Majority wants changes to Castro-Market intersection
by Matthew S. Bajko
Data collected from surveys about the planned street widening project along Castro Street show that a majority of respondents believe the Castro and Market Street intersection needs a total makeover.
Considered the heart of the city's gayborhood, the streetscape at that crossroads is anything but fabulous. Cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and Muni vehicles all converge at the multi-pronged intersection, where a corner gas station is slated to become a mixed-use housing and retail development.
It is dotted with public parklets at three points, two of which are in need of upgrades and the third connected to a weirdly situated bus stop wedged in the middle of the road.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the Market and Castro intersection," said Castro resident Nick Perry, an urban designer with the Planning Department's City Design Group working on the project.
Asked to prioritize the three intersections included in the street widening project's parameters, 56 percent said Castro and Market Street should be given "top priority." Coming in second, with 39 percent, was the Castro and 18th Street intersection.
Just 5 percent picked the Castro and 19th Street intersection as their top priority. The findings are based on 140 survey forms submitted to city planners working on the design for the street improvements, which planning staff shared with the Bay Area Reporter at the paper's request.
The makeup of the respondents broke down to 64 percent residents, 19 percent merchants, 27 percent property owners, and 17 percent visitors. Those living or owning a business or property in the Castro's 94114 Zip code made up 72 percent.
Based on the feedback, it is likely the plan will include a realignment of the crosswalks at the Castro and Market intersection. One idea that has been proposed is to redraw the crosswalk from Jane Warner Plaza across Market Street toward the Pottery Barn building.
It could be moved south in front of the plaza boundary flush with the entrance to the Twin Peaks bar. Sixty-three percent said they "strongly like the crosswalk realignment" idea, with 28 "somewhat" liking it.
Another idea is to close off 17th Street where it meets Market and reconfigure the bus stop there, which is adjacent to Market Street and leads into Pink Triangle Park. Currently, cars traveling south enter 17th Street from the intersection in front of the gas station on the corner.
The proposed plan would reconfigure westbound 17th Street so that the curbside lane on Market Street that feeds directly onto 17th Street would be removed. In its place would be a new 15-foot bulb-out for pedestrians that vehicles would need to first pass and then veer right onto 17th. And the bus stop would no longer extend completely to the crosswalk; access to it would be moved further up 17th Street where a crosswalk would be created.
Sixty-four percent "strongly like(d)" the concept for reconfiguring vehicular access to 17th Street. Another 23 percent said they "somewhat like" it.
Perry told the B.A.R. the proposal for 17th Street could be slated for a second-phase of the project to be financed later, as there is a limited amount of money for the sidewalk expansion project and some changes will have to wait. The city has earmarked $4 million toward upgrading Castro Street from a road-paving bond measure passed by voters in 2011.
"We don't have an infinite amount of resources to spend on the project so we want to make sure we get what people want to see the most there," said Perry, adding that the design is still a month away from being finalized.
Planners will be meeting with the community again April 3 to review the survey results and seek feedback about specific proposals for the improved streetscape. A more detailed version of the proposed changes for the street will be presented at the meeting.
"We want to see what the community thinks about some of the options we will talk about," said David Alumbaugh, a former Castro resident who is the manager of planning's City Design Group.
A third public meeting will be held at the end of April to present the final plan to the community before it heads to both the Board of Supervisors and the city's Metropolitan Transportation Agency's commission for approval in May. Work is slated to begin in January 2014 and be completed by October of that year.
Plaza fixes and street trees rank highly
The survey also asked respondents to rank their top priorities for improvements to the streetscape. Fixes to Jane Warner Plaza, a parklet carved out of 17th Street at Market where the Muni F-line stops, and street trees scored highly.
When asked to pick three possible improvements, 61 percent included street trees and 39 percent included upgrades for Jane Warner Plaza. Sidewalk greening placed third with 30 percent, while a new mini park on the 400 block of Castro garnered 29 percent.
When asked to pick just one improvement, street trees were at the top with 34 percent, while special crosswalk paving netted 11 percent. Jane Warner Plaza and the 400 block mini park both received 10 percent.
Based on those rankings, an initial suggestion to place mini parks on both sides of the street, with two each for the 400 and 500 blocks, will likely be abandoned, said Perry. It remains to be seen if one such parklet somewhere in the 500 block will be included.
It was included in 17 percent of the surveys among the top three items, but fell to 3 percent support when the question was narrowed to picking one thing. Wayfinding signage, public art, and bike racks all ranked at the bottom of the list for both questions.
One idea receiving wide support is to install corner bulb-outs at Castro Street's intersections with 19th and 18th streets, though a higher number of respondents (77 percent) favor seeing them installed at 18th over 19th (61 percent).
Including them in the plan would require relocating the bus stops on 18th Street so that Muni vehicles picking up passengers would not block traffic on Castro Street. Yet the proposal did elicit concerns about the queuing behind stopped busses, with one-third of respondents saying they "either somewhat dislike or strongly dislike" the concept.
As for how the cost of moving the poles that hold up the Muni power lines will impact the project, that is still being determined.
"We have some good solutions to look at. Right now there is no definite decision," said Alumbaugh.
The next public meeting will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 in the auditorium of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, 4235 19th Street between Collingwood and Diamond.
For more information about the project, visit http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=3343.