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Great Streets Project Quantifies the Impacts of Parklets

3:30 PM PST on January 5, 2012

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:

Average foot traffic on Stockton Street increased 44% from 304 to 438 people per hour after the parklet was installed. However, there was no significant change in foot traffic at the Valencia Street and Polk Street locations.

The number of people stopping to engage in stationary activities significantly increased at all three locations, especially on weekdays. The greatest increase was on Polk Street where the average nearly tripled from four to 11 people at any given time.

There was also an incremental increase in the number of bikes parked in each location.

The results of the pedestrian survey varied greatly by location. While perception of the area as a good place for socializing and fun increased on Valencia and Polk Streets increased, it decreased on Stockton Street. Perception of the area as a place that looks clean increased on Polk and Stockton Streets, but decreased on Valencia Street.

Although only one of the seven businesses that replied to the business survey observed that customer levels had increased after a parklet was installed, none had observed a decrease in their customer levels.

Five of the seven businesses observed that most of their customers are primarily from the surrounding neighborhood and arrive to their establishment by foot.

None of the businesses reported significant concerns about the parklet regarding loss of nearby street parking or other impacts on their business.

The report supplements a 2010 study of the city's first trial parklet installed in front of Mojo Bicycle Cafe in March of that year, which recorded a jump in pedestrian activity and satisfaction with the site.

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