Eyes on the Street: DIY Street Furniture Enlivens Potrero Hill Street

Joel.jpgJoel Bleskacek sweeping the sidewalk in front of Ruby Wine

Potrero hill merchant Joel Bleskacek came up with a clever solution in 2003 to provide more seating for customers outside of his Ruby Wine Shop and former Scoops ice cream parlor on 18th Street. He built simple wooden benches edging the tree trunks in front of his businesses, allowing his customers to linger and enjoy the public realm.

Metal_bench.jpgMetal benches and new sidewalks in front of Chez Mama

"This is an improvement compared to what was there around the trees,"  said Bleskacek. "They used to be a receptacle for dog shit and garbage.  I was looking for something cost effective and simple–no redwood or anything–but something cosmetically better."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works told Streetsblog building owners are responsible for the upkeep of their own sidewalks and trees and the department looks favorably on innovative projects that contribute to the livability of neighborhoods.

Bleskacek, with his wife and two children, lives in the immediate
neighborhood and is active in the Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses

His idea quickly spread to neighboring building owners and merchants.  The owner of the buildings housing Chez Mama and Lingba not only installed iron benches around his trees, but refurbished the sidewalks and replaced drainage.

Blooms Saloon, Moshi Moshi Sushi, Farley’s coffee and Chatz Coffee followed soon after, each adding their particular flavor to the street furniture. 

While Bleskacek couldn’t point to any data that shows people are staying longer in his shop or spending more money, he said on sunny days the benches are well used and he’s received plenty of comments from customers who enjoy them. 

Couple.jpgCouple in front of Farley’s enjoying their java

Cactus_bench.jpgBench in front of Farley’s

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  • This is a great stretch of Potrero Hill. I live in Potrero and I think it is a pretty interesting case for liveable streets issues in the city. The neighborhood (the whole hill) is incredibly close to the most central and dense districts of the city. It has a great grocery store on 20th st (Good Life Grocery), ample convenience & liquor (eh hem make that *wine* stores), etc, but it is one of the most car-tastic neighborhoods in the city.

    Blame this on a number of factors–a wide-open suburban layout, wide streets, many parallel parked streets, and of course the steepness of the hill itself. In some ways, it is similar to Nob Hill, Russian Hill, hell maybe even Pacific Heights–but unlike those neighborhoods we have more space for cars and a reputation for being ‘underserved’ by transit, a charge I’m not so sure about–I use the 19, 48, and 53 daily (often in conjunction with my bike). MUNI’s TEP review has determined that the 53 will be cut entirely, even though its already bare-bones schedule does serve a sizeable number of Potrero Hill public housing residents and school kids going to the International School. The 12 will be re-routed to come up and over the hill and make a more direct connection with 4th and King and the fidi, and I’m curious if that will make a difference for the homeowners and private tenants of Potrero Hill who by and large are definitely not taking the bus or biking in favor of driving.

    Would be great to see a report on Potrero at some point in the future, I for one think it’s an interesting case/issue in SF.


  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Justin I’d be interested in a local’s report on Potrero Hill post-TEP. I get to 18th St. on the 22-Fillmore, and I gather from the TEP that they are going to just run the 22 down 16th all the way to 3rd instead of running it up the hill. That would mean that I would have to walk three blocks and 100′ up the hill to get to Farley’s. Doesn’t seem like an improvement to me.

  • I saw those benches emerge and I’ve just taken it for granted. They are really nice addition to the street. Thank you to the merchants and thanks for writing a story about it.

    Jeffrey, 3 blocks from 22 is nothing. I walk all the way from the top to the bottom of the hill to catch T-third sometimes. What I really look forward from the TEP is the new 12 line that connects Potrero hill to downtown and Chinatown. Believe it or not there is no simple transit to downtown at the moment. Before I’d take 15 sometimes. Now even this option is gone.

  • Also, post-TEP the 33 will be re-routed off of Potrero Ave, taking much of the route that the 22 now runs after it turns off 16th.


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