Planning Dept. Presents Draft Designs for a Ped-Friendly Castro Street

Images: SF Planning Department

The city’s effort to make Castro Street more welcoming for pedestrians took a step forward yesterday, when the SF Planning Department presented preliminary design concepts at a packed community meeting.

The plan [PDF] would improve the pedestrian realm on the commercial corridor with wider sidewalks, sidewalk seating, pedestrian-scaled lighting, small plazas, and greening, while reclaiming some of the excessive street space devoted to automobiles, which would reduce double parking and tame motor vehicle traffic.

Castro’s intersections with Market/17th (at the Castro Muni Metro Station), 18th, and 19th Streets would also be made safer with bus bulb-outs, sidewalk extensions, and more visible crosswalks re-aligned to shorten crossing distances. Planners are considering banning right-turns at red lights to discourage drivers from blocking crosswalks.

The proposal is based on a plan adopted in 2008 by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, which, coupled with $4 million in Prop B street improvement bonds recently secured thanks to D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, helped move the project forward.

“We get used to all sorts of plans and ideas that don’t go anywhere because there isn’t the political will, or there isn’t the money, and to finally have the money set aside set for the project and so much community support is just terrific,” said Wiener.

An early milestone came when Jane Warner Plaza was created in 2009, carved out of a section of 17th Street at Castro, as envisioned in the CBD’s plan. “Re-claiming that asphalt for people, and the fact that it was instantly occupied and successful, demonstrated that there’s a latent demand for more and better-quality public space in this area,” said Ed Reiskin, director of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. “People are sometimes walking in the road to get through the crowded sidewalk.”

A draft design for Castro at Market and 17th Streets.

Attendees at the meeting seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the project, though a few raised concerns about losing car parking. Only a few spots, if any, would be removed, depending on the final design, but that didn’t placate one merchant who said she didn’t want the rampant, illegal double parking on Castro (which causes a traffic mess, endangers bicycle riders, and slows down Muni) to go away.

The opponents don’t seem to have much sway. Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro CBD, said such a fixation on parking was held by only some merchants, and that the benefits of the improvements would outweigh any perceived drawbacks.

“A lot of commercial streets in San Francisco exist without double parking,” said Aiello. “I think it’ll be safer for everyone in the long run.”

“This is an opportunity to do some really great things that will enhance business and make the space more livable and enjoyable, and make the sidewalk a space that you don’t just have to walk all the time, but some of the restaurants can have tables and chairs, and really add life to the Castro,” said Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.

The Planning Department expects to present a refined design at another community meeting in late February, and construction could begin late this year.

Castro and 18th Streets.
Castro and 19th Streets.
  • Why not have a pedestrian scramble at 18th and Castro?  I can think of no other intersection in the city that needs it more (though some intersections in the Mission could also use it.)

    In the evenings at least three or four parking spots on each side of Castro between Market and 18th need to be reserved for taxi (or other passenger) pick up and drop off. Perhaps even a few spots on Castro just south of 18th. Otherwise there is bound to be constant double-parking and wicked congestion.

  • Anonymous

    Looks great, but no bike lanes? That’s a shame. I hope that they don’t make the same mistake as on Valencia and have trees, sign posts, etc right in the middle of the sidewalk effectively reducing the gains in width.

  • Anonymous

    At the meeting they said they were studying a pedestrian scramble at 18th

  • Given the choice between bike lanes and sidewalks that are 6 feet wider, I’d take the sidewalks on this street. If the traffic is calmed or congested it will be rideable by those willing to but good alternatives exist (Noe). Castro here is in a soup bowl past 20th and past Market, not a critical cycling through corridor.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Castro is not a bike route. But Market and 17th both are and the draft plan upgrades them to green lanes.

  • Guest

    Valencia is the way it is because they kept the line of mature trees and other existing features.  Yes, ideally they wouldn’t be in the middle but thankfully they did as much as they did.  Relocating or removing everything to make it the way you’d want it would have cost a fortune, lengthened time for construction and well it just wouldn’t happen because unfortunately these projects dont garner as much support from merchants than they should.  Has anyone ever gone back and surveyed the merchants after these projects.  Seems like many are so thankful it happened yet they fight it tooth and nail all through planning, design, and construction.  Some day they’ll see the light.  Same goes with parking reform.

  •  I have to also agree I’m not concerned about there not being a bike lane, and I live very close by.  My route of choice biking between 17th and 20th is almost always Hartford, one street over from Castro.  And then I’ll either take 17th east, get on Market, or take Noe north. Many fewer cars, less nasty fumes, fewer drivers pulling in and out of parking, almost no taxis stopping suddenly, no Muni buses playing leapfrog with me, lovely trees and architecture, and I don’t have to deal with the 18th and Castro intersection which is hairy and unpleasant with cars trying to make turns and still would be even with a bike lane. (I would like it even more if Hartford were made neighborhood traffic only without non-neighborhood people cutting through.) Yes, Noe between 17th and Market has the problem of squeezing between parked cars and Muni rail tracks, but north of Market, Noe to the Wiggle is about a bazillion times better than biking Castro. The only time I bike Castro all the way to Market (and then ride the Market street bike lane) is before 9am Saturday mornings when there are few cars out and about. But I do walk up and down Castro all the time since walking is almost always faster for me than waiting for the 24.  So I’m very excited about wider sidewalks!

  • Anonymous

    @KarenLynnAllen:disqus All the problems you mentioned with cycling on this stretch of Castro are exactly why I’m saying it needs a bike lane! I agree, it’s totally hairy right now, but if the changes mentioned here take place, it will be much calmer and much more appropriate for cyclists … especially if they add a bike lane. And @twitter-14678929:disqus , I agree that this isn’t a through-route for cyclists, but what if you just want to go somewhere on the street or nearby?! It’s not always about passing through.

    In the end, yes, I agree that this isn’t the highest priority for a bike lane. But why is it that we make sure cars can go on *every* single damn street in the entire city (even in our parks) but somehow cyclists are expected to go elsewhere and should be lucky that there is a street somewhere within a few blocks which has some sort of bike lane, even if it’s just sharrows or confined between parked cars and moving cars. The city has an opportunity to add bike lanes here, even if just the traditional kind, and I think there’s no better way to show they are serious about 20% by 2020 than by making sure every overhaul of a road includes bike infrastructure. I just don’t understand why that’s such a big deal if they road is already going to be torn up and redone.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder why the bus stops for the #33 were moved from after the light to before the light,when the TEP call for them to be after the light.

  • other cities like to kick bikes off of streets by just ignoring them — as the default option — but San Francisco goes out of its way to explicitly ban bikes. good job, y’all.



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