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Posts from the Pavement to Parks Category

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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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City Moves Forward on a More Pedestrian-Friendly Castro Street

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San Francisco’s world-famous commercial strip on Castro Street, which gained a popular pedestrian plaza in 2009, is poised to become a more inviting destination as the SF Planning Department develops plans to widen the sidewalks and install other improvements from 17th Street to 19th Street.

The sidewalks on Castro, currently 12 feet wide, could reach widths up to 22 feet, according to Nick Perry, project manager for the Planning Department. That real estate would be created by narrowing traffic lanes, which would calm motor traffic and may reduce the rampant double parking that often delays Muni buses on the 24-Divisadero line.

The new Castro Street, as envisioned by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

“Right now, it’s a little bit like the Wild West,” said Perry. “Because the travel lanes are so wide, cars and trucks feel free to double-park or speed down the street because there’s the room to do it. And once we are able to make these improvements, it will function as a neighborhood commercial street that has traffic going both ways in a hopefully stately, well-managed pace.”

The project got a boost after D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener announced in the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month that $4 million would be secured from Prop B bond funds. “While the Castro has wonderful parks at its edges, the neighborhood has remarkably little usable public space,” Wiener wrote. “Harvey Milk Plaza is poorly designed and doesn’t honor its namesake with a wonderful and safe public gathering space. Jane Warner Plaza is terrific but small. While the Castro is one of the most pedestrian-focused neighborhoods in the city, Castro Street’s sidewalks are embarrassingly narrow.”

The Planning Department expects to begin developing street designs through public workshops starting in January, but the process was already kickstarted several years ago by a community streetscape vision known as the Neighborhood Beautification and Safety Plan, developed by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District. That plan, adopted by the CBD in 2008, called for widening Castro’s sidewalks and narrowing its excessively wide traffic lanes to accommodate the crowds of pedestrians. It also envisioned the pedestrian plaza on 17th Street, which was built in 2009 as part of the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program and later dubbed Jane Warner Plaza (a.k.a. the Castro Commons).

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

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Will SF’s Leaders Turn Transport Policy Innovations Into Lasting Change?

San Francisco was one of two cities this week to receive the Institute for Transportation and Development’s prestigious 2012 Sustainable Transport Award. No doubt, the ITDP award was well-deserved for the SFMTA’s successful implementation of the groundbreaking SFPark program, as well as the SF Planning Department’s proliferation of parklets under its Pavement to Parks program. Those efforts have grabbed attention around the world.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan (left), Supervisor Scott Wiener (center), Mayor Ed Lee, and SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin at an SFPark press conference. Photo: Mayor's Press Office/Flickr

But whether San Francisco will live up to its promise as a leader in sustainable transportation in the coming years depends on the political will of city leaders like Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin to make bold improvements to our streets. Lasting change will come from policies like extending parking meter hours, consolidating bus stops, implementing a strong pedestrian safety action plan, and the swift build-out of safer, more comfortable bikeways to increase bicycle ridership.

“San Francisco has indeed never been so poised to leap ahead and build on the successes of the past few years by committing to and vigorously pursuing a sound strategy that will get the city to its goal of 20 percent of trips by bicycle by 2020,” said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) Deputy Director Kit Hodge. “San Francisco loves bicycling and is more ready than ever to take even bigger steps forward, beginning right now with the implementation of the crosstown bike routes in our Connecting the City vision.”

This month, the SFMTA approved its 2013 – 2018 Strategic Plan [PDF], setting out to reduce car use from 62 percent of all trips to 50 percent. And San Francisco’s goal of reaching 20 percent trips by bike by 2020 is uniquely ambitious among American cities. But for the reality to match the rhetoric, change will have to happen faster.

To use the example of bikeways and complete streets, the agency’s current rate of delivery on protected bike lanes doesn’t seem sufficient to meet the city’s targets. The SFMTA has struggled so far to keep up with the bold ten-year plan envisioned by the SFBC in its Connecting the City campaign, which calls for 100 miles of bikeways by 2020. The city’s first parking-protected bikeway is only expected to begin construction this week after a year of delay, and fixing the crucial bicycling link on just three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets will have taken over a year and a half from conception to implementation. Planners on that project have said the time required is partly due to the search for new car parking spots to make up for the spaces the bikeways will replace.

Meanwhile, New York City has built about twenty miles of protected bikeways in recent years, and aims to build up to ten more in Manhattan by 2013. Traffic injuries to all users have dropped as much as 35 percent on streets with protected bikeways, and the reallocation of space from traffic to pedestrians in Midtown has produced even more impressive safety gains. Overall, the city’s pedestrian fatalities have declined by 40 percent since 2001. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel quickly installed the Kinzie Street bikeway last summer, and wants to build 100 miles — the same number envisioned by SFBC within the decade — before his first term is over.

San Francisco’s SFPark program, while highly successful, could extend to more neighborhoods and cover additional times of day when it is sorely needed. The program is perhaps the most visibly noted accomplishment by the ITDP, but it is being tested by a backlash as the SFMTA seeks to expand it into the neighborhoods around Mission Bay. Whether neighbors have valid criticisms of the agency’s outreach or they just don’t want to pay for parking, SFPark manager Jay Primus announced this week that the agency will postpone taking the expansion plan before the SFMTA Board of Directors. Meanwhile, Mayor Lee has backed down on extending meter hours that would allow SFPark to be used most effectively. Eyes are on city leaders and staff to see how willing they are to stay the course with a groundbreaking, progressive and effective program.

San Francisco has made some important advances in sustainable transportation. But to meet — and perhaps exceed — the expectations set by the ITDP’s award, Mayor Lee and other leaders must commit to the changes San Francisco needs to achieve safer, more livable streets.

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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:

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