A new look for Valencia Street

On a busy weekend, the heart of Valencia Street beats with an exhilarated flutter. Shoppers, diners and bar hoppers crowd the narrow sidewalks. Bicyclists dodge car doors while unlucky or impatient motorists park illegally in the median.

But the heavily traveled business corridor is preparing for a major facelift — one that will remove the striped center median, make more room for bikes and pedestrians, widen sidewalks by up to 5 feet, improve lighting and add trees.

The design for the first phase of the project — from 15th to 19th streets — is complete. Construction is scheduled to begin in April and end in March 2010, said Department of Public Works project manager Kris Opbroek.

The project is part of the Great Streets Program, adopted in 2005 as a partnership between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and The City to implement street designs that incorporate landscaping, lighting and pedestrian safety.

The $6.1 million first phase is being funded through an MTC grant. Funding for the completion of the plan — from Market to Mission streets — has not been secured, Opbroek said.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, was part of a group of neighborhood residents who formed The Better Valencia Project to help push city officials for the changes. He said he envisions a Valencia Street where sidewalk cafes and grocery stands can flourish underneath sycamore trees.

“Anyone who has ever had a conversation while down Valencia Street knows you can’t walk side by side when you pass anyone,” Radulovich said. “We’re hoping the more generous sidewalks, especially with so many restaurants and bars, will make it a nice street to walk on.”

The plan calls for removal of the 14-foot median but will provide left-turn lanes. The two traffic lanes also become wider in some areas. More space is provided between the parking and bike lanes, improving cyclist safety, Opbroek said.

But while many have cheered the proposed improvements, some have raised concerns that the loss of the median will cause people to double-park in the bike lane. Opbroek said planners are counting on better-spaced and more-accommodating curbside loading zones to remedy the problem.

The plan also calls for repaving the four-block stretch — which was left out of the repaving and sewer projects recently completed along Valencia.

Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycling Coalition, said the plan makes a good biking street even better.

“The concern has been the pavement quality, which has seriously injured cyclists who hit potholes,” he said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

A vision of Valencia

Components of the plan to improve Valencia Street between 15th and 19th streets:

  • Removal of 14-foot striped center median
  • Better-spaced and more-accommodating curbside loading zones
  • Improved traffic, parking and bicycle-lane alignment
  • Sidewalk widened by 3 to 5 feet
  • Pedestrian-scale lighting
  • Art elements
  • Kiosks
  • Bike racks (installation to follow lifting of bike injunction)
  • New street trees
  • Kiosks to discourage postering

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