Project Coordinator Ken Rich along with Jill Slater and Sam Assefa from the Planning Department conducted the Balboa Park Bus Tour on the morning of July 10, 2000. Attended by approximately 30 participants, the tour visited the following San Francisco neighborhoods:
- South Beach
- Noe Valley (24th Street)
- Glen Park
- West Portal
The following notes capture some of the major and recurring comments or questions expressed by attendees. They are not intended as a verbatim transcript, but rather as a useful reference that captures important themes discussed over the tour.
The tour began with an examination of South Beach, a neighborhood that has seen tremendous development in recent years, including such major projects as revitalization of The Embarcadero, construction of Pacific Bell Ballpark and several market-rate and affordable housing projects. Beginning with the projects at Delancey and Brannan, Planning staff discussed the scale, size, and aesthetics of the buildings. Emphasis was placed on the way in which these buildings interact with pedestrians at the street level.
The locations provide an instructive mixture of active streetscapes and ones that are not as active. Off-street parking is part of all the projects visited, but tour leaders pointed out that the way in which this parking is designed has a significant impact on a building's ability to contribute to a successful pedestrian-friendly streetscape. It is much more interesting to look at shops and gardens as one walks down the street than a blank wall with a parking garage behind it. At the same time, the income from mixed uses, such as ground floor retail, can make these developments more affordable.
Participants felt that between Delancey Street and Bayside Village, the former was more aesthetically pleasing. Its color schemes, gardens, textured windows and rooftops were all well-received. Most importantly, it provides a rich and interesting street level facade, with shops windows and views into an interior courtyard.
Steamboat Point Apartments, to the south of Delancey Street, lacks many street level activities, a puzzling absence given the tremendous foot traffic occurring during events at Pacific Bell Park. The designers likely did not account for the stadium or transportation improvements that have recently occurred. Some participants liked the design, while others felt that they would feel unsafe walking by at night.Overall, the key points were that it is essential to pay attention to the sort of pedestrian environment which is created where these buildings meet the sidewalk as well as to the overall architectural attractiveness of the building. Market-rate projects will not necessarily be more successful than affordable projects at meeting this key criterion.
24th Street in Noe Valley
The next stop was 24th Street, the main commercial street through Noe Valley. Tour leaders chose this street as an example of a successful neighborhood commercial shopping street which might provide some lessons for Ocean Avenue.
Elements that make this street work well include the presence of street trees and the design of the buildings, which tend to be 3-4 story mixed-use buildings providing for a very active streetscape full of shops and restaurants. It was pointed out that 24th Street has no special improvements such as especially wide sidewalks, bulbouts or street furniture. The street functions so well mainly due to the high level of pedestrian activity and the way in which the buildings are designed relative to the street.
The third stop was the Glen Park BART station. This station offers the closest comparison in the city to the Balboa Park station. Although similar to Balboa Park, the BART station area here is somewhat more pleasant and easier to access from across the street. Transit connections are much more intuitive and easier to reach.
Compared to Balboa Park, the area around Glen Park BART offers more traffic-calming measures. The main point here is that the Glen Park station relates better to its surrounding neighborhood than does the Balboa Park station. The presence of neighborhood-serving commercial uses within easy reach and the somewhat less menacing nature of the traffic are the main factors contributing to the greater success of this station.
West Portal was the last stop on the tour. Like 24th Street, this is a successful neighborhood commercial street. Unlike 24th Street, West Portal has smaller scale buildings, most of which do not have residential units above. Also unlike 24th Street, West Portal has the benefit of some fairly attractive streetscape improvements, such as bulbouts, decorative brickwork in the sidewalk, paving and a few benches.
West Portal also enjoys the presence of a major transit hub at West Portal station. Like Balboa Park, this station is a stop for three Muni Metro lines. However, unlike at Balboa, passengers at West Portal enjoy shelter from the elements, places to sit and decent signage. Though the West Portal commercial strip consists mainly of single-story buildings, it is unlikely that any future neighborhood commercial development in the city would be built according to this model. Because the street is wide and the traffic volume is relatively low, angled parking will work here, thus increasing the number of parking spaces available. On streets which are not as wide, which have a higher traffic volume, or which must function as arterial streets as Ocean Avenue must, angled parking would not be possible.