Surveying Central SoMa: A tour of towers, transit and street transformations

Ask anyone which neighborhood in San Francisco is undergoing the greatest and most dramatic change and the answer will be South of Market. In 2008, the Central SoMa Plan (previously the Central Corridor Plan) grew out of the Eastern Neighborhoods’ planning process, when it became clear a separate plan was needed.

The plan’s ambitious goal is to create a model for sustainable growth by balancing needs to preserve the area’s current diversity, increase housing and office space density, and integrate a more human-scale feel into an area that was primarily industrial until the recent past. Importantly, the plan will redesign some of The City’s most dangerous streets — SoMa includes a number of high-injury corridors, the 12 percent of city streets that make up more than 70 percent of all severe and fatal traffic crashes — to ensure safety for people walking and biking, and encourage more people in this dense area to choose more sustainable ways of getting around.

Today’s SoMa is a far cry from its humble start in 1849, when it was called Happy Valley, a tent city sheltering would-be gold miners, named for its sunshine, shelter from winds, scrub oaks and spring water. Now, with the forthcoming arrivals of the Central Subway and Transbay Transit Center, the area The City defines as Central SoMa — bounded by Market Street to the north, Townsend Street at the south and edged by on the east by Second and Sixth streets to the west — will continue its dramatic metamorphosis.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, join Walk San Francisco, veteran monthly and Peak2Peak walk leader Eric Chase, and urban planner Brian Stokle of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to embark on a comfortably paced exploration. You will gain insights about some of the current developments, as well as the proposed zoning changes to transition this area from one known for its high-speed arterial streets and freeway on- and off-ramps, to a transit-oriented neighborhood designed for people walking and biking.

Along the flat, 2.5 mile walk, you will examine recently completed, under construction and proposed projects in the 260-acre plan area and learn details about the new, major transit spine that will improve local connections from SoMa to Downtown, Chinatown, Mission Bay and beyond for regional transit linkages. There will also be special focus given to the couplet of Howard and Folsom streets, to highlight opportunities to improve safety and circulation for the people who live, work, go to school and shop in SoMa.

Your walk begins at Mint Plaza, behind one of the nearly 30 historical landmarks in the plan area, and at one of San Francisco’s most successful public spaces, which was reclaimed from what was once a short, dark alley. Stops will include stations for the upcoming Central Subway, the long-debated Flower Mart development, the massive 5M project site encompassing the San Francisco Chronicle building and the Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets.

Each stop will highlight some of the plan’s key proposals, including increased height limits (some of which are as low as 30 feet), recommendations to visually block out the freeway, build complete neighborhoods with ground-floor retail and the preservation of arts/creative spaces and current affordable housing. The plan also promotes more sustainable transportation by capping parking ratios at one parking spot for every two residential units, and pedestrian amenities including wider sidewalks, trees, benches and new mid-block crosswalks to help people better navigate SoMa’s megablocks.

Before you end the walk at South Park, one of the few open spaces in SoMa and home to The City’s first paved streets and sidewalks, you will also navigate through a one of the more pedestrian-scaled alleys here, as part of the two-hour route.

The walk ends at 21st Amendment for optional lunch.

IF YOU GO:
Surveying Central SoMa: A Tour of Towers, Transit and Street Transformations
When: Saturday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Mint Plaza, 88 5th St., S.F.
Info: Walk space is limited; $10 minimum donation to Walk; RSVPs required at walksf.org/event/surveyingcentralsoma

Natalie Burdick
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Natalie Burdick

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