Washington Square Park is a great place for a lunchtime stroll, a picnic, or a frolic with your dog, but could soon be punctuated by loud construction noise.
As part of the Central Subway Project that will bore a tunnel from South of Market under Union Square and Chinatown, the giant digging machine will wind up under the street in North Beach. Transportation officials want to dig a 40 by 40-foot hole across Columbus Street to pull it out. "This was found to be through the analysis that was done many years ago, to be the least disruptive place to pull the machines out. There's no commercial frontage, it's a small half block on a wide street," San Francisco Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said.
On one side of the street, there's a garden. On the other side there's a park. But just half a block away, restaurants that rely on sidewalk seating to make money worry that months of noise, dirt and orange cones will drive their customers away. "We have six businesses on Union, between Union and Powell, so it's going to be right there. Who wants to eat in front of the dust?" restaurant owner Romine Tiberia said.
"'That's grossly unfair to this neighborhood!" One business owner said. A meeting between those business owners and the MTA quickly got tense. "You're the city, you work for us!" another person said. The restaurant owners claim they were never consulted. "They never had an open meeting, they never elected anybody, excuses!" a business owner said. And they want the project put on hold to study alternatives like pulling the machine out somewhere else or just leaving it in the ground.
The MTA had planned to close one lane of Columbus to start moving utility lines almost immediately and then close two lanes for about 10 months in 2013, racing to finish before the America's Cup. However, business owners worry that by then they'll be gone. "You come in here digging, you will destroy me," Tiberia said.
"It's going to put a tourniquet on the heart of San Francisco, and that's North Beach, and that's a shame," neighborhood association president Jon Golinger said.
But the MTA is on a tight deadline to start digging. They'll meet with business owners again next Tuesday.