Eyes on the Street: Powell Street Parking Lane Becomes Trial Sidewalk

powell-1_1.jpgPowell Street parking lane closed to cars for increased pedestrian space. Photos: Matthew Roth

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office this weekend experimented with the temporary removal of a handful of parking spaces on Powell Street between Ellis and Geary Streets to give  holiday shoppers in and around Union Square more space to navigate the crowded sidewalks.

The trial closure is part of the Better Market Street Project and was implemented to coincide with the busy shopping season. It lasted from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.

Great Streets Project Director Kit Hodge, who was an active partner in the trial, said pedestrian crowding on Powell Street had long been an concern and that the test gave the city good data for measuring the impacts on traffic and public space.

"It is one of the most crowded pedestrian areas in the city," said Hodge. "It needs to be a great place where the experience of socializing on the streets is comfortable, not something where you feel like you're packed in like cattle."

The reaction from business groups has been positive, though not all merchants along the street have had the opportunity to weigh in. "The execution went very well. The City did a great job of putting things out and making it look festive," said Donna Ficarrotta, Managing Director of the Union Square Association, the city's sole Business Improvement District. Ficarrotta said her merchant members had shown support for the concept, but she indicated she couldn't speak for all her members until they had convened a follow-up meeting, which she hoped to have in late January.

Ficarrotta indicated that she had been to the site on Sunday during the rain and that she hadn't seen many people using the space. "I think people didn't know quite what to make of it. Between the weather and people being in a hurry, I don't think people really understood what it was for."

A longer-term trial could happen in the spring, said Ficarrotta, up to four weeks, but the details of that depended on feedback from the city and her membership. She was hopeful a longer trial would also attract more use.

"I think if people understood it, obviously they would use it."

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Updated 12:34 pm