BY SHILANDA WOOLRIDGE

The Mission District could receive a facelift that would give it a world-class profile if the plans for Mission Streetscape become a reality.

Some of the changes envisioned include a plaza at the intersection where Mission and San Jose meet; sidewalks enhanced with colored tiles and trees, and occasional street closures to host outdoor markets.

All of this comes with transportation options galore including increased bus service, more bicycle paths, and traffic-calming devices such as extending the sidewalk at street corners to narrow the street and slow traffic.  The latter are known as bulb outs.

The ideas were discussed at the city planning department’s Wednesday-night meeting at the Women’s Building on 18th Street.

One of the other plans on the table includes renovating alleyways for pedestrian use—much the same way the Italians have done in Rome. The so-called living alleyways would have art, benches and raised crosswalks.

“I love all the ideas. I want as much as possible as soon as possible,” said Micheal Scheper, one of many San Francisco Bike Coalition members in the audience. “I was pleasantly surprised to see bike lanes and public transportation as top priorities.”

Project managers Lisa Bender and Ilaria Salvadori gave the presentation, with input from BART officials and the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Funding  exists for the pedestrian improvements on Valencia Street, but it’s unclear when they will begin.  Bender said  Streetscape renovations along Cesar Chavez are slated to start in the summer of 2010,  but the momentum   comes from a major sewage renovation project that is already in the works. When Cesar Chavez is rebuilt, the new Streetscape plans will follow.

The Streetscape changes were divided into three categories: quick fixes, medium-term projects and big investments.

Each category had low and high priorities. Examples of highest-priority,  quick fixes are traffic circles on Shotwell and 26th streets, and flexible parking in neighborhood commercial areas. The latter would allow parking spaces to be used as cafe seating or bike parking. After reviewing the items in the categories, Bender asked the audience to consider, “Are these the right priorities? Are they in the right boxes?”

Julie Kirchbaum, project manager for the Metropolitan Transposition Authority’s effectiveness project, said they are considering canceling the 26 Valencia Street bus and increasing services on Mission Street.

Shannon Dodge, who lives close to Cesar Chavez and Potrero, wondered if the ideas would be delivered as planned. She also asked about the pedestrian fence that transportation plans to build along Potrero between 25th and Cesar Chavez to prevent jaywalkers from visiting the renovated parks. The transportation authority delayed the construction of the fence yesterday, pending further input from the community.

While the plans present some innovative changes and beautification for Mission District streets, not everyone at the meeting was excited.

“I’m concerned that some of these proposals look fancy. It’s important to preserve the character of the neighborhood. It seems like these improvements will increase the pace of gentrification,” said Catherine Orland, a member of the San Francisco Bike Coalition who has lived in the Mission for two years.

Orland also questioned the lack of Spanish speakers present at the meeting. Bender said the first meeting was well attended by Spanish speakers, but subsequent meetings have had fewer. However, Bender said they plan to redouble their outreach efforts. “Our next steps will be to target merchant groups and neighborhood associations,” she said.

In spite of the many brainstorming sessions, most of these plans will not be put into action for several years. Individual projects will be funded by state and federal grants, and most of the projects have not secured funding.

The San Francisco Planning Department’s next Mission Streetscape community meeting will take place in June.