Noe Valley Voice November 2006

What Kind of Urban Village Should 24th Street Be?

By Corrie M. Anders

Downtown Noe Valley is starting to look downright spiffy. Dozens of trees have been planted along 24th Street, the sidewalks are getting cleaned regularly, and flower arrangements are cropping up in the least expected places.

The makeover, carried out over the past six months or so, is the work of the new Noe Valley Association (NVA). But it is only the beginning.

The association last month announced plans to explore how the commercial corridor should look in the coming decades--and has invited the public to help in the brainstorming. The organization will hold two community forums in November and December that will consider three long-range alternatives for the business strip.

"If a Noe Valleyan can dream, here are three dreams," says NVA executive director Debra Niemann. "This is an important and historical opportunity for citizens of Noe Valley to help create the future of 24th Street."

She says the idea is to design a family-friendly neighborhood with a distinctive commercial identity, and one that is accessible to the entire community. And everything from the feasibility of diagonal parking on 24th Street to turning Noe and Sanchez streets into one-way roads will be open for discussion.

"We're calling [the proposal] 'Noe Valley's 24th Street: An Urban Village Plan,'" says Niemann.

Both the Nov. 16 and Dec. 12 meetings will start at 7:30 p.m. at St. Philip's Parish Hall at 725 Diamond Street. And anyone who is interested is invited to attend.

To help spur ideas for the new village, the association has retained Urban Ecology, an urban design firm with 30 years' experience in public spaces and transportation.

"What we are doing is really looking at three different visions of how 24th Street should develop over the next 15 to 20 years," says Donald Neuwirth, executive director of Urban Ecology and a longtime resident of Elizabeth Street.

The public's input from the November session will be the basis for a "preferred alternative," says Neuwirth. That refined plan will be presented at the December forum.

A Bus Stop at Bell?

One Urban Ecology alternative would concentrate interest around a central focal point, a village center, if you will, such as the Bell Market area. Imagine a Muni bus stop island at Bell, for example, or a middle-of-the-block crosswalk or signal lighting, along with more benches and more trees.

Passengers currently are picked up or let off at the intersections of Noe and Sanchez streets. Creating a single bus stop island in the middle of the block would allow buses to "more easily move through 24th Street," says Neuwirth. A crosswalk or signal at that location would improve safety for pedestrians, many of whom routinely jaywalk to and from the Bell Market parking lot.

Another alternative would explore the feasibility of multiple, though smaller, village hubs. They could be located at current transit stops, such as 24th and Castro streets and 24th and Church streets. "You could put in some more street furniture and slow down the traffic and, if it merits, have a mid-block crosswalk," says Neuwirth.

The third option focuses on spreading the amenities more evenly up and down 24th Street.

Outside Funding Required

Forum participants will be polled on sidewalk lighting and other pedestrian safety features. They'll also be asked their opinion on whether the streetscape should include such elements as neighborhood identity signs, more benches, bulletin boards, bus shelters, stylish newspaper boxes, bike racks, or time clocks.

"If we have a comprehensive plan... and an aggressive community [to advocate], some of this or all of this can be implemented," says Neuwirth.

That implementation is dependent upon winning government funding, according to Niemann and Neuwirth.

"NVA is not going to pay for it," says Niemann. "It's going to take state, federal, and city money."

More Trees to Be Planted

The Noe Valley Association came into existence earlier this year after local merchants voted to create a community benefit district. Merchants and property owners along the 24th Street corridor pay an annual fee to finance the association's operations.

Projects so far have included steamcleaning the sidewalks and planting a variety of trees along 24th and other streets in the neighborhood. Niemann says 39 trees were planted in September and 12 in October, with another three dozen trees set to be planted in November.

Trash Cans Sprout Flowers

Twenty-fourth Street also now sports live flowers, growing out of the top of trash bins at the corners of Vicksburg and Sanchez streets. The flowering plants have been placed inside the wire containers that were once designed for recyclable materials--and the setup is on a trial basis.

The plantings drew a mild complaint from James Keefer, a Guerrero Street resident who frequently does business on 24th Street. Keefer says the containers prevent scavengers from scrounging around in the trash bins and possibly creating a mess. And he fears that owners would not properly care for the plants.

"People are notoriously bad about watering their plants," says Keefer. "Inevitably, someone is not going to water them and they're going to die. I feel sorry for them."

Niemann says such worries are unfounded. The city no longer uses those particular bins for recyclable collections, she says, and the association has a contract with a firm to water plants along 24th Street.