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Posts from the Great Streets Campaign Category


In Park(ing) Day’s Seventh Year, Parklets Now a San Francisco Institution

This now-normal scene at a parklet on California and Fillmore Streets in Pacific Heights shows how far parklets have come from the originally "radical" interventions of Park(ing) Day. Photo: Aaron Bialick

When Park(ing) Day started in San Francisco seven years ago, setting up camp on a sliver of street space normally reserved for storing cars was a somewhat radical idea. But these days, evidence of the movement’s continuing success can be seen year-round with more than 35 (and counting) semi-permanent, city-sanctioned parklets around the city.

Park(ing) Day returns again tomorrow, and dozens of parking spaces around the city will be reclaimed as public gathering spots. San Franciscans have embraced the event over the years, and the city’s parklet program is wildly popular among merchants, who clamor for a permit to bring a vibrant public gathering space in front of their store. It seems a world away from the first time Rebar, an art collective, decided to introduce Park(ing) Day by plugging a parking meter for a place to lay down some few rugs, plots of sod, chairs and art pieces.

A Park(ing) Day spot in front of Ritual Coffee on Valencia Street in 2009. A parklet being installed there will exist year-round. Photo: Tristan C/Flickr

“What has been really gratifying is that Park(ing) Day, which began as a guerilla art project, has been adopted by cities and integrated into their official planning strategies,” said Blaine Merker, a principal at Rebar. “A relatively modest art intervention has changed the way cities conceive, organize and use public space.”

By now, parklets are a uniquely ubiquitous institution in San Francisco. The SF Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program continues to grant permits through a streamlined permit application process, resulting in dozens of uniquely designed spaces popping up around the city. The city also installed a “mega parklet” promenade along three blocks of Powell Street, San Francisco’s most crowded pedestrian thoroughfare. A multi-agency website launched in May,, even lays out a simple guide for merchants (and residents) to apply for parklets, among other street improvements.

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Great Streets Project Quantifies the Impacts of Parklets

Nearly two years after the first parklet arrived in San Francisco, a new study provides an empirical assessment of reclaiming parking spots for public space.

The 2011 Parklet Impact Study [PDF], released yesterday by the SF Great Streets Project, measures changes in pedestrian volumes and activity at three new parklets built last year. The study, which also includes pedestrian surveys and business surveys, calls to mind the public space analysis of pioneering urbanist William H. Whyte, who recorded usage patterns of New York City plazas in the 1970s.

Comparing sites on Valencia, Stockton (in North Beach), and Polk Streets before and after parklets were installed, the authors found higher rates of “stationary activities” at all three locations. None of the businesses reported a drop in customers due to the removal of curbside parking. Basically, the Great Streets Project has quantified how carving out new public spaces from parking spots makes for a more sociable city.

Here are the key findings listed in the report:

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Western Cesar Chavez Streetscape Project to Be Completed in Summer 2013

Crews perform sewer work on Cesar Chavez, a prelude to streetscape changes scheduled for completion in 2013. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Construction on the Cesar Chavez Sewer and Streetscape Improvement Project will be completed a few months behind schedule in summer 2013, according to the SF Department of Public Works.

DPW’s Kris Opbroek said the streetscape portion will begin in the spring as completion of the sewer work moves west. When finished, the project will transform Cesar Chavez Street, from Hampshire to Guerrero Streets, with a wide planted median, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian safety improvements.

City staff and construction crews showcased the site last Friday as Mayor Ed Lee, who formerly headed the DPW, paid a visit to the project. It’s the largest yet under the city’s Great Streets Program, which has completed six streetscape projects since it began in 2005 and has another nine in the pipeline or under construction, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Cesar Chavez, budgeted at $35.2 million, is the biggest project funded by the Great Streets Program to date.

The SFMTA is also developing plans for bike lanes on the eastern side of Cesar Chavez, just across “The Hairball”, after the mayor’s office pressured the agency into dropping a previous iteration of the plan in June.

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Market Street Right Turns Made Permanent by SFMTA Board

Photo: sfbike

A trial project diverting private automobile traffic off Market Street will become permanent following a unanimous vote by the SFMTA Board of Directors today. The changes have made the the city’s main thoroughfare more inviting for people who walk, take transit and bike by requiring eastbound drivers on Market to turn right at 10th and 6th Streets.

The improvements are “bringing more people to Market Street despite the tough economic times,” said Kit Hodge, Director of the San Francisco Great Streets Project. Since the trial began in September 2009, transit speeds and pedestrian and bicycle traffic have shown a marked increase.

The street is now “the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi,” with bikes making up 75 percent of morning vehicle traffic on last year’s Bike to Work Day, according to the SFBC.

Letters of support from those who feel more comfortable biking on Market Street “completely put to bed the urban myth that the cyclists in this town are young, strong men,” said Director Cheryl Brinkman. “The same people who are on our buses and our streetcars – the same variety of professions, ethnicities and ages – that’s who should and want to be out there on bikes.”

With reduced congestion and bus lane encroachment from automobiles, Muni travel times have decreased by about 3 percent, and “no serious congestion problems arose” on Mission and Folsom Streets, according to the SFMTA.

While the turn at 10th Street has seen approximately 80 percent compliance from drivers after targeted enforcement and a number of tweaks, critics have noted the 6th Street turn hasn’t seen the same level of attention or compliance. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said making the turns permanent will allow San Francisco Police to enforce the rule.


Mission Community Market Hopes to Revitalize Dormant Street

Organizers of the nascent Mission Community Market hope to transform an underutilized block of Bartlett Street in the Mission into a thriving weekly market, where vendors sell their goods and kids play in the street after school. As an initial test, the Mission Community Market Collaborative (MCMC) is throwing a block party and fundraiser on Saturday, June 19th, at Bartlett and 22nd Street, both as a way to advertise the idea and to raise money for its implementation.

Jeremy Shaw, who has been organizing the market with the MCMC, hoped the kickoff event would bring enough people out to help the market gain traction. The project is meant to provide a community space and promote economic development.

"The point is to create choice for healthy foods," said Shaw, and "use it as an economic development engine where we create booths and stalls for Mission-based and local emerging businesses."

In addition to partnering with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), the MCM will work with La Cocina, a non-profit in the Mission that helps street food vendors by offering an industrial kitchen and classes for enrichment. Other partners include Arriba Juntos, Mission Beacon after-school programs, Mission Small Business Association, Mission Merchants Association, Revolution Cafe, Rainbow Grocery, Bi-Rite Market and the San Francisco Great Streets Project, among others.

"The food part is the anchor," said Shaw. "People come to buy food, and that's how we support these other community programs."

Shaw and other market supporters got a boost yesterday when the Board of Supervisors waived the fees for closing the street for the June 19th fundraiser. Organizers  go before ISCOTT, San Francisco's street closure permitting body, tomorrow to get approval for two months of weekly streets closures every Thursday, from 4-8 pm. Shaw is hopeful the permits will come through and has been working with the agencies responsible for street closures to improve those chances.



Streetfilms: Making a Better Market Street in San Francisco

For decades, planners and transportation specialists have debated how San Francisco's most important street could be re-visioned to  make it work better for transit, pedestrians, cyclists, shoppers, and those living on or near it. Now, as the Better Market Street Project moves forward with trial traffic diversions, the Art in Storefronts project, music and programming in public spaces, greening along sidewalks, and pedestrian safety improvements, San Francisco's political class is intent on revitalizing the street for the long haul. Though the concrete vision for what Market Street will eventually look like is some ways off, there is more effort now than in many years to improve the public realm and ensure the street lives up to its great potential.


Eyes on the Street: Powell Street Parking Lane Becomes Trial Sidewalk

powell-1_1.jpgPowell Street parking lane closed to cars for increased pedestrian space. Photos: Matthew Roth

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office this weekend experimented with the temporary removal of a handful of parking spaces on Powell Street between Ellis and Geary Streets to give  holiday shoppers in and around Union Square more space to navigate the crowded sidewalks.

The trial closure is part of the Better Market Street Project and was implemented to coincide with the busy shopping season. It lasted from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.

Great Streets Project Director Kit Hodge, who was an active partner in the trial, said pedestrian crowding on Powell Street had long been an concern and that the test gave the city good data for measuring the impacts on traffic and public space.

"It is one of the most crowded pedestrian areas in the city," said Hodge. "It needs to be a great place where the experience of socializing on the streets is comfortable, not something where you feel like you're packed in like cattle."

The reaction from business groups has been positive, though not all merchants along the street have had the opportunity to weigh in. "The execution went very well. The City did a great job of putting things out and making it look festive," said Donna Ficarrotta, Managing Director of the Union Square Association, the city's sole Business Improvement District. Ficarrotta said her merchant members had shown support for the concept, but she indicated she couldn't speak for all her members until they had convened a follow-up meeting, which she hoped to have in late January.

Ficarrotta indicated that she had been to the site on Sunday during the rain and that she hadn't seen many people using the space. "I think people didn't know quite what to make of it. Between the weather and people being in a hurry, I don't think people really understood what it was for."

A longer-term trial could happen in the spring, said Ficarrotta, up to four weeks, but the details of that depended on feedback from the city and her membership. She was hopeful a longer trial would also attract more use.

"I think if people understood it, obviously they would use it."


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SF Great Streets Project Finds 17th St. Plaza Builds Community

The San Francisco Great Streets Project (GSP) has been collecting pedestrian counts and street user surveys, and has used time-lapse photography, to measure users' perceptions about the quality of the public realm before and after the 17th Street plaza treatments were in place. The results of the surveys show what many readers of Streetsblog have been saying all along: residents feel the sense of community and the quality of the pedestrian realm have gone up markedly.

The GSP volunteers collected data over four days before and after the plaza was constructed and found:

  • The length of time spent in the area increased and users became more engaged in cultural and social activities
  • The area is now utilized as a place and a destination rather than a route
  • A greater sense of community character was perceived by pedestrians
  • There was an increased desire for public space in the Castro Street Commercial Area
Read the entire report here for more details (PDF). The GSP is currently finalizing a survey of business owners and will publish that shortly as well.