Balboa Park Station redesign to enhance accessibility and safety, make space more inviting

Virtual town hall for Balboa Park BART Station Plaza Dec. 14

Plans for Balboa Park Station, where three Muni trains, four BART lines and seven bus lines converge, include a reimagined plaza that’s more accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility impairments as well as a more inviting community space to surrounding neighborhoods.

BART staff members have been leading town halls this month showing design changes made in response to feedback, such as more variety to open space and greater safety upgrades including new lighting and security cameras in the plaza, along pedestrian paths and around the station’s perimeter.

BART Board member Janice Li, whose district includes the Balboa Park Station, spoke at a virtual town hall last Saturday— the second of three scheduled to round out the year — to tout the “public benefits” to riders that will flow from the project.

Renovations of the highly trafficked station plaza are tied to the construction of Balboa Park Upper Yard, an estimated $122.8 million project jointly granted to developers Mission Housing Development Corporation and Related California in 2016.

In close partnership with the Mayor’s Office, BART and other city agencies, the developers will transform nearly two acres of BART- and city-owned land into an entirely affordable housing complex with 131 units and services such as early childhood education and family wellness resource centers.

Apartments will be set aside for The City’s low- and very low-income families, many of whom earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, or roughly $64,000 annually for a four-person family. Of those, 39 go to families voluntarily transitioning from public housing.

Together, the new housing complex and BART plaza are expected to be complete by 2023.

Enhancing transit is a key part of the initiative’s goals, both because of the population of the station’s soon-to-be neighbors and because the funding scheme that backs the entire operation requires it.

Sam Moss, executive director of Mission Housing, said affordable housing and public transportation “are really very much attached, and they always will be,” and, as such, “the plaza itself needs to increase capacity, equity and invitability.”

To achieve that, what’s now a sizable surface parking lot and passenger drop-off area will be cut nearly half to make room for the housing facility, complemented by changes to make the plaza more user-friendly.

Those changes include a new “direct and accessible path from the passenger loading area” into the station; safety upgrades to the notoriously dangerous intersection of San Jose and Geneva avenues; an Americans With Disability Act-accessible path from the plaza to mitigate street slope; and a looped loading area.

It will also include extensive bike parking spaces.

BART’s town hall presentation includes discussion of alternatives being considered to mitigate possible congestion during peak commute hours that could result from reducing the existing “kiss and ride” in size, and says the agency is working closely with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on ways to possibly temporarily turn parking spots into drop-off zones for weekday rush hours, for example.

The plaza won’t just be easier to access, it will serve as an inviting community space, too, developers say, including outdoor seating areas, room for BART-permitted community functions such as farmers markets and health fairs and landscape design that attracts visitors.

Developers and BART officials have emphasized their close collaboration in getting the project to the current point, something celebrated in these neighborhood meetings.

“At the end of the day, it’s BART’s land […] But, from the highest level, the impetus was this is going to be a partnership,” Moss said of the efforts to cooperate early.

They’ve also highlighted the high levels of community engagement throughout the process, through extensive outreach via local organizations and numerous virtual town halls such as next week’s.

“I think we’ve convinced ourselves, to a point, that nobody is going to show up because it’s really hard to show up,” Moss said of traditional outreach processes. “We’ve been really happy with the participation, but I don’t think we’ve been surprised because there are so many people who do want to participate if you reduce the barrier to that participation.”

Though there was an informal groundbreaking on the Balboa Park Upper Yards Project in October, it will officially begin construction in March. The plaza is expected to follow 18 months later, with an estimated six to eight months until completion.

Before that, though, the BART Board of Directors will have to approve the agreement between The City, the developers and agency staff, which is expected to happen in early 2021 when design is finalized.

The last Town Hall of the year on the project is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m.

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