January 15, 2013

The Castro Street Design Project And Public Workshop

Castro Street Design

Back in 2011, San Francisco voters passed the Road Repaving and Streets Safety Bond, funds from which were allocated toward the design and construction of Castro Street improvements between Market and 19th Streets, the Castro Street Design Project.

Castro%20Street%20Deisgn%20Study%20Area.jpg

From the Planning Department:

Castro Street’s existing design does not adequately accommodate the needs of the thousands of residents and visitors who use the street every day. Pedestrian safety and comfort are of special concern given the high volume of pedestrians combined with narrow sidewalks and busy street intersections. The Castro/Upper Market community has actively pursued opportunities to improve Castro Street, including recent planning efforts such as the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District’s Neighborhood Beautification and Safety Plan and the San Francisco Planning Department’s Upper Market Community Plan.
The Castro Street Design Plan will build off these previous efforts and develop a conceptual design that balances the needs of its users and enhances the street as one of San Francisco’s premier destinations for locals and visitors alike. The conceptual design will be used to define a first phase set of improvements to be built with funding coming primarily from the Road Repaving and Streets Safety Bond…

A presentation of the preliminary design concept for Castro Street and an opportunity for the public to provide feedback will be held on January 23, 2013 from 6:00-8:00PM at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center with hopes of finalizing a design concept by the end of April and a construction schedule this spring.

Castro Street Design Project [sf-planning.org]

First Published: January 15, 2013 10:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

First, clean up the damn place. I lived on upper 18th St. for many years and avoided the stretch of Castro between the MUNI station and 18th St. because of the filth and hassling/hustling (depending on the time of day or night).

This is a busy thoroughfare for both cars and pedestrians and will involve trade-offs on both sides. However, one rather simple solution is to have a 4-way pedestrian-only crossing signal at Castro and 18th St., similar to the ones in the FiDi. This will ease mobility of cars that have difficulty making left or right turns because of pedestrian traffic, as well as give pedestrians a safer opportunity to cross the street while not getting picked off by a car, truck or taxi.

Posted by: Mark at January 15, 2013 12:34 PM

This is really great, and long overdue.
There is an opportunity here to develop the Castro as a more substantial tourist destination -- especially the gay tourist business (and their busloads of admirers).

For a while, Isak Lindenauer was leading the effort for a 'gay honor walk' -- a sequence of plaques inset into the sidewalk, running for a few blocks, each plaque dedidated to a notable gay person from history (or the present, not sure of the criteria).

Anyways it was a great idea and the kind of thing that i hope gets incorporated into this plan -- more stuff for the tourists to do and see than just bying a pornographic cookie and naughty card.

Posted by: around1905 at January 15, 2013 1:19 PM

I have two choices to get to the subway in the morning. Walk down Castro, where I passed blood on the sidewalk this morning, and regularly step over vomit, and trash, or avoid Castro by walking down Collingwood, which requires walking through Harvey Milk Plaza - a gauntlet of homeless people.

We passed a sit/lie law, but it doesn't seem to ever be enforced on Castro Street.

Ironically, that street is cleanest the morning after Pink Saturday and the Castro Street Fair, because an effort is made to clean up after these events.

Re: four way red lights, it is a regular sight in the Financial District to see cars lurch into the intersection on anticipation of their light turning green when they see the light for cross traffic turning red. And not being able to turn right on red? Drivers aren't used to that.

The other side of the equation is that pedestrians are not supposed to cross when the light is green, so cars can turn unimpeded. Many pedestrians in the Financial District either don't understand this or don't respect it.

There would be a significant period of adjustment for both drivers and pedestrians if this were put in place. It could actually increase pedestrian injuries before it decreased them, and would likely be a constant issue of educating drivers and pedestrians in an area where both are frequently from out of town.

Perhaps old fashioned traffic cops are the answer.

Posted by: bgelldawg at January 15, 2013 1:45 PM

I sure hope something nice and effective can be done. My worries are about trying to widen and make the sidewalks more pleasant while still allowing for bus lines and simpltaneously avoiding a street-person encampment like the one that developed when UMUC installed seating at the Castro MUNI Station. ("Why can't we ever have anything nice in this house without you kids ruining it?")

And, if the plan is to widen sidewalks while simultaneously allowing for expanded restaurant seating, I wonder what the real interests being served here are: pedestrian or business. Not that we all can't get along (or can we?), be there are so many interests at stake and only so much space to work with.

Oh, goodness...and what about the bikes?

Posted by: Scott at January 15, 2013 1:45 PM

The Castro is already a tourist destination. The wide-eyed tourists from middle America love the gay kitsch. However, many of these retail stores have closed over the years because of changing demographics and purchasing behavior. The Castro will evolve as well and as it does, perhaps lose a bit of the tourist element.

Nonetheless, I like the idea of commemorating the rich LGBT history with sidewalk plaques, but this stretch of Castro St. is already packed with pedestrians trying to navigate the sidewalks. Adding a further distraction, albeit honorable, will only make navigation worse.

Posted by: Mark at January 15, 2013 1:49 PM

easy: remove parking on those two blocks and widen the sidewalks. It will be easier to walk, it will look better (cars are ugly), and you still have room for buses and bikes. Everyone wins!


Posted by: BigV at January 15, 2013 1:57 PM

Traffic cops? In this city? You're joking. I'd rather have cops arresting the trash selling drugs and hassling pedestrians at the Castro MUNI entrance.

Like any change, there will be the initial "getting used to it" phase, but I feel that both cars and pedestrians will adapt to the 4-way crossing. Naturally, there will be a-hole drivers too impatient to wait 30 seconds or some drunken fool staggering through the intersection, but we already have that now.

Posted by: Mark at January 15, 2013 2:04 PM

"Oh, goodness...and what about the bikes?"

There's probably not too much to do here aside from adding bike parking. These two blocks aren't really part of a good through route. It is more of a destination.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at January 15, 2013 2:44 PM

One thing I think this is not addressing is the speed at which cars zoom down from the North-of_market section of Castro Street.

Many car that start crossing Market street at a reasonable speed when the light just turned yellow will reach the pedestrian crossing on the other side when the sign for pedestrians just turned green.

To avoid this, many drivers will just accellerate to avoid being stopped by pedestrian, increasing the risk of actually hitting an early crosser at full speed.

This is what happened to the cyclist who killed a pedestrian last year. He alledgedly entered the crossing when the light was yellow to meet pedestrians who had started crossing. Reckless cyclist meets poor design.

I do not see any easy fix to this problem apart from slowing everyone down: 1) Longer lags between light changes. 2) Slowing down cars going into Castro.

Posted by: lol at January 15, 2013 2:45 PM

Why is the planning department doing what the traffic department is supposed to be doing? Oh, that's right: because ideologues have overrun both SFMTA and Planning. Zealotry from any angle is the last thing we need -- they should have surrendered their Deputy Fife bullet when they showed us what they could do at Mark & Octavia. These departments have become the problem.

Posted by: Stucco_Sux at January 15, 2013 7:17 PM

"The wide-eyed tourists from middle America love the gay kitsch"

While it is true there is some historic pilgrimage tourism for ye olde Castro, why would there be "wide eyes" towards what is now a very small and aging historic gay community district? Many North American cities have gay districts that dwarf the Castro and surrounding areas in size and population, and tend to be much younger.

The Daily Show even made fun about the aging shrinking Castro, "America's colonial Williamsburg of gay" http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-may-9-2011/minneapolis-is-the-new-gay

Posted by: anon at January 15, 2013 8:03 PM

All this proposal amounts to is removing one lane of traffic and widening the sidewalks. A simple solution with a big impact.

Posted by: wc1 at January 15, 2013 8:50 PM

The "raison d'etre" of the Castro is on it's last gasps. As the cops say at the crime scenes "nothing to see, folks, move along now, nothing to see.."

The modern-day harassed teens per Milk-lore (now dead or living in Noe) that arrived on the Greyhound from Minnesota in the 70's now often have more vibrant and youth-friendly places to hang out in their own cities than the Castro.

Lived within ten blocks of the place for 22 years and it's never been sadder.

That said, here's my 2c mainly reinforcing other earlier comments:

1. crackdown on Homeless, Inc., and their enablers. Four sets of panhandlers/crazies (inc. one aggressive/deranged) on Castro between 17th and 18th at 6:45pm tonight.

2. sidewalk widening on Castro between at least 17th & 18th, ideally 19th. Let's be open to no metered parking on this block.

3. 4-way pedestrian crossing at 18th & Castro

Other possibly helpful issues fall more into land-use and outside the scope of the article.

Posted by: brid at January 15, 2013 9:31 PM

anon wrote: "Many North American cities have gay districts that dwarf the Castro and surrounding areas in size and population."

Not true. Based on census data, which counts same sex couples living together, the Castro's zip code, 94114 still has the highest percentage gay male couples (and is in the top 10 of most lesbian couples) of any zip code in the US.

http://trends.truliablog.com/2012/06/welcome-to-the-gayborhood/

Posted by: Dan at January 15, 2013 10:40 PM

West Hollywood's plan is quite impressive. They are not afraid of introducing trees down there.

http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/pedestrian_symposium/images/Pat-Smith-SMB-Ped-Improvements.pdf

@Dan, I think the comment was not on percentage of population but total overall population.

Certainly Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have far larger communities in total numbers?

Posted by: anonandon at January 16, 2013 7:40 AM

I guess making the sidewalks wider will give the homeless more room to lounge and beg and those "wide eyed" tourists more space to gawk for the 20 minutes this sad two block stretch will hold their attention.

I have lived in this neighborhood for about 20 years and I really think that Castro Street has really gone down hill.

The gay bars that once helped defined the area have either closed or worse yet been transformed into homogenized that really have no more identity than a bad cruise ship disco.

Whatever interesting retail shops have closed replaced by marginal to poor restaurants creating a sad "food court" atmosphere. I think its just a matter of time before we get that Panda Express that's been missing.

Posted by: sjg at January 16, 2013 8:04 AM

Dan's response to anon is correct...I'd love for anon to back up his assertions with facts. While we don't have great data (census only counts same sex couples) SF's Castro still has the highest percentage of gays of any other zip code in America, leading Palm Springs, Provincetown, and Wilton Manors (Ft. Lauderdale). Given that these areas are much smaller, Castro still easily ranks as the "gayest" big city neighborhood.

The fact is that the gay ghetto is disappearing everywhere, for clear historical reasons. While larger cities like Chicago, NY, and LA certainly by definition have more gay people, they definitely don't have larger or gayer "gayberhoods". Gay people are scattered everywhere.

Re: the project. Just do it!

Posted by: curmudgeon at January 16, 2013 9:16 AM

You can consider K-Pop the Panda Express advance team.

I have gay friends that love SF, but won't go near the Castro when they visit for all of the reasons mentioned above.

But there is reason for optimism - the benches at the Muni entrance are gone, so sit/lie can be enforced and the Muni plaza is now much better. And rising rents will eventually push the cliche dildo/video shops out, and they'll be replaced by something more viable.

Not sure about the cruise ship discos though. Those are entrenched.

Posted by: rabbits at January 16, 2013 9:19 AM

This could be an opportunity to protect the Castro Theatre marguee by having the sidewalk bulb out around it, ending the periodic bashing of the marquee by trucks trying to park in front of the theatre.

Posted by: RMitchum at January 16, 2013 9:45 AM

Save the planning money and just scrub the sidewalks once a week.

Posted by: BobN at January 18, 2013 3:22 PM

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