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Eyes on the Street: A New Sidewalk Emerges on Valencia Street

IMG_1333.jpgOn the west side of Valencia between 16th and 17th Streets, a widened but unfinished sidewalk is now open to pedestrians. The original sidewalk and the blacktop will be replaced with shiny new tiles. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Business owners on one block of Valencia Street can see the light at the end of the tunnel after months of painful construction that made their stores less accessible to customers. Street trees, bicycle racks and pedestrian-scale lighting haven't arrived yet, but between 16th and 17th Streets, a sparkling new widened sidewalk is beckoning shoppers and diners back even before DPW crews have finished resurfacing it.

Construction on the Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project started in early August, and is bringing wider sidewalks, additional street trees, additional street lighting, sidewalk bulb-outs, and art elements to Valencia between 15th and 19th Streets. While bicyclists are still waiting for the bike lane to be repainted, pedestrians are starting to see the fruits of the DPW's work, and multiple business owners on the block between 16th and 17th Streets were feeling relieved this week as customers returned from holiday travel and no longer found narrow sidewalks and construction barriers.

During construction, "our sidewalk was barely two-and-a-half feet wide, so people were not coming to this side," said Adam Hernandez, a design consultant at Z-Barn Interiors. When the construction barriers were cleared from the sidewalk recently, that all changed, he said. "I'll tell you, since they took this off just before Christmas, it's been a huge difference."

IMG_1305.jpgBetween 17th and 18th Streets, Valencia's western sidewalks aren't quite ready for foot traffic.

"The amount of foot traffic on this side of the street has gotten a lot heavier," said Hernandez. It's actually heavier than it was before construction began, he added, whether because of the wider sidewalks or the time of year.

Suresh Parmar, who owns Bombay Bazar, was also thankful to see the construction barriers come off the sidewalk for now. "Nobody was visiting here during construction, it was too hard to get here," said Parmar. He estimated business was down by as much as fifty percent.

"The last two months, business was very bad," he said. But as of early this week, it's "back to normal."

This segment, on the west side of Valencia between 16th and 17th Streets, will be the first to be completed, followed by the west sides of the other blocks in the project scope, and then the east side of each block. It should all be completed in late spring.

In fact, even this block isn't out of the woods just yet: later this week, DPW crews will begin demolishing and rebuilding the old portion of the sidewalk on this block, said the DPW's Alex Murillo. That will take about two weeks, but pedestrians will have full access to the new portion of the sidewalk during that period. Each building entrance will have a bridge between it and the new sidewalk while crews demolish the old sidewalk and pour in the replacement.

The old sidewalk tiles are being replaced because the sidewalk is getting refinished with a nicer material, said Murillo. "It's a lamp-black type of concrete finish with a sparkle." The new trees and lights won't go in until later in the project, but the sidewalk surfacing on the west side of Valencia between 16th and 17th Street should be finished after two more weeks of work.

Unexpected utility work involving PG&E set this segment back by about a month, said Murillo, so business owners asked DPW to continue working through their holiday moratorium between Thanksgiving and the New Year, and DPW agreed to do so. Santiago Rodriguez, who owns Frjtz Fries, said he wishes the city would have kept the moratorium, since December is a busy month at his restaurant.

"We're actually at the end of our rope," said Rodriguez. "I see what they're doing, I think it's very positive, and I understand that they encountered some problems with PG&E, and the city has been very communicative about what happened, but money is the bottom line, especially with the economy."

This evening will be the first test of how business fares now that residents are back in town and the sidewalk isn't obstructed, he said. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the process has been really painful for most of the business owners here."

IMG_1339.jpgA brand new mid-block bulb-out in front of Bombay Bazar.

Still, like most of the business owners on Valencia between 16th and 17th Street, Rodriguez views the pain as worth the ultimate result. "I'm very much looking forward to having the trees and ... the bicycle racks and everything, the ability to have chairs and tables outside," he said. "At the end of the day, it will be worth the pain."

Bombay Bazar's Parmar and Z-Barn's Hernandez agreed. "They're excellent, they're very good," said Parmar of the new sidewalks. "They did a good job."

"We're looking forward to it," said Hernandez. "Once they finish the trees, lights, everything, and finish this side of the sidewalk, it's going to be beautiful."

"I feel bad for the other parts of Valencia that aren't getting it," he added.

Hernandez estimates that half Z-Barn's customers arrive by foot or bicycle, so improvements to the bike lanes and sidewalk are a welcome enticement to customers. "We get tons of bicycle customers," Hernandez said. "Some even with their little trailers and stuff. It's that kind of community."

IMG_1330.jpgThe bike lane hasn't been repainted between 16th and 17th Streets yet, though nothing's stopping bicyclists from riding where the lane will be.
IMG_1299.jpgConstruction isn't as far along on another block of Valencia.
IMG_1319.jpgNow's a good time to find an open table at some of Valencia's most packed restaurants.

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