Residents just north of the Mission District who have lived in the shadow of the Central Freeway are beginning to see a glimmer of light. The city appears poised to move ahead with plans to bring street improvements and green space to the area, including a public plaza at the end of McCoppin Street that abuts the Octavia freeway onramp.
The neighborhood has long been stifled by a lack of inviting places to gather as well as traffic noise and danger from the domineering freeway.
“Our neighborhood is not cohesive,” said Lynn Valente, resident of McCoppin Street, which lies just south of Market Street and Octavia Boulevard, and runs for a few short blocks from Otis to Valencia Streets before it stops at the wall of the freeway ramp. “It has a lot to do with the freeway,” she said.
The long-awaited improvements were planned after Caltrans rebuilt the damaged stretch of freeway through the neighborhood in 2005.
“We had hoped to mitigate some of the things about having the overpass,” said Alison Miller, also a McCoppin resident. “The city said they were going to build all this stuff – a skate park, greening. But look around, you can clearly see we have no greening projects, and it’s been all these years.”
The reason for the delay, according to the Department of Public Works (DPW) website , was a lack of funding from the city’s sale of empty land parcels along Octavia Boulevard where the freeway used to extend. The economic downturn, the DPW says, has made those parcels difficult to sell.
“It’s been six years, and they’re still only just now getting some of the parcels sold,” said Miller.
The South of Market (SoMa) West Improvement Projects , which would include greening, traffic calming, a public plaza, a mini dog park, and a skateboard park, could finally bring some inviting destinations and a stronger sense of community to the area.
“The goal is to enhance the urban fabric, calm traffic, and improve transportation safety,” the DPW said on its website.
The centerpiece of the improvements, unofficially being called the McCoppin Hub, would transform a leftover stub of asphalt at the end of McCoppin Street into an attractive civic space.
Neighbors met with Boor Bridges Architects two weeks ago in the latest planning meeting for the hub. Architect Seth Boor said he hopes to tailor its design to the wishes of residents, who would like it to attract a variety of community activities and serve as a gateway to the community and the Valencia corridor.
“People have said that they want this to be a space that’s worthy of pausing and slowing down and appreciating,” said Boor.
The design residents seem to favor would include a “meandering path” and triangular spaces with grass and planters to sit on. Two lanes of open grass would flank the park, providing space for activities like farmer’s markets and the food trucks that have been activating the space every Saturday since last fall .
The hub also serves as a bicycle and pedestrian shortcut connecting Valencia to the intersection of Market and Octavia. Neighbors said they would like to enhance that use with possible bicycle amenities like racks and the city’s first public air pumps similar to those found in Copenhagen, Denmark .
“I really like this as a place for all of us,” said one resident at the planning meeting. “There’s nothing excluding seniors or toddlers or people walking their dogs.”
Other improvements will add greening, traffic calming, and bike lanes along the rest of McCoppin Street and the alleyways adjoining it. A block down Valencia, parking lots underneath the freeway will also be replaced with a skateboard park  next spring, as well as a mini dog park once the funding for that is secured.
Work on the improvements on McCoppin Street is set to begin this fall, and construction on the Hub is expected next summer.
Tomorrow, we’ll look back at the history of the neighborhood, including photos of the 19th century streetcar hub the project is being named after.