Eyes on the Street: New Parklet on Columbus Avenue

Two parking spaces are now cafe seating, benches and plants. Photos: Matthew Roth
Two parking spaces are now cafe seating, benches and plants. Photos: Matthew Roth

The newest parklet in San Francisco is in one of the densest, most walkable neighborhoods, North Beach, and the early reception is very promising. Rebar Group installed the parklet three days ago in front of Caffe Greco and the aesthetic resembles the parklet they built on 22nd Street in the Mission several months ago.

“You have merchants on Columbus Avenue all starting to look at the streetscape as a unified gesture,” said Rebar’s Blaine Merker. “The Caffe Greco parklet will probably be the first of several that will start to extend the European pedestrian culture into the parking lane in a more unified way.”

Hanna Suleiman, owner of Cafe Greco.
Hanna Suleiman, owner of Caffe Greco.

The sidewalk extension occupies the equivalent of two former parking spaces and Hanna Suleiman, the owner of Caffe Greco, has no problem with the transition. “I think people talk about parking,” he said, but “when they understand the dynamics of parking, the issue of parking is not even relevant any more.”

Suleiman said enforcement of parking rules was nearly non-existent and many people abused handicapped placards. If the city wasn’t collecting money from the meters in the first place, the argument couldn’t be made that removing two spaces would deprive the city of meter money. He also argued even a modest increase in sales at his cafe would generate more money through sales tax receipts for city coffers than parking meters.

“It’s really a kind of a misconception that we don’t have parking,” he added. “We have parking here. Most of the garages are empty during the week.” He also noted if a driver had to pay $55 for a parking ticket, it would be a lot more economical to park just off Columbus in a garage. “It seems more logical for people to walk that extra two minutes and park in the public parking, but we’re lazy by nature.”

The  cost of the parklet was paid for by a donation from the Wells Fargo Foundation and Illy Coffee. Suleiman also chipped in, and threw fundraisers to get donations from the community. The other merchants who originally resisted a semi-permanent sidewalk extension at the cost of parking spaces, said Suleiman, were now lobbying him for help developing their own and getting city approval.

“I would say almost 100 percent of the input is positive,” he said.

An employee of Cafe Greco waters the plants on the new parklet. All maintenance of the parklet is the responsibility of the property owner.
An employee of Caffe Greco waters the plants on the new parklet. All maintenance of the parklet is the responsibility of the property owner.
  • Aaron Bialick

    It’s beautiful.

  • Nice. Props to the enlightened Caffe Greco.

  • cr

    Looks great! Love the plants. Lucky, lucky North Beach to have Caffe Greco as such a good neighbor.

    One minor complaint: the parklets really need prominent signage to indicate that they are part of the public realm, that you don’t need to buy a coffee as a condition of sitting there. This one in particular really looks like a patio extension of the business, and it’s in a tourist neighborhood, where most visitors will not be familiar with the concept of a parklet. It should be a condition of the permit that parklets get a name and a sign like any other city park.

  • AP

    Parklets are required to have signage that clearly states that all seating is open to the public. This will be a condition of the permit for all new installations.

  • gb52

    Love the idea, like the space, and enjoyed the article! Spread the word! Parking isn’t really worth what it’s thought to be! There are so many better uses for our limited street space, and it isn’t all fit for cars. Landscaping and public space is where it’s at and brings about SOOOOO much more social AND economic benefit than what a single car would bring (even a full car, though more often than not we have a single occupancy vehicle). Oh let’s not forget how great this looks! The beautification of our public right-of-way serves everyone! It boosts livability, enhances mental health, and makes you wish we could have something this great everywhere we go.

  • cr

    @AP – great! thanks for setting me straight.

  • Plannet

    NYC pioneered converting excess pavement into pedestrian seating, but it was SF that invented the parklett.

    Parkletts are SF’s newest niche industry. The City should be proud of this streetscape renaissance, which is now being copied by NYC and other cities worldwide.

  • Michael Smith

    My question is how do we motivate other businesses to create parklets, especially where the business is causing a problem by making the sidewalk too congested. A specific example is the Bean Bag Coffee House on Divisadero at Hayes. It is great that they have outdoor seating and a huge number of customers, but they are really causing the sidewalk to be blocked. Seems that in order to maintain their permit for sidewalk eating and drinking they should be required to create a parklet. That way everyone wins (well, except for the people who currently park two cars there all evening long for free).

  • Plannet, SF did not invent the parklett at all. Theyre all over italy and france.

  • Animal

    So how many parklets are in the city now? I know of three: Divisidero, 22nd Street, and Columbus.

  • Hooray! It looks great. Congratulations to all.

  • tNOB

    jass – I would agree with you that these have been in existence in Europe for decades, if not longer. The critical difference, is that the public ROW is permitted to the business specifically. For the SF Parklet, this is part of the public realm, anyone can go use that space, you do not have to be a patron of the business.

    I think the SF model is a little weird. I feel it would be better to simply open up the permit process to any business who wants to lease that space from the City. The city would generate revenue, and the cost would be the burden of the business. If it works for their business, they will do it.

  • EL

    It’s pretty interesting the difference in public perception. It’s somehow “safe” for a vulnerable pedestrian to sit in a parklet within inches of moving traffic, and yet “unsafe” for a bicyclist to ride within inches of moving traffic – hence needing a cycletrack.

  • Michael Smith

    El, aren’t the differences actually incredibly obvious???????

  • EL

    No. You can add all the umbrellas and planters you want. In the end, it’s the same number of inches. Look at where the employee is standing while watering the plants!

  • EL, by that standard people shouldn’t be allowed to walk on sidewalks. I guess it’s just best if they stay inside their cars…

  • Michael Smith

    There are actually two differences that I thought were clear: 1) bicyclists are moving and therefore need more space; and 2) parklets are set in from the moving traffic and almost always protected by parked cars.

  • I have heard complaints already from the neighborhood, the biggest being that (if you look at the first and last pictures) tables are blocking the benches giving a feeling that one must be a customer. I haven’t gotten a chance to head over there myself yet (sadly, I’m two blocks away so no excuse) to confirm AP’s assertion that signs will state it is a public space.

    I guess we’ll see how things play out. No matter what, it is much much better then wasting the space on storage for two vehicle that maybe brought 2-4 people to the neighborhood. A welcomed change indeed and look forward to many more.

  • I would feel much safer in a bike lane that was separated from auto traffic by planter boxes and a fence!

    By EL’s logic, we should stop wasting money on Jersey barriers and guard rails on freeway dividers, since it’s the same number of inches into oncoming traffic with or without them.

  • On signage, I think SF should adopt a standard logo, perhaps something that convey a messages like “SF loves you”. It will make it immediate obvious that it is open to public without any need for purchase. And it will be the same standard signage that is used through out the city. The same should apply to all the “hidden” POPOS. It is better than reading plague(sp?) sign

  • Harmony

    I agree with tNOB. Opening the opportunity for any business owner to apply and have the chance to be more visible to the public would be fair business practice.

    Why not make parklets mobile and businesses could rent them from the city for a period of time, like a library book!

    SO, what happens now if there’s a traffic accident and a truck barrels into the space? Who’s responsible for the safety of the parklet?

  • Michael Smith

    Harmony, the driver and the owner of the truck would of course be responsible, just like for every other situation.

    And there isn’t much of a reason to think that parklets are different safety wise. My mother-in-law was killed by a driver – while she was on the sidewalk. Where she was standing wasn’t the problem. Having a separation between pedestrians and the travel lane wasn’t the problem. After all, she was on the sidewalk. Instead, the driver was the problem.

  • tNOB

    Harmony, the issue of liability has crossed my mind several times regarding these parklets. The truck scenario, while not unrealistic, is rather extreme. Besides the liability risks it opens the city up to, what about making the city a target for neighborhood groups (haters). By having the local business owners apply themselves diffuses that potential backlash.

  • If there is such a strong concern of people’s safety while sitting in parklets then let’s discuss the causation of such concern. Yes, parklets are close to moving traffic but no closer then pedestrians on the sidewalk or (worse) pedestrians in a crosswalk. So, in that light, parklets aren’t the problem. Vehicles, moving quickly and often operated inattentively, are the issue. Why don’t we address that by slowing our streets down? Or possibly making it more difficult to get a drivers’ license (better testing and education)? But instead, we fear adding amenities that will improve our street-scape and liven up a pedestrian area. Automobile über alles!

  • Harmony

    Michael Smith, I am sorry for your loss. Unfortuntely, this is not uncommon as many people either know someone or have themselves been the victom of a reckless driver. This is why I am asking about the integrity or safety of the space. Perhaps the potted plant is reinforced? But, the fire dept. probably wouldn’t like that.

    tNOB, Mobile parklets?

  • tNOB

    Harmony, my only objection to your concept for mobile parklets is simple. I would prefer that they were even more permanent.

  • LP

    All parklets have signage indicating that they are free and open to the public, not just customers. Click here to see a picture of the new placard on the Columbus Avenue parklet: http://sfgreatstreets.org/2010/11/more-public-seating-on-san-francisco-streets/

  • ken McKee

    The parklet at Cafe Freckled didn’t take up two spaces as reported. There was motor cycle parking there before. It eliminated 8 m/c parking spaces. Used to be my favorite place in the city to ride for a cup of coffee and people watch. Just like any other place now.

  • @Plannet – Allan Jacobs did the in S.F. years ago, between Market and Duboce.

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