Bulb-Outs: Noe Valley’s Getting Them, Outer Balboa’s Got Them

Photo: SFMTA
Photo: SFMTA

Two business corridors are getting a boost from sidewalk bulb-outs: Balboa Street in the Outer Richmond recently had some finished, and 24th Street in Noe Valley will get them this fall.

The dozen-odd sidewalk extensions on outer Balboa were completed in May as part of a larger project under construction since last year that also includes a road diet and repaving. The SFMTA said that the switch, to two from four traffic lanes, both calmed traffic (as part of an area traffic calming plan) and provides wider lanes that Muni buses could actually fit in.

In April, Balboa also got a parklet, in front of Simple Pleasures Cafe at Balboa and 35th Avenue. The parklet is the second one in the Richmond, and the city’s second to occupy angled parking spaces.

The bulb-outs provide space for planters, although some neighbors were riled by their size relative to the sidewalk. One corner also features a monument that marks the Balboa corridor, which an SFMTA Facebook post called “an Outer Richmond gem.” The SFMTA wrote that staffers refer to the bulb-outs as ‘Balbo-outs.”

In an SF Chronicle article last year, District 1 Supervior Eric Mar called the Outer Richmond strip “a quirky, great place,” and said “the project will bring new life to a very old neighborhood.”

The size of the planters that came with the bulb-outs on Balboa irked some residents. Photo: SFMTA
The size of the planters that came with the bulb-outs on Balboa irked some residents. Photo: SFMTA

Plans for 24th and Castro Streets in Noe Valley. Image: DPW

In Noe Valley, the Department of Public Works’ “24th Street Urban Village” project, approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors last month, will create transit bulb-outs at 24th’s intersections with Castro and Noe Streets, and add some decorative crosswalk markings at those locations and at Church Street. The new pedestrian space will create some additional space for pedestrians and around Muni stops, and allow Muni buses to load without pulling in and out of car traffic.

“This streetscape project will spotlight 24th Street as a community and transit hub, and is part of a greater city initiative to construct safer, greener, and more beautiful streets,” Supervisor Scott Wiener wrote in a recent newsletter.

Bolder plans for more “urban village”-like streets have been shelved in recent years. In 2010, the Planning Department proposed converting a block of Noe at 24th into a pedestrian plaza, and closing it to cars. Unfortunately, some neighbors shouted loudly enough to keep the block open to unfettered car access. Neighborhood residents are, however, working on turning a nearby parking lot into a plaza instead.

A transit bulb-out planned at 24th and Noe. Image: DPW
24th and Church will only get decorative crosswalks, but no bulb-outs. Image: DPW
  • p_chazz

    This is a nice companion project to the improvements on Castro between 19th and Market.

    The 24th St Park being developed is far superior to the earlier proposal to interrupt the street grid by closing a block of Noe to automobile traffic. People don’t like things they don’t want shoved down their throats. That’s why they turned out in such numbers to oppose it. It’s called democracy, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with the concept.

  • Jamison Wieser

    In addition to the decorative crosswalks, 24th & Church will be signalized with new J-Church boarding platforms on the far side of the intersection (after the light) as part of the top Transit Effectiveness Project improvements to be implemented in the next couple years.

    That could be why the SFMTA isn’t doing any more than patterned crosswalk at this point.

  • Michael Smith

    Ack, when is the MTA going to learn that where there is a streetcar or bus stop that a traffic signal doesn’t speed up transit. It only degrades the pedestrian environment.

  • Jamison Wieser

    One of the reasons to install a signal is to speed up transit service. When a train or bus approaches, the signal can hold a green until the vehicle reaches the platform and a lot of the time-travel reduction projects depend on that working.

    Speeding up Muni will mean giving Muni vehicles priority and that will sometimes come at the expense of the pedestrian experience, but:

    1) I look at more reliable transit service as part of the pedestrian experience (where waiting for a walk signal is worth it if there’s a faster Muni ride at the other end)

    2) it will all depends on the design itself and what the tradeoffs are (signals with corner bulbouts would mean waiting for a walk signal, but having a shorter distance to cross and more sidewalk space at the corners) and that project should be coming up next year.

  • jd_x

    I hear ya, but if true, this seems silly to take away from the pedestrian experience when just about every other intersection on Church between 30th and 22nd has much fewer pedestrians yet stop signs the whole way. Why not signalize some of those intersections and leave the pedestrians with the one intersection with the heaviest foot traffic? Traffic lights kill the “urban village” feel and make it feel car-centric.

    I still don’t know why we can’t just ban cars on at least one block of 24th St and turn the street into a plaza …

  • jd_x

    As somebody who wants to see my city move away from prioritizing cars over all else, I get cars shoved down my throat (figuratively speaking, thought their pollution literally gets shoved down my throat) all the time. Why is that okay but motorists having to get some things “shoved down their throat” not okay?

  • vcs

    Great. The current configuration is horribly dangerous because the transit island disabled ramp blocks drivers’ view of the intersection.

  • murphstahoe

    Democracy involves “elections”. The only candidate in the ” election ” at that time who supported the project won easily. The office holder at that time ran for Mayor and finished 10th.

    If these bulbouts eliminate parking I predict the cast of characters will show up to complain and the current office holder will thank them for their opinion but it will not impact the changes. And he will cruise to re-election.

  • RoyTT

    But it matters how you position it. If you can show a community how removing some parking will reduce pollution, congestion, and accidents while providing very specific local benefits, there’s a good chance you can convince many of them.

    If instead you position it as “moving the city away from prioritizing cars”, then people will likely be hostile to that. People want to hear this is not just about deliberately inconveniencing them as part of a city-wide ideology. Rather they want to hear that you’re actually thinking hard about improving their lives in that one very specific location.

    You can think this is ultimately about making it harder for people to drive. Just don’t say it if you want to win hearts and minds.

  • Michael Smith

    Note: my point is that replacing a stop sign with a traffic signal at a bus/streetcar stop does NOT speed up transit. The vehicles are already stopping to pickup or alight passengers because that is a very heavily used stop. Therefore having a green light does NOT speed up transit since the transit vehicles are going to stop at the intersection anyways.

    Plus Transit Preferential Signaling (TPS) doesn’t even mean that the transit vehicle always gets a green light. It simply means that in certain cases the green light will be extended. For example, if TPS is to extend a green light by up to 10 seconds but the vehicle is 12 seconds from the intersection it will still get a red light and have to stop at the light, and then again at the transit stop, actually slowing down transit. Another issue is that if a bus with TPS is coming the other direction on 24th then the streetcar wouldn’t get priority. In this situation, where there is currently a stop sign, putting in a TPS signal can only hurt.

    Another issue is that Muni has a very bad track record in implementing TSP. Check out how often the streetcars stop on the F-line on the Embarcadero and the T on Third St. They should be looking at fixing those problems first.

    Plus look at the cost. We are likely talking about $400k project to put in a signal and move the stops. That money could be far more effectively spent implementing TPS at intersections that already have signals.

    TSP signals are an improvement over non-TPS signals and should be implemented citywide where there are currently non-TSP signals. But it is a fallacy to say they are better than stop signs.

  • Guest

    With respect to 2), the proposed street design for that intersection, there are no plans for bulb outs there because there is no space for them.

  • Michael Smith

    And with respect to 2), the proposed street design for that intersection, there are unfortunately no plans for bulb outs there.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Your premise is that signalizing the intersection with transit priority and far side boarding will not speed up the J-Church is that it’s already stopping.

    At least going into the Transit Effectiveness Project one of the problems with non-signalized intersections was the multiple stops a train has to make waiting for cars stopped ahead. Having to repeatedly start and stop was creating delays and putting wear and tear on the vehicles.

    Has something changed? Does every J pull up directly to the stop without ever having a car stopped ahead of it?

    But if that’s not the case and transit priority signaling won’t work, then the SFMTA should just toss out the existing TEP and start over.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Along Church Street no, but there’s already one bulbout on the Northeast corner of 24th. The Southeast corner could be extended to create a new boarding waiting and boarding area for eastbound 48 busses while shortening the crossing for pedestrians.

    Since the SFMTA is going to be tearing up the intersection to signalize and build new boarding platforms, it’s an opportunity to make other improvements to the intersection. And since corner extensions are already part of the program level TEP toolkit they can be added without the need for a new environmental study or report.

  • jd_x

    We’re just having a discussion here: I’m not the City trying to “sell” the idea. Sure, the city has to say things carefully, and I think they are. But on this website, when somebody tells me they are having pedestrian- or cyclist-friendly infrastructure “shoved down their throats”, that’s ridiculous because of how often it goes the other way.

  • Walking through the outer Richmond a few weeks back I was pleasantly surprised how much nicer these changes made the neighborhood feel. The neighborhood now feels like a destination, with a center, vitality and character.

    I don’t expect the changes to Noe Valley to be as significant. While it will be nice to have the bus shelter on 24th near the post office not block nearly the entire sidewalk (as it does now) the bus bulb outs will mean that every time the 48 passes down 24th St traffic will come to a standstill. (Although, if this makes drivers give up on taking 24th as a cut through route to somewhere else, maybe this a good thing.) Fancier crosswalks are nice but I haven’t noticed on 24th and Castro that they make car drivers significantly more patient or careful, and I still see close calls on a regular basis when drivers make left hand turns as pedestrians are crossing. I find what has really improved the character, friendliness, and pedestrian experience of 24th street has been the parklets. (I especially like the one in front of Just for Fun.) I wish there were more of them.

    Can’t say I like the idea of a light at Church and 24th. If Noe Valley were a little more open to change, it might be interesting to experiment with shared space/uncontrolled intersections. It doesn’t have to be a roundabout like the video below, but the principles would be similar. These kinds of street designs tend to strengthen communities by putting the focus on human interaction rather than simply focusing on making car travel as convenient as possible.


    A huge improvement for Noe Valley would be to have something in the Real Food dead space. What has it been, a decade now? Nutraceutical is an evil, evil company that supposedly produces health foods. Please avoid purchasing any of their products. (See: http://www.nutraceutical.com/products/ )

  • Sanfordia113

    Roundabouts are great from a traffic engineering and efficiency perspective, but they are real estate hogs. Also less friendly to pedestrians.

  • Sanfordia113

    Until gangsters and homeless are extricated from Muni/SF, Muni will be the least preferred option of any transit modality. And even without them, subways need to be added before it becomes a viable alternative.

  • I thought it was a little odd the Balboa planter has a stone rim around it, since that prevents (or at least limits) stormwater infiltration. However, the Richmond Review link notes: “The planters were raised slightly above ground level as an ADA issue so that people who are visually impaired will not walk into them and they can find the edge of the pedestrian walkway, according to DPW representatives.” I hadn’t heard that reasoning before- not sure if it’s a new precedent.

    Regardless, glad the SFFD hasn’t blocked these projects… yet, anyway.

  • Richard

    How come DPW did not put in Bulb outs at 38th and Balboa and MTA will not put in a STOP sign for traffic going East and West on Balboa. The way it is today this is a very dangerous intersection. What is the City going to do th fix this problem.

  • p_chazz

    A plaza on 24th would screw up the route of the #48 bus.

  • p_chazz

    Because cars are the status quo. You want change? It’s up to you to build a consensus in favor of the change.

  • p_chazz

    As I said you need to build a consensus of people in favor of the change in order to make it happen. This includes more than just people who think as you do.

  • Dark Soul

    Wait minute, Are they just designing the sidewalks just make it look better or they are just doing that jam traffic along with muni?

    Cause see Street Safety being degraded (Cars,Bikes,Transit) by the Widen Sudewalks instead of having safety overall balanced

  • Will

    It is certainly the case that the J almost never has to wait for a car stopped in front of it at that intersection. I live 2 blocks away and take the train daily. I also walk through this intersection daily. Watch the death toll climb for people without cars. Cars will increase their speed at the intersection. Goodbye 5 mph, hello 35 mph. And now when 30 people off board the J they are supposed to wait for the light? Too bad bad-planning is ruining one of the last “walkable” neighborhoods. I like to walk and bike through calm intersections, not the motorized traffic nightmare this will become. Another pathetic victory for motorized vehicle speed.

  • ComradeFrana

    “Also less friendly to pedestrians.”

    Not really, in well designed roundabouts pedestrians only have to cross two slowed-down traffic lanes separated by a traffic island. Sure, they have to detour a little, but that’s outweighed by not having to wait at lights.

  • Yes but it adds distance to the crossing. Instead of straight, you have to detour a bit to the new crosswalks

  • Alvin

    I agree with you as that is probably the second most used intersection on that strip (first would be 37th ave and Balboa). It is a dangerous crosswalk as the cars from both sides of the intersection creates blind spots.

  • murphstahoe

    Cars will increase their speed at the intersection. Goodbye 5 mph, hello 35 mph.

    Fortunately we have the cars double parked waiting to get into Whole Foods and the SFPD parked in the 48 bus stop to calm the street.

  • Jim

    You can make a request to the Sustainable Streets Division at MTA. All you need is 100 signatures from your neighbors for them to review your request. That or you can email Eric Mar’s office.

  • jd_x

    I’m sure we can come up with a solution. We can’t hold improving out streets hostage to a design that prioritized, and hence was built around, motorized transit.

    Worst-case, you can create a plaza where only buses can slowly go through, kind of like this (only smaller and with buses instead of trams):

  • Richard Mlynarik

    It’s like we have a coin-operated TEP machine in here.

    The signalisation (lack of) at 24th/Church isn’t a problem. Not for Muni. Not for the J. Not for the 48. Not for SUVs. Not for the Google-y buses. Not for strollers. Not for pedestrians. Not for cyclists. The intersection works.

    New signals are pretty much guaranteed to be a disaster. THIS IS SFMTA WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. Failure is ALWAYS its own reward. As long as some contractor makes out doing make-work it’s all good.

    Oh and for comparison, 23rd/Church a whole block away functioned perfectly without a traffic light until that was stupidly added a decade ago. Now it is a regular obstacle for the Muni J line while providing no benefit of any type to any road or sidewalk user.

    The only problem is with 24th/Church are the bat shit insane high floor ADA platform monstrosities. And as we all have heard from Jamison Wheeler, high floor trams (high floor! post 1980! WTF?) are A Number One Ace OK Bring It On TEP TEP TEP.. In fact, we need to install full-length high-floor platform “stations” on 24th … somehow. And if not, remove the stop TEP TEP TEP TEP TEP TEP TEP.

  • Jamison Wieser


    While this crazy motherfucker babbles on, another piece of information about the TEP and ADA boarding platforms you are free to hold me responsible for, is that by moving the platforms to the far side, the boarding ramp will be located at the far end of the platform where it will meet the front door and the operator at a level height. This does away with the awkwardly placed inbound ramp and the outbound ramp a half block away.

    I have nothing to do with these design decisions, nor did I set the 1990 ADA requirements, and I know I’m going to be the great satan to Richard for thinking this, but my personal take is the far side platforms will be an improvement over the ones there today.

    SFMTA intends to signalize many intersections to reduce travel times. This is the only new signal proposed on the J, the L has 9 for comparison, and for all this vilifying I don’t have a position on signalizing this intersection, far side boarding alone should offer some level of speed improvement, but that’s how the system SFMTA intends to install will work.

    Since SFMTA plans to signalize, they will be tearing up the intersection to lay all the sensors, utility poles, power, etc. it makes sense they went with very modest changes in the interim. And because they will be tearing up the intersection and adding signals I think it’s well worth asking if there are additional bulbout possibilities – like a bus boarding island at the southwest corner to match the one on the northeast corner – or other traffic calming tools they already have approved as part of the toolkit that can help mitigate the fact SFMTA does plan to be signalizing it?

  • Jamison Wieser

    To your first point,and towards the goal of building consensus.

    Parklets provide a good example of how we can start getting our priorities straight a few parking spaces at a time. As they become more widespread they become an even more relatable example of a local benefit.

  • Lee Ross

    I live in the Outer Richmond. All these enhancements are nice. The critics have been hyper ventilating because CHANGE IS TOUGH. Realistically the overall changes are ok. Nothing fantastic yet definitely not worth the scorn heaped on City Hall. What is really the big change OUT HERE are the influx of more upscale eateries which, I suppose, is commensurate with the BIG hike in property values and rents. Now THAT’S A STORY!!

  • Richard Mlynarik

    This is the only new signal proposed on the J, the L has 9 for
    comparison, and for all this vilifying I don’t have a position on
    signalizing this intersection, far side boarding alone should offer some
    level of speed improvement, but that’s how the system SFMTA intends to
    install will work.

    That’s a fascinating regurgitation of TEP TEP TEP.

    But THE FACTS ON THE GROUND are that 24th/Church is not a problem for the J, nor for the 48, nor for any other vehicle or pedestrian or other mode of transportation.

    The ONLY problem is the positioning of the bat shit insane high floor ramp on the inbound track.

    How does a new signal fix that?

    What does far side boarding have to do with that? (Other than fixing an idiot construction the most expensive and unnecessary way, as an almost-unintended side effect.)

    What the hell does that have to do with the L?

    This is a simply bad project. It’s not just un-neeed and wasteful, but it is guaranteed to be counter-productive, not just for Muni, but for every user of the intersection.

    Come on Jamison, man up, grow a pair, and admit that SFMTA (America’s Finest Transportation Planners! With the mode share, cost effectiveness, operating costs, implementation speed, and capital costs to prove it!) make a mistake once every couple decades … or so.

  • Jamison Wieser

    SFMTA’s plan for the J-Church is located here if you want to know more about traffic calming measures proposed along the corridor:


  • stevenj

    Far more people in SF ride transit, walk or bike than drive cars. It’s been that way for a very long time. The playing field is being leveled now. Gradually and hopefully these cumulative changes will make “transit first” mean transit first.

  • Jamison Wieser

    There is no fucking way that I’m going to give you that satisfaction of admitting the SFMTA ever makes a mistake because I never said they didn’t.

    Of course you’re just being contrary and don’t want the SFMTA to do anything to improve Muni service or quality of life. First you bitching about that boarding ramp being a monstrosity, then you don’t want it to be moved.

    Stop being so contrary about everything.

  • lukebc

    I’d like to hear YOUR reason for 37th&Balboa “being dangerous” given that is it a FULLY controlled intersection with stop signs on ALL four sides.

  • lukebc

    I’ve lived right around the Outer Balboa street corridor on and off for nearly 25 years (I spent nearly a decade working and living in NYC in-between).

    I went to one of the “get off my lawn ranting” meetings at the Cabrillo Playground during the construction. I’m not exactly, as my might’ve parents said, “a spring chicken anymore”, nor am I some millenial.

    ALL I heard from the WHINERS and the SNIVELERS at the Cabrillo Playground “meeting” was “GET OFF MY LAWN” thrown at the folks who were overseeing the upgrading of Balboa between 33rd (yes 33RD!) and 39th.

    ALL through the “trip over planters” AND “planters block way” AND “sidewalks will bleh bleh bleh BLEH” WHAT I CLEARLY WAS HEARING WAS “I/ME/MYSELF/ONLY ME/ME/ME/ME!/ME!/ME!/ONLY ME/ME/ONLY ME/ME/ONLY ME/ME/ONLY ME/ME/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/I/I/I/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/I DON’T!/ME/ME/ME/ME/ME/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!………”

    Now whenever I stroll between 34th and 39th, all I do is think about all the ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME!/ME! at the Cabrillo Playground meeting and how they are NOW stewing away in their mind about “I was NOT wrong”…. “I was NOT wrong”…. “I was NOT wrong”…. “I was NOT wrong”…. “I was NOT wrong”…. “I was NOT wrong”….


SFMTA Presents Design Options for a More Livable Polk Street

Planners at the SF Municipal Transportation Agency this Saturday unveiled options for redesigning Polk Street as a better place for walking, biking, socializing, and transit. The proposed concepts [PDF] show different ways to arrange the limited amount of street space for traffic lanes (which serve buses on Muni’s 19-Polk line), bike lanes, expanded pedestrian areas, […]

SFMTA to Study Safety Upgrades for the Richmond’s North-South Bike Routes

The SFMTA plans to study safer walking and biking routes on five of the Richmond District’s north-south streets, which connect the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. At the behest of D1 Supervisor Eric Mar, the SF County Transportation Authority recently granted $100,000 in Prop K sales tax revenue for the SFMTA to launch the study. Over […]

Parking-Protected Bike Lanes, Ped Safety Upgrades Coming to Division at 9th

Bike lanes on the block of Division Street between 9th and 10th Streets will get some much-needed protection this fall. Earlier this week the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a design that will put people on bikes between the curb and parked cars. The massive 9th and Division intersection will also get safety improvements like large painted curb […]

This Week: East Bay BRT Hearing and a “Hella Big Bike Party”

This Wednesday, the AC Transit Board of Directors will hold a hearing on approving plans for the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The SF Planning Commission this Thursday will also hold a hearing on approving CPMC’s development plans at the Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s sites, and the biggest bike party comes together this Saturday in […]