Online Extra: Political Notes: Castro Street sidewalks to widen
by Matthew S. Bajko
Big changes are in store along Castro Street as the city has fully funded a project to slow down vehicular traffic and provide more space for pedestrians along the main artery of San Francisco's LGBT district.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener announced in a guest opinion in the December 6 Bay Area Reporter that he had secured funding for the project, which has been talked about for years. It was a key component of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District's Streetscape Plan adopted in 2008.
"Sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate the volume of pedestrians, forcing many into traffic lanes and between parked cars," stated the plan. "At 19th St. pedestrian safety is a real issue. Cars don't see pedestrians and pedestrians cross outside marked crosswalks."
In November 2011 the Political Notes column reported that Mayor Ed Lee, newly elected to a full four-year term and celebrating the passage of a $248 million road-paving bond measure, pledged to see the sidewalk widening project in the Castro be funded from the pot of money.
While Wiener at the time had hoped to see the funding be allocated by the summer, it wasn't until recently that city officials designated $4 million for the project. Work should begin sometime in late 2013.
The plan calls for widening the sidewalks along Castro Street between 17th and 19th streets from 12 to 18 feet and eliminating a traffic lane. The amount of street parking would remain the same and left turn pockets from Castro onto 18th Street should remain in place.
"We are talking about just expanding the sidewalks. We are not tearing up the sidewalks that are there already," Wiener explained to merchants at a meeting in early December.
With the additional sidewalk area, restaurants along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street could seek approval to add outdoor seating in front of their establishments. And the project should address the ongoing problem of delivery trucks hitting and damaging the historic marquee at the Castro Theatre.
The street changes coincide with a planned history project in the Castro that aims to install plaques into the sidewalk honoring LGBT people who have made significant contributions to society. Known as the Rainbow Honor Walk, that project recently selected a design for the plaques and expects to seek approval for it from the city's Arts Commission late next month.
The idea is to have five of the first 20 plaques embedded in the sidewalk on each side of the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street. It is hoped that they will be installed in time for Pride in June.
"We are working closely with the organization to make sure it is coordinated," said Wiener, noting that his aide Andres Power is a former city planner who sits on the Rainbow Honor Walk's board.
What other changes will be made to the Castro's streetscape will be hammered out during several public meetings city officials will hold in January. The process is being coordinated by the Planning Department in conjunction with the Department of Public Works and SFMTA.
The CBD plan recommended that a number of improvements be made to the street, such as more seating, flexible parking and pocket plazas.
It also promoted adding bulb-outs at intersections to assist pedestrians and "discourage" jaywalking as well as called for the planting of more street trees.
The Planning Department is holding an informal open house to discuss the project from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, December 19 at Coldwell Banker, 2355 Market Street.
Due to the holidays, the Political Notes column is going on hiatus. It will return Monday, January 14.
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