Valencia Street: The New Yellow Brick Road?
By Masha Rumer
Fanning the gentrification flame of the Mission District, the Department of Public Works is about to make Valencia Street, a major transit and pedestrian hub, friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists and local businesses between 15th and 19th Streets.
Some highlights of this $6.1 million project, according to DPW’s Great Streets Program: the center median will be removed; the sidewalks will be widened from their current 10 feet to 13-15 feet, allowing for more foot traffic, for outside seating in cafes and hopefully for room to push through swarms of bluegrass-crazed people congregating outside busy Mission establishments. The parking lane will grow by 0.25 feet to 9 feet.
Moreover, new trees will be planted and pedestrian lighting installed. And, after DPW’s negotiations with the Teamsters, local businesses will get redesigned loading areas for trucks at the expense of some parking spots and the said center median. Also planned are new bike racks, art, trash receptacles, curb ramps and bulb-outs instead of left-turn pockets in some areas.
These features “will greatly increase pedestrian comfort and safety of the corridor," said Kris Opbroek, DPW project manager. The construction is slated to begin in spring 2009 and continue for about 9 months.
Lucky you if you’re a biker, walker and/or spend you nights on the town eating expensive French fries, dousing yourself in PBR or dancing to 80’s music. Too bad if you’re addicted to your Ford Explorer, can hardly afford Mission rent as it is or bought a home on what you thought was a quiet and quaint little street next to Valencia.
Effect number one: with narrower streets and tougher turns, car traffic on this arterial street is expected to slow down. The bike people are happy. After all, the automobile, the lowest in the pecking order of the species, will lose some of its privileges of speeding and making a second lane out of a bike lane.
“We’re very positive on this (though) we’re sorry that the bike lane won’t be a little bit wider,” reacted Andy Thornley, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, at the public meeting at the Mission Police Station yesterday, August 26.
However, since left turn pockets will disappear from odd-numbered streets in the area, there’s a risk of auto traffic cramming into bike lanes when turning.
The bicyclists are hoping for increased police presence to cite vehicles endangering the bikers and double-parking in bike lanes. Because the police station is smack in the middle of the corridor on Valencia and 17th, hopes are flying high. (Steven Lopez of Art Zone 461 Gallery on Valencia Street suggested a donut shop to lure officers out on the street.)
Peter Smith, founder of sf.bikeblogs.org and supporter of Google Bike There Map petition, also touted the renovation as a “great idea.”
Effect number two: local businesses are pleased. The redesigned loading zones would simplify operations and more foot traffic would mean greater spending. Community Thrift Store, for instance, receives furniture donations and sells furniture, but cars are often ticketed during drop-offs and pick-ups if not parked in appropriate zones, said Ed Kresge, store’s executive director, who welcomes the change.
But Muni’s probable nixing of the 26 bus that runs along Valencia Street goes against the objective of forging that happy and healthy haven of bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation coexisting under the glimmering lights and carbon-dioxide--eating shrubbery.
Other concerns remain. This upgrade plays up the rapid gentrification of the Mission and may further displace the lower-class and middle-class residents. According to the Bay Area Radical Women, the taxpayers’ money could have instead been allocated to areas in more dire need of renovation, like the Tenderloin.
“Now we’re seeing low-income people, people of color and immigrants and grass roots groups cannot afford to, literally, stay in San Francisco,” weighed in member Toni Mendicino on the woes of the city’s evolution.
Furthermore, those living on adjacent streets might see a surge of diverted car traffic zooming in by their homes, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, there were hardly any Mission residents to share their views at the meeting – partly because it was held at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.
If anything, maybe that man I keep seeing picking through the trash can when it’s late and dark out will find another spot, or better yet, some help… but that’s another can of worms, I mean, story.