City Moves Forward on a More Pedestrian-Friendly Castro Street

Photo: ##http://www.sanfranciscodays.com/castro/##San Francisco Days##

San Francisco’s world-famous commercial strip on Castro Street, which gained a popular pedestrian plaza in 2009, is poised to become a more inviting destination as the SF Planning Department develops plans to widen the sidewalks and install other improvements from 17th Street to 19th Street.

The sidewalks on Castro, currently 12 feet wide, could reach widths up to 22 feet, according to Nick Perry, project manager for the Planning Department. That real estate would be created by narrowing traffic lanes, which would calm motor traffic and may reduce the rampant double parking that often delays Muni buses on the 24-Divisadero line.

The new Castro Street, as envisioned by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

“Right now, it’s a little bit like the Wild West,” said Perry. “Because the travel lanes are so wide, cars and trucks feel free to double-park or speed down the street because there’s the room to do it. And once we are able to make these improvements, it will function as a neighborhood commercial street that has traffic going both ways in a hopefully stately, well-managed pace.”

The project got a boost after D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener announced in the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month that $4 million would be secured from Prop B bond funds. “While the Castro has wonderful parks at its edges, the neighborhood has remarkably little usable public space,” Wiener wrote. “Harvey Milk Plaza is poorly designed and doesn’t honor its namesake with a wonderful and safe public gathering space. Jane Warner Plaza is terrific but small. While the Castro is one of the most pedestrian-focused neighborhoods in the city, Castro Street’s sidewalks are embarrassingly narrow.”

The Planning Department expects to begin developing street designs through public workshops starting in January, but the process was already kickstarted several years ago by a community streetscape vision known as the Neighborhood Beautification and Safety Plan, developed by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District. That plan, adopted by the CBD in 2008, called for widening Castro’s sidewalks and narrowing its excessively wide traffic lanes to accommodate the crowds of pedestrians. It also envisioned the pedestrian plaza on 17th Street, which was built in 2009 as part of the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program and later dubbed Jane Warner Plaza (a.k.a. the Castro Commons).

Photo: ##http://www.northrup.org/photos/castro-street/##Northrup Photography##

The streetscape project, which is scheduled to begin construction some time late next year, may also include safety fixes at the massive, dangerous intersection of Market and Castro Streets. Perry said planners are still determining the scope of the project, but that the Castro CBD’s community plan helped put it on the fast track.

“Usually, in the typical planning process, you have a workshop at the beginning where you look at existing conditions and talk about what we want to do, but the community’s already done that work for us through the CBD’s plan,” said Perry, a Castro District resident, who held drop-in office hours yesterday with staff from the Castro CBD and the Department of Public Works to field ideas from neighbors for street improvements. “This is an iconic street, and a really important street for the LGBT community and for the city of San Francisco, so this is a gigantic opportunity to make it really shine as a place that everyone’s really proud of. All we’ve heard so far is excitement, and ‘how fast can we do it?'”

George Ridgely, executive director of the Castro Street Fair, said he wants to ensure the changes to the street will accommodate the annual event, but that “as someone who comes to the neighborhood and goes out in the neighborhood on days other than the street fair,” the project is “awesome.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said she is “very excited about the sidewalk widening in the Castro to accommodate the many people who live, work, and shop in the neighborhood, who all get around on foot. This is exactly the kind of project that the streetscape bond is for, and helped win Walk SF’s strong support.”

“We look forward to this project’s rapid implementation, and many more like it,” she added.

  • I live half a mile from here and shop in the neighborhood. Even more importantly, I walk through the neighborhood often to access the Castro Muni station. This street is not only an arterial for road traffic and an important public transportation corridor, it’s an important *pedestrian transportation corridor*. There are honestly more people who walk down this block than drive down it. Having sidewalks filled with so many people, and also so much stuff (large amounts of street “furniture”) makes getting to and from Muni very difficult. (The worst is the west side of the street between Market and 18th. After dark it is an arduous gauntlet to pass through, especially with all the crowds spilling out of bars.)

    The Castro is one of the most accessible neighborhoods by Muni in the city. It is high density, crowded and congested. Why should someone driving down the street have more priority than someone walking down the street? Why should someone driving to the neighborhood have more priority than someone walking or biking to the neighborhood? Why devote so much space to parked cars? The block of Castro between Market and 18th needs some loading zones, some taxi/passenger drop-off zones, some disabled spots, some motorcycle/scooter parking, and some bike parking. There probably shouldn’t even be much car parking on 18th for half a block east and west of Castro. As much as possible people who arrive on foot, bike or by transit should be rewarded with decent pleasant amenities (such as space to actually walk) whereas driving to the neighborhood should be discouraged with high-priced meters that go from 8am until midnight. Driving around looking for parking should be discouraged with barriers in select places on side streets that would allow foot and bike traffic to pass (and neighborhood cars to access homes) but not cars circling or cutting through the neighborhood. (I’m thinking specifically of Hartford.) People driving around the neighborhood looking for parking pollute and create congestion, but even drivers pulling in and out of parking spaces create congestion. 

    Yes, Harvey Milk Plaza, though not quite as ugly as the Mission Bart plazas, is profoundly ill designed as a public space. Will be amazed if they tackle it though since I think reworking would be quite expensive.  One thing that would help people access the Castro by Muni is if the Muni kept up its frequency on the 24 and underground lines on Friday and Saturday nights until at least 1am. Right now the schedule drops off dramatically after 9pm making it okay to get somewhere but very inconvenient to get home. 

  • Seems like it’s ripe for sticking a bike lane in there, no?

  • Maxwjdjdk

    I completely agree. We should use this opportunity to boost San Francisco’s rather modest bike infrastructure!

  • Anonymous

    As a bike commuter who lives on the 400 block of Castro St, I don’t see any need to add bike lanes on 18th or Castro. 17th, Market, Noe and Eureka provide excellent alternative routes which are much flatter and quieter. It would be much better to use the excess street width for wider sidewalks, which are completely un-navigable on foot once the bars get going in the evening. Way finding signs, public seating and bus bulb outs should also be high priorities.

  • Tahoe

    Agreed with jonobate – but one sad side effect of constricting Castro is that the Eureka Street Freeway will become even more popular with speeding drivers. I lived on Eureka at 20th and the cars on Eureka are mayhem.

  • justageek

    “traffic going both ways in a hopefully stately, well-managed pace” is apparently the politically correct way of saying “gridlock”

  • Anonymous

    I cannot wait until the city moves forward on a more pedestrian friendly everywhere. 

    Perhaps starting with restricting parking within 10 feet of intersections? That would be pretty great.

    Otherwise, more trees! It doesn’t make things safer, but it makes the pedestrian experience more wonderful.

  • CastroGuy

    I disagree with Jonobate, because I like to patronize local businesses. Having a bike lane on Castro would make it easier for me to do so. I do this all the time on Valencia, because it is so easy. Even though the Valencia bike lane is so close, I rarely make purchases on Mission, because biking on that street is actually quite scary. 

    If we want to help local businesses on Castro, adding a bike lane is a no brainer. As fellow bikers we should be pushing for bike lanes on every street (like in Amsterdam or Copenhagen), because this will make biking more accessible for all. 

  • removebumsSTAT

    What a joke..get rid of all the BUMS and moocher then maby some will actully ride transit

  • Peter-Christian Paulin

    I think this is a fantastic development. The sidewalks on Castro are embarassingly narrow…for such a vibrant neighborhood you’d think there would be far more outdoor seating for its restaurants. The sidewalks are very lifeless right now, solely for foot traffic and nothing else. This is really exciting. 

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