In less than 24 hours, city officials, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, will be standing in a new pedestrian plaza on the former roadway at 17th Street at Market Street to announce the long-anticipated opening of the street as public space, the first of several such projects that will appear throughout the city over the next year.
DPW crews have been working at a feverish pace to complete the city’s first "Pavement-to-Parks" plaza, pouring yellow, slip-resistant road paint over the surface and installing 70 demarcation bollards that will be filled with soil and gravel and adorned with fan palms, yucca jewels and birds of paradise. Crews are installing movable barriers at both ends of the plaza to allow for emergency fire access. Tables and chairs will also be situated around the plaza, and locked at night on a nearby catenary poll.
"The goal of this opening on Wednesday is to show how you can do something really quick, really simply," said Andres Power, an urban designer at the SF Planning Department.
Liz Ogbu, an architect with Public Architect Inc., which has designed the project pro bono, said, "This is a little nuts. It’s sort of forced everyone to have to think out of the box and sort of roll with the punches and just be quick on their feet."
For example, Ogbu said they ran out of paint Sunday and a new shipment was still a day away but "somebody came up with the idea of, well, we can tap the traffic paint, and we were a little skeptical because we couldn’t match the color, but it works well and we’re in good shape.”
Crews have also set up the bollards to accommodate the streetcars and buses that will continue passing through the plaza. Ogbu said plazas with transit ways have worked well in some European cities, including Amsterdam.
"All the Muni drivers have been giving us thumbs up as they’ve been coming through," said Ogbu. "And the business owners who we’ve been back and forth with, they’re in good shape.”
Andrea Aiello with the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District has been witnessing the progress first hand, snapping photos and talking to merchants. “The feedback I’ve gotten from people walking around is people are very positive and pretty excited about it. I can’t wait till Wednesday when it opens up.”
Christopher Gonzalez-Crain, a Castro resident, said he first heard about the plaza on Streetsblog.
“I think this is fantastic. I think that the Castro has needed public space for awhile ever since the community garden was closed down and turned into a private community garden. With this, and in conjunction with the new Farmer’s Market, I feel like both city officials and the local business district have really gotten the idea that we need more public space and it’s wonderful to see. It’s really inspiring.”
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who plans to attend the opening ceremony tomorrow with Mayor Newsom, said he’s heard nothing but positive news too, though he has been told some residents opposed to the plaza might turn out with picket signs.
“I think it’s great. It’s the Castro. There’s always a lot of controversy, a lot of opinions. But you know, the word that I got at the gym this morning… three people gave me a thumbs up and said they were really pleased to see it happening.”
Rob Cox, a resident of nearby Hartfort Court, said he feels like residents were not properly notified. He doesn’t like it because he thinks it will attract homeless and create more problems at night when crowds from nearby bars let out.
“It’s a dark quiet corner and so people use it as a bathroom and a place to sleep and this is just going to exasperate it," he said. “I think it’s a great idea to have some great space in the Castro, I really, really do. I just think this is a bad location for it."
But Aiello with the Castro CBD said they’re hiring a full-time police officer to patrol the area on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Power from Planning added that as a condition of their permit, the Metro Bar, which is opening soon, agreed to provide security.
Join community members, businesses, agency staff, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and Mayor Gavin Newsom at 10 am, tomorrow, May 13th, for the plaza dedication ceremony. On Saturday, May 16th, from 12:30 pm until late afternoon, the community will celebrate the opening of the plaza with music and performances. Upper Market merchants will also be holding their sidewalk
sale that day, so it should be a great chance to enjoy the new space.