Rainbow crosswalks and gay historical elements are out. Gingkos and King palms are in.
Due to budgetary constraints, San Francisco planners working on the redesign of Castro Street in the heart of the city’s gayborhood have, for now, cut from the proposal such things as rainbow crosswalks, sparkle treatments in the concrete, and embedding gay historical factoids in the sidewalks.
The first 20 Rainbow Honor Walk plaques honoring LGBT people who have made significant contributions to society, which a nonprofit group is privately raising the money for, are slated to be installed along Castro Street as part of the redesign.
Planners disclosed their decision to eliminate the LGBT design elements at an open house last night (Tuesday, May 14) in the neighborhood. It was the third and final public meeting planning staff held to gather public input so they can use that feedback to finalize their design for the streetscape.
Sometime in July they will present the final plans for Castro Street between 19th and Market Streets to the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency board and then the Board of Supervisors for approval. Construction is set to begin in early 2014 and be completed by October of next year.
As the Bay Area Reporter has noted in past stories, the $4 million makeover is being funded from a road-paving bond measure passed by voters in 2011. Depending on the results of the bidding from contractors on the project, there may be a chance that some of the gay-centric elements can be added back into the project.
“Some things we need to wait for the bid results. If they are low enough we can do such things as the rainbow crosswalks, mica sparkles in the sidewalk and the [LGBT] history facts,” said Nick Perry, a Castro resident and an urban designer with the Planning Department’s City Design Group working on the project.
He added that the history facts were “always intended/presented as neighborhood history facts, which includes – but is not limited to – the neighborhood’s LGBT history” and meant to be a “unique and neighborhood-specific” compliment to the Rainbow Honor Walk.
As for the special crosswalks, Perry told the B.A.R. that they “wouldn’t necessarily be rainbows, that was just one example we’ve shown.”
Other decisions revealed at the open house included the types of plantings that will be added to the street. Armstrong maples and white barked birch were nixed in favor of Columnar ginkgos for the majority of the street.
For accent plantings King palms were chosen over two other evergreen species: southern magnolias and Queen palms.
As reported by the B.A.R. last week, Jane Warner Plaza is set to be upgraded as part of the plan based on public feedback. And planners are closely looking at the intersection of 18th and Castro streets to improve pedestrian safety there.
An initial idea to relocate the bus stops at 18th and Castro streets was abandoned as it proved to be too controversial. Instead, bulbouts will be added to the corners in front of the restaurants Harvey’s and K-Pop. The bus shelters on 18th will also be relocated closer to the buildings to give pedestrians more room on the sidewalks.
The car lanes along Castro Street were increased a foot to now measure 12 feet, with the width from curb to curb now 40 feet. Planners are also looking at removing the left-hand turn lane onto 18th Street from north-bound Castro Street in order to have extended sidewalks in that area.
Traffic counts the department did revealed infrequent use of the turn lane. They were gathering feedback from the public during the open house to see if there is support for the proposal.
At the Market, Castro and 17th streets intersection the crosswalk leading from Harvey Milk Plaza to the gas station across the street, where a new housing development is slated to be built, is set to be reconfigured. Pedestrians would no longer be able to directly access the median in the middle of the street where the bus stop for the 37-Corbet route is located.
Instead, transit users would need to cross Market to the other side of the street and walk up 17th Street where a new crosswalk would be installed to the bus stop median. To prevent people from running across to the median, planners are looking at having plants be added to it so it is inaccessible to pedestrians.
“We probably will cut back the median,” added Perry when asked about the likelihood of people jaywalking to the bus stop. “We are talking about maybe doing some landscape there so people don’t think it is a landing pad.”
So far the design for Castro Street has met with mostly positive responses. Castro florist Gary Weiss, the owner of Ixia on Market Street, was especially pleased to see gingkos had been selected.
“I am really excited about it. I am a big fan of gingkos,” he said. “The gingko has in incredibly beautiful color. In the fall it turns a brilliant yellow that is just gorgeous.”
One Collingwood resident, who declined to give his name because he works in design and has business connections to the planning department, did express some concern about traffic gridlock the project may create as there will be less room for cars making turns onto 18th Street to maneuver.
But overall he said he is “generally pleased” with the proposal and thinks having new trees lining Castro is going to be “great.”
Patrick Batt, the owner of Auto Erotica on 18th Street, had no objections to the proposed plans. He is concerned that the construction timetable has not been clearly explained.
Planners have said they intend to do the work in sections so as to be less invasive but have not stated which blocks they will start on. They likely won’t known until August at the earliest.
“If we can weather this it will be good for the neighborhood. It will create a lot of bleeding for the neighborhood,”said Batt. “We are at a crossroads right now. My concern is this could be a death knell for certain businesses.”