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.
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.”