Monday, July 06, 2009

Cutesifying Divisadero

Even allowing for the fact that the article on Divisadero is a fluff piece in the fluffiest part of the Chronicle, the Style section, it can't be allowed to define this neighborhood:

Long known as a gritty stretch of seedy dive bars, failed businesses and low-income housing, Divisadero Street has functioned primarily as a multicultural thoroughfare from Market Street to the Marina, rather than a destination in itself. Recently, however, the section between Haight and McAllister streets, commonly known as the Divisadero Corridor, has seen an influx of vibrant, independently owned boutiques, galleries and bars, along with restaurants like bustling Nopa, which have illuminated an often neglected area. While some stores are north of Fell and the Panhandle and therefore technically in the area known as NoPa, others are decidedly south and aren't---though it's a subject of fierce debate.

In fact Divisadero has never had a lot of "seedy dive bars"---at least in the time I've known this area, and I first lived here way back in 1962. Nor have I ever heard anyone "fiercely debate" about how the area is defined. Only real estate agents care about that.

But it's good that the article gives some of the small businesses in the area some ink, though what they really need---especially the restaurants---is more parking if the area is ever going to be a "destination." And I suspect that, unfortunately, most of these "vibrant" businesses won't survive the recession. 

The Ninth and Irving area shows how it can be done, with some small parking lots that make the area more accessible, even though the metered spaces only allow you an hour without feeding the meter, not enough time to have a leisurely lunch in one of the many restaurants in that neighborhood. That area also has the large underground garage in nearby Golden Gate Park, where you can park as long as you want and walk over to the neighborhood.

The article mentions that a "$3.4 million revitalization plan is also under way between Waller Street and Geary Boulevard to make the street safer and more inviting with bus stop improvements, wider medians planted with trees and upgraded lighting fixtures." This is the party line from our meddlesome city government; whatever they do to city neighborhoods is an "improvement." 

Along with more parking, what Divisadero Street needs most is to be repaved and something useful done with the old Harding Theater property, which, thanks to Supervisor Mirkarimi and Dave Tornheim, is evidently going to remain an eyesore in the middle of the neighborhood for a long time.

Hard to see how the city can do much with the narrow medians without narrowing the traffic lanes or eliminating street parking. As the city's website on the Divisadero "improvements" tells us, the city is going to put a bunch of bulb-outs on the intersections, which will make it even more difficult for traffic---including Muni's #24 line---to negotiate this busy street.

From the city's website:

One of the goals of the Divisadero Streetscape Project is to improve Muni service along the street. In addition to widening sidewalks at 6 locations where there are bus stops, there is the need to decrease delay for buses and improve reliability. On Divisadero, there was a problem particularly in the southbound direction during the evening rush hour when average bus speeds would drop to ~5 mph, or somewhat faster than walking speed. 

This was due primarily to traffic congestion. Initially, the Municipal Transportation Agency proposed a part-time tow-away along the west side of the street from Fulton to Oak to create room for a bus lane during the most congested periods. This idea was presented at community meetings in Summer 2008 but rejected due to concerns of losing parking and adding vehicular capacity on the street directly adjacent [to]the sidewalk.

This is a reference to a community meeting attended by around 40 people, all of whom were underwhelmed by the city's Powerpoint presentation selling this idea, which would have taken away all the street parking on the west side of that part of Divisadero for a bus lane, even though the #24 line is the only bus that runs on Divisadero.

The #24 supposedly runs every ten minutes, but in my experience it doesn't. Hence, during the busiest time of the day all the street parking on the west side of Diviz would have been lost to neighbors and visitors, with an occasional south-bound #24 speeding along next to a sidewalk no longer buffered by parked cars. 

And there would surely have been many other vehicles doing the same thing in an under-used bus lane during the busiest time of day. The assumption seems to be that the southbound traffic on Diviz is somehow more serious than the northbound traffic on the east side of the street, even though, during commute hours, congestion is caused by people traveling in both directions on the #24 and in trucks and cars.

Whether we like it or not, Divisadero Street is going to be cutesified by the city, probably with those faux-antique light fixtures like on Octavia Boulevard and a banner telling us what neighborhood we live in. Let's hope they at least spare us those stupid benches on the medians on Octavia that no one will ever sit on.

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