I imagine anyone with any amount of urban awareness has had their own ideas of what to do with this space as soon as they first laid eyes on it. It's clear the first time you visit that the plaza is just not working right. Crowds choke the area around the cable car turnaround and pedestrians avoid the relatively broad walkways along the old Bank of America building and along Market Street. BART and Muni riders hurriedly pass through the sunken area in the middle, and the area West of Cyril Magnin is an afterthought if it's thought of at all.
And any amateur urbanist's bright ideas for the plaza would probably be an improvement. The plan discussed in Gordon's article, which is apparently being seriously considered by the city, calls for that Western segment to be decked over and converted to a reservoir. That's a very practical use of the existing volume, and it would improve the plaza, to be sure. One disadvantage is that the plan would cut off access to the Powell Street Station from West of 5th Street. Riders coming from, say, the Warfield theater would need to cross either Market of 5th Street to get underground.
I confess to having my own daydreams of what Hallidie Plaza should look like. I can't say I've ironed out the details yet but in response to Gordon's article I'd like to mention some things I think are important to consider in any overhaul plans, vaguely in order of importance.
- As much space as possible should be at the sidewalk level, and that space should be arranged so as to be as flexible as possible.
- Access to the subway station should be easy from the perspective of all riders, but access structures (stairs, escalators and elevators) should not be obtrusive to other users of the plaza.
- Use should be made of the space that has already been carved out under the street level. Those void canyons may not make an inviting spot to meet a date or sit while reading a magazine, but they are an investment that has already been made. Space is at a premium in this particular corner of the globe and that space could be very useful as commuter-serving retail.