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Posts from the Parklets Category


SFMTA Proposes a Car-Free Powell Street in Union Square

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has proposed making crowded, traffic-clogged Powell Street in Union Square a car-free street on a trial basis. Removing cars from the equation would make the street function better for pedestrians and cable cars on the blocks between Ellis and Geary Streets.

As we wrote last year, it makes little sense to have cars on Powell, which is seen as San Francisco’s gateway for visitors. On this two-block stretch, private car drivers routinely block bustling crosswalks, create stop-and-go traffic that damages Muni’s world-famous cable cars, and obstruct intersections in the path of the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line.

The car-free trial has already been delayed due to the Union Square Business Improvement District’s resistance to what it calls a “rushed” timeline and insistence on delivery vehicle access throughout the day.

The SFMTA’s goal “is to have these changes in place before the 2015 holiday shopping season,” with signs and paint installed in November, according to an agency flyer [PDF]. An engineering hearing is tentatively scheduled for October 2, and an SFMTA Board vote on October 20, but agency staff said the dates aren’t confirmed.

The car-free trial was originally listed on an engineering hearing for August 14 but got tabled before the hearing was held.

Union Square BID Executive Director Karin Flood told Hoodline that “the group was concerned about the SFMTA ‘fast-tracking’ the changes without taking into account stakeholder concerns.”

“We are open to the concept of making the area more pedestrian friendly but need to ensure that merchant loading/unloading needs are accommodated and that the timing is right,” Flood wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

Under the proposal, during a 12-18 month trial phase, cars and delivery vehicles would not be allowed on Powell except between midnight and 5 a.m., when cable cars don’t operate. This aligns with how “most business who responded” to an SFMTA survey already handle their deliveries. According to the SFMTA flyer, these businesses “indicated that they conduct their loading on a side street or during late night hours when the cable cars are not running.”

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Five Years On, SF Parklets Are Going Strong and Looking to Grow

Five years after the city installed its first parklet, there are more than 50 of these neighborhood gathering spaces throughout San Francisco. Using a couple of parking spaces for public space is no longer the act of rebellion it was ten years ago. The practice is now an institution in SF, and parklets are more widespread here than in any other city.

The SF Planning Department's new Parklet Manual.

The SF Planning Department’s new Parklet Manual.

Business owners and designers who’ve created parklets attest to their community-building benefits in a new video from the SF Planning Department’s parklet program, which celebrates its five-year anniversary this season.

The program also released a new request for proposals to build more parklets, as well an updated version of its manual to help prospective parklet-makers navigate the bureaucratic process. Two open house informational sessions will also be held this month to explain the process.

While most parklets are hosted by cafes, restaurants, and other storefront businesses, Parklet Program Manager Robin Abad Ocubillo said that in this round, the city is looking to encourage parklet proposals “spearheaded by youth, arts, and educational organizations.”

Ocubillo said parklet program staff were “inspired by [parklets] from those types of groups.” For example, one of the newest parklets on Valencia Street is hosted by the SF Boys and Girls Club. The design by the Exploratorium seeks to “create an informal science learning space accessible to all members of the Mission neighborhood.”

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Persia Triangle in the Excelsior Welcomes Two Parklets

Persia Triangle, in the Excelsior, now has two parklets and other streetscape paint treatments that enliven the prominent but otherwise dreary intersection. The improvements were unveiled, with a ribbon cutting, at Sunday Streets last week.

The temporary sidewalk expansions, which feature planters similar to those at Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro, replaced parking spaces on two corners of the easternmost block of Ocean Avenue, where it intersects with Persia Avenue and Mission Street. A drab parking lot currently sits in the middle of the triangle, but the parklets and brightly colored paint on the surrounding sidewalks and crosswalks may help make the area more attractive pending future developments.

The project, the latest in the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program, was preceded last year by temporary painted sidewalk extensions, also first demonstrated at Sunday Streets. Ilaria Salvadori, project manager for the Pavement to Parks program, said permanent concrete bulb-outs will replace the temporary ones and some other parking spaces next spring. The current, temporary parklets designed by Fletcher Studio were originally slated to be installed in spring of this year.

Salvadori said future efforts will include pedestrian-scaled lighting, and possibly a coffee kiosk to help activate the corner. “I think it’s going to a be a natural progression of change,” she said.

The Excelsior Action Group said it hopes the improvements will not just “help to beautify the neighborhood and generate more foot traffic,” but also calm motor traffic and provide a more inviting public space to gather in.

See more photos after the jump.

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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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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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