Mayor Newsom Unveils SF’s First Pavement to Parks Plaza

newsom_holding_court.jpgSupervisor Dufty and Mayor Newsom at the 17th St. plaza dedication cerimony, via Jamison on Flickr

Standing before a crowd of more than 100 people, many of them city staff who had worked to realize the transformation of an underutilized street into a "Pavement to Parks" pedestrian refuge, Mayor Gavin Newsom dedicated the first of at least four such plazas that will be constructed around the city.  

"I know that many of you have been talking about this for… at least 13 or 14 years.  Formally it’s been at least a decade since community groups came together and talked about converting this pavement into a plaza," said Newsom.  "I refer to it as ‘democratizing this public realm’ and the street realm, and looking differently in terms of our open space, open space in terms of taking back this pavement, and converting it into plazas." 

Newsom added: "If we’re successful here…if the community all agrees that this works… if the transit riders and the activists all agree that this works, then we look forward to bringing this to other parts of the city."

The city will evaluate the plazas after 60 days with the community and then extend the trial for another four months, if it is desired.  Additionally, Newsom said three other plazas are already being designed, with support for the concept among supervisors in the districts where they would be located, and there are nine additional locations for the program at some point in the future.  The next three projects will be, in this order:

  • Wolf’s Cafe at 8th Street and 16th Street in Lower Potrero
  • Naples Green in the Excelsior
  • Guerrero Street and San Jose in the outer Mission

Stones.jpgDPW reused curb blocks from their salvage yard and temporary bollards as planters to humanize the space.  Photo: Matthew Roth

DPW Chief Ed Reiskin, considered the driving force of the project, was pleased with the result, though they repainted the plaza at the last minute to the new color (the Mayor was unhappy with the yellow). In the end, Reiskin estimated that the plaza cost between $20,000-25,000, including resources and labor.

"We learned a lot in the process.  There are a lot of complexities technically, working with the various city departments.  The purpose of this is to improve things, to improve the public realm, not to make anyone’s life more difficult.  I think the evaluation process will enable us to ensure that there are no adverse effects to anybody."

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who has long supported opening public space in his district, and who helped negotiate with some residents on Hartford Street who were unhappy with the planning process, lauded his constituents and the city as a whole for the vibrant debate that so often accompanies change in San Francisco. 

"Process gives you an opportunity to succeed.  You think about aspects of projects you might not have considered.  If I thought the status quo was good, I would have been more worried, but this has basically felt like a freeway on this street, such fast moving traffic coming East on Market Street.  This is an intersection that has had so much red light crossing, dangerous conditions."   

"Our goal is to really create new, exciting public spaces in San Francisco and I’m thrilled that they’re starting here in the Castro District," he added. "We’ve needed more places to have a commons, more places to be together and enjoy each other in these busy days.  More people and less traffic is a recipe for a great city."

Liz Ogbu, Project Designer for Public Architecture, which donated its time and services to realize the design of the project, said, "This pedestrian plaza can help connect people to a place, a neighborhood, and a community.” 

City Planning Director John Rahaim said that the concerns that had been raised by residents on Hartford Street was illustrative for the department and for future projects. "This is a lesson in things we can do simply and relatively quickly and frankly to test it out.  Each case is a laboratory for the next case; it’s a great model for us."

crowd.jpgThe crowd listening to Supervisor Dufty introducing the plaza. Photo: Matthew Roth

Now that the project has been installed, the test of its success will require public use and enjoyment of the space.  The Castro/Upper Market CBD will oversee much of the maintenance and upkeep of the plaza, including hiring security for weekend hours when club goers and bar hoppers frequent the area. "The CBD board is learning that we really are the entity in the neighborhood to begin to take control and manage the space.  But we’re going to approach it more as the coordinator, coordinating with other neighborhood associations and other neighborhood groups to pool all of our ideas and resources… so that a lot of diversity and a lot of different kinds of programming can occur here."

Kit Hodge, Director of the Great Streets Project, said they are focusing on analysis of the project, conducting baseline studies of pedestrian and bicycle counts and street-user surveys.  They will repeat the surveys in two months and conduct a business study to gauge impact on commercial interests. "I think overall people vote with their feet and with their dollars.  If we see a measurable increase in numbers in the plaza…as well as a positive impact to businesses, I think that’s a huge measure of success."

At the end of his remarks, Mayor Newsom underscored the simplicity of the installation of the project and the importance of activating and managing the space now that it has been installed.

"It took 17 years of planning, 72 hours to install," said Newsom.  "It’s not that complex.  We can be doing a lot more of this and in a quicker way if you adopt and embrace this proposal.  We are counting on all of you."

See more photos of the project on our Flickr pool here.

plaza_table.jpgA couple enjoy the plaza after the dedication ceremony ended. Several others were using the tables to craft jewelry and have lunch. Photo: Matthew Roth

  • Looking forward to seeing it come to Wolf’s Cafe at 8th Street and 16th Street in Lower Potrero!

  • I’m making a special trip to check it out! I cannot wait for the next projects to open. Just adding the three mentioned will add a tremendous amount of usable open space to some pretty lacking neighborhoods. I could not be more excited right now!

  • brianna hoffner

    just got back from doing some reading in the sun in the new plaza. i love it. and now i get to go back up there and go to the new farmers market. hooray!

  • Alex

    I love this idea and intend to make use of this plaza as much as possible. It’ll be quite easy, since that’s my bedroom with the open window in the green building in the third picture.

    Amusingly, the dude sitting in the chair talking to the lady is my younger brother. It’s a little shocking finding a sibling amongst your Google Reader travels at work.

    Thanks for covering this!

  • DaveO

    I’m glad they changed the yellow.

  • Peter Smith

    i dig it!

  • marcos

    Who was the brain behind the idea of putting a barrier to bicycles up on bike Route #40?

    The bollards make it so that bicycles cannot continue along bike route #40 down into the Mission.

    Cyclists turning right, east on Market also must compete in a tight turn with autos both turning right onto and Market as well as those continuing eastbound, not to mention streetcars full into a hairpin turn.



  • John C.

    I stopped by to check out the plaza during my morning run. It looks fantastic — a huge improvement over what we had before after modifying just a small amount of space.

    I hope we can add more of these throughout the city. My only question is why isn’t the Cafe Trieste plaza in North Beach on the top of the list of projects to implement next?

  • Mike

    I’m confused — does this mean the F-Market has been rerouted? Didn’t it used to start on this block?

  • DaveO

    How would a bicyclist northbound on Castro making a right turn onto Market conflict with a turning streetcar, or with through eastbound traffic on Market street? If the streetcar is making the hairpin turn or if traffic is flowing on Market, then Castro street has a red light, and there is a sign that forbids right turns on red. A cyclist would have to be violating the law to encounter those situations.

  • marcos


    Yes, with proper signage and signaling, bad design can be made safe, just like further down Market at Octavia.


  • DaveO

    All I’m saying is that at Market/Castro, a cyclist would not be in the position you describe if they followed the law.

  • Jake

    This looks kinda retarded.

  • Michael P.

    This intersection is typically cold and windy. Next year can we just shut down 18th between Castro and Noe? That’s where everyone wants to hang out. Without the cars it’ll be a real community space.

  • @Michael P but nobody could get to that real community space because the 33 would be all screwed up…

  • Gavin actually made the right call on the repainting, even at the cost of a few $$.

    Brick red looks like a plaza — yellow looked like a traffic exclusion zone. I can definitely see this current design being reproduced elsewhere around the city.

    p.s. anyone know if the plan in Potrero is to pedestrianize just the area around Wolfe’s, or the whole underused stretch of 8th St. all the way to Axis Cafe?,+sf+ca&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&split=0&gl=us&ei=iccLSqyKBpe8swOqhMn2Ag&ll=37.766269,-122.399488&spn=0.000503,0.001141&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=37.766275,-122.399375&panoid=C9hAMlRcsK6NZknUPyq3yA&cbp=12,345.36,,0,9.76

  • marcos

    Most cyclists are too busy looking down at the condition of the deteriorating pavement and at pedestrians trying to avoid hitting them that evaluating each and every street sign is not always an option.

    This is an accident waiting to happen.

    My question remains unanswered: who was the brain who decided to sever bike route #40 with a pedestrian plaza?


  • john

    “Most cyclists are too busy looking down at the condition of the deteriorating pavement and at pedestrians trying to avoid hitting them that evaluating each and every street sign is not always an option.”

    so then I guess it’s ok if I also add, “Most vehicle drivers are too busy looking down at the condition of th deteriorating pavement and at cyclists, (trying to avoid hitting them), that evaluating each/every street sign is not always an option….”

  • marcos

    @john, that excuse does not work if you have four wheels.


  • Marcos, you sound just like the drivers who opposed the plaza because they couldn’t just cut straight through anymore, except cyclists can still go through. There is a gap between the bollards for eastbound bike traffic to continue through, though now you might have to slow down and negotiate your way around the pedestrians.

    I rarely see cyclists on this stretch of 17th, but if this means inconveniencing a few cyclists along with all the drivers who now have to continue straight along Market another block it’s worth it to have a plaza.

  • marcos

    What we’ve got here is a project that advanced politically in service of Dufty’s run for room 200. This is the supervisor who, like I told you all, would position himself to ritualistically appear to “break” from the mayor on work orders but would come safely back to the fold at the end of the day. That is how Dufty is able to get these projects in his district. One hand washes the other.

    We’ve learned at Market and Octavia, at Fell and Masonic and on every street where there are neither bike facilities nor enforcement that relying on signaling and signage to cover for dangerous conditions due to poor design is a prescription for future injuries and even deaths.

    Where were the bicycle advocates in weighing in on this loss of connectivity in the bicycle network? There are those who have noticed that the SFBC ED has been making all nicey nice with Dufty. Her partner rode with Bevan to work today on a tandem, and they’d had “words” in the past. One tendency of progocialites is that they will privilege personal friendship and political connections over really bad policy with a sheepish shrug of their shoulders. Just read Steve Jones’ exercise in navel gazing in this week’s Guardian for an example of how not to address the root causes of second class bicycle citizenship.

    I believe what we are seeing in this case is personal and political relationships clouding judgment and critical distance, all leading to policies that put cyclists life and limb at risk because of timidity and reluctance to offend. Again.


  • If bicycles can indeed squeeze through between the bollards, that would work. However, yesterday during the opening there were many vendor tables set up in the space between the Muni tracks and the sidewalk giving little room for bicycles to continue down 17th Street. If this is not an everyday occurrence then it wouldn’t be a problem.

    I, too, am a little concerned about the right turn off Castro onto Market because of the need to compete with cars in a tighter space. It may not be any tighter than many intersections in the city, but before the plaza the space issues for bikes at that intersection were very generous.

    However, I have to say that today, while on my bike going north up Hartford and then turning right onto 17th, the lack of traffic was perfectly lovely due to the pedestrian plaza closing off cars roaring down from Market Street. Coming back the same way was just as nice.

    Happy Bike to Work day everyone! (I like the terracotta color better than yellow, too.)

  • i know this is temporary, but it really looks half-assed. the tracks all over the ground make it very confusing. but it appears that there is a bit unpainted where the f is supposed to go, yet tracks run in several directions. i felt like i could get run over by the f line at any minute. plus the planters look really chincy. they, or the “barriers” are supposed to be big enough to provide a sense of protection. the planters look like cardboard tubes with plants sticking out the top and the “barriers” are just plain silly.

    i think this is poorly planned.

  • Pat

    Great call on the color. The yellow would have pushed people away

  • Jamison Wieser

    Taomom, walkibg to Castro Station I just watched a guy on a bike cross Castro eastbound through the gap in the bollards, through the inpainted space marking the crosswalk, and out along Market all while talking on his phone with just one hand on his handlebars. He didn’t have a helmet on either, but it demonstrates the gap is wide enough to allow bikes through without trouble.

  • AP

    @ Theo

    The Wolf’s site would include the entire block of 8th between Irwin and 16th… Wolf’s would frame the west side of the plaza, and Axis cafe would frame the west side.

  • Craig

    I think many commenters are losing sight of the fact that this is a pilot project in a town with almost no prior experience with street closures. It’s not likely the city will get it perfect the first time, but I think they did a good job of providing some open space without spending a ton of money or moving a lot of infrastructure. This is a new concept to San Franciscans (and Americans generally), and it will take some time for people to warm to it. Ideally, I’d like to see the Muni rerouted, the entire space bricked, and attractive planters used to separate traffic from the plaza. But this is a good start.

  • AP

    Also, we all need to remember that the design as installed is temporary. If it works, the materials and surfacing will be replaced with more permanent fixtures and elements. I’d also disagree about re-routing the F. I think it provides a unique and defining element to the space.

  • marcos

    What I’m keeping sight of is that this is a city capable of producing 8 year solutions to 3 year problems.

    When I headed home on Wednesday after the ceremony, I was unable to find a path through the bollards to continue down 17th. MTA planning staff indicated that they proceeded with the project even though they were prohibited from implementing any design that mitigated impacts on bicycles.

    So a political call was made to prioritize pedestrians and a plaza over bicycle safety, error compounding error.


  • the greasy bear

    Yes, marcos, it would appear pedestrians have been intentionally prioritized over cyclists in closing that stretch of roadway for the creation of a pedestrian plaza. Isn’t that the point?

  • marcos

    @the greasy bear,

    Apparently staff gave consideration to the fact that the plaza blocks bike route #40 and they are anticipating changes once they are able.

    The question is not whether cycling routes should be converted to ped plazas, but the City’s choice to move forward knowing that they’d cut off a bike route before they were free to do it right.

    It is not as if we have so many bike routes that we can afford for them to be taken up by pedestrian projects. This plaza as designed negatively impacts the intersection of bike routes #50 and #40.

    This is a pilot project, a project we’re supposed to learn from. Why the resistance to learning from mistakes?

    Perhaps we should use that plaza for a piece of art that was planned for the Embarcadero at Market and one that fouls the waterfront just to the south today.

    Once upon a time, there were proposals for a piece of public art to be put at the foot of Market Street that was shaped, strangely enough, like a foot:

    There is also a hideous piece of work by Claes Oldeburg foisted upon the waterfront by Redevelopment welfare billionaire Donald Fisher in front of his global HQ which was provided him by Willie Brown using eminent domain:

    I’d hope that we might combine these two “works” of “art” at the plaza at 17th and Castro, the Oldeberg strategically placed, barb embedded into the foot, to symbolize the city’s talent for delaying action forever and producing a mediocre result in the end.


  • I dont live in the area. For the “unused” tracks (the ones painted over), are they never used, and if not, why? Not even for emergency operations? If theyre never, ever used, why do they exist there?

  • SfResident

    @marcos When they (hopefully) decide to make this permanent we should lobby for better bicycle access but for now the (hopefully temporary) inconvenience to bicyclists with the plaza is tiny compared to the very great benefit for pedestrians and the local community.

    One of the biggest problems with progressives of all sorts in this city is that we let unrealizable perfect solutions get in the way of the small victories that actually make our city more livable.

  • marcos


    Trade offs are only acceptable when there are trades to be made.

    It seems that bicyclists give up everything and pedestrians get everything.

    That is not a trade.

    Politics is about satisfying multiple constituencies as best you can at the same time, and if one constituency ends up screwed, there should generally be hell to pay.

    Had the hit been taken by local residents, or by local merchants, the project would have been a no-go. But since the hit is taken by cyclists, no problemo!

    Let’s just hope that this design is not dangerous to the extent that someone gets hurt.


  • marcos –

    As far as I am concerned, just shut that street off for cyclists and be done with it. No big deal. Cyclists would be far less inconvenienced than drivers – that stretch of road is not critical.

    Like anyone knows they are on “Bike Route 40”. Take 18th, take 16th, because 17th is closed to traffic. Closing 17th to traffic is worth it.

  • marcos

    @John Murphy, we have longstanding city plans that designate a bicycle route network. For the City to go off on a lark and ignore those plans with a politically oriented project like this should have cyclists up in arms.

    Wait a minute, there should be a bicycle advocacy group in town that makes it their mission to fight for a better bicycle network!


  • the greasy bear

    Marcos, you assert cyclists are taking a “hit” with the creation of this plaza. I’m a cyclist. I live on 15th St. nearby. Please explain to me the extent of the hit I’m taking.

  • DaveO

    @jass – the “unused” tracks are maintained for possible use in the rare emergency that the Market Street Subway is blocked. It provides a mechanism for streetcars to be able to exit the Twin Peaks tunnel and return to the surface should it become necessary. I do not believe this is a regular, or even an annual occurance.

  • marcos

    @John Murphy, there have been several citywide planning processes over the past decade and a half which have designated certain streets as bicycle routes. The public processes which led to the adoption of the bicycle network were each much more extensive and thorough than the public process leading up to this pilot project.

    Successive Planning Commissions have signed off on this network. Successive MTA Boards have signed off on this network. Successive Boards of Supervisors have signed off on this network. Even the bicycle plan injunction does not hold those network designations in abeyance, they remain city policy today.

    17th Street is part of that network. Apparently, little consideration was given to balancing the interests of bicycles as per current city policy, in the development of this pilot project. Now cyclists will try to follow the SF Bicycle Map and find themselves encountering dangerous conditions.

    The MTA and Planning Departments knew of this bicycle plan; its been in the news regularly and the respective department heads have made committments to policy makers to make sure this plan is implemented.

    Why would these leaders promise one thing about the bicycle plan and then turn around and implement pilot projects that void that plan?


  • the greasy bear

    Cycled over to the plaza last evening; pulled a catwalk wheelie, made some pedestrians smile, and then I was on my way. This plaza is an improvement for the neighborhood and for the city as a whole; I hope it becomes permanent.

  • Allen

    The Wolfe’s site when implemented should showcase the incredible relic and historical monument that it is to the area. Wolfe’s is the obvious centerpiece of that area and remains the only 100+ year old cafe/restaurant that still stands. It has served the Potrero community since the days that the area was made for building WWI military equipment.

  • @DaveO If (really, when) the plaza becomes permanent and the intersection is redesigned, SFMTA will need to decide what to do with the tracks. A study several years ago determined there was a risk of the Eureka Portals and more importantly, the tunnel itself under Market where they connect in, caving in during an earthquake, but not what to do about it. That study recommended further study to determine what to do about it, and whether the portals (and that track) should be kept or not, but nothing has been done about it yet.

    @marcos There was a more recent public process which led to the creation of the Plaza which was signed off on by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. You keep trying to beat a dead horse, as I’ve already pointed out they also did not block bikes from using the plaza and provided access at both ends of 17th for bikes to travel through.

  • marcos

    @Jamison Wieser, yeah, right, a public process.

    After brunch at Chow Sunday (delicious heirloom tomato salad w/greens, zucchini and corn and an artichoke pizza w/corn, chevre, heirlooms and fresh mozzarella), we decided to head up to The Center Of The Universe, me sloging on crutches, slowly, to keep active and get the hell out of the house.

    There were some seats at the plaza, so I took a load off of my wrists for a second and took in the scene on a chilly summer afternoon.

    There were five cyclists, apparently tourists, who were by Milk Plaza trying to figure out how to get east past the plaza into the Mission. They ended up very confused, being funneled into the pedestrian crosswalk and since there is no good way to get towards Noe via 17th, what with streetcars completely blocking the roadway, they had to use the sidewalk, some riding, some walking, all competing with peds, all confused.

    Apparently, bicycle advocates who live and die for bike lanes and the bike network and ped advocates who see the sidewalk as sacred ped space were not part of the public process as far as bisecting a bike lane and forcing bike and ped traffic to compete goes.

    Public process, yeah, right, the same public process that led to the explosion of high rise condos which are relics of a previous economy that no longer exists.


  • thegreasybear

    Poor marcos. He’s the dogged contrarian on every possible issue, nay-saying night and day, nay! Nay!–even when nobody agrees or cares.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, it seems that so many wish to walk down both sides of the street that you all have forgotten why you even left the house.

    When the premise of politics is not offending your friends, all sorts of justificatory contortions ensue when the eventualities of reality do not bend to your friends’ “good” intentions.

    Meanwhile, we’ve got a sliver of painted asphalt serving lunching tourists, pained gimps and the stinky mentally ill put in place as a stepping stone for a mayoral campaign which manages to force bicycles and pedestrians into conflict.

    What an unmitigated success!


  • thegreasybear

    Marcos, best of luck convincing others to dislike this new plaza.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, where does this “know nothing”-ism come from? Do you all really expect that it is sufficient for someone to pull a half-baked idea out of their ass, implement it, and never look back, never course correct mid stream when new information arises?

    Are you really that alien to participatory politics that you will take whatever tripe you get dished out to you and be glad that you’ve been dished to?

    Clearly, someone dropped the ball when it came to ensuring that the plaza was impact-neutral on transit first modalities during whatever planning process was undertaken.

    But look, pretty colors on the pavement and aluminum chairs!


  • @thegreasybear Marcos is not a contrarian about absolutely everything, the general consensus is the food at Chow is delicious.

    @marcos yes, it was a public process. I attended a couple of the meetings, which were packed to the point of overflow and had no shortage of bicyclists involved and speaking up for better bike access. You seem very bitter will happily make up wild accusations like the process was not public just because you don’t like the plaza, apparently.

  • marcos

    In what world does pointing out that the 17th and Market design is a disaster for the bicycle network equate into dismissing the notion of reclaiming street space from autos? Are we suggesting that the CIty, through its political and technical process get things right the first time every time? Is this a world where there is never any iterative, incremental approach to the ideal?

    I guess I’d not be so contrarian if the people paid to do their job did their job, if there were a modicum of accountability for advocates who speak for others and dominate the disocurse, poorly, on behalf of others. But in the absence of any accountability, advocates get rolled and the unrepresented constituents suffer.



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