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Posts from the "Pavement to Parks" Category

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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 three-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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Preview the Upgrades Coming to the Castro’s Jane Warner Plaza

Jane Warner Plaza, seen here in 2011. Photo: Mike Bjork/Flickr

Jane Warner Plaza, the first plaza created using semi-permanent features as part of SF’s Pavement to Parks program, will get some repairs and upgrades as part of the Castro Street overhaul currently underway.

Upgrades coming to Jane Warner Plaza at 17th, Castro, and Market Streets. Image: DPW

The worn-out painted asphalt will be replaced with an easier-to-wash colored asphalt, and a pedestrian island will allow a more direct link between the Market and Castro Street crosswalks, said Department of Public Works project manager John Dennis. Bollards will also be placed outside the potted planters that currently separate the plaza from the roadway, and the metal barricades placed at the plaza’s east end on 17th Street will be replaced with permanent gates.

The streamlined crosswalk configuration will be “the big change,” said Dennis. “Right now, a pedestrian [coming from Castro] has to cross 17th Street and then cross Market Street. In the future, they’ll be able to walk directly across Market from Castro and 17th.”

The plaza will feel “less chopped up,” said Andrea Aiello, president of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District.

The plaza improvements were selected by residents through a Planning Department survey of residents last year. Asked to choose between four different ways to spend a chunk of the Castro project’s money, plaza upgrades were heavily favored over options for bus bulb-outs on 18th at Castro, bulb-outs and a “gateway” median at 19th and Castro, and bulb-outs on the northern corners of Castro and Market.

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Coming Soon: Mini Plazas at Persia Triangle and Better Plaza Management

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A temporary sidewalk extension painted during a Sunday Streets event at Persia Triangle. Photo: SF Planning Department/Flickr

Update: According to the Planning Department, the San Francisco Plaza Program will only apply to permanently plazas installed with concrete features, not semi-permanent Pavement to Parks plazs.

City agencies are set to launch a program to manage San Francisco’s plazas, establishing a long-term system to coordinate maintenance and activities in public spaces. As we wrote last June, the handful of Pavement to Parks plazas created wtih temporary materials have gone to seed without designated caretakers, and the program appeared at risk of faltering. Update: But those plazas would not be eligible for the new program until they’re made physically permanent with concrete features.

Meanwhile, the latest Pavement to Parks project is moving forward at Persia Triangle in the Excelsior, which is set to get a few temporary sidewalk extensions with street furniture this spring. The curb expansions would be made permanent a year later.

The San Francisco Plaza Program, led by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is expected to assign caretakers to program activities for permanent plazas and keep them in good condition, bringing a similar level of attention to what parklets receive from adjacent businesses. The city will select non-profit groups to maintain plazas, as the SF Examiner explained today:

The program is intended for public spaces of at least 2,000 square feet and outside of Recreation and Park Department jurisdiction. Some existing spaces — Mendell Plaza in the Bayview district, which [Supervisor Malia] Cohen represents, and a space at McCoppin and Valencia streets — meet that criteria and new sites could also emerge as part of construction development and urban planning.

“As the City population continues to grow, the transformation of underutilized public plazas will be instrumental in providing social, economic, and ecological benefits in neighborhoods citywide,” says a city description of the program. Activities envisioned for these spaces include art and music events, farmers markets, movie nights, food events and retail. If the program is approved, The City would select plazas on a case-by-case basis and nonprofits would bid for space by submitting proposals on how they plan to manage the events and generate revenue.

Legislation creating the program [PDF] has been introduced by Cohen and Mayor Ed Lee, and is headed to the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee in the coming weeks. The program is expected to be in full operation this year, according to the Examiner.

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Vote to Hand Latham Square Back to Cars Bodes Ill for Downtown Oakland

Latham Square as it exists today. Photo: Alec MacDonald

After a trial public plaza at Latham Square was undercut by Oakland’s Planning and Building Manager, the Oakland City Council voted last week to reinstate two-way car traffic on the small, southernmost block of Telegraph Avenue, caving to merchants and developers pushing for unfettered car access.

At their January 7 City Council meeting, Oakland council members considered different proposals for the layout of Telegraph at Broadway, a key gateway linking the bustling offices around City Center BART with the burgeoning Uptown dining and entertainment scene. Besides the critical role Latham Square Plaza will serve in the ongoing revitalization of the area, it also stands as a flashpoint in the broader movement to make Oakland more people-friendly. The council’s vote to maintain lanes for car traffic was undeniably a setback for that movement.

Last summer, the city closed off vehicular lanes along the 1500 block of Telegraph and filled the space with seating, planters, and other pedestrian amenities as part of a six-month pilot project intended to gauge the feasibility of a permanent street closure. Complaints from nearby business owners, however, prompted the city to prematurely reopen one southbound lane of Telegraph after just six weeks.

The council’s final decision last week undermined the effort to create a people-friendly space in the heart of downtown Oakland. Although the proposal that city leaders adopted will still expand the plaza’s square footage from 2,500 (before the pilot project) to 9,500, livable streets advocates feel the restoration of two-way auto traffic will undercut the appeal of the space and create a safety hazard for people who use it. Altogether, two of the three original traffic lanes will be reinstated.

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Packed Meeting About Future of Oakland’s Latham Square Shut Down Early

Two design proposals for Latham Square — one with cars (left) and one without (right). Image: City of Oakland

After public pressure, the City of Oakland held a second community meeting Wednesday about the design of the Latham Square pilot plaza, where a lane of car traffic was reinstated prematurely at the behest of Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn. Despite a standing room-only crowd of attendees showing up to weigh in, the meeting was shut down 45 minutes early.

For city officials, the proposal to widen sidewalks but permanently reinstate two-way car traffic at Latham Square appears to be a done deal — though no pedestrian usage data was presented to the public after a six-week car-free pilot period.

“I don’t see us going back to the closure” of Telegraph, said Brooke Levin, interim director of the Oakland Public Works Agency. In fact, she added, it is likely the city will reopen the northbound traffic before construction begins on the final design next summer.

Before Wednesday’s public meeting, city staffers held an invitation-only meeting on November 15 with City Manager Deana Santana. Invitees included several business owners who oppose the car-free plaza, along with representatives of the Downtown Oakland Association (which supports the pedestrian plaza), Popuphood, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

But attendees who packed the public meeting, which was not announced on the city’s website until the day before, appeared evenly divided between supporters of the car-free plaza and those who want to bring back two-way car traffic. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Levin told the crowd.

City planners’ recommended permanent design for the plaza includes restoration of two-way traffic on Telegraph with narrower auto lanes and an expansion of the existing sidewalk in the triangle between Broadway and Telegraph. Opinions and suggestions for the design were mixed among the 50-plus Oakland residents, merchants, property owners, and downtown workers at the meeting.

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Oakland Planning Director Cuts Off Latham Square Pilot, Lets Cars Back In

Photo: Laura McCamy

The crowning achievement for Oakland’s new planning and building director so far might be ensuring that cars are being driven through the Latham Square pilot plaza once again.

The Latham Square pilot was supposed to last for six months, but after just six weeks, the widely-lauded, one-block plaza at the foot of Telegraph Avenue is no longer car-free. “The pilot program of having the pedestrian-only area was cut short and one southbound lane was reopened to cars without any warning to pedestrians,” said Jonathan Bair, board president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. The current configuration leaves some reclaimed pedestrian space in the middle of the street, but it is no longer connected to the sidewalk. Now the City Council will consider whether to keep it that way.

Rachel Flynn became Oakland's planning and building director in March. Photo: SF Business Times

Oakland Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn told Streetsblog the car-free pilot had been given enough time, and that “there’s only so many people that are going to come into Oakland at this time.”

“If all you’re doing is blocking off the vehicles but not increasing the bikes and pedestrians, are you achieving your goal?” said Flynn. When asked for data on Latham Square’s use, she said, “We don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.”

“It’s not like we’ve seen hundreds of new bikes there, while we’ve seen hundreds of vehicles not going to this area.”

Flynn came to Oakland in March, having previously worked at a planning firm based in Abu Dhabi, following a stint as planning director of Richmond, Virginia, in 2011.

Oakland Planning staff will present a proposal to the City Council later this month for a permanent plaza design that includes two-way car traffic on Telegraph. The plan, which has not been released to the public yet, would expand the current sidewalk space from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet, but leave Latham Square bisected by lanes of motor traffic.

When it was proposed, the pilot plaza project was touted as an effort to emulate the success of on-street plaza projects implemented in New York City and San Francisco.

“The purpose of the plaza is to establish safer traffic patterns,” said Sarah Filley of Popuphood, which curates vending spots on Latham Square. “By opening up both of the traffic lanes, you’re not prototyping anything. You’ve just added a nicer median.”

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City Agencies Unveil Final Design for Bartlett “Mercado Plaza”

Images: Planning Department

The final designs for a people-friendly block of Bartlett Street in the Mission were presented [PDF] last week by the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, the SFMTA, and the design firm Rebar. The plan retains the sidewalk extensions that are key to calming traffic and inviting social activity outside of events like the weekly Mission Community Market, when the block is closed to cars.

The project still depends, however, on the SF Fire Department’s approval of the 14-foot roadway. SFFD has opposed narrowing the road below the state Fire Code minimum of 20 feet of unobstructed roadway. Department officials say it could inhibit emergency vehicle access, even though a number of other states and cities use 12-foot minimums without problems. The curbs on the lightly-trafficked block would also be less than six inches high — easily mountable by emergency vehicles — which will no longer be considered an obstruction by the city under legislation recently passed by the Board of Supervisors, set to go into effect at an unknown date.

A few residents at last week’s meeting re-stated their complaints about the plan’s removal of 21 on-street parking spaces on Bartlett to make room for more public space. City staffers, however, displayed a chart showing that the 350-space garage and parking spots on Bartlett are rarely full. A few other residents voiced continued support for the replacement of car parking with pedestrian space.

A future Barlett Street on a regular day.

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Why Isn’t SF Painting the Streets Red Like New York Is?

In New York City, it's apparently easy to stumble across new expansions of public space using low-cost, temporary measures. Why not in SF? Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Just after our look at the faltering pace of plaza expansions under San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program last week, we get another glimpse of New York City’s ongoing efforts to reclaim street space for people and improve safety using low-cost, temporary measures like posts and gravel epoxy.

Apparently, these kind of space re-allocations happen so frequently, our Streetfilms manager Clarence just stumbles across them while making his way around Manhattan.

After hearing a speech from NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Jannette Sadik-Khan at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards last week, I asked SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin why the city isn’t reclaiming space for pedestrians at the pace New York is. He pointed to the agency’s efforts to reclaim road space for protected bike lanes, and said he’s “not sure that there are that many great candidates” for other public space expansions.

It only takes a quick peek at Streetsblog New York, however, to cast some serious doubt on that claim.

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Without City Leadership, “Pavement to Parks” Plazas May Lose Steam

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Showplace Triangle, a 2009 Pavement to Parks project seen here in October 2010, was removed by the city in January because a planned development project will also bring a permanent plaza, but it had fallen into disrepair without staff dedicated to its upkeep. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

When it comes to reclaiming street space for people, San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program has paved the way with a national model showing how cities can embrace community-driven parklet projects. But when it comes to installing plazas, there seems to have been little movement since the first handful were created on “excess” road space in the program’s first year. Advocates and some city officials say the program needs to become a greater priority for city leaders.

Since the multi-agency Pavement to Parks was launched in mid-2009, 38 parklets have been installed through its permitting program, including the two-block Powell Street Promenade. Five plazas were also installed using temporary materials at a rapid clip in the program’s first year, under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Since then, however, no new plazas have been installed, only a few projects are in the pipeline, and the program has made little headway in developing a system for long-term maintenance and permanent upgrades.

“The Pavement to Parks initiative has proven very effective in adding a touch of grace to the public realm, and in changing the perception of our streets as not just places for automobiles but as rightful places for people,” said David Alambaugh, manager of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “The program has met with very strong popular support. There is strong interest in seeing the program continue and thrive, and to take on new issues and new challenges.”

But the program “has managed to succeed with only modest support from the city,” he said. “If it is to thrive and to be successful, and especially if it is to be expanded to take on new challenges, it will need strong, formal funding and strong political support.”

Whether that leadership will come from Mayor Ed Lee, however, is unclear. When Streetsblog asked the mayor if he plans to support the expansion of Pavement to Parks plaza projects, his response wasn’t quite a full-throated “yes.” Plaza projects “take a long time,” he said, “because we want it to really be embraced by the neighborhoods, and we have to spend that quality time to make sure everything we do is embraced by those communities.”

Advocates compare the state of Pavement to Parks to the ongoing expansion of plazas in New York City, where, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, dozens of public space expansions in neighborhoods around the city have been implemented over the past few years. That includes Times Square, where plans for a physically permanent plaza are already underway.

“I am fortunate to work for a mayor who has unbelievable political courage,” said NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan yesterday evening, when she spoke at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards, eliciting applause from her San Franciscan audience.

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Park Areas Under Central Freeway Downsized to Retain Caltrans Parking

Left: The original vision for the conversion of a Caltrans parking lot into a dog run, basketball courts, and a playground. Right: The final plan, which will build only the dog run in order to retain most of the parking lot. Images: Department of Public Works

A plan to convert parking lots under the Central Freeway near Duboce and Valencia Streets into a skate park and dog run is moving forward, but it won’t include basketball courts or a children’s playground as originally envisioned by residents.

Because the city will have to lease the land from Caltrans, which owns and collects revenue from the existing parking lots, city officials involved in planning the long-delayed parks projects say budget constraints left them with no choice but to allow the state department of transportation to retain a large section of the parking lot at the expense of park space.

“The City Parking Area is a vital revenue component to making the entire lease structure with Caltrans feasible; thus helping to fund the projects and keep them moving forward,” wrote Gloria Chan, a spokesperson for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, in a February email to residents. ”Without this revenue, we would not be able to plug the funding gap needed for these projects.”

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim introduced legislation this week to establish agreements between Caltrans and city agencies to move the project forward, and construction on the skate and dog parks are expected to begin this summer. She praised the project planners, but made no comment on the downsizing.

The SF Examiner reported details of the deal last month:

Under the terms of the lease deal, Caltrans will receive $10,000 a month for 20 years, with rent increasing by 2 percent every year. The Recreation and Park Department — the agency in charge of maintaining the park — will pay $85,000 a year for the site. Public Works will pay $66,000 a year.

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