New Supes Proposal Would Expedite Sidewalk Expansions

[Note: This proposal was approved by the full Board of Supervisors.]

Widening sidewalks in San Francisco is a time-consuming task — it’s the only city in California where even minor changes to a sidewalk’s width require legislative approval. But a new proposal headed to the SF Board of Supervisors would cut some of the red tape standing in the way of implementing such street improvements.

"Bulb-outs", or curb extensions, like this one at 7th Avenue and Irving Street could be installed more easily under a new proposal. Image: Google Maps

The proposal, sponsored by Supervisor Scott Weiner and Mayor Ed Lee, was moved forward by the SF Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee today. It would streamline the bureaucratic process for building sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. “bulb-outs”) — a street design tool often used by planners to calm motor traffic, improve pedestrian visibility and comfort, and ease transit boardings at stops — by eliminating an outdated requirement for changes to sidewalk widths less than one block long to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“This will be a significant improvement in our process in terms of making our city more pedestrian-friendly and safer for pedestrians, improving the vibrancy of our commercial districts, and creating more public space that is not for cars, but rather for people,” said Wiener.

“Upon adoption of the Better Streets Plan, we’ve seen more and more projects come through for minor sidewalk changes such as corner bulb-outs for individual projects that don’t exceed one linear block,” said Nick Elsner of the SF Department of Public Works (DPW), the primary agency responsible for implementing sidewalk extensions. “This would greatly expedite and make the process much more efficient.”

According to legislative documents [PDF], the proposal would amend an ordinance passed in 1910 requiring project approval from supervisors, which “result[s] in a very lengthy process and often lead[s] to project delays.” It would also establish a speedier approval process for the SF Planning Department, but projects would still need to be approved by other affected agencies like the SFMTA. The change would save the DPW an estimated $2,500 in processing costs for a block of construction, said spokesperson Gloria Chan, and the SF Planning Department would save about $1,375 in reviews.

Bulb-outs, the documents note, are an important tool in pursuing the city’s goals of improving the pedestrian environment. Stephen Shotland of the Planning Department said the proposal is intended “to be able to move projects forward that really are consistent with the General Plan and consistent with the adopted Better Streets Plan,” which, along with several neighborhood plans cited in the documents, call for improvements like widening congested sidewalks, minimizing crossing distances, and discouraging high-speed car traffic on local streets. “Staff would be able to review projects to make sure that, in fact, is the case,” said Shotland.

The proposal passed the committee today without objection and is expected to go before the full board in the coming weeks.

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