17th Street Plaza Trial Extended Four Months

At yesterday’s Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) meeting, where decisions about temporary street closures are decided by all the agencies that have anything to do with streets and events on streets, the trial pedestrian plaza at 17th Street and Market Street received easy approval for a four month extension. Heads of MTA, DPW, the Planning Department, as well as Mayor Gavin Newsom, the two merchant organizations in the area, and many immediate community organizations all voiced support for the extension, many of them urging that the successful plaza become permanent.

At a roundtable discussion convened by the Planning Department two weeks ago, various stakeholders expressed surprise and pleasure at how well the plaza is functioning and how many people flock to it at all hours of the day. The Planning Department’s Andres Power, who organized the meeting, said that the groups around the table began a discussion about what kinds of treatments the plaza should receive if it becomes permanent. There was strong support for more heavy granite blocks, more shade structures, and a functional solution to replace the temporary bollards made of heavy cardboard with something that would withstand the rainy season, which should begin near the expiration of the four-month extension.

Power said that even the Hartford Street neighbors had come around from their initial strong opposition to the plaza for fear it would add traffic to their street, which abuts the western end of the plaza, and be a magnet for vagrants.

"We conducted traffic analysis since the plaza started, measuring through volume and average speed on Hartford," said Power. "Both have decreased, so it’s become a sort of traffic calming measure as well."

Though the Hartford Street neighbors aren’t yet talking about making the plaza permanent, like the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, the Castro/Upper Market CBD, MUMC, and the various merchants adjacent to the plaza, they were anxious see what happens over the next four months.

When asked whether or not Planning and the MTA had considered the effect the plaza would have on the bicycle network, a debate that has flared in comments here on Streetsblog over the plaza cutting off the bicycle route on 17th Street, Power said that both agencies and the SFBC had discussed the impact to bicycles ahead of implementation and felt the conditions with the plaza were an improvement over the speeding vehicles that used to use it to go eastbound.

"We talked about bicycle access from day one and decided with the SFBC and MTA to maintain the casual intermingling of modes," said Power. "We agreed that we wouldn’t provide designated pathways because it would obviate the casualness we were looking for. We’ve received many comments from SFBC members who are appreciative of the slower traffic speeds on 17th."

The 17th Street plaza is the first of three initial Pavement to Parks trial plazas, with the next two locations in lower Potrero and the outer Mission being fast-tracked to be implemented by the end of the summer. Power said they would have more information on both those plazas shortly, but that they wanted to convene public meetings before going to the press. Assuming the Castro community is pleased with 17th Street, the plaza could become permanent in November.

  • Pat

    The people who express surprise at how well this is working in regards to both being a pleasant public space and reducing traffic are just dumbfounding.

  • marcos

    Casual intermingling!

    Isn’t that what happens when the MTA relies on the San Francisco Bicycle Corporation as sole representative of bicycle interests?

    SO the Corporation is now on record as sacrificing a segment of the bike network in order to please others without consideration as to the introduction of less safe conditions.

    What does it mean that a politically greased pilot project can proceed without concern to the established city policy of the bicycle route network solely because a private organization has no spine?


  • gd

    griping on a blog does not constitute actual advocacy.

  • SfResident

    As somebody who lives a few blocks from the plaza this makes me quite happy. Whatever tiny impact this may have on a very small number of bicyclists (an impact that can and should be mitigated when this becomes permanent) is far outweighed by the HUGE difference this plaza makes for pedestrians crossing that intersection and the general livability of the neighborhood.

    Hopefully this project will convince merchant associations and politicians that replacing vestigial streets with parks and plazas improves business, makes cities more livable, and is simple common sense.

  • thegreasybear

    The popular new plaza is not obviously “less safe” for cyclists than the free-for-all of jaywalkers and speeding cars over trolley tracks that preceded it.

  • “with the next two locations in lower Potrero and the outer Mission being fast-tracked”

    As a resident of the actual neighborhood “Outer Mission” (which most people – including city planners – don’t even know exist, but it does: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=outer+mission,+san+francisco ), I need to nit pick. Will the next one be in Bernal Heights or where? Somehow I doubt it’s really going to be in my car ghetto, I mean, (su)burb.

  • Barna,
    San Jose and Guerrero. Kinda on the border or Noe Valley, Bernal, Mission, Precita. I live two blocks away and really don’t know how to tell people what the hood is. Nearest Post Office is Bernal Station.

  • Thanks.. Seems like a nice location for it. Maybe in 10 years it trickles down to the more remote locations of the city too.

  • marcos

    @gd, “griping on a blog does not constitute actual advocacy.”

    Getting paid to advocate for more than a decade for the bicycle network, all bike lanes, all the time, failing to deliver that, and then folding when a segment of the bike network is bisected by this project is not actual advocacy. I’ve accomplished more per unit energy expended in my volunteer bicycle advocacy than the SFBC has accomplished per unit energy and dollar expended over the time we’ve all been at this. More importantly, I’ve not gotten paid to make matters markedly worse as the corporation has.

    Either cyclists are represented at the table, or our paid advocates fold like chairs, tossing bike route segments away in order to please their friends.

    @thegreasybear, “The popular new plaza is not obviously “less safe” for cyclists than the free-for-all of jaywalkers and speeding cars over trolley tracks that preceded it.”

    That’s not a “free-for-all,” that’s “casual intermingling.”


  • thegreasybear

    Marcos, you provide no factual basis for your assumptions, and your logic is unsound. It is not obviously true that the plaza is contrary to cyclists safety or needs; it does not follow that the very existence of the new plaza is evidence the SFBC and the city are ignoring or harming cyclists.

    You simply don’t know if there is any de facto loss whatsoever to the cycling network, because you are focused narrowly on an imaginary line on paper that may or may not have ever been used by real-world cyclists in the first place.

    Indeed, 17th at Castro was always for westbound cyclists a dead-end with trolley tracks and unregulated three-way ‘intermingling’ forcing cyclists either into an illegal left or a forced right over rails and an immediate left turn across four lanes of traffic at Market.

    The plaza improves the area, and works no obvious harm to cyclists because there’s no obvious constituency for the dead-end “bike route” there, because cyclists who want to travel in any direction other than east have–always–done so on other nearby streets; and because cyclists can still ‘intermingle’ at that intersection if they really must do so now. At least the intermingling is calmed.

    Imaginary lines don’t trump the benefits brought to real people in a real place by a real plaza.

  • marcos

    I just learned that there was a plan for this cooked up back in the 1990s that included passage for bicycles.

    Does anyone know about this, or was this plan trashed the same way that the Bicycle Plan was?

    @thegreasybear, I’d like to use finger puppets to explain this to in a manner which you might understand, but we’re limited by text. Street reclamations are a good thing, but it is not okay if they conflict with existing plans and bicycle facilities.

    Either there is a bicycle route segment on 17th at Castro on the books or there is not. Either this project conflicts with that plan or it does not.

    This is another case of the City pulling one out of their ass and complaining when we say it smells like ass.


  • thegreasybear and marcos,
    you’ve been saying the same thing to each other with slightly different permutations on the insults since 1:05 pm on May 15th and now across two posts. Why not bring the finger puppets and paper to the next car-free happy hour and settle it over a couple Racer 5s? Maybe leave some room for other points of view on this thread?

  • RachaelL

    I note that there has never been a legal way for a westbound cyclist to continue on 17th without dismounting and walking in a crosswalk (or biking along market and turning around or going an alternate route). Vehicles (including bicycles) were obligated to make a left turn or a right turn at Market and are not allowed to go through (you can see this in Google Maps even). Yes, you could illegally bike in the crosswalk or something like that and cross Market over to 17th street that way, but it isn’t *legal*. So putting in a pedestrian plaza just … what, makes me dismount a few feet earlier? Or dodge some pedestrians then dismount at the cross walk anyway? I really don’t see how this disrupted the bike network. The network was never really “connected” there even if the bike map claims it is.

    I mention this because shortly after I moved to San Francisco, I looked at the bike map and saw that 17th St looked to be a good route for me to take to go up and over the hill (for fun, really). When I got to Market I was incredibly confused as to how I continued on 17th (as the map seemed to indicate!) until I realized I couldn’t directly do so as I could only take a right or a left on Market. I then got off my bike and walked in the crosswalk and then continued.

  • marcos

    @RachaelL, my concerns were more with 17th serving as the connection between the Mission and the Castro, not so much with west bound bicycle movements.

    I’m taking the 33 bus if I’m heading anywhere west from Castro and Market.


  • Taking the 33 instead of riding up 17th?

  • RachaelL


    I don’t see that it really disrupts that all that much as I never liked doing right or left turns there if there were any cars around because they tended to not see me or cut me off (while trying to navigate across tracks). So I almost always would turn left at some point and go down to 18th to get to Castro St. But your point is well taken .. I just don’t follow bike routes in many cases because I’ve found a lot of the existing ones to be obnoxious for me (either crappy pavement compared to a nearby road that isn’t designated or not very fast due to too many stop signs or something else).

  • @Barna Mink, one of these plazas is coming to that crazy-wide block of Naples in the Excelsior – very close to your ‘hood indeed!

  • @Josh, cool!! How does one find out about upcoming projects?

  • thegreasybear

    Matthew–ask and you shall receive. No more from me.

  • I spoke with one of the merchants on the Plaza this morning about the news. He was optimistic about potted trees being installed to address the shade problem sooner rather than later and had been some discussion of putting umbrellas up, but that it’s just too windy for them.

  • marcos

    If they’re going to put up more vegetation on the Castro Street frontage, let’s be sure that its tall enough and dense enough so as to block any possible view that bicycles turning right onto Market might have of a streetcar.

    If we’re going to do this, at least let’s do it right.


  • Chrisellen

    As both a pedestrian or a driver (car) the Castro/17th/Market Street intersection was a nightmare- quite hazardous. I love the new Plaza; what a great place to sit and watch the very interesting crowd go by. And, now that I am disabled (I walk with a cane & am unsteady on my feet), it feels much safer to cross the intersection on foot. Cyclists that flaunt the rules of the road by flying through red lights, driving erratically and ignoring stop signs use to merely annoy me; now they pose a danger to me as well. The cycling community needs to learn how to play well with others…

  • Nick

    I don’t think this plaza is working as well as it should. It looks tacky and forced. I was there the other morning waiting for a bus and it smelled like a public urinal. Is this the kind of success the city wants to replicate in other neighborhoods?

    A world class city can do much better (and bigger) than this. A whole neighborhood should be livable, not one corner of one intersection.

  • @chrisellen, as a cyclist myself I completely agree about cyclists riding unsafely. Its not accurate to blame that behavior on a blanket “cycling community” because there really is no such thing. No more than the “motorist community” can be blamed for drivers who run red lights of the “walking community” can be shamed for the jaywalkers among them.

    I’d really like to see that perception of there being a “cycling community” change because while a large number of cyclists ride unsafely and illegally, generalizing that as being representative of all cyclists isn’t fare to those of us who do ride safely and work at getting others to as well. I’m often more ticked off by the cyclists around me than drivers and now I pretty much only ride with others who’ve trained for AIDS/LifeCycle (which has stricter safety standards than the california vehicle code) and when I take someone out riding for the first I read them the AIDS/LifeCycle safety speech which explains it.

  • marcos

    @Jamison Wieser, I’d really like to see that perception of there being a “cycling community” change because while a large number of cyclists ride unsafely and illegally, generalizing that as being representative of all cyclists isn’t fair to those of us who do ride safely and work at getting others to as well.


    There is no bicycling community until there is one.


  • @marcos, you appear to have gotten hung up on the term “cycling community” and missed the entire point.

    The San Francisco Bike Coalition is an example of a cycling community, and advocate for cycling as a means of transportation, but they are not the only bike community in the world. You yourself have indicated you are a cyclist and the SFBC did not represent your particular interests when they supported the plaza.

    You’ve provided a link to a search of only the SFBC web site, had you not limited the search you would have found a ton of sites for other bike communities.

  • marcos

    @Jamison Wieser, I understand that there is no community, only a set of communities, whether we’re talking cyclists and the SFBC or Jews and Israel. The problem is that folks who are well funded have a larger microphone. When they go out asserting loudly that there is a bicycle community and the SFBC represents that, or that all Jews think the same and we all support Israel, then the narrative of the richest, loudest, most persistent voice becomes the dominant paradigm.

    And under that dominant paradigm, the other members of the “community” asserted by fiat must live with the consequences whether we buy into that community or not.

    The SFBC has been all bike network, all the time now for a decade. The bike network is their singular issue. They did not represent their particular issue when it came to 17th Street.

    The SFBC has been AWOL on matters concerning dangerous conditions, so, yeah, along with others, I’ve been concerned about how the MTA and DPW set up streets for dangerous failure, especially as concerns bicycles. MTA staff admitted that the design needed work. Why can’t you all?


  • Anthony

    Another of the insipid ideas so rampant in San Francisco. Any supervisors and other government officials supporting the idea should be voted out of office.

  • Ross

    The gas station needs to be acquired and Harvey Milk Plaza access should be added to make this public space more of a unified transit area that finally puts park space in the heart of the Castro.


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