New “Better Streets” Website Helps Residents Untangle City Bureaucracy

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The San Francisco Better Streets Program launched a new website this week to provide a central source of information to help residents procure street improvements like traffic-calming measures, parklets, bike corrals, plantings, art installations, sidewalk fixtures, and permits for car-free events in their neighborhood.

The website, sfbetterstreets.org, “combines all the city’s guidelines, permit requirements, and resources for public space development onto one site, giving the user a handy step-by-step approach toward improving San Francisco’s streets,” the Planning Department said in a release.

Launched as a collaboration of the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, SF Public Utilities Commission, and the SFMTA, the site should help spread awareness of the street improvements available to residents and guide them through the city’s bureaucratic processes.

“Before this website was launched, this information wasn’t available. For someone to go through the process, someone would have to go and contact various departments around the city,” said Joanna Linsangan, communications manager for the Planning Department. “People may not think they have the ability to do so, but if they want to, they can apply for a parklet, put out bike racks or put out planters in their neighborhood, at their storefront, and we’re trying to give them all the information to make it happen.”

The site follows the spirit of the 2010 Better Streets Plan, which is aimed at streamlining the process for making improvements to the pedestrian environment. Linsangan said the site was launched during Small Business Week since merchants often show interest in improving the areas around their storefronts.

The website features alluring pages that explain the ins and outs of permit processes, maintenance regulations, planning codes, ways for residents to build neighborhood support for projects, funding sources, and more.

That could help city agencies more efficiently deliver improvements like sidewalk bulb-outs, pedestrian countdown signals, traffic circles, or even major street redesigns where they’re needed. There’s also information to help building developers understand the street improvements they’re required to make.

“The creation of this centralized website as a consolidated, concise portal will make understanding the options and navigating the process much easier for all users, not only developers and professionals but also individuals and community groups,” said Jane Martin, director of Plant SF, a group which promotes permeable landscaping on city streets. (Martin designed the city’s first residential parklet on Valencia Street.)

Easier access to information on permits for block parties and other street openings could make the process smoother for residents like Adam Greenfield of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors. Greenfield, who helped organize the second annual Inner Sunset Street Fair last October with co-chair Chris Duderstadt, asked the SFMTA Board yesterday to explore the creation of a “new, nimble program” to facilitate more regular small-scale car-free events in the style of Sunday Streets. Greenfield and Duderstadt told the board that the bureaucratic hurdles — particularly the high fees — can be prohibitive to such community-building events.

Though some residents do manage to make their way through the process, the clarity provided by sfbetterstreets.org will hopefully encourage more residents to engage in it without demanding the kind of commitment shown by Greenfield and Duderstadt.

Greenfield said neighbors are eager to volunteer to help create a regular event called Inner Sunset Sundays in the vein of the more regular Sunday Streets events being held in the Mission this year. ”Sunday Streets has been a huge game-changer for the city, as have the Castro Plaza, parklets, and other new developments,” Greenfield told the board. ”One of the big reflections that we had at the end of” the street fair, however, “was once year is not enough to effectively build community. We need to bring people together in the streets more often so they become familiar with each other’s faces.”

The Inner Sunset Street Fair. Photo: Aaron Bialick