Saturday, March 28, 2009

Which Street Would You Close?

Since the city is installing a fast-tracked trial closure of half a block of 17th Street at Market, I can't help but wonder what other cut-off chunks of auto territory would benefit from being turned into mini-parks or pedestrian plazas.

Some folks in North Beach, including poet and City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, want to turn a block of Vallejo Street into a pedestrian "piazza."

What do you think? Which section of street would you like to close?

In my neighborhood, I'd love to see the two blocks of Treat Avenue on either side of 16th Street become plazas or parks. The intersection of 16th, Harrison and Treat makes for two of the longest pedestrian crossings I've seen in SF, and devotes a massive amount of space to asphalt that hardly anybody ever drives on anyway.

That space could be converted into green space, which is sorely lacking in the neighborhood. If the city could purchase some of the adjacent parking lots, the park would have a respectable amount of space. Here's an arial view of what could be:

By closing all the gaps in the sidewalk created by Treat Ave, pedestrian safety is improved along 15th, 16th, 17th, and Harrison Streets, while still allowing bikes and pedestrians to cross through the park. The traffic patterns at the site currently prevent very many cars from using these two blocks, and the resulting empty expanse has blight ed the area and attracts prostitution.

Looking North from 16th Street

Challenges to the success of this idea include bringing more people to the area late at night, which would be necessary to prevent the park from becoming dangerous or overrun by prostitution. The surrounding blocks are mostly industrial or office buildings, so there is not a natural population in the area at night. There are, however, several residential developments within a two-block radius, and new development of some of the vacant or underused properties adjacent to the new park could brighten the neighborhood and potentially help pay for the park's construction.

Looking South from 16th Street

In addition, there are a few garage doors on the Southern block and one on the Northern. These driveways are rarely used, however, and cooperation of those propety owners is not out of the question.

The creation of a Treat Avenue park or plaza would take underused asphalt away from cars and allow the neighborhood to enjoy it. Space, especially green space, is sorely needed for the residents of the Northeast Mission. In addition to providing more high-quality public space, the park would improve pedestrian safety at this busy intersection. The challenges that need to be resolved are dwarfed by the benefit this park would provide, and the city should seriously begin studying how to make this a reality.

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