Skip to content

Posts from the "Parklets" Category

23 Comments

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

This post supported by

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

Read more…

StreetFilms No Comments

Looking Back at San Francisco’s Second Park(ing) Day in 2006

Gasp, was it really eight years ago PARK(ing) Day San Francisco 2006 happened? It only feels like a few years have passed. I’ll never forget being in Oakland visiting a friend and learning that PARKing Day was happening the following day. I got up early, jumped on BART with my camera and went looking for all the spots inspired by Rebar, a unique and awesome art and design studio in San Francisco.

What a day. I never had so much fun as an in-the-moment filmmaker. I shot for almost eight hours straight and by the end was exhausted and nearly dehydrated. But as I saw the energy and the diversity of the spots – and the underlying message in Rebar’s mission – I knew I had to churn out a film fast. Thirty-six hours later the above film debuted on-line. It was easily our most popular film for the next two years until Bogota’s Ciclovia Streetfilm surpassed it.

64 Comments

Oakland Looks to Restart Its Faltered Parklet Program

Bikes and seating share space at the parklet on Grand Avenue in Oakland. Photos: Melanie Curry

The success of PARK(ing) Day got a lot of communities excited about the possibilities of reusing street space for something other than car storage. In cities like San Francisco and Oakland, many merchants were attracted to the idea of giving up a couple of parking spots in order to provide a nice place to gather and increase the visibility of their business.

In late 2011, Oakland’s planning department started a pilot program to help businesses and community members create parklets. Seven interested parties applied for permits, but over three years later, a grand total of just two parklets have been built.

The story of those unbuilt parklets can be a lesson in how a simple idea can become overly complex when too many stakeholders and government entities are involved. Or maybe a parklet is just not as cheap and easy to build as it looks at first.

In front of Farley’s East on Grand Avenue, a wooden platform holds tables, chairs, and hanging bike racks. It’s frequently full of people hanging out, drinking coffee, and working on laptops. Instead of two cars, it’s a vibrant urban place — a pleasant, inviting spot for people to relax.

Oakland’s other parklet sits on 40th Street between Telegraph and Broadway, fronting several popular businesses. Mounted on the parklet is a plaque that lists its sponsors and contributors, including several businesses across the street.

But Oakland’s webpage on parklets only instructs prospective parklet builders to ”stay tuned for announcements” because the application process is closed. A map shows the two completed parklets, plus two others “coming soon” and another labeled “final permit not yet approved.” The map was last updated in October of 2012.

Neighbors and merchants were excited for a planned but unbuilt parklet on Lakeshore Avenue in front of Arizmendi Bakery. “A whole group of neighbors worked really hard for it,” said Pamela Drake of the Lakeshore Avenue Business Improvement District. Money had even been secured for the permit fees, but a design problem arose.

Read more…

10 Comments

The Sloppy Reporting Behind KTVU’s Eulogy for Re-Purposed Parking Spaces

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect much from KTVU these days in the way of fact-checking — Bay Area viewers should be used to the exceptional sloppiness seen in reports like the attempted hit on bike-share, the self-documented harassment of bicycle riders who don’t wear helmets, and, of course, the infamous fake names of pilots involved in the Asiana plane crash at SFO.

But a new segment from David Stevenson — KTVU’s helmetless heathen hunter himself — quickly descends into incoherence, arguing that parking spaces in San Francisco are being eliminated at a drastic rate because of parklets, bike lanes, housing, and other things that are certainly less important than car storage.

Amidst the breathless barrage of shoddy reporting, this is probably the most disingenuous part:

KTVU's David Stevenson is on the scene of a parking lane to bring you some false statistics.

As far back as 2006, the city used a formula to estimate 603,000 public and private parking spaces on the streets, in lots and garages.

But that number was downsized to 448,000 in 2012 after a sweeping citywide parking space survey.

To the uninitiated, this probably seems like the city has lost a quarter of its parking, but of course it only indicates that the city has recently started to measure its parking supply more rigorously. The 2006 estimate was basically just a guess, while the latest number was based on an actual citywide count of parking spaces done in 2010 (the first of its kind in the country), then updated in August 2011 with a survey of 54 percent of SF’s streets [PDF].

What Stevenson doesn’t mention at all is that the formula and the count didn’t even measure the same thing: The 2006 estimate included all parking, private and public, while the more recent counts have only measured publicly accessible spaces. As Matthew Roth noted in his Streetsblog article on the SFMTA’s massive 2010 public parking count, the city’s private parking supply hasn’t been comprehensively measured yet, but experts estimate it could bring the citywide supply as high as 800,000 (nearly one parking space per San Franciscan).

A full accounting of the city’s changing parking supply would also factor in the continuing construction of off-street parking. Parking is constantly being added in the course of development — just yesterday, the Planning Commission approved a grocery store and 136-unit development in Hayes Valley with 275 parking spots. The net change in parking spaces that results from those developments depends on how much parking those buildings replace and how much is being constructed.

Read more…

103 Comments

Fearmongering Overwhelms Facts at Meeting About Livable Polk Street

A mob mentality ruled at a neighborhood meeting last night on safety improvements for Polk Street, where attendees booed any suggestion that removing car parking to make room for pedestrian and bicycle amenities might be worthwhile.

A few hundred attendees packed the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting last night, where any suggestion to change the dangerous status quo was roundly booed. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Fact-based discussion was in short supply at the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting. Instead, hyperbole and misinformation were the order of the day, spread by “Save Polk Street” flyers erroneously claiming that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency plans to remove all parking along a 20-block stretch of Polk.

While the SFMTA has engaged residents in a community-based planning process for Polk from the outset, project supporters were scarce last night. D3 Supervisor David Chiu, who usually talks a good game on street safety, has not taken a position on the project.

Dan Kowalski, who owns the furniture store Flipp, said it was “natural” for the reaction from merchants to go from “alarm to absolute panic” after seeing the SFMTA’s proposals to add protected bike lanes and more public space while removing, at the most, roughly half of Polk’s on-street parking, which makes up just 7 percent of the parking supply within a one-block range of the corridor.

Kowalski and other speakers dismissed evidence that the same kinds of street improvements proposed for Polk have improved safety and boosted business on other streets, even when parking is removed.

Merchants on Stockton Street in Chinatown have lauded the temporary bans on parking during the Lunar New Year. Parklets, bike lanes, Sunday Streets, and other streetscape upgrades that increase foot traffic are in high demand citywide. The sky hasn’t fallen in New York, either, where recent data shows that after a protected bike lane was installed on Ninth Avenue, local retail sales increased 49 percent, compared to a 3 percent increase throughout Manhattan. At the north end of Union Square, which saw a major expansion of pedestrian space, commercial vacancies have dropped 49 percent, at the same time that they have risen 5 percent borough-wide.

“We’ve looked at the statistics that people have presented to us, and they aren’t real. They’re proposing that our business will actually increase,” said Kowalski, eliciting laughter from the audience. “On paper, it might. But what we’ve seen in the real world, what we’ve seen in other cities, when they’ve tried some similar things, is that they’ve had some very negative reactions.”

To make his case, Kowalski claimed that “some of the same projects” have been tried and removed in Brooklyn and San Diego. A little research, however, shows that those cases had nothing to do with streetscape improvements on a business corridor.

In Brooklyn, the only case of a bike lane being removed was on a residential stretch of Bedford Avenue, where politically-influential leaders from the Hasidic community protested the scanty clothing of female riders. In San Diego, green paint on a suburban road was scrubbed off a bike lane merging zone because it failed to cause speeding drivers to yield to riders.

But Kowalski’s claims went unchallenged, and no one mentioned the evidence that merchants tend to wildly overestimate, like the survey on Columbus Avenue which found that just 14 percent of people arrived by car, and those people tended to spend less than people who arrived by other means.

Read more…

44 Comments

Safer Polk Street Supporters Rally for Neighborhood Meeting Monday

Opponents of the redesign want to "Save Polk Street" by maintaining the dangerous status quo. (Note: The meeting location listed on this flyer is outdated.) Photo: Blake Harris

With flyers stuck on storefront windows along Polk Street spreading misinformation about the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s developing plans to make the street a safer, more inviting place to walk and bike, local supporters of the project are rallying neighbors and merchants to attend a public meeting on Monday. There, city officials including SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin and D3 Supervisor David Chiu are expected to attend.

The flyers, handed out to merchants by an entity calling itself the “Save Polk Street Coalition,” falsely claim that the SFMTA is “planning to remove 20 Blocks of street parking on Polk St. from Union St. to McAllister St.”

In reality, the project’s proposed options, which were developed with input from well-attended community outreach meetings in September and December, would only remove some portion of the on-street parking on Polk, which in total represents 7 percent of all parking within a block’s range of the corridor. Meanwhile, the commercial street would receive the kind of improvements that have been shown time and time again to invite more shoppers.

Madeleine Savit, a 61-year-old mother, architect, and urban planner who lives in the neighborhood, has been talking with shop owners and attempting to debunk misconceptions about the project with a flyer of her own, which reads, “SFMTA’s Polk Street proposals benefit all in our community.” She said the vast majority of upset merchants seem grossly misinformed, and estimates that “Save Polk Street” is led by a handful of people.

Madeleine Savit's flyer.

“People don’t know what’s going on. So the most vocal people are the minority,” said Savit. “The problem is, we’re not dealing with facts. We’re dealing with emotion and fear.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed to streets like Valencia, where bike and pedestrian improvements have revitalized businesses by inviting people to spend more time on the street. “It’s very clear that when other corridors in San Francisco have been studied the way Polk Street is right now, there have been great improvements not only to the walkability and bikeability, but also to the business environment and real estate values,” she said.

On Polk, parklets and bike corrals that replaced parking spaces in the last couple of years have drawn more foot traffic. After a parklet was installed in front of Quetzal Cafe on Polk between Bush and Sutter Streets, a study conducted by the Great Streets Project found that more people stopped to talk or window-shop, and overall foot traffic increased.

Read more…

5 Comments

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, sfbetterstreets.org, even lays out a simple guide for merchants (and residents) to apply for parklets, among other street improvements.

Read more…

1 Comment

New “Better Streets” Website Helps Residents Untangle City Bureaucracy

This post supported by

The San Francisco Better Streets Program launched a new website this week to provide a central source of information to help residents procure street improvements like traffic-calming measures, parklets, bike corrals, plantings, art installations, sidewalk fixtures, and permits for car-free events in their neighborhood.

The website, sfbetterstreets.org, “combines all the city’s guidelines, permit requirements, and resources for public space development onto one site, giving the user a handy step-by-step approach toward improving San Francisco’s streets,” the Planning Department said in a release.

Launched as a collaboration of the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, SF Public Utilities Commission, and the SFMTA, the site should help spread awareness of the street improvements available to residents and guide them through the city’s bureaucratic processes.

“Before this website was launched, this information wasn’t available. For someone to go through the process, someone would have to go and contact various departments around the city,” said Joanna Linsangan, communications manager for the Planning Department. “People may not think they have the ability to do so, but if they want to, they can apply for a parklet, put out bike racks or put out planters in their neighborhood, at their storefront, and we’re trying to give them all the information to make it happen.”

The site follows the spirit of the 2010 Better Streets Plan, which is aimed at streamlining the process for making improvements to the pedestrian environment. Linsangan said the site was launched during Small Business Week since merchants often show interest in improving the areas around their storefronts.

The website features alluring pages that explain the ins and outs of permit processes, maintenance regulations, planning codes, ways for residents to build neighborhood support for projects, funding sources, and more.

Read more…

3 Comments

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:

Read more…

6 Comments

Parklets Keep Popping Up Along Valencia, Divisadero and Columbus Corridors

The new parklet on Valencia Street in front of Four Barrel Coffee. Photo: Aaron Bialick

At least fourteen parklets now grace sidewalks around the city in a movement that has taken San Francisco by storm since the first one was created in March of last year. Three of the newest ones have sprouted up in front of Cafe Abir near Divisadero Street, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana next to Washington Square Park, and Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia Street, which has taken a unique design approach.

The construction of new parklets is just starting to catch up with the demand, notes an article on the Great Streets Project’s website. A study done in April found that 72 percent of people surveyed in the Mission, the Tenderloin, and North Beach where more parklets are planned “said that they would come to the area more or much more often if there were more public places to sit.”

In the Mission District, the new Four Barrel parklet provides a standing-only coffee bar area and hanging bicycle parking, features which are intended to have a “less heavier” but more permanent feeling than other parklets, said Four Barrel owner Jeremy Tooker.

“We wanted to add an improvement and beautification to the neighborhood with the Four Barrel aesthetic” with the wood matching that of the cafe, said Tooker.

Rather than being a place to lock up a bike and stay for hours, the arrangement is designed to encourage more short-term use, he said. More bike parking will be added in the center of the parklet for a total of fifteen dedicated spaces, although Tooker estimated it would probably be able to fit over twenty bikes.

Read more…