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Posts from the Car-Free Streets Category

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Eyes on the Street: Twitter’s Alley-Turned-Plaza Bustles Near Civic Center

City transportation staffers enjoy the astroturfed plaza created on the Stevenson Street alley as part of the Twitter building's renovation. Photo: Jessica Kuo

City transportation staffers enjoy the astroturfed plaza created on the Stevenson Street alley as part of the Twitter building’s renovation. Photo: Jessica Kuo

A plaza is bustling with life several months after its creation on a segment of the Stevenson Street alleyway at 10th Street, next to the Twitter offices.

The “Market Square” plaza is a privately-owned public open space built as part of Twitter’s office construction and renovations. That intersection of the mid-Market, SoMa, and Civic Center areas was relatively dead just a few years ago before unoccupied buildings and lots were filled by condo buildings like NEMA and tech companies like Twitter and Uber. Occupying the floor of Twitter’s building next to the alley is “The Market,” a grocery store and food hall complete with tech-salary prices.

Today, the plaza serves as a gathering space filled largely with a mix of tech workers and city government employees coming from nearby offices to enjoy some coffee. (Is there any more effective way to populate a pedestrianized alley than by opening a Blue Bottle?)

Stevenson's previous iterations, as seen in 2007 (left) and 2012 (right). Photos: Google Street View

Stevenson’s previous iterations, as seen in 2007 (left) and 2012 (right). Photos: Google Street View

Streetsblog NYC
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New York City Now Has Permanently Car-Free Roads in Two Major Parks

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

A week after New York City’s Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

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Cars Will Remain on the Crooked Block of Lombard Street Until at Least 2016

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A dance mob makes its way down Lombard. Image via Youtube

Cars will continue to fill the crooked block of Lombard Street until at least 2016. Although the trial car closures last summer were seen as a success, the gears of city bureaucracy appear to have slowed the momentum for going permanently car-free. It will take until December for the city to issue a report on the restrictions. No timeline has been laid out for implementation.

Funding for the study was recently approved by the the SF County Transportation Authority board, comprised of the Board of Supervisors. Proposition K sales tax revenue will account for $100,000 in funding, and another $25,000 will come from D2 Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office.

The study will look at three scenarios, ranging from “limited access” to “car-free,” according to an SFCTA report [PDF].

Last summer, the SFMTA collected data on how the famous crooked block of Lombard and surrounding streets worked during the car restrictions. During the trial, all cars were banned except taxis and drivers who were accessing homes on the block.

The idea is to reduce the car queues that back up for blocks and make the street safer and more welcoming for people on foot. While it doesn’t take data to see that Lombard serves no transportation purpose for through-traffic and is a far better street when it’s open to families and dancing flash mobs — “chaos,” in the eyes of one reporter — challenging the primacy of cars apparently has to be a major undertaking, no exceptions.

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Should SF Streets Go Car-Free to Make Room for Nightlife?

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Vancouver’s Granville Street, seen here in 2013, is regularly closed to cars on weekend nights. Should SF do the same with its nightlife streets? Photo: Aaron Bialick

Polk, Valencia, Castro, Broadway — when bar patrons crowd these streets at night, should they go car-free?

While the idea may be novel to San Francisco, many other cities have done it. Up the coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, downtown Granville Street is often closed to cars on bustling weekend nights for people to roam the roadway, extending the street’s permanent pedestrian mall, which is several blocks long.

In a new report [PDF], city agencies recommend taking a look at nighttime car-free hours to improve streets for patrons and workers.

“Streets are the living room of our cities, where people meet, interact, and socialize,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who requested the report. “We should consider opportunities to foster these urban connections for the sake of supporting nighttime activity and advancing pedestrian safety.”

“So many of the events that really define San Francisco, both for locals and visitors, are events that happen when the streets are shut down and the people are in them,” said Tom Temprano, owner of Virgil’s Sea Room bar on Mission near Cesar Chavez Street, and a member of the city’s Late Night Transportation Working Group, which developed the report. “From Sunday Streets, to Pride, to Folsom Street Fair, to Bay to Breakers, these are all really events that are core to San Francisco’s identity and happen when we take cars off the road and let people have a good time.”

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Hearst Corp Backs Off Bid to Tear Out Annie Alley Street Plaza

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The Hearst Corporation has withdrawn its appeal against the Annie Alley street plaza [PDF] after talks with city planners and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

The bid to get the plaza torn out was surprising, since Hearst had been involved in creating the plaza, leading to speculation that closing the alley to cars had irked executives at the company.

“We withdrew the appeal based on the positive discussions we have been having with YBCBD and other stakeholders to assess the situation and make improvements,” said Marty Cepkauskas, director of real estate for Hearst Western Properties.

The plaza is safe at least until its permit renewal comes up in August, according to Robin Abad Ocubillo, project manager for the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program. Ocubillo said Hearst agreed to support the project “as long as there is follow-up traffic monitoring,” though that “was always part of the plan.” Hearst and YBCBD will also assess whether they need someone to direct traffic during rush hour at Jessie and New Montgomery Streets, one of the exits still available to drivers leaving the Hearst Building parking garage.

“We’re pleased that the appeal was withdrawn and we look forward to continuing our conversations with Hearst,” said Andrew Robinson, YBCBD’s director of neighborhood partnerships. “Because this project is a pilot program, neighborhood feedback is important to its long-term success.”

Robinson said YBCBD can now focus on “testing Annie Street Plaza as a great place for art, performance, music and other programming to create a vibrant place for the neighborhood as it was envisioned by the community.”

The YBCBD is calling for artists and musicians who want to perform on the plaza to reach out through the organization’s website.

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Stockton Street “Winter Walk” Plaza to Return Next Holiday Season

The incredibly popular (but temporary) “Winter Walk” plaza will return to Stockton Street in Union Square for another holiday season in December, the local business improvement district announced.

The news isn’t a huge surprise, given the boost to business brought by the plaza and the fact that the one-block section of Stockton is already filled with machinery for the construction of Central Subway, as it has been since 2012 and will be until at least 2016. But it’s a promising sign that when construction is over the street may not be surrendered to cars.

Katy Lim of the Union Square BID said a visitor poll found that 96 percent of respondents would return to Winter Walk plaza if it were brought back, and that 88 percent would like to see it made permanent. Twenty-six percent of respondents were SF residents, 40 percent were from the Bay Area, and the rest from elsewhere.

No word on just how much foot traffic the plaza saw, but Philz Coffee reportedly sold over 6,000 cups from its stand during the month it was open.

So San Franciscans and visitors have clearly embraced the idea of devoting at least one block in SF’s bustling downtown shopping district to people, though it’s also clear from the detours for Muni’s 30 and 45 lines that surface transit needs greater priority.

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Union Square’s “Winter Walk” Plaza on Stockton a Hit – Why Bring Cars Back?

Stockton Street, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has temporarily been transformed into well-loved “Winter Walk” plaza. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Families are loving “Winter Walk SF,” the temporary holiday plaza filling two blocks of Stockton Street in Union Square. As CBS reporter John Ramos put it, the on-street downtown play space “represents the San Francisco everyone wants it to be.”

“I didn’t expect to see this,” one smiling girl told Ramos, standing on the green astroturf. “I thought it would be cars.”

Even former Mayor Willie Brown — not exactly known as a livable streets visionary — called it “spectacular” in his latest SF Chronicle column. “While you’re walking, think about what it would be like if the change were made permanent when the subway construction is complete.”

Brown was referring to the fact that the plaza will only be in place during a holiday construction hiatus for the Central Subway. After the new year, Stockton between Geary and Ellis Streets will once again fill with machinery, its use from 2012 until at least 2016.

Afterwards, cars, buses, and bikes are scheduled to once more clog Stockton — but even Brown suggests it shouldn’t go back to the way it was:

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Auto-Clogged Powell Street Could Be a Car-Free Haven

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

It’s a wonder that anyone drives a car on Powell Street in Union Square. Yet along the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare this side of the United States, you’ll typically see the perplexing scene of drivers, sitting in a line heading down the hill, all seemingly going nowhere in particular and certainly not very quickly. These private autos block bustling crosswalks, jam up Muni’s world-famous cable cars and its busiest bus line, and make an overall shameful display out of what many see as San Francisco’s gateway.

Allowing cars on the two-block stretch of Powell, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has made even less sense ever since all street parking, except for loading zones, was removed in 2011 for the Powell Street Promenade, a “mega parklet” that extended Powell’s sidewalks using temporary materials.

Powell doesn’t connect drivers to Market Street either, since the southernmost block was turned into a plaza for people and cable cars only in 1973. The vast majority of drivers drive down the street only to turn off of it, squeezing through busy crosswalks and taking up a disproportionate amount of street space along the way.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

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Eyes on the Street: New Car-Free Fourth Street Extension at UCSF Campus

Andy Thornley rides on the new block of Fourth Street at UCSF Mission Bay. Photo: Jessica Kuo

The extension of Fourth Street with a car-free promenade appears mostly complete at the University of California, San Francisco campus in Mission Bay. In 2012 we reported on how this project can connect 16th Street to Mariposa Street and the Dogpatch neighborhood without inviting more car traffic as UCSF builds out its development.

The new block features a public plaza and bikeway running through it, and it’s designed to allow emergency vehicle access. On each end are car drop-offs. It’s one block of walking and biking bliss bookended by the usual car-dominated city streets.

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Dance Performance Celebrates Temporarily Car-Free Lombard Street

Last week, cars once again took over SF’s crooked block of Lombard Street, following the last of a series of weekend trials that banned most cars from the street and opened it up to people instead. The Bay Area Flash Mob celebrated the last car-free day with a choreographed dance all the way down the winding road, set to the tune of Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Deland Chan, one of the initiators of the dance, said the group wanted to “create a moment of joy” on the street that would become impossible once it’s re-opened to cars.

“Some of the tourists actually jumped in and started dancing. The street is a lot steeper than we thought it would be, so it was an intense workout,” said Chan, who lives four blocks away and is an urban studies lecturer at Stanford University. She recently held a workshop in Chinatown on “public spaces and how different communities play,” and previously worked as a senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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