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Posts from the Pavement to Parks 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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Applying the Parklet Strategy to Make Transit Stops Better, Quicker

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Planners are looking to use the parklet model to deliver bus bulb-outs at low cost. Muni and AC Transit (shown) are developing programs with different takes on the concept. Image: Ben Kaufman

San Francisco’s parklet revolution has broadened the possibilities for how curb space can be used. Now, city planners in SF and the East Bay are taking the idea in a new direction: using temporary sidewalk extensions to make transit stops more efficient and attractive.

Three different names for the concept have emerged from planners at three institutions where it was conceived independently — “temporary transit bulbs,” “multi-purpose parklets,” and “stoplets.” Those terms come from, respectively, SF transportation agencies, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, and Ben Kaufman, a graduate student at the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Whatever you call it, the method could allow transit agencies to much more rapidly implement transit bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions at transit stops — and reap the benefits at about one-twentieth the cost of pouring concrete, on average, according to Kaufman.

For his UCLA graduate project, Kaufman is wrapping up a stoplet design guide for AC Transit, which received a Safe Routes to Transit grant to study the idea.

Kaufman sees stoplets as a way to re-invent the bus stop. “Why can’t we create a space that people actually want to sit at, that would make people excited to wait for a bus?” he said. “Instead of being a waiting experience, it can be a relaxing experience.” Like parklets, stoplets would be “adopted” by merchants who want to improve bus stops in front of their storefronts.

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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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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.


Hearst Corp Seeks to Rip Out Annie Alley Plaza to Make Room for Cars

The Hearst Corporation filed an appeal last month in an attempt to dismantle the Annie Alley street plaza so drivers exiting its parking garage could take a more direct path to Mission Street.

In November, the alley exit along Mission, between Third and New Montgomery Streets, was turned into a place for gathering and events that opened to popular fanfare. But the pop-up plaza apparently surprised and irked some higher-ups at Hearst with enough pull to hire a lawyer to get it taken out on the company’s behalf, even though the company was involved in creating the plaza.

A hearing for the appeal is scheduled at the Board of Permit Appeals on February 11.

Representatives from Hearst were involved in the planning for the plaza, which lasted two years, and even hosted a small meeting of local property managers for it. The media conglomerate is a major real estate owner in the Yerba Buena neighborhood of SoMa, and the parking garage exit for its Hearst Building is on the alley Jessie Street, which intersects Annie at the corner next to the street plaza. Some drivers apparently were used to turning on Annie to go westbound on Mission.

In a December 17 letter [PDF] addressed to Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of Hearst’s Western Properties, John Elberling of the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium wrote that “we are appalled by the gigantic Hearst Corporation’s blindside attack on this tiny but heartfelt Yerba Buena community improvement project.”

The Yerba Buena Community Benefit District built this very, very modest Neighborhood public space at its own cost as a new amenity for all of us that live, work, or visit our Yerba Buena Neighborhood. The project went through a very public and open community design process over two years. Representatives of the Hearst Corporation, as adjacent property owners, were specifically included in that process. Then it went through a rigorous City permitting process without objection by the Hearst Corporation.

But now that Annie Alley Plaza is open, completed in November, suddenly the Hearst Corporation has filed an appeal with the City Board of Permit Appeals seeking to invalidate those permits and force its immediate demolition!

The appeal, Elberling wrote, appears to be “the naked intimidation tactics of a gigantic corporate bully against our small Yerba Buena/ SOMA community.”

It’s possible the appeal will be dropped before the hearing. Hearst is reportedly in talks with the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District and other players at City Hall to rescind it. The YBCD led the planning process and paid for most of the plaza’s costs, facilitated by the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program.

Andrew Robinson of YBCBD would not comment on the status of the appeal, but said the organization is “hopeful that a resolution will occur in the next week or so.”

During the planning process, Hearst representatives had been informed that traffic counts would be taken during the two-year trial period and compared against those taken in 2013, both when Annie was open to cars and during trial car closures for events.

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Annie Alley Transformed Into a Downtown Gathering Space

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Attendees watch an opening celebration event at the new Annie Alley Plaza on Wednesday. Photo: SF Planning/Flickr

San Francisco’s newest on-street plaza opened downtown this week on Annie Street, a one-block alley that runs near SPUR’s Urban Center between Market and Mission Streets, about halfway between Third and New Montgomery Streets. Temporary concrete and wood seats have transformed a large section of the alley into a car-free space for gatherings and events in the middle of the bustling Yerba Buena District.

The plaza project “shows just how little you really need to do to make use of these public spaces for things other than cars,” said Gil Kelley, who started as the Planning Department’s citywide planning director earlier this year. “A few lights, a few plants, a few wooden benches, a little music — and suddenly, you have a great event space.”

“This will be a place where we envision activation, to include music, festivals, movies, a place to socialize, and a place to find solace,” said Lance Burwell, a board member of Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, which helped fund and coordinate the project, with the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Project, through two years of planning.

Annie Alley is the first temporary on-street plaza conversion seen in some time — they’ve been rare ever since the initial batch of on-street plazas was built in 2009 and 2010. The plaza is expected to be in place for two years, and will be evaluated afterwards, before plans for a permanent plaza are considered.

Annie Alley sits in the middle of one of SF’s most heavily-walked neighborhoods. The area is poised to become a focal point for even denser development, as new buildings surround the Central Subway and Transbay Transit Center stations under construction.

“As San Francisco intensifies its human activity and builds, the streets really are our living room,” said Kelley. “We have to use them for more than just cars.”

“Ensuring that we have more spaces like Annie Alley that are protected for pedestrians — places to listen to music, to watch movies, to walk, to drink at Novela [a neighboring bar], and come out and hang out with friends… all of this makes our neighborhoods more complete and humane,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim.


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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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 with 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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