San Francisco Takes Parking Spaces for Trial Sidewalk Extensions

mojo_p2p.gifA photo simulation of the new Pavement to Parks public space in what was once two parking spaces in front of the Mojo Bicycle Cafe in NOPA. Image: RG Architecture.

With the success of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks trial plazas, the city is about to unveil its newest plan to use its streets for something other than cars when it converts parking spaces to public space by extending sidewalks into the street with durable wood platforms.

City planners acknowledge that the inspiration for these new pedestrian spaces came from the success of Park(ing) Day, an international sensation developed by Rebar, where people in cities around the globe occupy parking spaces for one day a year and build pocket parks and other innovative facilities.

The first iteration of the loosely dubbed Pavement to Parks 2.0 projects, which could happen in the next few weeks, will be the transformation of two parking spaces in front of Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisadero Street, in coordination with the massive construction project that is remaking the Divisadero corridor.

"The idea is essentially to build a cheaper bulbout, to get the same effect as a $100,000 [concrete] bulbout at a fraction of the funds," said the San Francisco Planning Department’s Andres Power, project manager for Pavement to Parks. "We will take the occupation of a sidewalk off the sidewalk and move it into the parking lane."

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said he was an early champion of the project and, after seeing the impact of Park(ing) Day, he began talking with merchants along Divisadero about trying something like the temporary parking space interventions, but making them more permanent.

"I think San Francisco loves innovation," said Mirkarimi, adding that his district was a perfect location for the first trial of this kind given how many cyclists and pedestrians frequent the area. "There is a hipness that’s part of Mojo’s DNA as well as others on the Divisadero corridor."

As for the innovation of taking curb space that has been used for parking cars for more than half a century, the project is only possible because it is a trial, said Power. There was considerable debate about how to build a durable and attractive platform that wouldn’t interfere with drainage and sanitation. The Department of Public Works (DPW), Planning, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) landed on a solution they believe will be sturdy and safe, said Power.

The platforms will extend 7 feet from the curb, slightly less than the width of most cars, so vehicles that are parked at either end will serve as a buffer to passing traffic. Each parking space is approximately 20 feet long, so the Mojo platform will be just over 40 feet in length. Power said his department encouraged the designer to build a platform that would be modular and replicable, with the hope that more projects could be added in other parts of the city if this one is successful. Though the Chronicle reported that similar sidewalk extensions could be possible in North Beach, at Park(ing) Day sites like Caffe Greco and Caffe Roma, no one contacted for this story would confirm future locations.

P2P_plan_image_2.gifImage: RG Architecture

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development provided a $5,500 grant to cover half the cost of the project, said Power, while the design and building costs were donated. The platform materials come from Bison Deck Supports, a company based in Boulder Colorado that traditionally builds roof decks, and the overall design came from RG Architecture. In addition to tables and chairs, the space will have bike racks and planter boxes, which will likely be filled with bamboo.

According to RG Architecture’s Riyad Ghannam, nothing like this has ever come through his firm’s door, which inspired him to offer his services gratis. "To me, in my business, it’s 100 percent unique," he said of the project.

As for the age-old concern of merchants losing parking spaces, the businesses on Divisadero were more concerned about sidewalk space and bicycle parking, according to Remy Nelson, owner of Mojo Café and vice president of the Divisadero Merchants Association.

"I think it’s really great," said Nelson. "My shop is in the middle of a block and when I look out my front window, I’m usually looking at parked cars."

Nelson explained that a shift had occurred with the merchants on his block and along the corridor in the past few years, as the perceived need for parking garages was replaced by calls for more pedestrian space and bicycle parking. Referring to the sidewalk extension in front of his business as a "no-brainer," Nelson predicted the transformation would catch on and other businesses would clamor for them.

"The public is going to see it and they’re going to forget there ever was a parking lot there," he said.

The space will be maintained by Nelson and staff at Mojo, though the chairs and tables are open to the public, similar to the arrangement at the 17th Street and Castro trial plaza, where the movable tables and chairs are maintained by a business that fronts the pedestrian space.

The Mojo project received a similar six-month permit from the city as part of the Pavement to Parks trial plazas, which will have to be renewed if it is successful. Planners are waiting for the Department of Public Works (DPW) to finish the final elements of the Divisadero reconstruction before proceeding, though that could happen in the next few weeks, according to Power. All of the materials to build are in a warehouse and will be built as soon as the street is ready.

While Mayor Newsom has yet to announce the second generation of Pavement to Parks projects, Power said swift movement on the project and the coordination of all the agencies came from Astrid Haryati, the Mayor’s Director of Greening, and Ed Reiskin, the Director of the DPW.

The speed of developing the project especially impressed Ghannam. "I have not seen anything like that procedurally," he said. "I think the city is taking a little bit of a chance, but sometimes you take a chance like this and you reap the rewards."

For Nelson, the project couldn’t come quickly enough. "We need more emphasis on sidewalks, a place that’s pleasant and fun to be in," he said. "How can we get it more sidewalk centric, less car-centric?"

P2P_plan_cross_small.gifClick to enlarge. Image RG Architecture.
p2p_plan_overview_small.gifClick to enlarge. Image RG Architecture.
Level_it.gifThe Bison deck supports with adjustable heights will be important for negotiating the curve of Divisadero Street at the sidewalk. Image: Bison Deck Supports.
P2P_plan_image_1.gifImage: RG Architecture.
  • tNOB

    As mentioned the article, I too am amazed at the speed at which this is happening. However, only in the context of the number of entities involved. In something I see restaurants in Europe set up every morning, and breakdown every night…

    Why does this take such an intense effort? Have the DPW issue a seasonal permit for two parking spaces for cafes and restaurants that request it. Let them do what they will with it. I doubt everyone will need an architect to draw up a wood platform with tables.

  • This would be great in front of Martha & Bros on 24th in Noe. You can never walk past there without stepping on someone during the weekend. My only question however would be how does this affect drainage during rain storms?

  • Clarence Eckerson

    This would be cool to see as a Streetfilm.

  • tNOB

    T.O.W.,

    If you look at the section diagram, the whole thing is on posts. No affect on drainage, just need to cut some slots in the perimeter board.

  • Rob Anderson is going to HATE this.

  • John C

    @Mike: Rob Anderson should move to LA already. Plenty of space given to cars there, so traffic must flow great (ha)!

    Seriously, though, parking spaces to cafe seating is a fantastic idea that can work in every neighborhood in the city. Best of all, it can be implemented quickly and cheaply. Unless it’s blocked by a CEQA lawsuit, of course.

  • This is great news! Meanwhile, we don’t even have a traversable sidewalk along the main residential core of Harrison Street because the City doesn’t seem to believe people with babies in strollers or in wheelchairs deserve an ADA-compliant sidewalk between Fremont and Main Streets that provides at least 3 feet of width to get up/down Harrison Street on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the City happily takes $30 million or so in property taxes every year from our residential buildings along/nearby Harrison east of 2nd Street.

  • Oh .. I bring this up because A) the lack of safe sidewalk improvements using our property taxes in Rincon Hill encourages folks to jump into their cars (which none of us who primarily walk/bike/take transit wants to happen) and B) I’m just envious of other neighborhoods with sidewalks that are at least ADA-compliant … much less a candidate for temporary expansion via Great Streets (SFMTA wouldn’t dare take a lane or parking away from East Bay folks who barrel through SoMa to get onto the Bay Bridge as quickly as possible after work hours)

  • patrick

    This is great, Mojo is a good cafe and bike shop and I was wondering if they would get involved with this concept, I’m happy to see they have, it will benefit pedestrians, the patrons of Mojo, and hopefully the business as well.

  • hUcKiE

    This is an awesome idea, except for the part where the city is footing even 1 cent of the bill. In an age where we are banking on increases in parking meter and parking ticket revenue to fund Muni, any Cafe that wants to use the spaces in front of their business to do this should be having to pay for a permit from the city to partially compensate for lost revenue, and they should have to foot the construction bill. After all, they are getting all the benefits from it.

  • @TOW – and Bernies, and Pasta Pomodoro, and Joe’s, and Bassos. Hell let’s just put this in the whole length of 24th…

  • Troy

    Looks great. My only concern from those diagrams is that there appear to be too many chairs for those tables. They will not all be contained in the “bulb out”. That third chair for sure will be used out on the sidewalk itself, blocking pedestrian/stoller/wheelchair traffic.

    otherwise, can’t wait.

  • Wonderful! Though I agree with hUcKiE, the store owners should pay some rent.

    And thanks REBAR! You are our hero!

  • Noah

    Okay, so we widened the sidewalks on Divis allegedly because there isn’t enough room for pedestrians to walk. Then, we cover the new sidewalks in plants/tables/whatever, so that there is actually no added space for pedestrians.

    It’s like the war in Iraq. We claim we go in for an at least marginally legitimate reason, then we come up with a new marginally legitimate reason after-the-fact. I don’t really like being lied to.

  • tea

    I am sure this will be fun and is well intended, but how does that saying go… “it’s like putting a racing stripe on a turd – at the end of the day, it’s still a turd.”

    If this “removable sidewalk” with six containers of potted bamboos represents a hope for a better future I am supposed to celebrate, then I am even more scared than before. I understand that the political process is slow and pretty much broken and this is all one can get these days. (If at all — pending Rob Anderson’s bullshit.) Especially in San Francisco which seems to have misplaced its balls some time ago. But this is precisely the sort of thing why I have more faith in peak oil / resource depletion bringing more radical change sooner to the way we use our streets, than the entire livability movement….

  • ZA

    Love it! And at my fave cafe too!

    Taking the long view, in the same way that pro-car advocates today are trying hard to protect their achievement of a dream laid down 102 years ago, I look forward to these seeds taking root, breaking through the mental Macadam, flourishing over this century, and have the ironic reversal of protective advocates in the following century.

  • patrick

    @Noah, the sidewalks on Divis have not been widened. Some bus/pedestrian bulb-outs have been added, but that’s a different matter.

    In the location being discussed the sidewalk is just as narrow as it always has been, and there are tables on the sidewalk. So this will add both space for seating, and move it out of the path of people walking by.

    On an unrelated note, can we leave Rob Anderson out of this discussion? He has nothing to do with this.

  • citicritter

    Sure its great; but why they had to go to an architect in Deleware (if the link above is to be trusted) for such a simple design is baffling…

  • citicritter

    …so much for supporting local business.

  • lenguista

    Mitchell’s ice cream on San Jose Avenue could use one of these.

  • I like that idea John. I always feel like I’m going to fall off the sidewalk on Saturday mornings.

  • Phil

    Awesome idea! When is this going in? A proof of concept may galvanize neighbourhoods to implement similar installations. I hope DPT can streamline the permit process and make some rental income from this effort.

  • Brian

    I wish one of the parking spaces was for bike parking.
    Something like this…
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/81325557@N00/2979658581/

  • @Brian, all over Portland. It was beautiful!

  • darren

    link to architect’s website is incorrect.

    http://www.rg-architecture.com/

    located on Folsom Street in San Francisco

  • noearch

    Not a bad idea, but I’m not sure about the safety aspect of sitting right next to the traffic lane..How ’bout adding some permanent steel or concrete bollards at the street edge to protect patrons while sitting..?

  • As Darren notes and critticritter laments, I put the wrong link in for RG Architecture. They are very local.

  • They do exactly this in Vienna every summer. All the restaurants and cafes are allowed to put temporary platforms in the street in front of their business and put table and chairs there. It’s great. Only wish it were all year around!

  • Andy Nash saw them in Vienna, I saw the same thing in Pisa last year. Wooden platforms on the street for tables and chairs. I’m not sure if theyre removed at night or not. The only parking left on the street was for mopeds/scooters and bikes.

  • g

    maybe my imagination is in overdrive. i rather not sit by cars whizzing by…

  • Noah

    @Patrick

    You say: “@Noah, the sidewalks on Divis have not been widened. Some bus/pedestrian bulb-outs have been added, but that’s a different matter.”

    Um, right, which widened the sidewalk (one block from the above picture, actually), with the justification that it would provide more walking space. Now they want to cover that walking space with stuff.

  • patrick

    @Noah, are you talking about something entirely other than what this article is discussing? What are they covering the bus bulb-out with? How does that relate to this article?

    Bulb outs are different from sidewalk widenings. The bus bulb-outs did add space as people who are now waiting for buses do not need to stand in the path of those walking along the sidewalk.

    Sidewalk widening means the entire length of the sidewalk is widened, which has not happened, and there are currently no plans I am aware of to do this, it’s certainly not part of the Divisadero improvements (the reason that I’ve been told is that it is much more expensive as they also have to move the fire hydrants and associated plumbing)

    This article is talking about adding sidewalk (or seating if you prefer) where there are currently 2 metered street parking space outside of Mojo Bicycle. There is no existing sidewalk in the space that is being discussed, and it has nothing to do with the bus bulb-outs.

  • As the Planning Department’s Power discussed at a recent SPUR Forum on the Cesar Chavez traffic calming, sidewalk and bike lane project, the city estimates that it costs $1 million per block to widen the sidewalk. This cost accounts for re-grading the crown of the street so water still drains and relocating any utilities. That’s why Chavez is still going to have relatively narrow sidewalks and why Divis didn’t get wider sidewalks. If you’ve seen the Valencia Street reconstruction, you know how involved the process is.

    That’s what’s exceptional about this design. It will come in at $10k for this project and it should be scalable and replicable, assuming it works. Of course, after all the generous designers and builders are tired of giving their services for free, the city is going to have to come up with a funding stream if these are really to scale up.

  • Nick

    I like this idea, but I dislike how advocacy never extends too far outside of downtown.

    Imagine a commerical street in the city that has an LRV line run down it, but no bike racks or even a simple coffee shop. It exists and is ignored.

    The most dramatic type of change is possible in those neighborhoods that advocacy doesn’t reach. I hate to say it but organizations like Streetsblog and SPUR and (to a lesser extent) SFBC don’t seem to think in city-wide terms. The problems that are being discussed pale in comparison to those that could be discussed.

  • @Patrick – I think Rob A. has become the easy puppet for us to poke at and help keep the troops’ morale up. Let us have a little victory fun 😀 (Was there a dartboard with his face on it at the Streetsblog party or anything? haha)

  • dan

    I would pass on this idea since it seems too close for comfort to traffic noise, exhaust and the danger of potential accident on the street. It will not achieve its purpose by being too confining and literally on the road. Leave the space for parking. An open space needs more space than a few parking spots.

  • patrick

    @Aaron – hehehe… 🙂

    @dan – Are you familiar with Park(ing) day? It’s almost exactly the same as this, but done for 1 day by anybody who wants to, and it is quite successful. It’s also already done in a more formal way in many cities in and out of the U.S. While some people may feel uncomfortable, many more find it perfectly comfortable and quite enjoyable.

  • citicritter

    OK so RG Architecture is not from Deleware, good.

    Not so good is that they seem to be one of these architects where half the work on their website was done by another architecture firm they were employed by – always found that to be a questionable trick.

  • @dan you are making many of the same tired arguments that were used to oppose the Castro Plaza, but the noise, exhaust, proximity to traffic, and a streetcar line running through middle of it have not kept people away.

    8′ of parked cars don’t do a lot to cut down on noise or exhaust. 1′ wide planters and cabled fencing provide more protection against accidents than there is at the corner of any given intersection. And how is it that doubling the width of level pedestrian space (split between the sidewalk and the new patio seating) more confining than the current canyon created by buildings on one side and the parked cars on the other? It’s also pretty well established by now that traffic slows down when it’s right up against pedestrians than when there’s a buffer of parked cars, right?

    It might not be your cup of tea, but nobody is going to force you to sit there. If the majority of customers feel the same and avoid the patio then it’s easy enough to revert back to parking.

  • bikermark

    There is one of these in downtown Mobile, Alabama. It works great there and the city recoups far more revenue from dining sales tax than it loses in revenue from the two parking spaces that are utilized for the platform.

  • Thank you Jamison for touching on the harmful effects of parking (besides the obvious encouragement of driving), particularly on larger “travel streets” or “corridors”, as we call Divisadero. Parking not only separates and “hides away” pedestrians like you mentioned, encouraging faster driving and less attention, but a parking lane creates the potential (or, rather, reality) for countless parked cars to pull out into traffic at any time as well as (even more importantly) moving traffic suddenly stopping to park. Not only does this endanger and harm traffic flow for all vehicles, but it especially discourages bike usage. Particularly, riding on the right as those driving a bike are encouraged to do (as in a typical SF bike lane) leaves people with a very low sense of safety, as it places them right next to cars and their protruding side-mirrors, right in the middle of all I just mentioned on top of opening car doors (the most common type of bike accident, I’ve heard).

    Additionally, particularly for the walking person, parking visually disrupts the streetscape and creates physical and visual obstacles, largely destroying the sense of openness or safety (both in the traffic and even criminal sense). You might not feel these differences until you see a street with no cars parked on it – who would think it’s possible that you could actually see everything on a street?

    Finally, parking lanes often yield the need for additional travel lanes (for moving traffic to pass [un]parking vehicles), so in that sense street parking actually takes up a lot more space than meets the eye.

    In Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark, planners seem to know all this and street parking is reserved quite conservatively for side-streets, never for travel streets (and usually with bulb-outs).

    In summation: do we really need street parking on every street? What do we have to gain by removing it?

  • THIS WOULD BE FANTASTIC!

    I LIVE RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO MOJO CAFE AND WOULD LOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVE IF THEY IMPLEMENT THIS THERE!!

    although parking is really tough in that area, the loss of a few spots wouldn’t make a major impact on the already conjested parking situation. so , though i may have to search a little longer for a spot, i don’t mind at all, and would whole-heartedly support this movement!!!!!!

  • i go to mojo cafe VERY often, and would seriously VERY MUCH APPRECIATE an extended patio.. it would do so much to enhance the street scene which is already so prominent in this neighborhood!

  • Edgar

    These bulb-outs could be used on every alley in the city to make sidewalks more pedestrian-friendly by reducing the width of alleys that pedestrians must cross.

  • @ citicritter

    the architecture firm doing the design is located in SOMA, San Francisco:

    http://rg-architecture.com/rg-architecture-site/home.html

  • Mike

    @ Niharika: I’m sure Remy also really appreciates the city financing the expansion of his (cramped) cafe. That worked out really well for him. Funny that.

  • albionite

    As a Mission resident, I’m excited about the park at 22nd and Bartlett, however I don’t understand why the entire last block of Bartlett, from 22nd to 21st, can’t be closed to traffic entirely. It’s absurdly wide and, except for a few driveways (which could be accommodated while giving over most of the space to pedestrians) it’s entirely empty.

  • Kyle

    They have started, here are some pics from today. Looks like leveling is in progress.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/krudolph/sets/72157623481640643

  • David W.

    Did anyone notice that this violates SF’s anti-tropical hardwoods policy? It’s not a “Forest Stewardship Council certified only” policy – it’s no rainforest wood, period.