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Posts from the "Balboa Park Station Area Plan" Category

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Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

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Ocean and Geneva Avenues, outside the City College Main Campus. Photo via the SF Planning Department

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder of the avenue, stretching eastward to the Balboa Park BART Station, is still in its earlier stages.

Thus far, no major changes have been proposed on Ocean. Most of the street has narrow sidewalks, no bike lanes, and heavy car traffic turning from 280 — making the street dangerous to cross and snarling Muni. A separate plan is in the works to remove and re-configure those ramps years down the road, but a redesign of Ocean could present the opportunity to free up room for walking, biking, and transit.

On Ocean between Manor and Phelan Avenues, the near-term plans — set for construction next spring — include a handful of bulb-outs, new sidewalk greenery, seating, and other street fixtures at three “key” T-intersections: Ashton, Capitol, and Granada Avenues. At those intersections, Lily Langlois, the Planning Department’s project manager, said “the street dead-ends at Ocean, so there’s this kind of focal point, and an opportunity to build on that street pattern by creating those community gathering spaces.”

Community members have already taken proactive measures to improve the public realm on Ocean. Today, an event was held to celebrate a mobile parklet that was developed, designed, and built by high school students from the Youth Art Exchange. It will be placed in front of at least five different local businesses, six months at a time, starting at Fog Lifter Cafe.

Alex Mullaney, publisher of the neighborhood newspaper The Ingleside Light, said he helped push the Department of Public Works to create a plan for streetscape improvements on long-neglected Ocean, and created the Ocean Avenue Association’s Street Life Committee.

The near-term streetscape improvements “will go a long way to modernize Ocean Avenue, and bring it up to speed with a number of other neighborhoods,” he said. ”The new landscaping and amenities will improve quality of life and slow down traffic. Ocean Avenue has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, along with three extremely dangerous intersections. I have zero doubt that the near-term project will turn around those two issues.”

A mobile parklet now sits on Ocean and will be moved every six months. Photo: Youth Art Exchange via Facebook

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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. ”I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. ”We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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SFCTA Considers Removing Freeway Ramps at Balboa Park Station

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Balboa Park may be a major transit hub for BART and Muni, but it’s hard to tell as you approach the station, which is surrounded by dangerous roads swarming with car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. The design of the area around the station — not to mention the 24,000 people who use it daily — feels like an afterthought to a freeway exit.

The SF County Transportation Authority is considering options to remove some of the “redundant” freeway ramps to reduce the number of points where pedestrians and cars mix, while also simplifying traffic patterns and making the pedestrian environment less hostile. The agency has embarked on a study to explore how certain ramp removals or re-alignments would affect the area, and fielded input at a community meeting this week.

“If you change the circulation patterns around the station, you might shake loose a solution that would allow us to improve the current conflicts that are happening at certain hot spots around the station,” said SFCTA planner Chester Fung. “There’s no silver bullet solution.”

Robert Muehlbauer, chair of the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee, said he wants “to make sure that we don’t just design for cars, that we design for people, too.”

“Sometimes, the best design for cars excludes people, and sometimes the best design for people excludes cars. Bicycles have to fit in there, too.”

Geneva at Balboa Park Station, where riders are greeted with a northbound on-ramp and off-ramp (out of shot). Photo: Google Maps

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BART Riders Now Have a Dignified Walkway at Balboa Park Station

A family connects to BART from the 49 bus using the inviting new walkway. Photo: Aaron Bialick

BART riders will no longer be squeezed alongside Muni tracks to get into Balboa Park Station. A new walkway connecting travelers to Ocean Avenue on the north side was unveiled Friday as one project in a host of efforts aimed at improving access to the busiest BART and Muni transit hub outside of the city’s downtown area, though it may be just a baby step in the eyes of some advocates.

“For nearly four decades, we did not have a proper entrance to Ocean Avenue from the station for folks going to City College, or to the Ocean Avenue shopping district, or to Balboa Park,” said BART Director Tom Radulovich. “Now we have a fully-accessible, direct entrance, which is great. I’m happy it’s there.”

The walkway is a welcome improvement to commuters using the station to and from Ocean Avenue who previously had no choice but to squeeze through a narrow passage alongside trains or circumnavigate the station to get inside.

“When the trains are actually running and they go past you, it’s a little dangerous,” said Jocelyn, a BART rider who lives in the neighborhood. “Now it’s a lot easier and safer, I feel.”

Erika, Jocelyn’s friend, said she regularly uses the station to visit her from Berkeley. “I think it’s great if you come home late, because it’s all lit up,” said Erika. “I feel a little bit safer up here where people can see me.”

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Phelan Bus Loop Project, First in Balboa Area Plan, Gets Federal Funding

Picture_5.pngA reconfigured Phelan Bus Loop. Graphic: SF Planning Department
A proposal to reconfigure the Phelan Bus Loop as part of the Balboa Park Station Area Plan received a major boost today with the announcement that the Federal Transit Administration has awarded the SFMTA more than $6.8 million for the project.

In a statement, the FTA said the project "paves the way for landscaped open space, new retail space, and new affordable housing, all next to public transportation, and within walking distance of both a major transit hub and San Francisco City College, one of the nation’s largest educational institutions."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also issued a statement praising the project and the federal funding. "Today's announcement highlights San Francisco's continued leadership in the realm of livable communities and transit-oriented development. It will increase public transportation options, while reducing congestion and our dependence on foreign oil."

John Katz, the project manager for the SFMTA, said it will probably take several months before the funding is in hand, but the reconfiguration would be the first major public project under the Balboa plan, and under a best case scenario, would be on target to begin construction a year from now.

"It's great news for the community in San Francisco. This is a project that has been worked on, at least in concept, for the last 7 or 8 years and it looks like it's going to become a reality now," said Katz. "This project is really a catalyst for a lot of long-needed community improvements." 

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MTA Board to Vote on Moving Bus Turnaround to Make Way for TOD

muni.jpgClick to enlarge: The new Phelan Bus Loop would circle the firehouse at the northwest corner of Ocean and Phelan Avenues. Image: Google Maps.
The MTA Board will vote tomorrow on whether to sell a bus turnaround near Balboa Park station to make room for an 80-unit affordable housing and retail mixed-use development and new open space. The Balboa Park Station Area Plan, which was completed earlier this year and aims to promote transit-oriented development and improved pedestrians conditions in the neighborhood, identified the Phelan Bus Loop at Ocean Avenue between Lee and Harold Avenues as a prime spot for redevelopment.

With the MTA's authorization, the city would sell the property to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency for $4.35 million, its appraised market value. The money would go towards construction of a new bus loop on a lot adjacent to the current loop, and the MTA would get $1,647,000 of that money up front for design and development of the new turnaround. The new loop would circle the firehouse at the northwest corner of Ocean and Phelan Avenues, immediately to the east of the current loop.

According to a memo of understanding (MOU) between the MTA, the city, the Mayor's Office of Housing, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the total cost of relocating the loop is estimated at about $9 million, leaving a multimillion-dollar gap that the MTA will need to make up through other sources, which can't include the agency's operating funds. If the MTA can't secure funding within 42 months, the deal will be voided. Muni would then return the funds, keep the current loop and pay for the new loop design costs itself. MTA spokesperson Judson True said he's confident the agency will secure the funds in time, and said the agency has already identified likely local, state, and federal funding sources.

If the MTA succeeds in finding a funding source to make up the gap, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and Mercy Housing California, both non-profit housing developers, will then construct new affordable housing on the site, and a new public plaza would be built on leftover space, all of which is called for in the Planning Department's Balboa Park Station Area Plan.

"This is a great example of transit-oriented development and we're pleased to be working with our city partners on this project," said True. "Having the land that actually fronts Ocean Avenue go for housing and retail makes sense."

In addition to supporting transit-oriented development, Muni will get an upgraded turnaround out of the deal, according to the MOU. That would include an operator restroom, upgraded boarding islands, and wide sidewalks, among other improvements, without impacting Muni service.

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BART Breaks Ground on Balboa Park Station Upgrade

Balboa_J.02.jpgClick to enlarge: A rendering of the new Balboa Park BART station west side entrance. Courtesy: BART
BART held a groundbreaking ceremony today for a project that will bring a new entrance and accessible walkway to Balboa Park station. The Westside Entrance and Walkway project is intended to improve access to the station for the approximately 5,000 daily riders approaching from Ocean Avenue west of Interstate 280, including students from San Francisco City College and Lick-Wilmerding High School. The station is the busiest non-downtown stop in the BART system, with 13,000 daily riders.

In addition to the new entrance and ADA compliant walkway, the $5.17 million renovation will include new ticket vending machines, upgraded lighting for the walkway, security cameras, and a 1,500 square foot plaza at the new entrance. Federal stimulus funds provided $2 million to the project.

The station and surrounding neighborhood have been the subject of extensive study and planning by the city and BART in recent years, and improving the station's integration with Muni service and the neighborhood is a major priority for residents.

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