On Thursday, June 15, 2000, approximately 22 community members joined Project Coordinator Ken Rich along with Jill Slater and Teresa Ojeda from the Planning Department for a two-hour tour of the Balboa Park Station area. The following notes summarize many of the points and questions that were raised both by the planners and tour participants.
At the Corner of Geneva and San Jose
The Balboa Park station is the 5th busiest station in the entire BART system -- busier than any of the East Bay stations. The station area is extremely important for Muni's light rail and historic streetcar operations. Muni's "Green" and "Geneva" facilities, both located at the intersection of San Jose and Geneva Avenues, serve as a base for repair and storage of all of Muni's light rail and historic streetcar vehicles.
Also located at the same intersection is the "Upper Yard," which is used for historic streetcar storage and some employee parking. The new Muni rail yard off 3rd Street may free up space in the Upper Yard. This two acre site includes Muni and BART property and it may offer an exciting development opportunity. The entire area is really a functioning industrial area with very intensive transit uses that must continue.
Despite the fact that thousands of people walk through the station area every day, there are only one or two marginal stores to serve them. Muni's historic "Geneva Office Building," previously used to house Muni light rail, was severely damaged in the 1989 earthquake and is now boarded up. An adjacent building housing power generators was also damaged. The buildings are now being stabilized, but it would require at least $6 million to fully restore them to modern seismic standards. What should these buildings be used for? How can we find money to do the restoration? These structures, which could be a major asset to the area, are now an eyesore. Some neighbors want to see a streetcar museum, community meeting space, passenger waiting areas or other uses in the buildings. Right now the planning process is still in the idea stage for the site.
Crossing Interstate 280 along Geneva Ave
The freeway is a prominent feature of the neighborhood, providing speedy auto access to downtown San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but dividing the neighborhood in two and creating major problems for pedestrians. At the least ambitious level, pedestrian crossings over and along the freeway and its ramps could be improved. The sidewalks could possibly be widened. At a more ambitious scale, sound walls and other amenities could be provided. Finally, some people have talked about major capital improvements such as closing some of the off or on-ramps or decking over the entire freeway between Geneva and Ocean. Each side of the freeway should be the gateway to the neighborhoods beyond, but no amenities are currently provided. Instead, the area is not well maintained and it is oppressive to pedestrians.
At the Ocean and Geneva Intersection
Both Ocean and Geneva Avenues serve as important connectors for transit, pedestrians and motorists between the station area and points to the west. These are paired streets and changes on one would affect the other. Should Geneva be the primary auto-oriented street or should it be Ocean? Where should pedestrians be encouraged to walk? How does the character of each street differ from the other? The Ocean/Geneva intersection itself is unpleasant for everyone. Motorists routinely disregard pedestrians here, partly since the intersection is designed like the adjacent freeway ramps. Because of a lack of signage and landmarks, the area is confusing for motorists as well.
Why does this important major institution not act as a landmark? Why does it feel like it is not a part of the neighborhood? There are thousands of students, faculty and staff associated with the college, but they don't seem to be a presence in the neighborhood. How could the college be linked more successfully with the Ocean Avenue business district as well as with the BART station?
Phelan Loop, Ocean Avenue and Balboa Reservoir
This bus turnaround is another major transit transfer facility in the neighborhood. It is extremely important both to Muni operations and to passengers. It is the major transit stop serving City College. However, most people agree that this part of Ocean Avenue is not pleasant nor safe-feeling to walk along. The sidewalks are edged with unlit parking lots rather than shop windows and it feels more oriented to cars than to people. How can this area be made to feel more inviting and more like an entryway to the Ocean Avenue commercial district and the OMI? The reservoir behind the Phelan Loop offers enormous potential for development. City College has talked about building on the east half of it. The west half would be maintained as a reservoir, but playing fields or another type of open space could be placed on top. Muni is planning to begin track replacement along Ocean Avenue from Junipero Serra to I-280 soon, and the City will do considerable beautification work at the same time. The utility wires will be placed underground, the street repaved, the sidewalks improved, new decorative lights installed and trees planted including tall palms. The project is expected to start this fall and continue for two years.
Ocean Avenue East of Phelan
The stretch of Ocean east of Phelan is also unpleasant, with high blank walls facing the sidewalk. City College turns its back on the street, making the walk there feel unsafe and unwelcoming. The walk to City College from the BART station requires a scary street crossing and a trip through an unmaintained parking lot. There is not even any signage to guide pedestrians. The freeway offramp onto Ocean does not have a stop sign or stop light for speeding motorists, putting pedestrians in peril. Past the offramp, big, green Balboa Park also turns its back on the street, with an overgrown wall of shrubbery taking up much of the sidewalk space. What should be a pleasant walk by a park feels unsafe and oppressive. Could the park be opened up to feel more a part of the neighborhood and the station area?
Balboa Park Station
In order to help pedestrians get to the Ocean Avenue side of the BART station, a path was paved along the side of the freeway. Many pedestrians refuse to use it, however, since its isolation makes it feel unsafe to them. Instead, they walk on an informal path along the streetcar tracks, despite the danger of being struck by streetcars. This informal path, however, feels safer because there are more people around. It may be possible to create new development on top of the station or even on top of the freeway but such projects would be very expensive and require a lot of planning and development. The nearby intersection of Ocean and San Jose feels very weak at all four corners, but it has the potential to be a neighborhood center. The BART station itself cannot handle the number of pedestrians who crowd through it every day, and even more people will use it when BART goes to the airport. BART wants to make all sorts of improvements in order to help the station handle more traffic.