A San Francisco Skatepark Opens in Shadow of Central Freeway

Skaters at San Francisco's new SOMA West skatepark. (Alexandra Garreton/KQED)
Skaters at San Francisco’s new SoMa West skatepark. (Alexandra Garreton/KQED)

Just in time for this holiday weekend, there’s a new park in town. San Francisco’s newest recreational spot is the SOMA West Skate Park and Dog Play Area.

Last Tuesday was the park’s “soft” opening, but Mohammed Nuru from the Department of Public Works said enthusiasm for the new space meant shooing away eager skaters who wanted to get into the park early.

“In this part of the city there is not that much open space,” he said. “So this becomes a very critical area for the density and the people who live around the new park.”

Built under the Central Freeway where U.S. 101 turns into Octavia Street, the new space is part of a larger city plan.

“Like many cities, areas under freeways have become a little blighted,” Nuru said.

The DPW is working to develop areas that became accessible with the removal of the freeway structure in the decades after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Several community meetings were held to better understand what residents near the freeway wanted. The answer was a place for dogs and skateboarders.

Plans for the SoMa West park began in 2009. Nuru said the city had to work out a deal with Caltrans, which owns the space. More than five years and $3.3 million later, the park is opening, complete with two dog runs — one for big dogs and one for little ones.

Before noon on Wednesday, more than 50 skaters of all ages were trying their boards on the new ramps and rails. Several of them liked the fact that the park is more tailored to street skateboarders, with wide-open spaces, stairs to jump, ramps to launch from and rails to grind.

Sean Carabarin, 30, came to check out the park on Wednesday before heading to his hotel job in downtown San Francisco.

“I like it, it’s fun. There’s a lot of stuff,” he said. “One thing I don’t like, it’s crowded already, but it’s given, you know?” Carabarin foresees he’ll be visiting the ramps three or four days a week, depending on his work schedule.

When David Rosenberg, 34, isn’t riding his skateboard, he’s a local high school English teacher. He said, “New parks bring old men out of the woodwork.” Rosenberg gives the new park a “thumbs up.” He’s been at the park twice in the days it’s been open.

Professional skateboarder Karl Watson, 37, came from Oakland with his 15-year-old son to check out what SoMa West has to offer. He said that eight years ago the local skateboard community had slated this part of the freeway underpass for a do-it-yourself skatepark. Watson said what the city did with the space is a lot better. “It’s a lot cleaner. A lot safer. No nails sticking out.”

The SoMa West park is the newest addition to the area under the Central Freeway. A block away from the new ramps and artificial grass, construction has already begun in the McCoppin Hub Plaza. Once a seedy dead-end parking lot sandwiched between a liquor store and a U-Haul truck rental, the cul-de-sac will soon be a food truck court.

Eventually the DPW is planning to host an official opening event for the new skatepark/dog run.

“As we have seen, the neighborhood was very anxious to get in there,” said Nuru, “but it’s open now and there’s people enjoying it.”

Skater Carabarin thinks the park is good for the local community. “I think skateboarding is one of those things that teaches kids from a young age to old age how to interact with one another. There’s no prejudice inside of it,” he said. “It kind of breaks those barriers. And it’s fun.”

  • Maruna

    What is the city’s plan to accommodate (read: provide safety) the influx of peds/cyclists/skateboarders coming to the new park (as well as the McCoppin St. Park)? 13th street is in some serious need of ‘traffic calming’ in addition to a bike lane, safer crosswalks and bigger sidewalks. McCoppin Bike Connector has been out of commission for the last 3 months, and when in use is a dangerous blind corner at best. Hoping the city has considered safe access to these great new parks.

    • bwwg

      I wonder how people lived for millenia before the expecation of the nanny state?

  • the_citrus

    Missing from this article: besides the much-needed safety improvements on 13th Street mentioned below (and boy, are they needed STAT!), especially between Mission and Folsom, the original plans for this site included basketball courts and a playground where the parking lot is, but they were scrapped. LAME!

    • This is not ok

      I love how they claim there were “air quality concerns” for building basketball courts and a children’s playground but somehow that is not a concern for a skatepark? They must think we are idiots.

  • stevensonalleyresident

    Those of us living next door to the park on Stevenson Street are dealing with noise ordinance violations, increased garbage, public urination at our doorsteps, and pot smoking on the street and in the park. This is the dark side to this new addition to the neighborhood. My hope is that the City works out these kinks of the skateboarders trespassing after the park closes and makes it very clear they shouldn’t skate at 2AM as the echoing from under the freeway wakes us all up. So for the skaters it’s great, for those of us who lived on this quiet alley and spent years cleaning up the needle abuse and homeless encampments to know deal with other drug use, a takeover of our narrow sidewalks and street with skaters, people pissing in our doorways, and hopping the fence to skate at all hours when they want – this is the reality that needs to be brought back to a state of equilibirum. I’m all for skaters having a space, but they need to understand this is a residential street and there needs to be basic courtesy to follow rules and laws.

    • Dylan

      Im a skateboarder there and this is what my solution is:
      Urination= No bathroom at park!
      Trash only= 1 garbage can on the other side of the park.
      Pot= Well thats a given but people don’t smoke that much.
      After hours=Turn the lights off and enforce it!

  • This is not ok

    CORRECTION: the neighbors of this community did NOT want a skatepark right next to us. The skateboarders lobby did. and it just goes to show you that money is what gets attention, not the needs of the people most impacted by a freeway being built over their street. Now our street is just as blighted but in a different and much worse way. I cannot believe in progressive SF that the government officials pushed out a group of marginalized, impoverished people–the homeless and irrevocably decreased quality of life for another group–the residents of Stevenson street to make space for *YOUNG WHITE MEN* don’t they already get enough in this world?? give me back the homeless, I can at least have empathy for them, unlike this group of entitled jerks that are peeing on our buildings and keeping us awake all night. KQED: I request a correction to your article, the neighborhood DID NOT want a skatepark!! the City and the skateboarding lobby did, so once again we got screwed.

  • screwed_over

    “As we have seen, the neighborhood was very anxious to get in there,” said Nuru, “but it’s open now and there’s people enjoying it.” Is Nuru just completely oblivious to the obvious? The skate park was never something the neighborhood wanted. And now it’s there. And loud. And attracting crime, violence, trash, and noise. Awesome. Thanks SFDPW.

  • JG

    nice to see all the NIMBYs rush out to whine about a public asset being created that simultaneously results in lower trash and crime for their neighborhood. Some people just live to complain about everything.

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