The Castro's sidewalks are crammed. Pedestrians, bikes, late night revelers, double wide strollers, dog walkers and their charges, skateboards, garbage cans, piled cardboard, all jostling for room in an ever shrinking finite space. To help alleviate the bottlenecking SF Planning Department has developed plans to widen the sidewalks and install other improvements from 17th Street to 19th Street along the main drag of the neighborhood.
Sidewalks on Castro, currently a narrow 12 feet wide, could reach widths up to 22 feet, according to Nick Perry, project manager for the Planning Department. This new 'real estate' would be created by narrowing traffic lanes. According to those involved in the redesign the hope is that would calm motor traffic and that it may reduce the rampant double parking that plagues the three MUNI lines currently using that route.
The project got a major boost after Sup. Scott Wiener announced that $4 million would be set aside for it's completion from Prop B bond funds. Wiener wrote in the Bay Area Reporter early this month, “While the Castro has wonderful parks at its edges, the neighborhood has remarkably little usable public space. Harvey Milk Plaza is poorly designed and doesn’t honor its namesake with a wonderful and safe public gathering space. Jane Warner Plaza is terrific but small. While the Castro is one of the most pedestrian-focused neighborhoods in the city, Castro Street’s sidewalks are embarrassingly narrow.”
The Planning Department will begin developing street designs through public workshops starting in January 2013. The Merchants of Upper Market Castro (MUMC) ever johnny on the spot have long sought this change. In 2008 they started the Neighborhood Beautification and Safety Plan which is the brain child of Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD)-the folks who installed and then removed the benches at Harvey Milk Plaza recently. This plan outlines what they hope are all the ingredients SF Planning Dept. will need to make the Castro more user friendly.
This project has been fast tracked due to the extensive work already done by CBD, MUMC, working in conjunction with Mr. Perry, the watchful eye of Sup. Wiener and the gathered input from local residents. Double parking along Castro for deliveries during business hours is already extreme and problematic. Also unclear is how less drive space equals less traffic congestion or how narrowing the lanes will effect our neighborhoods burgeoning bicyclists who share these already dangerous roads.
When the Valencia Street corridor sidewalks were redesigned and upgraded the neighborhood drew a collective sigh of relief as the once shoulder to shoulder pedestrian experience transformed into a walker's paradise. Increased foot traffic translated into more business for local merchants and helped raise that community in the eyes of both City residents and visitors. The Castro could easily see a similar financial boost from the redesign and enjoy an even greater popularity with tourists and locals.