Work Begins on Divisadero Ped Upgrades, but Skinny Sidewalks Remain

DSCN1911.jpgWidening the median on Divisadero Street. Photo: Janel Sterbentz

Ninety years after city traffic managers widened Divisadero Street between Haight and Sacramento Streets, skimming off five feet of sidewalk and adding a travel lane on both sides, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is spending $3.3 million to upgrade the landscaping on the median, without adjusting the skinny nine-foot-nine-inch sidewalks. The DPW recently started construction on the project on Divisadero between Waller Street and Geary Boulevard, where it will add new bus bulb-outs, widen the median and plant trees on it, upgrade lighting fixtures, plant new sidewalk trees and install other furnishings. 

Many residents from the neighborhoods Divisadero connects are relieved to see any pedestrian improvements, given the long neglected state of the street.

"I think that street has been so beleaguered and so worn down for so many years, people are going to be happy just to get any improvement," said BIKE NOPA’s Michael Helquist. Leela Gill, former president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, called the project "a welcome improvement."

Wider sidewalks were high on the list of requests at community feedback meetings, but DPW ruled them out during the planning process, said Walk SF’s Manish Champsee. "It comes down to a cost issue," said Champsee.

Whenever the city widens sidewalks, it must also move fire hydrants within two feet of the new curb; utilities and sewers also must be moved. Champsee would like the city to find a way to simplify the process, which might mean simply leaving everything in place when the sidewalks are widened and moving it all later when when individual components are scheduled for regular maintenance.

Coordinating scheduled work between DPW and the Public Utilities Commission is not always easy, said Livable City’s Tom Radulovich, because the PUC does not publish a road map of scheduled maintenance like DPW does. The result is that DPW often prefers median widening to sidewalk
widening when there’s excess roadway space and funds available to make
upgrades, since median widening is much simpler and cheaper.

before.jpgBefore installation of a pedestrian refuge island. Photo: Janel Sterbentz

after.jpgOn another block of Divisadero, after installation of a pedestrian refuge island. Photo: Janel Sterbentz

Neighbors, desperate for any pedestrian and aesthetic improvements, were willing to compromise. That might preclude an eventual road diet, said Radulovich, who would have preferred to "do fewer blocks but do them right," like the four-block Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project. Since expensive new lights are being added to the widened Divisadero median, the city might be hesitant to tear part of the median out later, a near-necessity if Divisadero were ever to receive a road diet. To do that, said Radulovich, the city would need to remove a travel lane in each direction and install a left-turn-only lane at intersections, cutting into the expensive new median.

Divisadero’s nine-foot-nine-inch sidewalks don’t comply with the draft Better Streets Plan guidance on commercial thoroughfares like Divisadero, and until that plan is completed and implemented, it’s a shortcoming that could be repeated often. In the case of Divisadero, it means that while there’s no shortage of draws bringing foot traffic to the street these days, an end to its 90-year legacy of skinny sidewalks is still a long way off.

  • Nick

    I’d advise caution when cycling on streets under construction. Check out that first photo. I was cycling there last week when a motorist tried to run me off the road. I swerved to my right to find that there was a 1/2 inch grade difference in the pavement.

    And they need on street bike parking outside that cafe at Divis/Hayes.

  • I don’t think it’s going to be a big improvement. Instead, the city seems to want to turn every city neighborhood into Noe Valley. All Diviz really needed was repaving.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2009/09/improving-divisadero.html

  • Thanks for pointing out what a missed opportunity this is – one that I’m afraid will only continue even after the Better Streets Plan List Of Easy-To-Ignore Guidelines is formally adopted.

    C Chav is being similarly locked into another generation of auto-dominance, and it’s a damn shame

  • Nick, the bike route is one block over on Scott Street where traffic is lighter and a couple of the major intersections have boxes to lets bikes jump ahead of cars in the traffic queue. And walking along it today, it surprising didn’t seem to be any busier even with the construction going on.

  • ZA

    Oh well, I guess the eventual lane diet will require an even larger median so a public park can be put there. If that’s too expensive, offer that plaza space for rent to nearby businesses. Stiff fines for breach of open-bottle laws and poor maintenance can keep those spaces clean.

  • Dave Snyder

    Missed opportunity, indeed. There are sections of Divisadero where the adjacent bike route is very inferior, due to grade. Divisadero will always be a popular bike route for that reason and now the only way to add bike lanes is to get rid of parking and widen the sidewalks.

  • I never bike Divisadero. Who wants to breathe all those nasty car fumes? I always bike Scott Street. Scott is relatively calm and pleasant from the Wiggle all the way north to Presidio Heights.

    To tell the truth, I never drive on Divisadero either. The continual back-up from left-hand turns make it just a miserable street all around, and I don’t see how a slightly greener median is going to help much. When only two or three cars make it through an intersection on a light, you just have pollution, congestion and unhappy people wherever you look. I suggest eliminating left hand turns on Divisadero, timing the lights at 20mph, and making Scott Street a bike superhighway closed to cars. Well, I can dream.

  • Ryan

    It would be great if all the sidewalks were widened, but at least the sidewalks will be wider at the bus bulbouts.

  • poncho

    why not then keep the sidewalk width as they are but add a planted buffer next to the sidewalk as part of a road diet? this way you get the road diet but the sidewalks & street furniture dont need to move.

  • Peter M

    Why did Divisadero even get a median in the first place? Does it even really need one? It would have been nice if they could have gotten rid of it altogether and widened the sidewalks instead.

    Regardless, the bus bulbs will be a great improvement. They’ll finally put an end to people parking in the southbound 24 stop at Hayes to run into the Popeye’s Chicken on the corner.

  • g

    If SF wants to resolve this issue pass a new form of, or amend the “complete streets” ordinance. The wording in the SF legislation is based up an oregon law, but the SF version has no enforcement mechanism. The Oregon law kicked in when streets carrying x number of vehicle trips were reconstructed/re-surfaced, etc. In Oregon, the law was affirmed to the state supreme court. Now the state transportation agency complies and you will see three foot shoulder/bikeways even on rural roads and the transportation engineers have been known to say things like “if we don’t put in bike lanes, we’ll be sued”

  • JJ

    ELIMINATE THE PARKING ON DIVISADERO!!!! Widening the sidewalks will create increased foot traffic which means more shoppers for existing businesses which will see a lift in sales. Making the corridor more walkable also means that new businesses will be attracted to this area. Not making it so easy to park also means people will have to get off their fat asses and actually exercise! It will force people to interact with the neighborhood and experience all the great spots. I love this area but the parking on Divis has to go to make way for revitalization of the neighborhood and a culture of involvement and interaction…screw driver convenience.