Fisherman’s Wharf Parking-Free Street Revamp Boosts Sales, Will Expand

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Two years after the city gave Fisherman’s Wharf a people-friendly redesign on two blocks of Jefferson Street, business is booming. Despite merchants’ fears that removing all car parking on the blocks would hurt their sales, they now say it had the opposite effect.

The second phase of the project, which will bring a similar treatment to three blocks of Jefferson from Jones Street east to Powell Street, is taking a step forward. D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen and other city officials announced today that $1.7 million has been allocated for design and engineering for the expansion. The rest of the funds for the second phase, totaling $13 million, haven’t been identified, but it could be constructed as early as 2017.

Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman's Wharf CBD
Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman’s Wharf CBD

In June 2013, the two blocks of Jefferson between Hyde and Jones Streets were made safer and calmer with wider sidewalks, textured pavement to calm motor traffic, and the removal of curbside car parking. One-way traffic was also converted to two-way.

Since then, sales on the street have risen. The Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District surveyed 18 of the 33 businesses on those blocks, and they reported month-over-month gross sales increases between 10 to 21 percent on average:

From July through November 2013, these 18 businesses generated an additional $1.5 million dollars in gross sales from the previous year. This added approximately $140,000 more in sales tax for the city during this 5 month period.

“People are staying longer and spending more money,” said Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD. “Drivers are a little more cautious, I would say.”

Removing car parking to widen sidewalks provided more room for crowds and made storefronts more visible, said Campbell. “You look down the street, and you don’t have a string of cars that are part of the landscape. The businesses become the landscape.”

“A lot of the merchants came back to me and said, you know what, I thought losing the parking was going to be a problem, but I feel like people can actually see my windows now, and they’re engaging with us more.”

Car traffic was also reduced on Jefferson, with the help of signage directing drivers to the more than 6,000 nearby parking spots in lots and garages. Campbell said the spots generally only fill up on the busiest days of the year, like Fleet Week and the Fourth of July.

With more drivers using the Port-owned “Triangle Parking Lot” instead, its gross revenues increased $326,000 in the 12 months ending in September 2014 compared to the previous 12 months, the CBD survey said.

Fisherman’s Wharf now has more pedestrians than Times Square, based on counts taken by the three “top cameras” installed at both locations, according to the survey.

Between 2006 and 2014, the share of people who arrived by foot rose 10 percent. And people are staying longer: The share who said they spend one hour or less at the wharf declined from 11 percent in 2006 to 6 percent in 2010 to 3 percent in 2014.

Bicyclists make up 40-60 percent of the vehicle traffic on Jefferson, with about 360 bikes per hour between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to the survey. No bike counts were presented from before the redesign.

The street is much safer for all the visitors who roll down Jefferson on rental bikes, the survey report says:

With street parking eliminated on two of the five blocks at the wharf under Phase I, visibility for cyclists has improved dramatically and dangers such as people pulling out of parking spots, car doors opening into the bikeway and parallel parking is now a non-issue on the Phase I blocks of Jefferson.

“Watching the pedestrians casually stroll down the wide sidewalks and watching the traffic, both bicycle and automobile, slowly move down the street has been a pleasure,” said Nick Hoppe, owner of Cioppino’s Restaurant, in a statement in the survey report. “Everything is working beautifully. Everyone who worked on this project and brought it to reality should be commended.”

  • baklazhan

    I was disappointed that the ‘mixed space’ aspect of the original plan was watered down. I believe the plan called for the elimination of the curbs, to turn the street into a real pedestrian-dominated space.

  • Let’s call that Phase 2.2. I’m just pleased that all of us who continue to advocate for livable cities and walkable streets now have another merchant contingent on our side.

    Next up: Columbus Avenue, if only to show those Polk Street ninnies how it’s really done.

  • jamiewhitaker

    Note that Jefferson Street is NOT a Vision Zero High Injury Network or Intersection, and why the fork is this a priority with $1.7 million of public dollars when people are dying on the high injury networks and intersections that SHOULD be fixed first? Then there is that Stockton Street tunnel thing yesterday. The bullshit factory is sure full of it.

    https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/projects/2015/vision-zero-san-francisco.pdf

  • gb52

    I wish Polk would make the same realization. And I wish the businesses would help find these projects that directly benefit them. But most importantly, I’m glad it’s working and that these projects would take off without so much commendation and opposition.

    Thank you for giving it a chance. Thank you for a great design, and may we try this in other places too. In fact there was just the article about the possible Stockton tunnel revamp, and essentially market street will finally become a true transit oriented street.

  • murphstahoe

    Because there are no NIMBYs there

  • Wait, is this real? I thought the best customers were the ones speeding past at 40 mph.

  • tungwaiyip

    It is good news the Fisherman’s wharf’s sales has go up. This is really a good reference to debunk the catastrophic prediction some merchants assert, often no good basis, on reconfiguring street use. Kudos to the CBD for doing this survey to allow people make decision base on information.

    That say, I don’t think there is enough evidence to support that claim that “Street Revamp Boosts Sales”. The article zero in to one particular change, the street improvement and attribute all success to this one factor. When you step back, you will see there are a lot of relevant factors weren’t considered. In particular, the general economic upswing in the Bay Area and the running of the 2013 American cup. All these could have make significant boost to the Wharf business.

  • M.

    Not so. I’ve spoken with Campbell and the surveying before and after was carefully planned to take into account other factors. The net volume of tourism also hadn’t significantly changed over that period. The fact that merchants who had strongly opposed the change are now happily denying that they ever did is the biggest tip off.

  • M.

    The art of the doable in SF. It’s that simple, Jamie.

  • M.

    When successful examples from all over SF, the US, and the world were put before the Polk opposition, the refrain was always “We’re not them.” To which my reply was on the order of, “But we’re all human and we all behave similarly; we congregate, stroll and relax in safe, pleasant places and car-filled streets are not safe, pleasant places. When we linger we spend.” It has made a dent but has a way to go. One example is that the Middle Polk Ass. has rebranded to being transit friendly. No sign yet that they’ve taken up the 22-Day Muni Challenge 😉 Bobby, G.

  • M.

    Some education was necessary and there’s still not total buy-in by the locals but as the tunnel is a few blocks away from ‘claimed turf,’ the discussion was more reasonable.

  • M.

    And 2nd

  • jamiewhitaker

    Painting crosswalks, pretty doable. Installing crosswalk signals where there are none for pedestrians crossing Van Ness and Tenderloin intersections or adding signals with countdowns, pretty doable. The idea that there is the Vision Zero map of high injury corridors and intersections that need funding to get fixed up, but let’s spend $1.7 million on a primarily tourists used and relatively safe street… Disingenuous hyperbole when there is talk about protecting pedestrians with such prioritization of Jefferson over high injury streets in District 6. This strikes me as simple electioneering with public dollars for benefit of Mayor’s appointed District 3 rep at the expense of pedestrian injuries and lives on high risk corridors that a decent human being would give first priority instead of Jefferson Street getting $1.7 million.

  • tungwaiyip

    For example, this article says overall San Francisco tourism spending has increased from 8.9 to 9.4 in the same period. So some of the increase should be attribute to this general trend.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2014/03/27/san-francisco-tourism.html

    Overall this is a good story. I am just wary of all these blog posts that says, as a matter of fact, when you do X, it will result in a success of Y. The reality is usually not so simple.

  • Justin

    Looking at the top photograph of Jefferson St, having walked there before, the way it is, the two blocks of Jefferson St between Hyde and Jones should be pedestrianized. I’ve been there a few times, and those times I visited it can be packed, despite the wide sidewalks it can still feel crowded. I think if they pedestrianized it and banned all motor vehicles, except for delivery vehicles, there would be more space and my guess would be that it would attract more people in a positive way only adding more life, energy and business to that area as well as improved safety and increased space. It would be great to see the street level up with the sidewalks.

    Now that they got the unsurprising proof and evidence that the improvements turned out very well, I wouldn’t be surprised if pedestrianizing the rest of the street completely would turnout positively as well. This seems like a big misopportunity to me, they could have made it even better!

  • Greg Costikyan

    So the first time I visited Fisherman’s Wharf was in the late 80s; I drove up from Orange County with my then-wife and inlaws, and our reaction was what you might expect from car-culture suburbanites; wow, finding parking is hard, and expensive, and the traffic here is terrible.(We still had fun.) More recent visits have been along the lines of taking the Muni there with my daughter, visiting me from New York, and feeling that the sidewalks are too crowded with too much space devoted to motor vehicles.

    But maybe that’s a dichotomy we should think about addressing; yes, Fisherman’s Wharf is basically for tourists. And yes, most tourists come from car-culture America, and don’t instinctively know how to navigate crowded urban areas. My guess is that most tourists going to New York KNOW that it’s different before they get there, don’t expect they’ll be able to get everywhere in a car, and likely understand they’re going to navigate the city by cab, transit, and feet, as a matter of course.

    Certainly, visiting from Orange County, I didn’t instinctively have that understanding of San Francisco; I mean, it’s California, isn’t it? The land of the automobile.

    In general, I think SF could benefit by spending some effort signalling to visitors that they don’t need cars here, and indeed are better off leaving it parked somewhere; that getting around the city isn’t that hard, and in fact, at 7 miles x 7 miles, a car doesn’t help much. And hey, trolleys and the F Muni are fun, never mind the cable cars.

    The lack of wayfaring signage doesn’t help; when I moved to SF, it took me quite a long time to figure out the bus system in particular, and I imagine few tourists have much confidence in using it either. How can we fix that?

  • Richard Mlynarik

    The veto of curbless roads comes from somewhere deep inside DPW, and may or may not be due to some historical nitwit “disabled activist”, or the threat of nitwittery, or some past threat of nitwittery. It is not enshrined in the Sacred Americans with Disabilities Act, but rather within the “no can do” culture which pervades all of San Francisco.

    My direct personal (ie anecdotal!) experience with actual blind people is that they sat say there are a number of mechanisms that make them perfectly aware of sidewalk-to-deathmonsterroadway transitions, and that the insistence of “the city family” on automobile-oriented street design is not anything designed to improve their lives.

  • hp2ena

    Probably late to the game with this one: do we know how the project will impact performance on the E or F lines? How will the already-completed Phase 1 project affect the Streetcar Extension to Fort Mason (since the LPA currently calls for it to operate one block west to Leavenworth, which is half of the Phase 1 project).

  • But where will all the merchants… I mean, disabled people, elderly, children with puppies, park their cars?!

  • ladyfleur

    I’ve lived in the burbs about an hour away from Fisherman’s Wharf for about 30 years. I’ve probably visited it once a year, and have only parked there maybe five times. The other times I either took a cable car, street car or bus from BART or Caltrain or rode my bike from Caltrain.

    When I drove I either parked in the garage by Pier 39, at Fort Mason or in the paid lots near Levi’s Plaza and walked in. If people want to drive we should direct them to garages or paid lots on the periphery, not encourage them to circle for the very limited street spots.

  • RussellShakleford

    “The net volume of tourism also hadn’t significantly changed over that period.”

    So there wasn’t more tourism during the America’s Cup? I find that hard to believe.

  • RussellShakleford

    Interesting results, but pretty limited things can be drawn from the study because (1) This may only work in tourism-dominated areas, so in proper neighborhoods (with grocery, hardware stores, etc.) you may not have the same effect. (e.g.: Polk Street is a totally different shopping demographic, so don’t expect the same results there) And (2) Measurement of spending during the 2013 America’s Cup, which was designed to draw people to that space, may not have been the best time period for to look at for an accurate measurement. That would be like changing meter prices during Fleet Week, and saying that there was an increase in spending over the previous weekend, so it must have been the different meter pricing.

  • datbeezy

    This is dubious. I very rarely visit the area, but I recall it was choked with construction during 2012.

    In any regard, a study without a control and a bunch of anecdotes doesn’t register for me.

  • datbeezy

    Generously, Streetsblog’s editorial standards could be described as “arbitrary”.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    you PAID to park ?

  • keenplanner

    As a planner, this methodology has been well known for years. The hard part is getting the local merchants to take the leap. Ask any merchant along thriving Valencia Street if they want it to return to a 4-lane traffic sewer, without bike lanes. Also, Jefferson was converted back to a 2-way street, which is much better for eastbound cyclists, especially those on rented bikes.
    I see Jefferson as a shining success. Not that I ever go TO Fisherman’s Wharf, but it’s easier to go THROUGH FW, which, IMO is enough to get the idea.

  • ladyfleur

    Yes. I know it’s hard to believe, but it does happen.

  • murphstahoe

    But maybe that’s a dichotomy we should think about addressing; yes, Fisherman’s Wharf is basically for tourists.

    My parents are in town. They live in Longmont Colorado, which is pretty much Car, Colorado. They arrived at SFO, got on the BART, exited at Embarcadero, and took a pedi-cab to their hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. They used the cable car to go to dinner. It lowered their stress level substantially, and it wasn’t *that* hard to navigate, despite me failing to mail them Clipper Cards ahead of time.

    The F-Market is usually VERY packed with tourists from around Montgomery to the Wharf. And the cable cars – sheesh.

  • p_chazz

    This project was finished two years ago, which means it was approved well before that, and well before Vision Zero came to pass.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    the trauma must have been terrible

  • I still dont get why they didnt use the construction to extend the Muni line. Also, disappointing lack of trees on the new, wider side.

  • p_chazz

    Maybe because it was built two years before Vision Zero? Get your facts straight.

  • jamiewhitaker

    Perhaps you did not make it to the second paragraph – $1.7 million to expand the pretty pavement on additional blocks?

    “The second phase of the project, which will bring a similar treatment to three blocks of Jefferson from Jones Street east to Powell Street, is taking a step forward. D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen and other city officials announced today that $1.7 million has been allocated for design and engineering for the expansion. The rest of the funds for the second phase, totaling $13 million, haven’t been identified, but it could be constructed as early as 2017.”

  • p_chazz

    It was planned from the beginning in 2012 that Jefferson Street be redesigned from Hyde to Powell, The City is just completing what it started four years ago.

  • Is there a brochure we could package this up in to give the merchants of Polk Street? I’m being snarky, but I’m basically serious.

  • keenplanner

    In one of the garages. They will have to pay like everyone else.

  • hest

    Clearly what she means is that she was paid to park. Car parking is so vital to business that it should come as no surprise that they’re willing to give a little gift to someone considerate enough to park in front of them.