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New Transit Options Let SoMa Dream Big

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Hot off the presses from the SF Planning Department is the (draft) future of SoMa, seen as emanating from the new Central Subway, the 1.7 mile extension of Muni's T-Line projected to channel 76,000 riders daily between Mission Bay, SoMa, Union Square and Chinatown by 2030. Focusing on the slice of the subway that tunnels beneath 4th Street in SoMa, the Central Corridor Draft Plan (PDF alert!)—2 years in the making and released this week—draws a box bounded by 2nd, 6th, Mission, and Townsend streets that it envisions growing up into a dense, mostly mid-rise district. It's no secret that SoMa has become ground zero for commercial rentals driven by tech companies like Airbnb looking to spare their employees the commute down south. The Plan builds on this trend, allotting space for 30,000 new jobs (on top of growth potential allowed under current regulations) focused on the area south of Harrison. Where are these workers are going to live? Apparently not near work. Relying on the efficiency of the new transit, this densification only allows for 3,500 new housing units. The Plan emphasizes that new development will honor the existing fabric and character of individual neighborhoods, not foisting workplace development on areas where parcels are smaller. The pedestrian network will take advantage of and expand upon SoMa's sometimes-charming-other-times-depressing network of alleys by maintaining requirements for new mid-block rights-of-way on large lots. These alleys and enhanced streetscapes, like the new "civic boulevard" planned for Folsom Street, are framed as "flexible public spaces." This may be the only kind of public space the district gets unless the PUC opts to transform its property at 639 Bryant Street into an awesome new park, which is (tentatively) on the table.

To control the effect the increased density will have on the streetscape, the Planning Department will keep the reigns tight on the way buildings are massed and the ratio between height, sidewalk and street widths, especially along the 4th Street corridor and at the north and south ends of the district where there is the most commercial activity. There will be more detailed design guidelines for key sites in the Plan area like the 4-acre 5M Project around the Chronicle Building. The Department isn't afraid to get into the nitty, gritty on this one, it seems.

As with all multi-faceted visionary projects, especially those involving heavy infrastructure, there's a intergenerational timeline on this one, but there are some tangible milestones coming up. The plan is moving into the environmental review phase, but if you have something to say about it there's still time. Look out for the first in a new series of issue-focused public working sessions beginning in June. If all goes well the plan, complete with "a detailed implementation strategy" and "new and innovative funding mechanisms," will be adopted by the end of next year, which gives it a 5-year headstart on the first wheels rolling on the Central Subway in 2019. - Laura Tepper

· Central Corridor Project [SF Planning]
· Central Subway Project [SF MTA]
· Central Corridor Draft Plan [SF Planning]
· Central Subway to Bring Building Boom to SoMa? [Curbed SF]