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Balboa Park Station Area Plan

Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

6:41 PM PDT on August 7, 2014

Ocean and Geneva Avenues, outside the City College Main Campus. Photo via the SF Planning Department

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder of the avenue, stretching eastward to the Balboa Park BART Station, is still in its earlier stages.

Thus far, no major changes have been proposed on Ocean. Most of the street has narrow sidewalks, no bike lanes, and heavy car traffic turning from 280 -- making the street dangerous to cross and snarling Muni. A separate plan is in the works to remove and re-configure those ramps years down the road, but a redesign of Ocean could present the opportunity to free up room for walking, biking, and transit.

On Ocean between Manor and Phelan Avenues, the near-term plans -- set for construction next spring -- include a handful of bulb-outs, new sidewalk greenery, seating, and other street fixtures at three "key" T-intersections: Ashton, Capitol, and Granada Avenues. At those intersections, Lily Langlois, the Planning Department's project manager, said "the street dead-ends at Ocean, so there's this kind of focal point, and an opportunity to build on that street pattern by creating those community gathering spaces."

Community members have already taken proactive measures to improve the public realm on Ocean. Today, an event was held to celebrate a mobile parklet that was developed, designed, and built by high school students from the Youth Art Exchange. It will be placed in front of at least five different local businesses, six months at a time, starting at Fog Lifter Cafe.

Alex Mullaney, publisher of the neighborhood newspaper The Ingleside Light, said he helped push the Department of Public Works to create a plan for streetscape improvements on long-neglected Ocean, and created the Ocean Avenue Association's Street Life Committee.

The near-term streetscape improvements "will go a long way to modernize Ocean Avenue, and bring it up to speed with a number of other neighborhoods," he said. "The new landscaping and amenities will improve quality of life and slow down traffic. Ocean Avenue has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, along with three extremely dangerous intersections. I have zero doubt that the near-term project will turn around those two issues."

A mobile parklet now sits on Ocean and will be moved every six months. Photo: Youth Art Exchange via Facebook
A rendering of Ocean and Capitol Avenues, one of the "T" intersections that will get placemaking upgrades like bulb-outs, greenery, and seating. Image: SF Planning Department
An overview of plans for Ocean and Capitol. Image: SF Planning Department

There are no proposed plans, however, for bike lanes or transit-only lanes on the commercial stretch of Ocean. Pending funding, green-backed sharrows might be added to emphasize to drivers that people on bikes are expected to mix with motor traffic in the outer lanes. The center lanes will remain open to private autos, which often delay the K-Ingleside and block trains from reaching their boarding islands. Any such changes within the roadway would have to be developed under a separate plan, since the scope of the city's near-term endeavor is generally limited to sidewalk improvements.

SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Kristin Smith said that green-backed sharrows may make sense temporarily, but that they "won't 'fix' Ocean Avenue, and there still need to be strong improvements to bike infrastructure as part of the long-term project."

The larger improvements for bike and pedestrian safety will focus on "the long-troubled section of Ocean" between City College and Balboa Park BART, as Mullaney called it.

The scores of people walking on that stretch must contend with dangerous crossings across freeway ramps. Bike lanes that exist only intermittently in the eastbound direction between Lee Avenue and Howth Street, disappearing in the middle at the harrowing intersection with Geneva Avenue. The uphill, westbound direction has no bike lane.

Respondents to a sticker board survey said they favored space for bikes slightly over cars on eastern Ocean. Image: SF Planning Department

Overall, fast-moving automobiles get top priority in Ocean's current design. That contrasts with the priorities of attendees at a recent public workshop, who filled out a survey and placed stickers on boards [PDF] to show how heavily they favor allocating space between the various transport modes: walking, biking, transit, and driving.

That survey will inform the long-term plan for Ocean's eastern section, between Phelan and San Jose Avenues (at Balboa Park). While planners said it was clear that those who weighed in favored space for pedestrians and transit over cars, respondents only slightly favored space for bikes over cars.

Langlois said city planners will continue to develop the long-term plan for Ocean's eastern stretch at future community meetings. But the city won't look at re-configuring the commercial stretch of the street, west of City College, until a separate project is funded, she said. And although the priorities shown in the survey results for eastern Ocean may hold promise, it may take some convincing to get residents to get on board with re-allocating street space for purposes other than cars.

"I think if you were going to re-configure that portion, something would have to give, and I don't know if the community is ready for that at this point," said Langlois.

Image: SF Planning Department
Image: SF Planning Department
Image: SF Planning Department

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