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Pedestrian-focused Castro Street block widening set for next year

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Two blocks of cramped sidewalk along San Francisco's iconic Castro Street will be swapping widths with the ampler roadway they run alongside.

The project was for years believed to be a pipe dream, wrote neighborhood Supervisor Scott Wiener in a letter in support of the changes to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The $4 million project, funded through the 2011 road repaving and street safety bond Wiener championed, is designed to mitigate crowding and create more space for residents, tourists and merchants.


"It will help transform Castro Street into what it should be, given its international reputation," Wiener said.


The Castro Street sidewalks between 17th and 19th streets measure 12 feet in width, while each north- and southbound traffic lane spans about 21.25 feet. But now sidewalks will be widened to 21.25 feet and roads shrunk to 12 feet, under the Castro Street Design Project approved by the transit agency's board of directors Tuesday.


The multiagency project also includes a sidewalk bulb-out curb extension in front of Harvey Milk's former camera shop, improvements to Jane Warner Plaza, and new street trees and lighting.


A final design by the Department of Public Works is expected in mid-September, with construction beginning in January. The hope is to have the 400 block of Castro Street completed by early June in time for the Pride celebration and the 500 block by the end of September 2014 for the Castro Street Fair.


The 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street respectively receive some of the highest pedestrian volumes and sidewalk crowding in The City, according to Planning Department data.


More than 90 percent of community members surveyed earlier this year indicated support for the conceptual design, according to transit agency planner Dustin White.


Still, the San Francisco Transit Riders Union opposes the changes.


In a letter to the transit agency Aug. 8, the organization called for a curb-to-curb width of 42 feet. The proposed and approved 40 feet – two 12-foot traffic lanes and two 8-foot parking lanes – would not accommodate a future transit-only lane for Muni's 24-Divisdero bus line, which is often delayed at the 17th Street and 18th Street stops, said organization spokesman Mario Tanev.


However, White said the curb-to-curb width had already been modified from 38 feet to 40 as a compromise.


"I think we've done our best of balancing it with the goals of increasing pedestrian safety," he said of the organization's concerns.


For merchants, construction impacts on businesses are their only concern.


Story from the SF Examiner

Jessica Kwong