Considering Disneyland is its immediate competition for California’s most visited tourist destination, Fisherman’s Wharf is a shockingly transit-unfriendly place. Walking or cycling though the area is a guaranteed headache, views of the Bay are almost universally obscured by fences and parking lots and, apart from the rows of novelty t-shirt shops, the ground floors of most buildings are a sea of uninviting blank walls and garage doors. Now, a long-discussed plan to redesign the Wharf appears to be close to kick off, with “city officials…getting ready to sign off on plans to make the congested wharf on the northern waterfront more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.”
The area, which sees over 85,000 pedestrians every day and a mere 5,000 cars, is designed almost entirely around automobiles.
Undoubtedly the crown jewel in San Francisco’s single most lucrative industry, the merchant community in Fisherman’s Wharf understands that the area needs some significant alterations if it’s going to not only stay attractive to the legions of tourists looking for a way to prove that they’re active members of the Alcatraz Swim Team, but to appeal to the majority of locals who avoid the area like the plague.
That’s why the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Betterment District, which was founded in 2006, commissioned a Danish architecture firm to create a plan to re-imagine the area as a much more public transit-friendly zone that actively takes advantage of its greatest assets instead of largely ignoring them as a result of decades of haphazard, uncoordinated development.
The plan begins with a brutally honest assessment of the area’s problems, saying that “Fisherman’s Wharf generally looks in ill-repair and lacks any coherent vision for its built environment. This state extends to its streets, open spaces and buildings, alike, with few exceptions. Over time, Fisherman’s Wharf oddly has lost much of its relationship to its most spectacular asset, San Francisco Bay.”
The proposed $15 million redesign will focus on turning Jefferson Street into a European-style, pedestrian-focused boulevard. While still leaving room for cars, the street will be widened and paved with stone–eliminating much of the distinction between the sidewalk and the street itself. Already scarce street parking spaces will be scaled back in favor of tree-lined outdoor cafes and eye-catching public art. The overall goal will be to slow down the flow of traffic and simultaneously make that flow more efficient though the use of electronic traffic signals.
The redesign will also focus on improving views of both the Bay and the plethora of boats that park at Fisherman’s Wharf daily.
When the plan, which will be paid for with a combination of public and private funds, was announced, there was initially some grumbling from area merchants worried changes would inhibit access to the parking garage immediately across from the pier and eliminate too many on-street parking spaces.
Some modifications have since been made to address these concerns, and members of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Betterment District say they have done extensive one-on-one meetings with local stakeholders making sure virtually all of them are on board with the changes.
Whether a new and improved Jefferson Street will be enough to entice jaded locals to Pier 39 remains to be seen but, the plan has already gotten the endorsement of Bush Man, the infamous Fisherman’s Wharf street performer who hides in the bushes and then jumps out to scare passersby and then solicit tips. “I think if they had less cars out here then it would be a lot better,” he told a KGO reporter.
If they have Bush Man on their side, they’re already halfway there.