New Plan Would Transform Three Alleyways in West SoMa

Three alleyways in the city’s motor-dominated South of Market (SoMa) area could be transformed into pedestrian-friendly havens with a new plan approved by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board yesterday.

The new plan would add features similar to those implemented on a block of Minna between Sixth and Seventh Streets last year. Image: SFCTA

The Western SoMa Neighborhood Transportation Plan would bring traffic-calming measures like chicanes, greening, pedestrian bulb-outs and raised crosswalks along Minna and Natoma Street between Seventh and Ninth and Ringold between Eighth and Ninth. It would also add crosswalk markings and traffic signals across the arterial streets they meet.

“The plan and the designs create safe, inviting space in one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly parts of the city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe.

The improvements are just one step in the Western SoMa Community Plan, which includes a long-term effort make SoMa safer and more inviting for pedestrians. Jim Meko, chair of the West SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force, said the goal of the Transportation Plan is to streamline a set of priority projects to pedestrianize SoMa alleys, where he said most residents live.

“We wanted to do smaller things that people would begin to notice right away,” said Meko. “With the alleys that we chose, it will begin to also introduce the social heritage aspects of the plan. The Minna and Natoma alleys are particularly important to the Filipino community… and Ringold has always been important to the LGBTQ community.”

The improvements could be implemented as soon as 2014 depending on funding availability, according to the report. Once implemented, the alleys should feel more like “shared” streets (known as “woonerfs” in the Netherlands), where motor vehicles are allowed, but pedestrian uses take precedence.

“In this neighborhood, there is a relative scarcity of park space, and the real sources of community space in this area are the streets,” SFCTA transportation planner Chester Fung told the Plans and Programs Committee last week. “We know that the alleys are promising in some ways — they are quiet respites, refuges, from the high-traffic arterials.”

The location of the alleys within the designated West SoMa Plan area.

Speeding and cut-through car traffic in the alleys would be discouraged by features like landscaped chicanes and car parking that alternates sides to mitigate the “wide-open” feel that invites drivers to rush through to the next block. Other features to be added include pedestrian-scale light fixtures and bicycle racks.

Right now, “There’s a lot of speeding that’s happening in the alleys,” said Fung. “That creates inhospitable pedestrian conditions.”

The plan would also add markings and landscaped sidewalk bulb-outs to increase pedestrian visibility at mid-block crossings on Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Streets. Although pedestrians can already legally cross at these junctions, there are often no markings signaling that to drivers, making them dangerous to traverse. SoMa sees some of highest rates of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the city.

“Even if you’re walking along the alley, at some point you have to emerge onto one of those streets that are basically freeways,” said Stampe. “You have to make sure that drivers are aware that people will be crossing and that they need to slow down and be careful.”

The plan also calls for traffic signals at those intersections. Although Stampe thinks adding signals can be useful in some cases, an over-reliance on them can be counterproductive to transforming streets into the kind of traffic-calmed, pedestrian-oriented environments that physical street changes could bring throughout SoMa.

“In a city like San Francisco, it’s ridiculous to have signals that say, ‘Watch out, a pedestrian!’ and that pedestrians are unusual, when in fact they’re the norm,” said Stampe. Still, to make headway “on these streets that are designed already to be acting like freeways, and have drivers responding like they’re on freeway, [sometimes] you kind of have to speak freeway.”

Planned improvements for Minna and Natoma crossings at Eighth Street. Image: SFCTA
Improvements for Ringold, including chicanes and side-alternating parking. Image: SFCTA
  • keenplanner

    Is there a traffic signal in “pedestrian friendly” San Francisco that actually responds to the crossing push button?   I can think of one, or two: on Octavia Boulevard you won’t even get pedestrian crossing time unless the button is pushed.  But is there even one that will go green faster or, heaven forbid, immediately to allow pedestrians to cross rather than standing on the corner waiting for the clusters of auto traffic to clear? 
    It has been my impression that the signals allow pedestrian to cross only when it least inconveniences the thru traffic. 
    MTA needs to stop treating pedestrians, bikes, and transit like second-class citizens.
    What will it take to get the “transit, peds, bikes priority” rule that has been our policy since the 70s to become a reality?

  • mikesonn

    Short answer: LOS

  • Sorahx

    I really like this idea but…

    The streets aren’t the reason why this area isn’t “walkable.” It’s not walkable because of the lurkers, the criminals, the crackheads, and because, in general, a lot of the buildings are in pretty dire shape. It’s just not a safe or attractive place to take an afternoon stroll.

    I still say we fix the streets up to be pretty, but let’s not fool ourselves as to what the result will be.

  • K.A. Colangelo

    STOP turning the city into a suburban pedestrian mall!!  These are alleyways…not greenbelts or park paths!  They must be kept clear and their design simple to allow service, commercial and emergency vehicles to pass!  Blocking these arteries or creating an obstacle course of landscaping, benches, etc.will have a serious negative impact on businesses and secondary traffic flow especially in a disaster!

  • Most of the buttons you see on traffic signals in SF aren’t to actuate the signal, or make them turn green for pedestrians, but to trigger an audio signal for the visually impaired.

  • doogiehowsah

    Trolls r awesome

  • doogiehowsah

    Does it not occur to you at all that you may have it backwards? These alleys would, for the most part, be quite lovely if not for the hordes of SUVs using them as shortcuts at blinding speeds, which in turn creates an atmosphere that discourages pedestrians, which allows for more unpleasant elements to take root. Redesigning the streets on a human scale is the place to start — the anti-homeless legislation tried by our politicians for the last 20 years has done nothing to help.

  • Magicplumbing

    It’s okay to upgrade, change, provide for pedestrians, make the alleys better for the people who live in those areas, I welcome the changes, similar to some of the changes in Hayes Valley, more people hang out and enjoy the places they live near. But let’s not make these changes everywhere keep it to patches around the city. An oasis to enjoy..

  • Anonymous

    @e57eeb2123999330bd97ab148cdb9288:disqus wrote: “But let’s not make these changes everywhere keep it to patches around the city. An oasis to enjoy.”

    So you like these changes but you don’t want too much of them? Using your analogy, rather than just an oasis in a desert, wouldn’t you want the entire desert turned into a lush forest? Because of its inconsistency, this point sounds like the typical car-centric viewpoint of somebody trying to pretend like they care about a neighborhood but in reality don’t care about the neighborhood because they don’t actually live there and don’t want their convenience and “right” to drive through this neighborhood on their way somewhere else at all jeopardized. This is the kind of attitude that has turned the entire South of Market district into a god forsaken maze of freeway-like roads that is completely inhospitable and dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    There was such a signal at 6th Ave. & Fulton. You’d only get a walk signal across Fulton after pushing the button. This was especially annoying coming out of the park, because there was no traffic light visible from the south (it’s a T-intersection). So if you were on a bike, you’d pull up to the intersection coming out of the park, and as often as not the traffic on Fulton would be stopped at a red light. But the pedestrian signal–the only signal visible–would be red, and you’d have no idea if traffic was about to start moving (in which case crossing would be dangerous) or if traffic was going to stand still for the next 20 seconds (in which case waiting would be pointless). http://maps.google.com/maps?q=fulton+%26+6th,+sf&hl=en&ll=37.773598,-122.463634&spn=0.007073,0.010536&sll=37.773590,-122.463440&layer=c&cbp=13,350.37,,0,18.69&cbll=37.773596,-122.463683&hnear=Fulton+St+%26+6th+Ave&t=h&z=17&panoid=bEIQ9_xYKss5aaV7eCyshw

    A year ago I wrote to supervisor Eric Mar about this. His staff wrote an email to a guy at the SFMTA, and cc:d me. A few months later– it was fixed. Now there’s a regular walk signal for people coming out of the park, no button required. I don’t know if it was my email that did it, but I’m pretty satisfied, so I’m giving him a little shout-out for his constituent services.

  • Aaron Bialick

    @baklazhan:disqus That was your doing? Thank you!

  • Except SOMA isn’t the all-industrial district it once was when the street grid was laid out as such.

  • Calabrese68

    I think these are a great idea to clean-up these small side streets which often contain a fair amount of homes.  These improvements will benefit the people living there and people passing through the neighborhood. 

    I had hoped that the City would do Hoff Street near 16th and Mission, which contains a children’s park.  The slowing of traffic would benefit the children’s safety, improve the quality of life for residents on the street, and make it safer for the hundreds of commuters that walk through Hoff Street every day.  I guess I will just keep my fingers crossed that the Mission is next.  

  • Adfbasdhbf

    Start of the banning of cars in SF…watch and see….open your eyes…

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