17th Street Plaza Trial Extended Four Months

At yesterday's Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) meeting, where decisions about temporary street closures are decided by all the agencies that have anything to do with streets and events on streets, the trial pedestrian plaza at 17th Street and Market Street received easy approval for a four month extension. Heads of MTA, DPW, the Planning Department, as well as Mayor Gavin Newsom, the two merchant organizations in the area, and many immediate community organizations all voiced support for the extension, many of them urging that the successful plaza become permanent.

At a roundtable discussion convened by the Planning Department two weeks ago, various stakeholders expressed surprise and pleasure at how well the plaza is functioning and how many people flock to it at all hours of the day. The Planning Department's Andres Power, who organized the meeting, said that the groups around the table began a discussion about what kinds of treatments the plaza should receive if it becomes permanent. There was strong support for more heavy granite blocks, more shade structures, and a functional solution to replace the temporary bollards made of heavy cardboard with something that would withstand the rainy season, which should begin near the expiration of the four-month extension.

Power said that even the Hartford Street neighbors had come around from their initial strong opposition to the plaza for fear it would add traffic to their street, which abuts the western end of the plaza, and be a magnet for vagrants.

"We conducted traffic analysis since the plaza started, measuring through volume and average speed on Hartford," said Power. "Both have decreased, so it's become a sort of traffic calming measure as well."

Though the Hartford Street neighbors aren't yet talking about making the plaza permanent, like the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, the Castro/Upper Market CBD, MUMC, and the various merchants adjacent to the plaza, they were anxious see what happens over the next four months.

When asked whether or not Planning and the MTA had considered the effect the plaza would have on the bicycle network, a debate that has flared in comments here on Streetsblog over the plaza cutting off the bicycle route on 17th Street, Power said that both agencies and the SFBC had discussed the impact to bicycles ahead of implementation and felt the conditions with the plaza were an improvement over the speeding vehicles that used to use it to go eastbound.

"We talked about bicycle access from day one and decided with the SFBC and MTA to maintain the casual intermingling of modes," said Power. "We agreed that we wouldn't provide designated pathways because it would obviate the casualness we were looking for. We've received many comments from SFBC members who are appreciative of the slower traffic speeds on 17th."

The 17th Street plaza is the first of three initial Pavement to Parks trial plazas, with the next two locations in lower Potrero and the outer Mission being fast-tracked to be implemented by the end of the summer. Power said they would have more information on both those plazas shortly, but that they wanted to convene public meetings before going to the press. Assuming the Castro community is pleased with 17th Street, the plaza could become permanent in November.