A project aimed at widening the sidewalks in the heart of the gay Castro district has hit an unexpected snag. This time it has nothing to do with conditions at ground level but overhead.
City planners working on the project recently discovered that the changes being proposed near the intersection of 18th and Castro streets will require repositioning the poles used to hold up the high-voltage electrical wiring needed for the Muni bus lines with routes through the gayborhood.
The changes add an unexpected cost to the project and will impact how much money there is to pay for various additional amenities proposed for the streetscape, such as public seating, pavement treatments and tree plantings.
The unforeseen headache has pushed back the planning timeline by a few weeks, and partly explains the delay in scheduling the second public meeting about the project. The next town hall is now expected to be in early April rather than March.
“We hope to wrap up planning by the end of April,” John Dennis, a designer with the city’s Department of Public Works, told Castro merchants during their monthly meeting Thursday, March 7. “We are still struggling with the design plan. Next week we will know what technical details we are grappling with due to the overhead electrical system on Castro Street.”
The construction timeline has not been impacted by the design issues, however, and is still expected to begin in January of 2014 with an October 2014 completion date.
As the Bay Area Reported has reported, the city has designated $4 million from a voter-approved street bond fund to widen the sidewalks along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street as well as install other pedestrian-friendly improvements between 19th and Market streets.
Survey responses find wide support
Castro resident Nick Perry, an urban designer with the Planning Department’s City Design Group working on the project, reported during the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro meeting that 150 surveys had been submitted and that 77 percent of the respondents “strongly liked” the plan so far, with 90 percent saying they “liked” the proposal overall.
“Of course there are a lot of concerns and ideas out there,” said Perry.
Most people said the primary focus should be on fixing the Castro and Market street intersection, followed by 18th and Castro Street. Least priority should be given to 19th and Castro Street, based on the survey responses.
Amenities that scored favorably included street trees, special paving for crosswalks and upgrading Jane Warner Plaza, a public parklet created out of a portion of 17th Street at Castro and Market streets.
The idea of turning a few parking spots into mini parklets on Castro Street – one is suggested across from the Castro Theater and a second in front of the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk’s camera shop – is “polarizing,” said Perry, with many residents expressing support and merchants opposed.
Another concept eliciting strong reactions is having bus bulb-outs rather than bus stops on 18th at Castro, said Perry, adding it was the “most polarizing question on the survey.”
It would mean moving the current bus stops to the opposite side of the intersection so the Muni vehicles would not block traffic on Castro Street. Instead, vehicles would be stopped on 18th behind the buses while passengers boarded.
“Some liked it and an equal number didn’t,” he said.
City officials plan to present fuller findings from the surveys at the upcoming community forum, which is slated to be held sometime next month in the vacant store space at the Market Noe Center on Market Street.