New Ordinance Streamlines Conversion of Gas Stations to Ped-Friendly Uses

The Arco gas station at Fell and Divisadero Streets, where a queue of drivers regularly blocks the sidewalk and bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Board of Supervisors today approved changes to the city’s planning code to make it easier for developers to convert gas stations to uses like apartments and storefronts on major transit and pedestrian streets.

“Gas stations have a lot of [drivers] coming in and out, and they can slow down transit,” said Judson True, an aide to Supervisor David Chiu, at a hearing of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee last week. “In a transit-first city, while we want to make sure there are some gas stations, on primary transit corridors, this allows them to be converted under certain parameters without a Conditional Use authorization.”

By removing the hurdle of obtaining a Conditional Use permit — an exemption from local planning regulations — the amendment is intended “to balance the desire to retain [gas stations] with city policies which support walking, cycling, and public transportation, and which encourage new jobs and housing to be located in transit corridors,” according to the Board of Supes’ summary of the bill [PDF].

In addition to attracting car traffic that often blocks transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks, gas stations are voids in the urban fabric that degrade the pedestrian environment. On a block of Divisadero Street between Fell and Oak Streets, which is packed with three gas stations, street safety advocates held protests in 2010 calling for the closure of a driveway at an Arco gas station where drivers regularly block the bike lane on Fell. The situation improved somewhat after the SFMTA painted the bike lane green and removed parking spaces to create a longer queuing space. Though major street improvements are planned for Fell and Oak, the Arco entrance would remain mostly as it is, and it’s unclear whether these routes would be considered primary transit or pedestrian streets.

The ordinance, which also includes a provision expanding the enforceable bike parking requirements within buildings, is part of a larger effort underway by Livable City and Supervisor Chiu to reform myriad aspects of the city’s planning code. Stay tuned for more coverage of this ongoing campaign.

A gas station at the corner of Market and Buchanan Streets, where the Wiggle begins, is currently being converted into a ## condo building## with ground-level retail space. Photos: Google Maps and Arquitectonica via Curbed SF
  • mikesonn

    I’d love to see former curb cuts for drive ways also addressed (and Chui might be working on this). We need to start returning garages to living units instead of the other way around.

  • Andy Chow

    We have to remember that there’s no gas station in large part of Northeast SF. Those in the South of Market charge an arm and a leg. That’s why you got a line at gas stations that have a more reasonable prices.

  • mikesonn

    Also several on Lombard and Van Ness. Not to mention that those in South of Market, while on the higher end, aren’t that extreme comparatively speaking. But again, just like parking, people will do crazy things to save a nickel per gallon.

  • The Greasybear

    We also have to remember the convenience of those who choose to drive does not trump the health and safety of the rest of us. If motorists must line up for pollution juice, they need to do so in a way that keeps them out of the bike lanes and off the sidewalks.

  • Andy Chow

    That’s the only one in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, and there’s none in Chinatown, North Beach, Union Square, Nob Hill, Russian Hill.

    It is not the drivers who want to save money on gas and parking, there are also transit riders who are riding free by evading fares or want to ride free by lobbying for free transit passes.

  • mikesonn

    All those areas (especially Chinatown) have very very low rates of car ownership.

    And what do fare evaders have to do with gas stations and sidewalk obstruction?

  • HoJo

    Mike, how would you propose taking away peoples’ garages in their own homes?

    It can cost up to 100K to install a garage in the basement of a SF home. Yet people do it anyway.

    As for gas stations, they arise where the demand is, and perish when the demand isn’t there. I’m not sure we can just set up a commission in charge of where they should be.

  • mikesonn

    Gas stations, like banks, follow each other to certain areas. “Oh, there is a gas station here, must be a good spot for one.” Unless on a highway offramp, really no reason one is located where it is.

  • Regardless. If a developer buys a gas station and decides he wants to make it something else, that’s his right. If the owner of a gas station wants to sell it, that’s his right. Are you advocating that we zone in a requirement for X number of gas stations?

  • HoJo – mike is referring to garages that no longer exist but still have a curb cut in front of them. This privatizes a piece of the street for nothing.

    Converse to your statement, if someone wants to take away their own garage in their own home, and convert it to a non-garage, well, good luck with the permitting and the pitchforks of DR that come from your neighbors…

  • Jeremy

    The sad part is that we don’t have very many Primary Transit Streets, or a very large Pedestrian Network.  The Market St projects would have been helped *slightly*, but Fell and Divis not at all.  Besides, most large projects require a Conditional Use for several other circumstances anyway.  

  • Andy Chow

    It would be his right if someone were to buy a property and want to turn it into a parking garage? Don’t kid ourselves that land use is not heavily regulated. The current policy trend is to make it easier to convert auto facility into a non-auto one. If someone wants to build a gas station in North Beach, would the city give the same support, even though the market might justify it?

    My issue is that the city going half ass by quickly pushing policy against auto usage but with little or no improvements on changing transit experience. I don’t think that would do a whole lot in reducing auto usage, but rather shifting the impact elsewhere (like longer lines at remaining gas stations, and street parking in areas of less restriction.)

  • Anonymous

    “taking away peoples’ garages in their own homes?”

    No one’s proposing that. What I’d like to see is ALLOWING people who WANT to convert their own garages, to do so.

    “It can cost up to 100K to install a garage in the basement of a SF home. Yet people do it anyway.”

    Sure. Here’s the thing though: if they were allowed to install a studio in their basement, they would probably do that instead. Land is expensive here. If you allow people to make more use of it, they will, and generally that’s a good thing. The way it is now, though, you’re allowed to install garages as a matter of course, but anything else is far more difficult. Result: lots of garages.

  • Davistrain

    Even here in the Los Angeles area, we’ve seen a great reduction in the number of service stations.  I can think of several intersections that once had stations on three or four corners that now have none.  The station shown in the photo at Market & Buchanan reminds me of a Muni streetcar photo I took back in 1971; in the background is the gas
    price sign with “Regular” at 29.9 cents per gallon.  This was back when a person could buy a serviceable car for a few hundred bucks and keep it running with Sears, Pep Boys and wrecking yard parts until something expensive failed.  No smog checks to keep the “old jalopies” off the road in those days.

  • Those maps honestly don’t paint a realistic picture of the streets in SF with high foot and transit traffic.

    And every street is part of the pedestrian network.


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