An invitation to be part of the future of Folsom Street

There has been talk of Folsom Street becoming a boulevard for at least ten years. Early in his first term of office, Supervisor Chris Daly asked the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to do an initial study of possible options (see their Strategic Analysis Report on the Feasibility of Redesigning Folsom Street) and the legislation that created the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force set forth the goal of creating a two-way Folsom Street corridor as one of the main deliverables of the community plan it was to produce.

Last month the SoMa Leadership Council brought together a diverse assortment of community leaders and members of the City family to review what’s already been accomplished and to consider how to turn this dream into a reality. The list of speakers included:

Tom Radulovich, Livable Cities
Chester Fung, Transportation Authority
Erin Miller, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Jim Campbell, Transit Effectiveness Project
Steve Wertheim, Planning Department
Amy Cohen, Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development
Henry Karnilowitz, South of Market Business Association
David Morgan, SoMa Bar and Business Guild

Folsom Street as the main ceremonial corridor for the neighborhood continues to enjoy broad support but concerns remain that it not gentrify the neighborhood so much that it fails to serve the existing population or creates expectations and standards incompatible with the uniqueness of South of Market. In other words, whatever we do to Folsom Street, it cannot cause residential or small business displacement or unduly impact the Folsom Street Fair!

The Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Implementation Planning Study (EN TRIPS) has identified Folsom Street as one of the main corridors that will need better transportation planning as the City grows. High rise residential construction in East SoMa, increased density in Western SoMa and dramatic changes in the Mid-Market area will all impact the quality of life along Folsom Street.

The Transportation Authority’s Strategic Analysis Report studied numerous one-way and two-way lane treatments. In general, they concluded that most would provide sufficient capacity to accommodate traffic well into the future. In addition, the Western SoMa Plan has recommended a more pedestrian-friendly approach that would shift the cross-town automobile traffic to south of Harrison Street and turn Folsom and Howard Streets into community-serving streets.

Folsom Street was studied as part of the MTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) as well. In recognition of the increased residential density anticipated over the next twenty years, the TEP has recommended dramatically improving transit service along Folsom Street to better serve both the Financial District and the Mission.

In order for SoMa to be properly served, both Howard and Folsom Streets are being treated as a couplet. There is strong support for two-way traffic on both streets. When drivers see cars coming at them from the opposite direction they tend to slow down and drive more carefully. In order to actually “feel” what an improved community-serving street might be like, the Western SoMa Task Force has adopted Valencia Street as a model for a friendly and efficient street. Valencia Street is the same width as both Folsom and Howard Streets. It features one lane of traffic in each direction with turn pockets between them to keep traffic flowing. There is room for bike lanes in both directions (although the SoMa design might split the bike lanes between Folsom and Howard Streets) and ample room to widen the sidewalks and provide areas for outdoor seating and pocket parks.

A portion of Folsom Street, between 6th and 10th Streets, has been designated a Neighborhood Commercial Transit-oriented district (NCT) in the Western SoMa Community Plan. This would be the “ceremonial center” of the neighborhood. Historically, many small businesses have tended to give up and relocate after only a few years on Folsom Street as traffic rushes past headed towards the freeways and bridges. An NCT would be a more walkable and safe pedestrian-oriented street. By focusing new residential construction in areas where housing is already clustered, small businesses would benefit from the “critical mass” of residents that would better sustain them.

The “fun” aspects of South of Market would be expanded along Folsom Street too, with new entertainment venues (albeit ones more compatible with the residential population) allowed and more 24/7 retail and commercial businesses filling in the first and second floors with new residential development confined to three or four floors above. Small bed and breakfast inns, restaurants and community-serving resources would be encouraged.

Under the Western SoMa Plan, 9th and 10th Streets would remain automobile oriented one-way streets and their current functions would be much the same. The streets would be designated Regional Commercial Districts (RCDs). Furniture stores along 9th Street and automobile repair shops on 10th Street would continue to serve the whole city and provide good jobs for local residents.

EN TRIPS will soon be recommending projects that are going to be funded with development impact fees from new construction. MUNI is moving ahead on a Folsom Street Station as part of the new Central Subway. The Department of Public Works is resurfacing streets and making changes to our infrastructure on its own schedule. The SFMTA is adding and deleting routes left and right. And the Transportation Authority is soliciting proposals for a Transportation Plan that’s intended to cover the next 25 years. We need to get these City agencies working together with us.

Right now Folsom Street is an ugly and dangerous adjunct to the freeway system. It doesn’t have to stay that way just to maintain a buffer against displacement and disruption. Poor people, the working class, starving artists, struggling entrepreneurs and all the newer residents of South of Market deserve better.

In the coming months the SoMa Leadership Council will concentrate on creating a community-driven process to give us the same respectful surroundings and quality of life that all the other great neighborhoods of San Francisco enjoy. This is an invitation to be part of the future of Folsom Street.

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