First, it was a stinky marsh. Then it was a railroad. Now, Treat Street faces a new lease on life with a vision to transform it from a dilapidated, weirdly diagonal alleyway into a sparkling green bike corridor.
It would be a pretty amazing accomplishment: a smooth path that curves up from the Inner Mission, then skirts Showplace Square just south of SOMA and glides to Mission Bay. You could be forgiven for thinking of it as a sort of "Hipster Superhighway," though it would likely carry bicyclists from all walks of life.
"But wait," you may say, "Folsom Street to Best Buy? Then east along Division, near the Design Center? And under the overpasses to the parking lot with all the dump trucks? Who the hell would want to go to any of those places?"
Well, to be honest, not a lot of people right now.
But that's all expected to change as the city expands into Mission Bay, bringing new life to what's politely called "The Eastern Neighborhoods." (Also known for many years, by some, as "The Abandoned Warehouse District.")
Long neglected, a north-south strip of unfriendly buildings and freeways run along the eastern edge of the Mission, skirting the 40s-era elevated freeway and isolating Potrero Hill from the rest of the city.
"Nobody claims it as their territory," says local artist and neighborhood activist Judy West. "But if it was more pleasant and not a barrier, I think we'd want to claim it."
Judy's been dreaming of a Mission Creek Bikeway for years now, but reception from the city has been muted, in part because of the neighborhood's invisibility. And so, as nearby development draws more and more commuters over the next decade, the neighborhood may soon buckle under its archaic street design.
One area that Judy feels is particularly in need of an upgrade is Showplace Square, near 8th and Townsend. Currently, it's home to a windswept traffic island, but hundreds of years ago it was an actual island that jutted out from the middle of Mission Creek.
A slew of competing right-of-ways all converge at this spot: the former train alignment, Caltrain just a block away, the freeways, the surface streets, the bike lanes, and even the sewers.
Despite that, Judy's optimistic about the intersection's potential. "I don't think it's too tangled," she said. "I just think there's a few intersections that are too awkward."
Another good place to start might be Ninth and Division, just a block away from the island. (Or, at least, sort of a block. The streets get so higgledy-piggledy there, it's hard to gauge distance.)
There, in the shadow of the freeway, drivers tend to rocket west along on Division Street, where cars and bikes suddenly find themselves funneled into a sort of traffic braid, with one path crossing over and between another. Cars turning right are particularly likely to crash into bikes, since the Division bike lane continues straight.
Judy would love to see the intersection calmed via pavement-to-park. A new pocket-park could be a welcome addition, alongside street upgrades to reign in the chaotic flow of traffic.
You wouldn't even have to dig up the street to install a little park there -- and yet, dig up the street the city may. A new master plan for the sewer system, currently in a dreamy "wouldn't-it-be-neat" phase, could eventually call for extensive construction beneath Division. Should the city tear up the pavement to modernize sewage tunnels, it would be a perfect opportunity to re-imagine the streetscape.
Of course, we're years away from seeing anything so ambitious. A Mission Creek Bikeway's been studied in the past, and yet so far, nothing has materialized.
You might expect advocates like Judy, who's worked on the Mission Creek Bikeway since the early 90s, to feel dispirited. But she maintains high hopes for the future of the Eastern Neighborhoods.
"I think this is the best part of town," she said. "I just wish the city was more interested in promoting it."