SF Approves Trial Closure of Mason Street In North Beach

Picture.jpgMason Street triangle will be future home of North Beach Branch Public Library. Photo from corner of Lombard St and Columbus Ave. Courtesy: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.

San Francisco’s traffic managers last week approved a trial closure of one block of Mason Street in North Beach from August 1st to September 27th to test what their models tell them: that they can close the street permanently to allow expansion of the North Beach Branch Public Library and the park at Joe DiMaggio Playground. Mason Street currently serves as a direct route to Fisherman’s Wharf from Columbus Avenue and detractors are concerned that traffic will worsen on adjacent streets and that drivers will have difficulty understanding the change.

Despite the protestation from a few community members at last week’s ISCOTT meeting and concern from Fisherman’s Wharf businesses that the timing could be better, the city decided to test the closure at the height of tourist season to measure peak traffic rather than waiting for an off-peak period when results might not represent similar travel demand.

"The whole point of this analysis is to demonstrate the worst-case scenario, traffic at peak periods," said the Planning Department’s Andres Power, who was responsible for ushering the trial through the city’s maze of agencies responsible for street closures. "Ultimately it would be a disservice to do it in November. If the catastrophic failure [some are predicting] happens now, it would be better to know."

schematic_2.jpgMason Street trial closure as approved by city traffic managers from August 1st-September 27th. Courtesy Planning Department

The redesign of the North Beach Library, which is part of the the larger Branch Library Improvement Project (BLIP) funded by a voter referendum from 2000, will involve relocating the library from where it currently resides in Joe DiMaggio playground to the triangular parking lot across Mason Street, which is owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation, one of the project’s sponsors.

"Historically, the playground was there long before the library," said Mindy Linetzky, BLIP Bond Program Administrator for the DPW. "Mayor Christopher in the 1950s put the library on top of a tennis court. We’re trying to remedy what was done 50 years ago to take the library out of the park."

The library will be constructed on the triangle regardless of whether
or not the city closes Mason Street to traffic permanently, said Linetzky.

Prior to the ISCOTT meeting, the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Betterment District (CBD) sent a letter to members saying that Executive Director Kevin Carroll would speak out against the trial because of its impacts to traffic during the busiest period of the year. After discussions with the Planning Department and other agencies to explain that the peak-period closure would give definitive data, Carroll’s opposition was blunted.

"Our original thought would be to try to do the timing outside of the busiest tourist time," said Carroll, who noted that his constituents didn’t want to stand in the way of the trial but wanted to be active partners in understanding how the traffic data would be conducted. "We wanted to express our concerns and be involved in how the measurements are done, look at the results."

The trial closure data will be aggregated with other traffic studies in the environmental review (EIR) that the city expects to complete in early 2010. Even if the EIR shows degradation of Vehicular Level of Service with a permanent closure of Mason Street, said Power, the Board of Supervisors could decide to override the concern, arguing that the improved green space trumps the convenience to motorists accessing Fisherman’s Wharf.

schematic_1.jpgOne proposal among many for re-purposing Mason Street as a park between the new North Beach Branch Public Library and Joe DiMaggio Playground. Courtesy Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.
  • I’m on the North Beach Neighbors board. I think I am the only one who supports the road closure (along with Vallejo closure). There is a meeting tonight, and I’m sure this will bring about loud shouts.

    I’ll give an update tomorrow if anything interesting happens.

  • John

    I don’t get it. Why is this controversial? Won’t vehicles still be able to turn right on Lombard, then left on Mason….adding at the most a minute to the process? Are people really preferring a few feet of street to a plaza and garden outside the library? I can’t quite believe it. Who are these people?

  • CBrinkman

    San Francisco, I’m starting to get a good feeling about our future as a more walkable, bikable, transit friendly City.

    As the Project for Public Spaces folks say – if you plan for more cars, you’ll get more cars. If you plan for people you’ll get people. And I am highly confident that yes, drivers will find a way around this one block closure. Or maybe some of them will choose not to drive and make all the streets better for everyone.

  • John, this is the main opponent, though apparently several other community organizations are upset by it. He lists the others.
    http://www.savemasonstreet.org/

  • SfResident

    Check out the “lost open space” photo that the savemasonstreet.org folk used under the “Mason Street Photo” section… doesn’t really sell their cause very well.

  • marcos

    There is a whole history of preservation and development battles behind the triangle aside from the immediate issue of this closure.

    -marc

  • Aaron B.

    All I think when I look at savemasonstreet.org is… “Really? Really..?”

    It’s really badly presented and unconvincing, shoddy arguments.

  • It was made by people who drive that live close to the street closure. It makes perfect sense – you want the most direct, unobstructed route possible.

    Also, marcos is right about the triangle. It was take by eminent domain for “open space” so the city is really opening itself up for lawsuit if they put a library on the space.

    I went to the meeting last night and got the board to look into working with THD to have a street party during the closure. I’m open to any and all suggestions because I want to show that this space will be used.

  • mcas

    Can you really argue that a private parking lot is ‘open space’…? That doesn’t seem like it holds much water…

  • I agree mcasm, I’m not saying a parking lot is open space. However, when the city took the land, they did it on the premise that it would be open space, not a library.

    Which is why I also find the picture that savemasonstreet used to show the “now” (as in what it should remain because of the view) to be pretty sad and hilarious at the same time. A sign with graffiti on it and several parked cars is NOTHING worth saving.

  • marcos

    @mcas, the City has all sorts of planning guidelines that speak to maintaining the sense of place. One instance is that the alley guidelines require that development not impinge upon views of geographic features so as to maintain sense of place. Of course, developers are never made to actually adhere to those guidelines, assuming that they are richer than the folks amidst their projects.

    This is probably the case for North Beach, in that the lines of sight provided by a parking lot contribute to the sense of place that makes North Beach North Beach.

    All of this talk about “place making” in the context of “new urbanism” and “smart growth” has to do with what can be done to salvage the damaged urban fabric after an existing made-place is un-made through out of scale development.

    Out of scale development is encouraged by enviros in San Francisco, unwitting accomplices of developers, by buying into Metcalfe’s Fallacy, that SF luxury condos and high rises compete in the housing market with exurban tract subdivisions. Yeah, we should densify urban cores and around transit stops where appropriate, but that is not carte blanche to unlock development potential irrespective of cursory arguments in that direction.

    Frankly, the BART and CalTrain rings are as well served by regional (housing job) transit as most places in San Francisco yet remain undensified to San Francisco’s 45′ standards. I wonder why there is essentially clamoring, when compared to that in San Francisco, to develop Union City BART to North Beach densities?

    Could it be that there has been less profit in Union City than SF? Could it be that the nonprofits which give cover to developer lobbyists get too much money in fees and hush money for them to tell the truth?

    -marc

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