Monday’s meeting of the State Street Advisory Committee included another presentation by consultants MIG Inc. and city staff about what form the State Street Promenade might take. The focus was on thinking about it as three “districts,” and “to discuss the programming, activity and identity of each district” to “guide mobility decisions” (i.e., whether cars should be allowed).
The presentation included a big disclaimer: “All concepts shown include a 20-24-foot corridor that could support most mobility options. The illustrations do not represent or assume any mobility options, which could be interpreted as promoting a pedestrian-only solution for all 10 blocks. This is not the case.” And yet it was followed by a slide that made closing the street to cars seem like a foregone conclusion:
The idea is that each of the three districts will have “a unique sense of place, look and feel, and site layout,” with “at least one plaza/gathering area in each district” and the goal of “[accentuating] connections to the paseo network and key downtown institutions, spaces, and destinations.”
(You may have noticed that the area under discussion extends the promenade one block north, to Sola Street, and two blocks south, to Highway 101. Businesses below Haley would benefit from State becoming pedestrian-only, but it would make getting around downtown a huge pain. And I don’t understand how the Promenade area could go all the way to Highway 101; cars have to access the underpass somehow.)
Counterintuitively, the presentation started with district #3, Old Town—which is not the Presidio, or even Presidio-adjacent, but the nightlife-centric blocks between Highway 101 and Ortega Street.
District #2, referred to as The Core on the map, is called the Civic District elsewhere in the presentation. It’s the three blocks from Ortega to Carrillo. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how the proposed design elements create “a magnetic new destination for locals and visitors”—or even how it substantively differs from Old Town.
The challenge with rethinking State Street is that we all bring a unique set of priorities. Personally, I have three: outside dining; a more cohesive, less ragtag look; and to feel safe. While I enjoy riding my bike on State, I don’t feel safe walking anywhere but the sidewalks, thanks to the people on electric bikes. And aside from extending the tree canopy, nearly everything in the presentation—buskers, community posting boards, retail kiosks, immersive lighting, games, interactive water features, people paying Frisbee or catch—sounds like stuff I’d cross the street to avoid, even if done well. Is anyone taking into consideration the costs of maintaining and programming such a space?
OK, fine, maybe I’m not the target demographic. But the city ignores older people and the relatively affluent at its own peril; people with more time and disposable income are helpful in keeping a downtown afloat.
And that leads me to the big question: can you really have “moments of joy” if the nearby shops and restaurants aren’t thriving? Would you even go there in the first place? And is it possible that instead of all this programming the city would be better off spending its limited resources on reimagining the bureaucracy that makes opening and running a business here so difficult? And incentivizing economic development instead of scaring it away? A vibrant State Street starts with the businesses on it; everything else is ancillary.
I do think I could still be convinced about the merits of a car-free State Street. Increasingly, however, I believe a more radical vision is required than the kind of programming you’d find at the Collection at RiverPark.
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