Balboa Park Station bustles as the busiest BART stop off Market Street, but the awkward orientation of the facility minimizes its potential to meet the needs of a largely transit-oriented neighborhood and raises safety concerns for pedestrians and riders. Plans are in place to transform the station and the surrounding community, but they can’t come fast enough for the thousands of BART and Muni patrons who pass through the rundown facility each weekday.
Improvements have been slow due to the general lack of funds for these types of projects in the state of California and in the U.S. Also gumming up the works are the Bay Area’s always complicated transportation politics: Caltrans, BART, and SFMTA must all work together to ensure that needed improvements come to this neighborhood.
Current conditions are haphazard and dangerous
Tucked in between two Muni rail yards and the 280 Freeway, the station is a vital link connecting the largely working class neighborhoods of south-central San Francisco to the entire Bay Area. In addition to being a transfer point for BART it serves more than half-a-dozen bus lines and three Muni Metro light rail lines.
The location of the station between the Ocean Avenue and Geneva Avenue ramps to Interstate 280 makes the station a popular kiss-and-ride facility, but these ramps also significantly inhibit pedestrian access from the west side – this is especially important as several thousand students use the station daily to access City College of San Francisco located across the freeway at Ocean Avenue.
The station’s access from Ocean is itself problematic – before crossing over the freeway, pedestrians have to walk from the station’s south entrance alongside heavily-used streetcar tracks near Muni’s Green Division rail yard which is immediately adjacent to the station. BART is currently constructing a new ramp and entrance to the station from Ocean Avenue that will significantly improve these conditions, but a problematic Muni boarding area on the northwest corner of San Jose and Geneva will continue to force pedestrians to walk through a narrow passageway between a wall and the streetcar tracks.
Bicycle access to the station is via Ocean or Geneva – both streets have poorly striped bike lanes that are largely ignored by drivers, and the vehicular flow coming from multiple freeway ramps creates an unwelcoming and potentially unsafe environment for cyclists.
Unifying the neighborhood: A plan for the future
In 2009, the Balboa Park Station Area Plan was adopted by the City and County of San Francisco. The plan, which covers the BART station as well as City College and part of the Ocean Avenue commercial district, includes redesigning Ocean, Geneva, and San Jose to be complete streets in accordance with San Francisco’s Better Streets plan. Excess right-of-way from the Geneva and Green Division rail yards and the BART station would be reclaimed for transit-oriented mixed-use development.
At the center of the new plan is the 280 Freeway interchange between Ocean and Geneva. The ramps would be reconfigured into a Single Point Urban Interchange – this would help to calm traffic transitioning from the freeway to city streets while also reducing conflict points between cars and crossing pedestrians.
The second phase of the reconfigured interchange would see a deck built above the freeway - this is designed to literally bridge the gap between the south-central neighborhoods. An inviting pedestrian plaza with mixed-use development and convenient Muni connections would be on top of the freeway deck, away from the rail yards.
This plan will help to maximize the potential of the neighborhood around its already heavily utilized transit assets. Improving Muni connections in the area will also help strengthen the Ocean Avenue commercial district and make it more of a destination. The area is ripe for development, and is poised for substantial growth if the political will surfaces to implement this plan.
San Francisco Planning Department: Balboa Park Station Area Plan