet of ten years ago was a success, and a road diet is proposed for Folsom.”
“South Van Ness, with skinny sidewalks and a very wide, fast moving roadway, are great road diet candidates,” noted Radulovich.
In other related ideas he noted, “a specific proposal for South Van Ness would create a large, contiguous traffic-calmed area in the southeast Mission, bounded by Potrero, Mission, 20th, and Cesar Chavez.”
“This residential area, with its many families with children and car-free households, ought to be protected from high speed and high volume traffic, in keeping with the City's decades-old policy of creating protected residential areas,” said Radulovich.
Radulovich likes the concept of a “gateway,” so to announce or introduce visitors to the neighborhood, emphasizing it is a community.
“We are happy to see the focus on creating a gateway at Dolores and San Jose that will calm traffic and make the intersection safer for pedestrians. We would also like to see pedestrian safety improvements for intersections around Dolores Park, in particular 18th, 19th, Cumberland, and 20th.”
Radulovich noted, “the park is tremendously popular, and these intersections have huge numbers of pedestrians and cyclists moving through them.”
Yet he pointed out, “They are poorly designed, however, putting pedestrians and cyclists in danger due to low visibility.” “Curb extensions to shorten the crossing distances and better crosswalk markings will improve pedestrian safety at these important intersections, and we would like to see a specific project for Dolores between 18th and 20th come out of this plan,” said Radulovich.
Regardless of the ideals and ascetics Lessor remains skeptical. “This streetscape plan needs deeper thought and more detail,” said Lessor.
As reported in the July issue of the Mission Dispatch the City is having difficulty repairing its infrastructure of streets and roads. How will a project like the Mission Streetscape Plan get funded?
The Mission Dispatch talked to the acting director of citywide planning for the SF Planning Dept. Alumbaugh did not make any of the formal presentations but did answer a few questions.
He seemed confident that the Mission Streetscape Plans would work. What about funding? How will these plans proceed amid the current economic downturn?
Alumbaugh still expressed confidence that funding would emerge. Community challenge grants and matching funds were some of the explanations expressed by Alumbaugh and others.
Yet this reporter was not able to get a precise indication of how that works, especially if DPW and other city and state agencies are hoping that SF voters will be receptive to a bond measure to repair infrastructure.
Another plan presentation is anticipated for sometime in the fall or winter of this year.
For more information about the Mission Streetscape Plan visit:
Or contact project manager Ilaria Salvadori at (415) 575-9086
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