Noe Valley Plaza Debate: It’s the Traffic, Stupid

Don__t_block_Noe_small.jpgSigns like this hang from windows on streets all around 24th and Noe Streets. Photos: Matthew Roth
Just outside St. Phillip's Church in Noe Valley, where more than 100 people showed up last night to weigh in on the proposal to close Noe Street at 24th Street for two months to build a trial pedestrian plaza, I asked a woman to point me to the entrance to the community room.

"For or against?" she demanded.

"Neither," I said. I'm just writing a follow-up story on it for Streetsblog.

Then I got to the meeting, and Mary McFadden, a resident living at 24th and Noe and the spokesperson for those opposed to the trial, helped make up my mind immediately.

Despite the claim by Supervisor Bevan Dufty in his opening remarks that "What makes Noe Valley unique is that, going forward, we find a way to build community and do better things," plaza opponents like McFadden characterized increased public space not as an amenity, but a burden.

"For someone who's going to be there for an hour a week, it's not the same as having to live with it, live there 24/7 and live with the people, live with the noise and the garbage and the traffic jams that are sure to erupt," she said.

Not only do I find those comments antithetical to community, they seem incredibly counter-intuitive. You're getting an extension on your front yard and that's a problem?

McFadden: "Those of us who oppose this are not opposed to change. As I said, I've been here four generations, I've seen a lot of it -- good, bad. We just want change that's well thought out, well planned and contributes to the community."

And not in the way of traffic?

McFadden: "My concern about the trial is that all these measurements have to be done first before the trial. And I'm not sure how we measure the inconvenience."

That's what I thought, it's the traffic.

noe_and_24th_small.jpgThe location in question.
McFadden: "The idea that people will all be taking the bus or not driving, that's just not true. That's like saying we will cut down our garbage by removing all the trash bins. The garbage is still there, it's just going to go someplace. The traffic will still be there, it will just go someplace else, onto those side streets and make for more difficult passage."

Yup, definitely the traffic.

Based on the emails sent to the Planning Department, Andres Power said he estimated that 90 percent of complaints were about traffic, with the arguments coming down to two points: 1) How will I drive to Market Street on Noe if the plaza is there and 2) You're going to create a traffic nightmare on the parallel streets and on 24th Street.

These traffic fears are identical to concerns voiced by neighbors on Hartford Street before the 17th and Castro Street plaza trial started, and those fears turned out to be unfounded. In fact, as one commenter living near the Castro Plaza noted last night, traffic has decreased on the streets around the Castro plaza, as have noise levels and sanitation concerns.

Plaza proponents argued that there really is no way to know what the traffic impacts will be without trying it. If it leads to mayhem, take it out. But there's no better way to answer the questions without a trial.

If it had only been about the traffic, I could have understood the opponents' complaints as fear of change, which happens almost any time you mess with traffic, but then McFadden said this:

"Frankly I think that other areas need a lot more beautification than Noe Valley does."

Audience: applause.

McFadden: "I think a way to invest ourselves not just in Noe Valley but in the city is to maybe spend this money and our time into helping a nearby location that isn't as nice as Noe Valley: Bernal, Mission."

Audience: applause.

Power said the city will return in a month to respond to the issues raised at the meeting, including the effects of traffic, but maybe that would be a waste of time. Maybe the city should just reprogram the money now, put it into a neighborhood with real public health and open space problems. There are plenty of them. 

As a person living at the crossroads of those dumpy neighborhoods some Noe residents disdain, I could think of a lot of ways $38,000 could improve public spaces near me.

I wouldn't want to force money on Noe when there are so many other neighborhoods that aren't nearly as nice.