Construction Begins on Pedestrian-Friendly Redesign of Fisherman’s Wharf

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Crews began work yesterday on an overhaul of Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf that will expand pedestrian space, reduce the number of cars, and create a more welcoming public realm for the throngs of tourists that regularly crowd the street. Improvements on the first two blocks of Jefferson, between Jones and Hyde Streets, were fast-tracked for completion in time for America’s Cup, which is set to begin on July 4. Construction was originally scheduled to begin in October, but it was pushed back to January for unspecified reasons.

The project, designed with the help of Danish architect Jan Gehl, is expected to transform Jefferson into the kind of popular pedestrian-oriented streets that are found many in cities across the world, but are few and far between in San Francisco, as the San Francisco Business Times noted back in June:

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The remade Fisherman’s Wharf will recall — but not try to copy — other noted areas where strolling and biking are the main way to get around a shopping/eating district, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade or Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road.

“It’s not being done to make it like Disneyland,” said Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District. It was important to shopkeepers and other longtime residents of the area that Fisherman’s Wharf maintain its character, Campbell said.

“On a busy day, it should feel like an outdoor plaza, an urban living space,” said Neil Hrushowy, project manager in the city’s Planning Department.

The remake will be paid for with money from the Department of Public Works, he said.

Some local merchants said they looked forward to seeing the final product. The design firms hired by the city, Gehl Architects from Copenhagen and ROMA Design Group of San Francisco, drew inspiration from big cities around the world.

“What happens (in San Francisco) is we tend to think about what we know and we don’t really think about what has been successful in other cities,” said Tom Creedon, president of Scoma’s restaurant, which has been on Fisherman’s Wharf since the 1960s. “The trend is getting people out of their cars and walking in the streets.”

Although previous iterations of the plan called for a pedestrianized street without curbs, where cars would share a pedestrian-priority space, the final plan instead includes one narrow traffic lane in each direction, and no car parking. Design features like special pavement treatments should keep car traffic tamed at slow speeds and deter drivers from using the street, making it more comfortable to use on bike and foot.

A revamp of Fisherman’s Wharf has long been needed, and this project has been in the works since 2006. As Gehl noted at a San Francisco event in 2009, California’s second most-visited tourist attraction hasn’t changed much since he visited it in the 1980’s: “Now it’s like deja vu; it’s exactly like I remember it 25 years ago,” he said.

Beyond the first two blocks, no timeline is available for completion of the rest of the project.

  • Tcampbell

    Thanks for the story!  
    -Troy Campbell

  • that’s great!

  • Davistrain

    Looks like they’ve uncovered the long-abandoned State Belt Railway tracks.  I was here last Saturday (for live music at Lou’s) and there wasn’t a sign of construction work then.

  • mikesonn

    So… about that F-line extension to Ft. Mason…?

  • Kevin

    Above all I’m glad to see this stretch being converted to two way. Currently, many bicycles avoid the adjacent hill by salmon-riding up Jefferson.

  • ubringliten

    That’s a terrible plan. Having a two car direction street will increase traffic. You’re going to have idling cars or loud motorcycles going through. Do we not cherish peace and quietness in SF besides in our homes and at GGP?

  • TR

    This is great! I frequently visit the wharf for events, ferry rides in the bay, and taking visitors to see it. This looks like the beginning of a solid plan to address deficiencies in the traffic flow! Congrats to all those making this happen. I can’t wait to see the results after it’s finished and do some dining while there!

  • Davistrain

    Current plans call for the extension to start at Jones (present terminal) with a switch to allow cars to continue west on Beach or head back toward the Ferry Building.  Thus, the ex-State Belt tracks will just be removed and (on Jefferson) not be replaced with streetcar tracks.

  • guy

    This is definitely one instance where a wider sidewalk is called for desperately. I do think they are missing an opportunity to showcase a little history by not preserving the State Belt in some small way, or making a nod to it.

  • mikesonn

    @b9079a2928b221307247ecba46d1ed0f:disqus That doesn’t make sense. I’m going to have to look up the plans. Why Beach and not Jefferson? Plus Beach will include conflict with the cable car turn around.

  • Alex A

    This is great, the area is in need of significant work.  To bad they got rid of the original designs for the pavement. I would suggest a different form of lighting, something that is more illuminating than the streetlights they choose. Also something that looks more modern. 

  • David M

    This is a good project and I’m happy to see it get underway. But isn’t most of the foot traffic on the south side of the street? Wouldn’t that be the side to expand? Or is the idea to expand the north side since it gets more sun and will encourage more foot traffic on that side as well?

  • Alex A

    Probably because the sidewalks getting the makeover are the thinest sidewalks and need they need to revitalized the area to get more people to the stores there.  Also it has to do with the America’s cup.

  • I think the reason to expand the North side is to increase access to the waterfront, since it is so important to SF tourism. Just like how along the Embarcadero there are many more businesses inland, but expanding the waterfront sidewalks instead has increased the number of people out and about. 

  • Trentblase

    I posit that foot traffic is primarily on the south side because the north side sidewalks are too small.  The north side is nicer, however, because it gets sun.


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