Many people including my friend, Disability Activist Bob Planthold (RIP) organized in 2016 to push for important disability access and safety upgrades to this intersection and 17th St headed West from here as well as Hartford St where it meets 17th.
We received major help from then Supervisor London Breed (now Mayor) and her aide Conor Johnston and then Supervisor Scott Wiener (now State Senator) and his assistant Andres Power. Mike Sallaberry, Senior Transportation Engineer for the City & County of San Francisco guided us through the SFMTA planning process.
At the SFMTA Board meeting on November 7, 2017 the 17th Street Safety Project was given its final approval. The hearing lasted several hours with presentations from Tom Maguire, the Director of Sustainable Streets, Transportation Planner Luis Montoya & Engineer Mike Sallaberry also of the Sustainable Streets division of SFMTA.
Our current District 8 Supervisor, Rafael Mandelman has supported this project through his term. San Francisco Department of Public Works developed the construction schedule and organized the job and all related contracts. R&S Construction Management, Inc. has done the work on the ground, handling every detail with extreme skill.
For more general info on the background of this project click here. I have taken many photographs and videos of the construction. The plan is to edit the video into a coherent mini movie that memorializes the work done and the various skills involved in transforming this corner. That will take a few days. I will be posting photographs below displaying the work in progression.
Before, The Metamorphosis, After:
While the guys are working with the fresh wet concrete a truck pulls up dumping a big heavy load of dirt and concrete chunks right in the middle of the street. This is for back-fill and is immediately distributed to the needed areas, sorting out the concrete blocks to provide a cleaner dirt material for the areas under the roadway next to the Muni tracks.
SFMTA Muni has a representative from their Rail Division on site at all times due to the need to protect their track assets and to flag trains through the jobsite. On this day it was a gentleman named Damon Jackson. You can spot him by the Muni insignia on his jacket & hardhat. I also caught him escorting many pedestrians through the jobsite taking great care to ensure their safety. This was not his job but the team at SFMTA is very safety conscious and he reflected those values strongly. I might add that in addition to the full set of high visibility gear he had an air horn that was a great tool for traffic safety work. He used it primarily for trains but I could see a role for that tool in the hands of school crossing guards.
This is the first corner of four being reconstructed in this manner. All this work is being done for one reason: so that the most frail and mobility challenged among us can access the sidewalks and use the crosswalks. The goal is a worthy one. Our species at it’s finest. My aim herein is to document some of the amazing work that goes into an undertaking of this sort. An effort so great for a cause so noble should not be forgotten.
Believe it or not, all this video editing takes a bit of time. The job has been complete for several days now but my schedule has been full. But this webpage is not finished yet. I will be chronicling the work on the remaining three corners for posterity although I will not go into the detail on every one. Just selected aspects of the work to memorialize the magnitude of the effort and the changes.
A little bit more coming soon… I am still collecting video of folks using these fine new curb ramps. That final video will happen as soon as I can get it all done. And once again, it is amazing how much goes into creating this infrastructure that looks so simple when all is done.
One final bit of trivia. This intersection features two inventions patented by Philip Bell Downing, an African American inventor. One is the US Postal Service Letter Box mounted on the South West corner. He invented that in 1891.
The other was actually the first invention that Philip B. Downing patented. His first, the “New and Useful Improvements in Street Railway Switches” (June, 1890), was for an improvement in streetcar and train switches that allowed the switch to be opened or closed by the brakeman from the platform of the car. This patent ultimately led to the light switch. (Source: San Francisco Post article by Tamara Shiloh.)
The half grand union joining the J-Church rails to the 17th Street shoofly tracks feature this technology on the main Church Street tracks. One can contrast it to the manual method of switching tracks which is used on the 17th Street tracks.
Perhaps we should recognize this history and rename the corner Philip Bell Downing Place.