Planning Department Sets Out to Create “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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An example alley from Copenhagen. Image: Planning Department

The Planning Department held a community workshop yesterday to field ideas on how to turn the numerous alleyways in and around Hayes Valley into calmer, greener, more inviting respites from the major traffic-heavy streets.

The “Living Alley Project” is an effort conceived in the Market Octavia Area Plan to re-think the neighborhood’s alleys as people-oriented gathering spaces, where cars are allowed at low speeds, but street life comes first.

“We need more community spaces,” said Robin Levitt, an architect who lives on one of the alleyways and advocated for the removal of the Central Freeway. Patricia’s Green, the park that replaced a block of space formerly occupied by the highway structure, is often overwhelmed with demand, he said. “More than most neighborhoods in the city, we have a lot of through traffic on very busy streets like Gough and Franklin, Oak and Fell, which were once neighborhood streets.”

“The alleys can serve as a shared space, where traffic is calm,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity to re-envision what a street can be — a public space, where children feel like playing, rather than as something to just move through.”

Lily Street, an alley in Hayes Valley, as it exists today. Photo: Hayeswire

The alley plans that result from the process are expected to be implemented within five years, said the Planning Department’s David Winslow. With Hayes Valley’s development boom on the empty lots formerly occupied by the freeway, the city plans to underwrite the project mainly through impact fees collected from developers.

In anticipation of the influx of residents to the new condos and apartments, yesterday’s workshop was the first attempt to tap into neighborhood insights about how to better utilize the alleyways as public space.

“We’re trying to guide and help the community to be collaborators,” said Winslow.

Attendees at the workshop called for more greenery, traffic-calming improvements, more public art, and even spaces designated for growing food. The Planning Department also plans to make the alleyway network more cohesive by installing new mid-block crosswalks across the high-traffic streets.

As Levitt noted, the alleys’ narrow roadways and dead ends already lend themselves to being relatively peaceful places. “I think you just need to do a few little moves, and you can reinforce that notion,” he said.

The Linden Living Alley project, a predecessor, was implemented on a part of Linden Street near Gough Street in 2010. Photo: SF Planning Department

Image: SF Planning Department