Eyes on the Street: A Livable Street Emerges Next to the Central Freeway

Elgin Park, old and new. Left: Google Maps. Right: Mark Dreger.

A nice little transformation has taken place on Elgin Park, a one-block residential street next to the Central Freeway touchdown at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard.

Streetsblog reader Mark Dreger sent in the above photo of the makeover, noting that “it looks like SF’s version of a woonerf” — the Dutch term for the pedestrianized streets common in the Netherlands, where cars are allowed, but priority is given to people on foot and children playing.

The project is a piece of the Department of Public Works’ West SoMa Improvements, which set out to create greener, calmer streets in the neighborhood around McCoppin Street, where the Central Freeway spur was reconstructed in the middle of the last decade. While the removal of the freeway north of Market revitalized Hayes Valley, Caltrans insisted on rebuilding the freeway on the south side of Market, despite a city-backed plan to remove it further south.

Elgin Park, which lies west of Valencia between Duboce Avenue and Market (where there’s a bike/ped-only entrance ramp from Market), is one of several alleyways that are being revamped with new pavement and greening, as well as traffic-calming chicanes and raised crosswalks. At the west end of McCoppin (on the opposite side of the freeway), which has been re-paved with planted medians, chicanes, and bike lanes, the McCoppin Hub plaza is set to be constructed by summer, according to the DPW website.

  • rick

    better but …. still with all that ugly overhead wiring.
    i know the city has used up 8 additional years of underwiring dollars from state mandated PG&E payments, but i cannot understand why when it spends money like this to do something nice… or even more money to do something essential – like ripping up a whole street for new sewer or gas lines- it doesn’t go the extra mile and get rid of the poles and wires.
    the cable/internet providers want 3×5 sidewalk boxes for needed upgrades.  here and there a little more digging, where we’re already digging, can eliminate that need.
    want more trees? every time one goes down and takes out some wires use the opportunity to underground and plant an entire block with trees of the right species and scale.
    sorry for my rant but looking at the stamped payment, and watching them stamp briefly one day, i couldn’t help but feel this street’s wires were even less likely to ever go.

  • The overheard wiring is very characteristic of older cities that didn’t bury their wires. I think it’s kitschy and cute. Any buried ones probably mean ugly transformers on the sidewalk. 

  • mike

     Where would we throw our old shoes? : )

  • Wow, that looks fantastic.  I hope they bring this to more small streets.

  • Nosebob


  • I hope they bring more small streets!

  • r212

    This looks great, but considering that Elgin Park was a narrow dead end alleyway before this improvement, it was pretty “livable” without an extra yucca plant or two. too bad we don’t cant spend the money or political capital to do this on residential streets that actually has traffic issues, like streets in the western half of the city or streets like Scott or Page that absorb traffic from Diviz or Oak.

  • Urban Life Signs

     For the record, Elgin Park was not a narrow dead end alleyway before the improvement. The street has had access from both Market and Duboce since the freeway ramp was built to Market Street. Before the freeway ramp was rebuilt, it connected to McCoppin.

    The improvements were made as part of the Central Freeway/Octavia Blvd project. The concern by local residents is that there would be increased traffic down Elgin Park. I don’t live on the street, but whenever I’ve walked or biked down it, it’s been pretty quiet, so your point about it being livable already is pretty true.

    I agree with you that Page and Scott have been more affected by Octavia/Central Fwy improvements. I recall that a pilot project for traffic circles was done on Page Street several years ago. However it ran into negative feedback from locals. There’s probably a more detailed story to that but as with anything, there needs to be active public support that engages politicians and agencies for anything to get done. Plus, the devil is in the details. I heard that the traffic circles weren’t that well designed, much like the chicane on Elgin Park, which is too small.

  • Sluk

    Wow, this is amazing !  Bottomline, foilage aside, which street do YOU want to live on ?
    While I have yet to find out the total cost of renovation, the increase in property value and improved quality of life for the residents must be substantial.

  • need more projects like this

    Very true about the property value. Many projects do not get constructed due to lack of funds, but if residents desire a project because of the benefits that it will bring to their street and know that the value of their house could go up by 3-5%, maybe they’d be more willing to help pay for it via some avenue, such as a special, time-limited assessment to their property tax. If the average property in SF costs $700,000 and a beautified street improves its value by $21,000 (3%), I’d be happy to contribute some funds to make that happen.

  • Cafebmw

    steven, you must be joking. overhead wiring is a mark 3rd world infrastructure. well, that’s where we are heading anyway in and with this country…
    rick is totally right!

  • Rflevitt

    Though I support any improvements to make our streets more attractive, the recent rebuilding of the alleys in the North Mission, Jessie, Stevenson, Elgin Park and Pearl, represent a lost opportunity. In terms of traffic calming, prior to their makeover those streets were already calmed with very little traffic anyway (especially Jessie, which is a dead end street). And as far as being “SF’s version of a woonerf”, some colored Bomanite (stamped concrete), a couple of shaggy planters and raised tables at the ends of the streets do not a Woonerf make. I’ve visited and documented Woonerfs throughout Europe. They really are pedestrian zones where cars tread lightly. For a much better example of a SF Woonerf, there’s Hotaling Street near the Transamerica Pyramid where there’s no differentiation between the pedestrian and the vehicle zones.

    In their rush to rectify what they saw as an injustice when the Central Freeway touchdown ramp was built on the south side of Market, neighbors there accepted a cosmetic appeasement rather than demanding substantive improvements to their neighborhood. Just adjacent to these alleys is Duboce Street which is the epitemy of a traffic sewer. If there’s anywhere in SF that needs traffic calming, that street is it. But had the residents of those alleys demanded actual Woonerfs rather than watered down versions, at least we would have had real examples of them in SF that could have served as models for other parts of the City.

    As they turned out those alleys may look nice and have a symbolic meaning to the residents in that immediate area. But as far as being a substantial improvement to the North Mission or something of benefit to the broader community they fall short.

    Also as an aside, I’d like to address an often expressed misunderstanding about the Central Freeway touchdown ramp that was mentioned in the
    article. It was not built at Caltrans’ insistence but was the result of
    two voter approved initiatives in 1998 and 1999. It’s construction could
    only have been halted by another ballot initiative. After four
    successive votes on the Central Freeway from 1997-1999,
    that unfortunately wasn’t going to happen.

    But in April of 2004 the SF Board of Supervisors did pass resolution 304-04 that called for the state to not undertake any future retrofits or major repairs of the Central Freeway and for the SF County Transportation Authority to study its eventual removal. It’s been nearly a decade since that resolution passed and there’s still not been any movement on that study. I suggest this is a cause the folks in the North Mission, Streetsblog and other smart transportation policy advocates should undertake. Were that to go forward and eventually result in the removal of the elevated freeway, that would be a real improvement for the North Mission as well as the whole of San Francisco.


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