Mayor Newsom Unveils SF’s First Pavement to Parks Plaza

newsom_holding_court.jpgSupervisor Dufty and Mayor Newsom at the 17th St. plaza dedication cerimony, via Jamison on Flickr

Standing before a crowd of more than 100 people, many of them city staff who had worked to realize the transformation of an underutilized street into a "Pavement to Parks" pedestrian refuge, Mayor Gavin Newsom dedicated the first of at least four such plazas that will be constructed around the city.  

"I know that many of you have been talking about this for… at least 13 or 14 years.  Formally it’s been at least a decade since community groups came together and talked about converting this pavement into a plaza," said Newsom.  "I refer to it as ‘democratizing this public realm’ and the street realm, and looking differently in terms of our open space, open space in terms of taking back this pavement, and converting it into plazas." 

Newsom added: "If we’re successful here…if the community all agrees that this works… if the transit riders and the activists all agree that this works, then we look forward to bringing this to other parts of the city."

The city will evaluate the plazas after 60 days with the community and then extend the trial for another four months, if it is desired.  Additionally, Newsom said three other plazas are already being designed, with support for the concept among supervisors in the districts where they would be located, and there are nine additional locations for the program at some point in the future.  The next three projects will be, in this order:

  • Wolf’s Cafe at 8th Street and 16th Street in Lower Potrero
  • Naples Green in the Excelsior
  • Guerrero Street and San Jose in the outer Mission

Stones.jpgDPW reused curb blocks from their salvage yard and temporary bollards as planters to humanize the space.  Photo: Matthew Roth

DPW Chief Ed Reiskin, considered the driving force of the project, was pleased with the result, though they repainted the plaza at the last minute to the new color (the Mayor was unhappy with the yellow). In the end, Reiskin estimated that the plaza cost between $20,000-25,000, including resources and labor.

"We learned a lot in the process.  There are a lot of complexities technically, working with the various city departments.  The purpose of this is to improve things, to improve the public realm, not to make anyone’s life more difficult.  I think the evaluation process will enable us to ensure that there are no adverse effects to anybody."

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who has long supported opening public space in his district, and who helped negotiate with some residents on Hartford Street who were unhappy with the planning process, lauded his constituents and the city as a whole for the vibrant debate that so often accompanies change in San Francisco. 

"Process gives you an opportunity to succeed.  You think about aspects of projects you might not have considered.  If I thought the status quo was good, I would have been more worried, but this has basically felt like a freeway on this street, such fast moving traffic coming East on Market Street.  This is an intersection that has had so much red light crossing, dangerous conditions."   

"Our goal is to really create new, exciting public spaces in San Francisco and I’m thrilled that they’re starting here in the Castro District," he added. "We’ve needed more places to have a commons, more places to be together and enjoy each other in these busy days.  More people and less traffic is a recipe for a great city."

Liz Ogbu, Project Designer for Public Architecture, which donated its time and services to realize the design of the project, said, "This pedestrian plaza can help connect people to a place, a neighborhood, and a community.” 

City Planning Director John Rahaim said that the concerns that had been raised by residents on Hartford Street was illustrative for the department and for future projects. "This is a lesson in things we can do simply and relatively quickly and frankly to test it out.  Each case is a laboratory for the next case; it’s a great model for us."

crowd.jpgThe crowd listening to Supervisor Dufty introducing the plaza. Photo: Matthew Roth

Now that the project has been installed, the test of its success will require public use and enjoyment of the space.  The Castro/Upper Market CBD will oversee much of the maintenance and upkeep of the plaza, including hiring security for weekend hours when club goers and bar hoppers frequent the area. "The CBD board is learning that we really are the entity in the neighborhood to begin to take control and manage the space.  But we’re going to approach it more as the coordinator, coordinating with other neighborhood associations and other neighborhood groups to pool all of our ideas and resources… so that a lot of diversity and a lot of different kinds of programming can occur here."

Kit Hodge, Director of the Great Streets Project, said they are focusing on analysis of the project, conducting baseline studies of pedestrian and bicycle counts and street-user surveys.  They will repeat the surveys in two months and conduct a business study to gauge impact on commercial interests. "I think overall people vote with their feet and with their dollars.  If we see a measurable increase in numbers in the plaza…as well as a positive impact to businesses, I think that’s a huge measure of success."

At the end of his remarks, Mayor Newsom underscored the simplicity of the installation of the project and the importance of activating and managing the space now that it has been installed.

"It took 17 years of planning, 72 hours to install," said Newsom.  "It’s not that complex.  We can be doing a lot more of this and in a quicker way if you adopt and embrace this proposal.  We are counting on all of you."

See more photos of the project on our Flickr pool here.

plaza_table.jpgA couple enjoy the plaza after the dedication ceremony ended. Several others were using the tables to craft jewelry and have lunch. Photo: Matthew Roth

  • “Is this a world where there is never any iterative, incremental approach to the ideal?”

    An interesting point to make since you are the only one who’s calling the 6 month trial plaza built with donated materials “a disaster for the bicycle network” when everyone else is looking at it for what it is: a 6 month trial and the start of an iterative, incremental approach.

    The latest issue of the SF Bike Coalition newsletter, Tube Times, has a cover story about the 17th street plaza. They’re working with SPUR and the Livable Streets Initiative to build upon the plaza trail and return the streets to pedestrians and cyclists with something they’re calling the Great Streets Project which seems like just the kind of iterative, incremental approach you ask for.

    I look forward to your next comment and seeing how you will rationalize that as being a conspiracy against bicyclists.

  • thegreasybear

    The claim that “the 17th and Market design is a disaster for the bicycle network” is so obviously false that it casts doubt not only on Marcos’ intellectual capacity, but also his intellectual honesty. Ludicrous.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, So you’re saying that you’ll tolerate dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians as part of a pilot project?


  • A couple comments back, Marcos created a straw man of the plaza’s “dangerous conditions” with an example of a few confused people, possibly tourists on bikes. Here’s what he wrote:

    There were five cyclists, apparently tourists, who were by Milk Plaza trying to figure out how to get east past the plaza into the Mission. They ended up very confused, being funneled into the pedestrian crosswalk and since there is no good way to get towards Noe via 17th, what with streetcars completely blocking the roadway, they had to use the sidewalk, some riding, some walking, all competing with peds, all confused.

    In this scenario, the problem is too narrowly defined as trying to get from the West side of Market at Castro towards Noe street by way of 17th. It’s a common and easy mistake to make, confusing goals and the tasks needed to accomplish those goals. I see this happen in my design work all the time and it isn’t hard to get caught up in making the tasks easier the end goal gets lost. A recent example I’ve been using is Apple making the MacBook batteries non-removable, it got some users upset because they would buy, charge and change out batteries for a longer lifespan, but making in non-removable Apple was able to use space more effectively to put in more batter cells and extend the lifetime more conveniently and at a lower cost.

    In this case, the goal is to get to Noe, and the task is traversing 17th Street to get there. Marcos is trying to solve the problem of getting across 17th easier, without taking the step back to look at whether 17th is the best way to get from Harvey Milk Plaza to Noe. There is the obvious problem of pedestrians and furniture scattered around plaza and even once you get passed that you still have a pair of streetcar tracks in the middle of the road and 17th intersects Noe at a T with track curving off in both directions. Having been twice forced by cars to swerve onto tracks where I then got thrown over, I would make every attempt to avoid the chance of that happening and when you do have to cross tracks make sure it’s as close to perpendicular as possible.

    Sigh… if only there was some other street which connect Castro to Noe, preferably one with existing bike lanes and has minimal interference with streetcar tracks. Oh wait, that’s right: Market Street. Market Street connects to Noe and though it has a streetcar on it, the tracks are a full lane over from the bike lane it also has. Going back to the scenario Marcos provided us, these folks could at Harvey Milk plaza could have just crossed Castro and continued down Market to Noe, but it seems that instead they choose not to cross as vehicles and instead competed with pedestrians in the crosswalk and then entered into the pedestrian plaza and instead of following the non-painted crosswalk through it which would have lead them to Market, they choose to again compete with pedestrians and streetcars to get through the pedestrian plaza.

    If there is a safer, easier route that allows cyclists to avoid as much conflict as possible (with pedestrians, streetcars, streetcar tracks and vehicles in this case) and does not take them out of their way (no more than one block in this case, less than I have to walk to get to the nearest bus stop) then if I were designing it that’s what I would optimize for. Its probably as simple as improved wayfinding signage for cyclists about which way to take. When the plaza trial began, signs were put up telling drivers it was not a through street, but I don’t think anything was put up for cyclists telling them Market works better.

    There are also the bigger societal goals of getting more people to use bikes, reducing car trips, making it safer to ride a bike, and taking back roads for bikes and pedestrians. Here they aren’t exactly the same, the trial project is demonstrating that even with a streetcar terminal people will hang out in a plaza while directing bikes onto Market (which I noted already has a bike lane) instead of through the plaza reduces the conflicts with other modes and would increase the number of cyclists (I don’t see many cyclists on this bit of 17th, I don’t think there really are that many compared to those already using Market) and therefore their visibility both for safety and create a stronger presences as a viable mode of transportation.

  • marcos

    Here’s the bicycle map of the intersections:

    “Towards Noe” means to points east, not “to Noe.”

    17th Street is the signed segment of the bicycle network which connects Castro and Market to the Mission. Market is the signed segment of the bicycle network which connects Castro and Civic Center to downtown and the Financial District. Maybe once we get through with this program of bike lane consolidation (bike a bit further for a nicer, faster bike lane?) we can only have one bike lane that gets us everywhere so there is no need for signage, reductio ad absurdum.

    The predicate for removing auto lanes for other uses is to create a transit-first environment in their place and must prioritize non-motorized movement first.

    How can this happen if the City is “blowing through” its bicycle network plan, and in so doing, creating dangerous conditions? Maybe I was being over sensitive when I brought this problem up to MTA staff when they dedicated the project, however sitting by on Sunday and watching others mungle through the setup provided independent verification for my hunch that this setup is problematic and ill-thought out from an engineering standpoint.

    The problem here is that the pilot project carved out a mere sliver of space with no margin for error or iterative improvement. Restore 17th Street for bicycle traffic? No can do, because there is only sufficient space for one row of tables on 17th. This design says that table sitters are more important than bicyclists on this street, that if there is insufficient space, cyclists lose. So in this case, the balance of safety was given to pedestrians and table sitters carved out at the expense of cyclists and to a lesser degree the peds who have to negotiate an ill-planned intersection with them.

    Yes, engineering moderately complicated systems is “hard,” but that’s what we’re paying city staff to do, to think this stuff out beforehand and to anticipate and reconcile any problems so identified. In this case, the group think culture of our intrepid urban pioneers and livable streets vanguard was so convinced of its own correctness that there was no need for in depth contemplation, JUST DO IT!

    But when we try to take shortcuts, like was done in the bike plan, we end up “doing harm.” I’m not suggesting that we adopt some sort of absolute Hippocratic oath for transportation engineers or worship at the temple of planning things to death, but let’s at least disclose to the decision makers who’s taking the hit from our spiffy new pilot project and at least have an analytical toolkit at the ready to evaluate the pilot project. But this notion that because our motives and goals are pure (as we and our friends deem them), any nasty side effects from our tactics are tolerable (often by others) must be dismissed.

    Has anyone seen the evaluation toolkit for this pilot project that will forward lessons learned to the next go-round to prevent making the same mistakes next time?


  • thegreasybear

    Apparently, “group think” is marcos’ word for “anything I don’t think.”

  • marcos

    ‘Apparently, “group think” is marcos’ word for “anything I don’t think.”‘

    Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.


  • Hey marcos and thegreasybear,
    can we get back on topic and stop being nasty before we shut down the comments here?


  • marcos

    C’mon, Matthew. I’d related an anecdote from this weekend that validated previous observations and was jumped all over.

    We’ve got to keep in mind that most public policy, no matter how well intentioned, has unintended negative consequences. Either we anticipate that and have processes to incorporate what we’ve learned post-deployment into on-the-ground solutions, as one would hope would come as standard equipment with a pilot project, or we or we ignore it and hope for the best.

    Good intentions do not trump responsibility.

    @Jamison Wieser, just noticed that. [Superlative] [Infrastructure] projects come and go in San Francisco, kind of the way that [Colored] [Noun] dot.coms did a decade ago. Let’s hope that The Great Streets Project does without SPUR’s developer lobbyism and hostility to neighborhoods and the SFBC’s “compromise to please” and Ahab proclivities. I’m leery of the extent to which “place making” can be done using a SIM City cookie cutter wielded by technocrats, as there are case studies in sterility abound, Mint Plaza, YBC, 3d/King, for instance.

    But I’d like to see streetscape reclaimed from autos for a variety of purposes, but want to see equity amongst modalities as well as the sizable expense of DPW crews waking up in those six sleepers to move concrete and bollards balanced against other commitments such as keeping Muni fares low and striping bike lanes. Communities need to be given the tools with which to chart their own courses rather than these projects being rained down from upon high as political chits absent any pretense of equity. See the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods matching funds program. [1]

    Imagine getting neighbors involved in creating a space on their terms, a space that might actually serve as a center of community. I saw more community and “sense of place” at the bear Starbucks on 18th than I did at the sliver space.

    Places worth being at are not made by developer lobbyists, advocacy groups and city staff, they arise organically, by accretion, as a palimpsest, constant writing and erasures. You really can’t bottle this stuff nor can you zone for it, current economics don’t give a rat’s ass about place, hence my concern with SPUR as a creature of those economics. Much conduct conducive to successful place making is prohibited by the SFPD in these newly made, often privatized, places as well.


  • Projects come and go by their very nature. This trial plaza is a 6 month project, which will likely come to a close with the start of another project to design a permanent plaza. Some folks are already looking ahead to what comes next rather than dwelling on what is there now, especially since it’s already a third of the way through.

    I saw more community and “sense of place” at the bear Starbucks on 18th than I did at the sliver space.

    You should have been there Saturday, a concert was held in the plaza for the Fourth of July.

  • marcos

    @Jamison Wieser, so you’re saying its okay to create dangerous conditions by disrupting the bicycle network so long as it only lasts six months?


  • @marcos, you actually never said whether any of those those tourists managed to survive crossing the plaza? Are they ok? How badly were they injured? I didn’t hear about anyone falling under a streetcar or mauled to death by over-caffeinated people-watchers sitting in the plaza?

  • thegreasybear

    The temporary plaza is not obviously a “disaster for the bike network.” That claim remains unsupported–and likely unsupportable. Why would anyone make such a claim?

    Nor is the temporary plaza obviously “dangerous.” Cyclists who refuse to use the Market Street bicycle lane a mere handful of feet to the north and insist on barging through the plaza can still do so safely, by dismounting and walking their bikes for half a block before resuming their journey without incident.

    As for the supposed disruption this plaza causes “the network,” how so? How many “network” users rolled between the jaywalkers, renegade motorists and trolley-tracks at 17th and Castro before the plaza, anyway? Have any such riders been forced to abort their journeys at 17th Street in total confusion because of the plaza? And can we not save “the network” from disruption by re-routing bikes around the plaza?

  • And can we not save “the network” from disruption by re-routing bikes around the plaza?

    I question why “the network” even contained 17th to start with. Take a look at the bike map excerpt Marcos linked to and you’ll see the eastbound route is traveling down the Hill on Market until Castro, where it gets diverted onto 17th instead for two block and then makes a left turn at Sanchez for a couple blocks back instead of just continuing straight along Market in the first place.

    Why doesn’t the bike route go directly down Market (which has bike lanes) to begin with? Probably because people used to come speeding down the hill and left onto 17th at Castro and across the path on any cyclists going straight. Closing 17th at Market prevents cars from making that slight left and crossing the path of a cyclist.

    Westbound, the map seems to show the bike route following 17th across Market, but since the streets don’t connect and traffic is forced right at Market anyway. Also anyone heading westbound up 17th would be using the same lane the tracks are in, up a steeper hill than Market and would have to cross Market and then cross Castro to continue along 17th instead of just using Market to begin with.

    Does anyone know the background of this? Looking at the bike map again, that two block diversion onto 17th looks like it might have been a compromise. Maybe if we go back to the original reasoning for that route, maybe the closure of 17th eliminates a problem that lead to the design and can now be fixed.

  • Slight clarification in the second sentence of my second paragraph, by “Probably because people used to come speeding…” I mean drivers specifically here.

  • Regardless, 17th Sucks. I used to live at 20th and Eureka, and would ride right past 17th on Harrison to get to 18th, and take 18th all the way to Eureka. Much better. 15th, also much better.

  • marcos

    @Jamison Wieser, the bicyclists, 5 or 6 of ’em were coming east on the southern crosswalk at Castro and 17th Street. They make clumsy attempts to get onto 17th, with pedestrian LOS degraded. Some cyclists biked, some walked, some did a bit of each down the sidewalk in front of the Glass Coffin as they tried to figure out how to continue down the bike route to the Mission.

    Congestion and confusion at that point due to poor design impacts pedestrians, cyclists and possibly the 24 Muni line. If we’re trying to improve Muni flow, we don’t need to be putting elements of “congestion by design” in their paths.

    We also just went through the ordeal of fighting for a bike plan that included the bicycle network that is 12 years old. Either we spend the resources to come up with and pass a plan and we use it to inform subsequent projects, or we just go off willy nilly and allow new projects to screw existing efforts.

    Some of us have been calling on a new bike plan process which would allow for review of the existing plan and the development of a sustainable bike facility review and implementation schedule. The folks who get paid to do this sort of thing appear to have been collecting paychecks for watching the paint dry on the 2002 bike plan update rather than thinking a few steps in advance. This is what i mean when I say that the relevant parties took the 1997 bike route network, engraved it into a granite monument, polished it up and put a nice cloth over it, and have nothing else to do until that laundry list is exhausted.

    The choices are all bad at 17th, these discussions went down ten years ago. 16th and 18th have Muni lines, Noe and 17th have streetcar tracks. That’s what happens when you have incongruent street grids coming together. Why anyone would forget the bad choices and make things worse like this is beyond me.

    @thegreasybear, the design is dangerous in two ways. It causes congestion as above, forcing cyclists onto a narrow sidewalk with pedestrians or, to avoid that, would incline cyclists to avoid that without much of a plan.

    The other issue has to do with the right turn onto Market. Used to be that a cyclist could come up the Castro hill and turn right on red through the pocket turn by the F line terminal. This was not precisely legal, but in the absence of a street car turning, was perfectly safe as the turn ended up in the Market Street bike lane.

    Now, with the plaza blocking off that pocket turn, cyclists are forced to take a hairpin turn, going further into Market Street, in order to get to the bike lane. This exposes cyclists to the possibility of being hit by a turning streetcar as visibility is impinged by the planters and the turn can be blind to the rear. Should I look at signage, my wheels and the streetcar tracks, traffic starting east on Market or the streetcar? The original design had a safer angle of attack to cross the streetcar tracks, the hairpin turn requires a sharp left in order to cross the tracks safely.

    The existing legal bicycle movement right on 17th was removed as indicated on the official map, with no signage to indicate how to safely compensate.

    The bicycle network is supposed to be the safe place to bike. This adds new unsafe features to the bicycle network. But your friends support it, the notion of reclaiming streets from autos is ‘hip’ and ‘cool,’ so please, jump on the group think wagon and enjoy the ride.


  • thegreasybear

    17th at Castro never made sense as a westbound bike route, agreed. A cyclist who wants to travel west of Castro is going to need to be on either 18th or Market anyway. It would not in any way harm “the network” to reroute westbound cyclists onto those same streets a block or two east of the plaza.

    Even as an eastbound bike route, 17th at Castro is–at best–a wash. Cyclists access it either by climbing a hill northbound on Castro from 18th, or have to dismount and use the crosswalk to access it from southbound Castro. Once cyclists have gone to all that trouble, they are treated to the only east-west sidestreet in the area lined with trolley tracks and idling streetcars. Hardly an indispensable part of the network, the Castro end of 17th isn’t even that desirable as a cycling route.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, If the City wants to have a conversation about rerouting the bicycle network, that’s fine, just figure out what changes are to be made going to make BEFORE obviating that discussion via concrete, especially when the new design does harm.

    These discussions were had a decade ago, and these very questions of 16th/17th/18th were wrestled with. The worst possible path forward would be to say hey, we’ve got a pilot project, so let’s reconfigure the bike route network to accommodate it.

    Again, one organization has established itself as the stewards of bicycle lanes, all bike lanes, all the time for the past decade. Either they were not consulted by the City as to impacts of this pilot project on the bicycle network or they were consulted and they were as effective in representing the interests of bicyclists in this instance as they have been in getting bike lanes built for the past 5 years.

    The best way to shut me up is for things to get done correctly.


  • thegreasybear

    1. We have no compelling argument showing a single person has been “harmed” by the popular new plaza.

    2. We have no compelling argument showing any significant disruption to area cyclists, let alone a “disaster” to cyclists citywide.

    3. We don’t even know for certain how many cyclists ever used this dead-end, track-laden “route” in the first place–so the plaza works no obvious loss of any kind except on paper.

    4. Nobody is required to defend an imaginary and impractical line on paper for its own sake.

    5. It is not obviously harmful or bad to officially re-route that line on paper around the popular new plaza.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, clearly the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

    Either this pilot project ignored the bike network or it did not.

    Either the impacts of ignoring the bike network were anticipated or not.

    If those impacts were anticipated, either they were studied or not.

    Imagine if the City tried to close 16th and Mission with barriers to create a public space and took no steps to analyze the impacts on the 22, 33 and 53 Muni lines.


  • thegreasybear

    This plaza is not worrisome in the slightest–rather, it is a true benefit to the neighborhood. I look forward to using it for years and years to come.

  • marcos

    @thegreasybear, the plaza is supposed to be a pilot project, which supposedly exempted it from environmental review, so I’d not count on it being around very long.

    My worry, as a property tax payer. is that poor design will expose the City to litigation having been informed that they’ve created a dangerous condition should something go wrong.

    Who cares about the flesh and blood of individuals who must contend with ill-conceived bicycle and ped movements if we can have a sliver space for a few months and offload the responsibility for bad design onto property owners.

    City staffers admitted to me on opening day that the design could use some work as respects bikes and peds. Sycophants like @greasybear would make suggestions to the contrary only at the risk fo diminishing their credibility.


  • thegreasybear

    Meanwhile, in reality, liking the new plaza is entirely acceptable and reasonable.

    Oh, and Marcos–with your gratuitous name-calling I’m now going to ask you to stop addressing me personally on this site. I’ve got no time for your constant hyper-negativity about absolutely everything and everyone.


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