|Courtesy SF Planning Dept.|
San Francisco is arguably one of America’s most walkable cities, with its dense, lively downtown complemented by a multitude of compact, bustling commercial districts that provide pleasant strolling experiences. But it also has its fair share of boulevards, like outer Geary and 19th Avenue, whose designs are rigged to maximize automotive throughput — at the direct expense of the pedestrian experience, which ranges from drab and noisy, at best, to downright dangerous, at worst. These boulevards may be wide, but they fall considerably short of grand. Solutions range from reducing speed limits on 19th Avenue to landscaping and dedicated bus lanes and stations on Geary that provide a sense of place and a pedestrian oasis in the median. In contrast to 19th Avenue, the Mission District boasts thorough transit access and a collection of comfortably walkable commercial strips, but there is room for improvement, as the bland landscape of Cesar Chavez (pictured above) demonstrates — with its long, multi-lane, infrequent pedestrian crossings; ample space for cars but narrow sidewalks; inadequate transit and bicycle amenities; and no greenery in sight.
Help is on the way, in the form of a State HCD grant to the tune of $745,000 dedicated to Mission District streetscape improvements, to be applied in the large area bounded by Division/14th Street on the north, Highway 101 to the east, Cesar Chavez/Mission to the south, and Dolores to the west. The streetscape in much of this area is actually already pretty good — many streets are of comfortable width and feature largely continuous streetwalls with attractive architecture and active storefronts in commercial strips. Dolores itself is one of the City’s most beautiful streets. But the area’s auto-dominated streets are in desperate need of improvement — streets like Cesar Chavez, which will have its own redesign scheme under the larger plan, though of course without the dedicated BRT lanes I would eventually like to see built here. The plan draws on a well-documented array of features to improve Mission District streets, including: curb bulbs to narrow the width of pedestrian crossings and to slow auto traffic at intersections; improved transit and bicycle amenities; ample and accessible sidewalks; and more street lighting and greenery.
The development of the Mission Streetscape plan will continue into 2009, and the Planning Department is looking for public input. Folks who are interested are encouraged to attend tonight’s meeting, which will be the first workshop of many:
Wednesday, May 28 (6:30 pm to 9:00 pm)
Cesar Chavez Elementary School
825 Shotwell Street (at 22nd Street)
Finally, on a related note, you may also want to check out one of the community meetings that are being held through mid-June to obtain public comments on the draft Better Streets plan. Better Streets is a more abstract plan that seeks to sensitively customize street design according to the street’s primary uses. The goal is to create a blueprint of pedestrian- and transit-oriented street design that could be implemented in neighborhoods across the City, largely drawing on the same sorts of techniques that would apply in the Mission Streetscape plan area.