What would happen if, one day, the city decided to make better use of the car parking on a commercial corridor like Stockton Street in Chinatown?
“What about the businesses?” opponents might exclaim. “Where would their customers park?”
The myth of the urban driving shoppers was debunked again over the past week or so, when community leaders in Chinatown repurposed parking lanes on the most crowded blocks of Stockton to make more room for merchants and shoppers during the busy Lunar New Year season. If the still-overcrowded sidewalks were any indication, the parking didn’t seem to be missed.
“If anything, we’ve benefited from it,” said Brian Kan of Pacific Seafood Trading Company, who was selling groceries from a stand off the curb like many other merchants. “We think it’s brought us a lot of business, actually, instead of losing business. And it’s a great way for us to interact with the people walking around, too.”
While giving public parking spaces to private businesses may not necessarily achieve the same goals sought by public space expansions like parklets and plazas, the experiment highlighted the competing demands for street space in the densest neighborhood west of the Mississippi. In Chinatown, a disproportionate amount of real estate is devoted to moving and storing cars despite having the city’s lowest car ownership rate of 17 percent. According to a Department of Public Works press release, a study by the SFMTA estimated the corridor sees about 2,000 pedestrians per hour — and that’s on an average day.
The temporary transfer of space was a coordinated effort between Chinatown neighborhood and merchant associations, the mayor’s office, and a slew of city departments “to enhance and improve the experience in Chinatown during this peak holiday time,” said D3 Supervisor David Chiu in a statement. “Chinese New Year is celebrated by thousands and we want to provide an environment that supports the small business community and improves pedestrian flow along Stockton and connecting streets. We are creating a public space that meets the growing needs of this community and beyond.”
Cindy Wu of the Chinatown Community Development Center said that drawing shoppers to linger on already congested sidewalks didn’t necessarily help the crowding problem, but she believes the street needs some changes. She wants to explore how to allocate more space on Stockton for merchants and pedestrians in a way that is most beneficial to the neighborhood.
“There are so many competing uses of the street, and parking plays a role in that,” said Wu, “but we need to figure out, for however many feet from storefront to storefront — Stockton Street is wide — what is the use that benefits the most people at one time, or what is the right balance of use?”
See more photos after the break.