Irving Merchants Riled by Proposal to Turn 12 Parking Spots Into Public Space

A proposed concept for a bulb-out and "resting area" at Irving Street and 22nd Avenue. Images: SFDPW

Once again, a merchant group is contesting a proposal that would improve walking and public space on a San Francisco street. At a community meeting on plans to add greening and sidewalk corner extensions on central Irving Street last week, merchants balked at the idea of removing 10 to 12 parking spaces to extend eight sidewalk corners and create spaces where people can rest.

When the number of parking spaces was first mentioned by a presenter from the Department of Public Works, one merchant exclaimed, “Oh my god.”

Irving between 19th and 27th Avenues, where the improvements [PDF] are proposed, has more than 400 metered on-street parking spaces on or adjacent to the street, according to the SFMTA. Recent surveys on Geary Boulevard, Polk Street, and Columbus Avenue have all revealed that a large majority of people arrived without taking car. A small, unscientific poll of 30 respondents on Irving, gathered from door-to-door visits and an earlier public meeting, likewise found that most people didn’t drive to get there.

Merchants in other neighborhood are clamoring for parklets, and a 2012 study by the Great Streets Project found that merchants reported no loss in business at three parklets that removed parking. Still, a number of Irving merchants insisted that removing any car parking would make it too difficult for customers and workers to drive to their stores, while dismissing the impact of making the street more inviting for people to spend time on.

Angela Tickler, president of the Outer Sunset Merchants Association and owner of the Hard Wear Store, said “the removal of parking — replacing it with parklets and things — is one of the biggest concerns of our association.”

“Understanding that 10 to 12 parking spaces out of 400-something is a very small percentage, we’re perhaps asking that you still be open to any other possibilities for creating open space,” Tickler told a DPW staffer.

Proposed improvements on central Irving.

Most attendees at last week’s community meeting appeared to be merchants — in fact, according to DPW staff, the Outer Sunset Merchants Association substituted the streetscape meeting for its regular member meeting. DPW said it focused its outreach efforts on getting merchants to the meeting since they complained they weren’t informed about the first meeting in May.

The parking spaces would be replaced with bulb-outs at eight corners at 20th, 22nd, 24th, and 25th Avenues. Those bulb-outs could be designed as small gathering spaces with sculptures that function as both art and seating areas. Other improvements in the project would include repaving of the sidewalks and roadway, new street trees, and more visible crosswalks with patterned markings.

D4 Supervisor Katy Tang said she hopes to see improvements that will help revitalize central Irving and make it more inviting to stay on, “recognizing the constraints that parking and traffic will bring.” When asked whether removing such a small portion of parking spaces is worth the trade-off, Tang said she’ll leave it up to the merchants to decide.

“I’m just here to listen,” she said. “Some may feel that the removal of parking may be a huge difficulty for their businesses, and some may feel that removing just a few out of a couple hundred parking spaces so that you can create more of a gathering space is worth it.”

DPW's survey results.
  • mikesonn

    *smh*

  • Bob Gunderson

    10 to 12 out of 400+ parking spaces lost, more grotesque bike racks, and Pittosporum?!? THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE OUTRAGE!!!

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least Tang is honest: she’s going to defer to the reactionary merchant-motorists without delay, regardless of the actual merits of the proposal.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least Tang is honest: she’s going to defer to the reactionary merchant-motorists without delay, regardless of the actual merits of the proposal.

  • Anonymous

    Merchants can decide how we’re going to develop the public space in front of their business when they fully fund that space with private money.

    Why do merchants, who consistently demonstrate how out of touch with their own customers they are, get to so singlehandedly decide how we use our public space? We’re talking about a huge safety and quality of life improvement here that everyone can use, not just people who are looking for a place to drop of their private property.

  • Donut Holstein

    awesome- this is exactly what the city of San Francisco needs: fewer parking spaces

  • GuestCommenter

    Next time ask the merchants how they get there.

  • Sprague

    I hope this plan includes moving the 71’s stops at Irving Street (at 22nd and 23rd) to the near side of each of those intersections – so that the bus need only stop once (for the stop sign and bus stop) rather than twice. The corner extensions are a great idea; they’d improve pedestrian visibility and safety and make the street and sidewalks more attractive.

  • GUEST

    So disappointing. Irving has a ton of ROW to do something more interesting than store vehicles.

  • Anonymous

    One of my local stores had a pile of ENUF fliers in it. The merchant saw me looking at them and said, “Isn’t it crazy? The SFMTA want to install meters in residential districts!” I decided not to argue with him.

    The next day I was back at the same store, and saw the merchant feeding the meter outside the store where his car was parked. Now that I know it’s his vehicle, I keep an eye out for it when I go there, and notice it parked outside his store most days. I’m sure he’s not very happy about having to feed the meter all day, every day. The location of the store (400 block of Castro St) is definitely not a residential district.

    Bottom line: merchants hate loss of parking and installation of new meters because most of them drive to work, and because there is a human tendency to assume that everyone else behaves the way you do, they assume that most of their customers drive to their stores as well. They are probably genuinely concerned about loss of business, but they are overestimating how many people will be affected by the parking loss/new meters.

    So yes, the SFMTA should collect data on how the merchants get to their stores, and present it along with data on how the general public gets there.

  • Rocket

    Please do it! Irving Street is sooooo ugly and uninviting as it is. Bleak.

  • The Overhead Wire

    It would be interesting to see how many merchants in any district are talking up the parking that they want their visitors to use.

  • mikesonn

    I see it ALL the time in North Beach.

  • The owner of a new local drinking establishment complained to me that the city would not give him a reserved area outside his bar to park his private car.

  • Michael Smith

    Someday someone will give me reasonable explanation on why in a democracy a small number of “merchants” with a gross misunderstanding of the basic facts are encouraged by city officials to hold up much needed improvements.

  • If he’s feeding the meter all day, every day, then he’s breaking the law all day, every day.

    https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/parking/meters

  • Joel

    Unless he’s in certain SFPark trial areas.

  • Boaz Gurdin

    I grew up in Outer Sunset and still go to Irving for food from time to time, so I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the area. I also live in Duboce Triangle and bike everywhere, so I appreciate the effort for complete streets.

    Irving Street is not Valencia or Polk Street, and it needs a new model for San Francisco streets. Irving is a bazaar for small goods and services, a grocery shopping destination, and the functional equivalent to a mall food court. It’s all of that located in a mid- to low-density neighborhood where cars are a common mode of transportation for non-commute errands and lifestyle trips.

    One of the unique things about this stretch of Irving Street is all the convenient casual food options – tapioca drinks, noodle soup, falafel, pizza, dim sum, and more tapioca drinks. Many of these are affordable places for groups of friends, young and old, to go hang out, but many also lack sufficient seating, leading some people to go so far as to huddle out in the foggy windy cold, or to take their business elsewhere. In this way, Irving Street is like a mall food court. Except it lacks the amenities of a mall: warm places to linger, free seating, and convenient parking.

    On communal seating, Irving Street could benefit from an indoor clean well-lighted heated public space. The bulb outs in the current plan are cold bleak and uninviting.

    On transportation, driving is the preferred mode for many in the Outer Sunset – you can blame non-transit-oriented-development, but it’s the reality that most people who can afford it prefer to use a car to get across the Outer Sunset. The bus transit times to Irving Street from most parts of the Sunset (not to mention other parts of the city and region) are too high for the casual dining and small shopping that’s available on Irving. Double parking and circling for parking are the norm.

    Off-street parking is the best solution here – buying some buildings and building a Polk-style garage with ground-level retail and/or public gathering spaces.

    A significant expansion in off-street parking benefits other uses like grocery shopping and services like the post office. To support local grocery businesses and houseware bazaars over chains, parking is important. People in the Sunset and other neighborhoods often factor in parking when they consider where they will shop for grocery and housewares. An idealogical aversion to expanded parking weakens local businesses and neighborhood character. Ask the grocery that went out of business on Irving & 23rd – it’s great that they’re at a bus stop, but parking is important too.

    Off-street parking also creates more street space for sidewalks, since there would be less need for extra-wide streets for double-parking and circling. This sidewalk width could be activated with food and wares for sales, as it already is, and for promenading, which would be more appealing with a more spacious and attractive environment.

    To support local businesses, which make Irving Street so great, we need to consider bigger moves than bulb-outs. Irving Street is a prime opportunity to experiment, since it caters to people who prefer a mix of transit modes including cars, it’s in a cold foggy area that would benefit from public spaces protected from the elements, and it has a plethora of unique local businesses that could be a destination for people beyond the neighborhood.

    We shouldn’t be afraid to borrow elements from what make malls convenient and entertaining destinations – things like sufficient parking, comfortable walkways with things to look at, and free public gathering space for small groups to hang out. A bleak bulb-out is not community-appropriate place-making for the Outer Sunset. Off-street parking, indoor gather spaces, and wider sidewalk promenades would be better elements for improving Irving Street as a destination with vibrant local businesses and community activity.

  • Anonymous

    When we did the Noe Valley Plaza deal – the general result was this.

    Merchants who lived in the neighborhood were in favor of closing Noe Street and losing the parking.

    Merchants commuting from outside the neighborhood did not want to lose the parking.

    The merchant who was most opposed was the auto shop which uses metered spots on the street for storage of cars that they are working on which don’t fit in the garage.

  • Anonymous

    Off-street parking is the best solution here – buying some buildings and
    building a Polk-style garage with ground-level retail and/or public
    gathering spaces.

    Double whammy. More parking and less housing. Bingo!

  • As someone who lives a few blocks away, I know I always dream of the vibrancy that a parking garage would bring to central Irving. I’m sure some generous residents and business owners would be happy to give up their buildings, because we just don’t have enough space for cars.

  • Guest

    Aaron maybe you should try going to the meetings if there is one, it might be well worth the effort to let these merchants know what makes up “the bulk of business” in most business districts in San Francisco

  • This report is based on last week’s community meeting, and the previous one was based on the first meeting. All info presented in this article was presented at the meeting, and all quotes come from discussions there. Many say they simply don’t believe the surveys.

  • Anonymous

    Irving would seem to be an ideal spot for this, since there are so many parking spaces available and only 1 in 4 people get there by car. Merchants always have this knee-jerk reaction against anything that reduces parking spaces or traffic lanes, but experience shows they’re wrong. Take a look at how Valencia has thrived since two traffic lanes were eliminated and bike lanes installed.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, dear. The LAST thing San Francisco needs is more space for cars. By vibrancy do you mean congestion, pollution and accidents?

  • My comment was sarcastic.

  • Anonymous

    There shouldn’t be one single parking space without a meter in San Francisco. That parking space isn’t “free” to the city. If you want to park your car there, you should have to pay to rent that space from the city.

  • Anonymous

    Got it.

  • sebra leaves

    It is hard to believe that people in a neighborhood full of parked cars arrive any way other than by automobile. Perhaps the question to ask is, how many people are avoiding the neighborhood because they can’t park?

  • Anonymous

    No it isn’t.

  • mikesonn

    We have so much housing that we’re just giving it away huh? Well, in that case, lets tear some down and building parking structures. Clearly we don’t have an abundance of free/cheap parking so this will fix everything!

  • So we have another case where merchants who don’t live in the neighborhood are rejecting ways to make the neighborhood stronger, more sociable, less polluted, safer, and more livable in order to protect their personal (not their customer’s) access to parking. They prefer parking over their customers’ well-being, over having more customers, over having even increased shop revenue. (If car driving outweighs even basic economics for a merchant, you really do have to wonder how they manage to keep in business at all.)

    There are no drive thru’s on Irving. Every customer who buys anything is a pedestrian. Creating a better pedestrian experience affects every single one of their customers. The more pleasant the pedestrian shopping experience, the more likely everyone who lives within fifteen minute walk will come to shop there.

    According to US census data from 2009, (latest available by neighborhood), 29,000 people live within a fifteen minute walk of Irving between 19th and 27th. 65,000 live within a ten minute bike ride. 9000 of the walkers and 24,000 of the bikers would have to cross 19th Ave which is admittedly a daunting barrier, but that still leaves 20,000 walking and 41,000 biking potential customers. This is this neighborhood shopping district’s natural customer base. Everyone else has a neighborhood shopping district closer to them that offers most of the same goods and services. Yes, Irving Street between 19th and 27th aves can try to court drivers from other parts of the city with masses of parking, but why? They will just repulse their own potential walkers and bikers who will go to other, more pleasant neighborhoods to spend their money. Already car drivers can go to Stonestown or Colma with unlimited free parking. What Irving Street has going for it is precisely what Stonestown and Colma can’t offer–a lively, interesting neighborhood experience that locals can walk or bike to and where they can hang out not surrounded by the pollution, danger, and ugliness of a sea of cars.

    It used to be that shopkeepers lived about their stores. This was a good thing. It tied small business owners to their customers and their neighborhood. They knew who their customers were because they lived among them. They had reason to care about keeping their neighborhood strong. It is evident that since local merchants have no idea how their customers even transport themselves, they know very little about their actual customer base, how they live, and what is important to them.

    I would suggest to San Francisco politicians that encouraging store owners to live locally is a good thing. Further, I would assert that business owners driving to shopping districts and filling up available parking with their own cars is a bad thing. Let’s leave the parking for the disabled who truly have ambulatory problems. Lastly, I would point out that the more San Francisco can coax is citizens to walk (and having enjoyable destinations to walk to is proven to be the main way to get people to walk!) the healthier its citizenry and the less polluted its air will be, resulting in lower health care costs, a healthier workforce and more prosperity for us all.

    So if reducing parking reduces the number of car-driving business owners and encourages instead local resident business owners who can walk to work, this is a feature, not a bug of neighborhood redesign! In fact, to encourage local merchants to live locally, the city of San Francisco should go further and consider waving 75% of current city fees and taxes on small business owners in residential shopping neighborhoods if the business owner lives within a mile his/her place of business. This would strengthen neighborhoods by creating a natural incentive for business owners to care about the quality of life in those neighborhoods and to develop personal relationships with people who live in the community.

    I would also point out that store merchants who don’t live in a neighborhood don’t vote in that neighborhood. Why, exactly, does the city supervisor of that neighborhood care what they want? Have faith that improving the neighborhood will mean that if a faltering, car-driving based business fades away, a new pedestrian-based one will spring up in its place and be far more successful.

  • Upright Biker

    I live in North Beach, too, and unless regular people have started wearing white aprons, vests, and ties to do their shopping, the folks feeding those meters clearly ain’t paying customers.

  • mikesonn

    We need to get a beer sometime then. Hit me up on twitter, there are some things coming down the pipes for North Beach and I’ll need some community support.

  • Anonymous

    There need to be more metered spaces and fewer freebies on the side streets. If priced right and dynamic, parking for customers arriving by car can work. The merchants are dead wrong if they think more parking spaces equal more customers. Rather, it is the certainty of finding a spot at a correct price that allows a person driving to plan a shopping trip here. As it is, the environment is dysfunctional for all users. Drivers go some place else when parking is clogged or when they expect it to be so; pedestrian arrivers leave as soon as essential shopping is done, due to the lack of sace, greenery, seating, and others place-making amenities.

  • TeaOnSunday

    Yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s alienate another group of people by taxing them until they understand that they’re just plain “unwelcome” in this new San Francisco we’re building. Who will it be? How about the elderly? We should tax their wheelchairs.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, boo-hoo! Imagine having to pay for a parking space! How awful. BTW, meters cost $3/hour or less, much cheaper than privately owned garages.