Inner Sunset Organizers Take a Serious Look at Irving Street Public Plaza

This concept for a plaza on Irving Street at 10th Avenue is intended as a “conversation starter” for the Irving Commons project. Image: Chris Duderstadt

The vision for a block-long pedestrian plaza on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset is taking the next step, with the launch of a community-based study. Dubbed “Irving Commons,” the plaza idea was warmly received by neighbors when it was presented two years ago at Inner Sunset Sundays, a street party organized four times per year on the block of Irving between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Chris Duderstadt, an organizer of the Irving Commons Project, at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=290853331039722&set=a.277706035687785.1073741825.172203366238053&type=1&theater##Inner Sunset Sundays via Facebook##

The Irving Commons Project is being led by a group of local organizers, including Adam Greenfield, an organizer of Inner Sunset Sundays and president of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors board. He emphasized that the study is not necessarily a campaign for the plaza, but simply an examination of its potential. “We started to realize that doing the occasional street event was so limited in what we could do, so the idea started coming out: What if this were a permanent gathering space?”

Taking cues from successful plazas in SF and other cities, organizers say the location appears to meet all the right qualifications. It’s right next to the bustling neighborhood hub of Ninth and Irving, where four transit lines, including the N-Judah — Muni’s busiest — either pass through or stop nearby. But the block itself has no transit lines or garage entrances. Meanwhile, it’s home to a variety of businesses and gets a lot of walking and biking traffic.

The vast majority of the block, however, is essentially a parking lot. Lincoln Way, one block over, serves as the main thruway for drivers.

“It’s definitely worth a study,” D5 Supervisor London Breed told Streetsblog at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. “I think it’s a great idea, and I love the fact that they’re coming together to talk about it, and they’re not trying force anything down anyone’s throat. They’re saying, we want to see what’s possible.”

The plaza study is intended to flesh out traffic impacts (with help from city planners, organizers hope) and the potential benefits to nearby businesses. It will also survey how people get to the street. Surveys done on similar commercial streets like Polk, Columbus, Geary in the Richmond, and Irving west of 19th Avenue have consistently found that the proportion of people arriving without cars is roughly around 80 percent.

Irving, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, on an average day. Delivery drivers are routinely double-parked on the wide roadway. Photo: Aaron Bialick

One successful precedent that organizers point to is in Boulder, Colorado, where the four-block Pearl Street Mall was built in 1977 “despite controversies relating to a projected lack of parking and disruption of businesses,” according the Downtown Boulder website.

“There was a lot of resistance, and now it’s become probably one of the greatest assets of the city,” said Hillary Griffith, executive director of Boulder Green Streets, who attended Inner Sunset Sundays while in SF. “Now, people come from all over. It’s the heart of the city.”

In an early sign of support for the Irving Commons, organizers gathered dozens of signatures at both Inner Sunset Sundays events, where boards were laid out explaining the idea.

When I asked Breed if she thinks Irving Commons could become a neighborhood centerpiece akin to Japantown’s Peace Plaza, also in District 5, she said, “Potentially, but I want to emphasize to people that we’re talking about a study. It may reveal that it’s not a good idea. We don’t know what people feel about it. Not everyone’s been able to provide input.”

  • The petition is now a public record as it has been sent to our supervisor’s office. The meeting with our supervisor’s office is also online as a public record. I’m not about to do your homework for you. Go to city government’s website to check out the validity of my claims.

    You’ve been underestimating the commitment, effectiveness and strength of the opposition from the get-go, just as you did with the failed Noe Valley street closure attempt.

  • murphstahoe

    For completeness -here is Jerry’s response before he edited it

    Jerry Gerber

    How do you know the merchants want their names published? How do you know they don’t want to antagonize customers over an essentially political issue? I don’t make claims I can’t back up. I actually just found out our numbers that are even larger than what I wrote. And the meeting with our supervisor’s office is online as a public record. Check it if you want.
    You’ve been underestimating the commitment, effectiveness and strength of the opposition, just as you did with the Noe Valley street closure attempt.

  • I make edits for brevity, grammar, precision and truthfulness, and Murphy publishes an earlier version that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say. What desperation drives this poor soul? I actually don’t know if any of the over 70 merchants who’ve signed the petition want or don’t want their names made public (which is why I removed it, I am not interested in making false or inaccurate statements online), but it hardly matters because I’ll write it again: the petition is PUBLIC RECORD as all correspondence with our supervisor is online. I’m not going to waste my time putting names on a blog for this fool because he’s too lazy to check the public record.

    Murphy lives in Noe Valley, so any headaches for the residents, homeowners and merchants on Irving street would not be his concern. His concern is purely ideological: facts and truth have no part in this person’s worldview. He was pushing hard to close off a street in Noe Valley, but fortunately, intelligence prevailed and the people in that neighborhood stopped it.

    Finally, MTA did a study on the closure of Noe Street at 24th and they concluded that by closing off Noe street at 24th there would be a 3000% increase in traffic on adjacent streets (not a typo, 3000% increase in traffic congestion). Since there are 4 bus lines adjacent to the proposed Irving street closure (44, N-Judah, 43 and 71) it’s pretty obvious to most thinking people what will happen to traffic on adjacent streets, probably much worse than the MTA Noe Valley study predicts. And of course, with increased traffic congestion comes more danger to pedestrians. Every car and truck heading west on Irving toward 9th would have to turn left or right–which means every car must enter a crosswalk, which isn’t the case now because many vehicles can proceed west on Irving without having to turn into a crosswalk. This will impact pedestrian safety.

  • murphstahoe

    Come on Jerry. You deleted “How do you know the merchants want their names published? How do you
    know they don’t want to antagonize customers over an essentially
    political issue?” because you realized that by saying so you admit that the merchants are afraid that their customers want this project to go forward even if they don’t. It’s public record? I’ll defer to the residents of that neighborhood who support that project to get the petition – and rather than simply publishing the names perhaps go talk to the merchants and open a discussion.

    For reference, the primary merchant proudly displaying a sign protesting the project in Noe Valley was Tuggey’s Hardware. I don’t think Tuggey’s died a quick and very painful death because of that stance – but I do think that stance was in line with the fact that the store’s owner was – after 100 years – completely disassociated with the tenor of the neighborhood.

    And since you are so much for the truth – please do point us to the SFMTA study with the (not a typo) 3000% increase in traffic. I’d like to stroll down memory lane.

  • Murphy, are you incapable of research? I’m not your student, your lackey, your employee or your servant. If you want me to do research for you, I charge $90 an hour. You can pay me in advance 5 hours at a time and I’ll be happy to dig up the information you request. And if your reading comprehension is adequate, you’d recall that I wrote that over 100 residents have signed on. These residents ARE the customers, so I doubt your theory as to why I deleted what I wrote rings true. Your presumptuousness is boring.

    We actually have over 75 merchant signatures on the petition to keep Irving Street open, I was just informed. And we are gathering more all the time.

  • murphstahoe

    Nice. Throw out false statistics and when challenged on them, tell the person challenging them to dispute your claim. Karl Rove would be proud.

    By the way, I just saw an SFMTA study that the Irving project would reduce traffic in the area by 50%. But I don’t have time to find the link for you.

  • murphstahoe

    And if your reading comprehension is adequate, you’d recall that I wrote that over 100 residents have signed on.

    That is less than 2% of the target area’s population.

  • No, actually you didn’t because there is no study. And if there were, I’d know about it, because unlike you, I do my homework…

  • Probably safer than the real live actual non-hypothetical woman who got off the N and was hit by a car.

  • All what evidence?

  • Where does this 85% number come from?

  • Where does this 85%-87% number come from?

  • @Jerry Gerber – Actually it’s an opening, not closing, of a block. Though a closed mind might not realize that.

    I’m not surprised that 70 merchants in that area (which is not “the vast majority”) would sign onto something foolish, because parking. There is a track record there: Approving the underground parking garage in the park (and, oopsy, the gridlock it’s prompted), because parking. Opposing the farmers’ market, because parking. Fussing about the street fair, because parking. Fussing about what has turned out to be a very successful parklet, because parking.

    At least nobody’s proposed a Car Critical Mass this time.

  • Jason Thorpe

    Perhaps this will come as a shock to you, but the vast majority of the cars I see headed west on Irving *already* turn right onto 9th. A few turn left, and a few go straight, to be sure… but in doing so they often act as if it’s two lanes in that direction (even with the pedestrian bulb-out there !!). Forcing traffic into one traffic pattern (turns only, no right-on-red, and a split signal cycle, giving pedestrians a protected crossing of 9th Ave on either side of Irving) would bring some much-needed sanity to that intersection.

    Oh, care to provide the date of that meeting with Supervisor Breed?

  • halbur

    Jerry’s figure below is correct – 85-87% of the pedestrian plazas built in this country have failed to bring the sort of vitality they promised, and have in many cases killed the life that was there (see: http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2013/07/25/16th-street-among-a-rare-breed-most.html?page=all) That said, I will admit that perhaps in SF such a thing is possible, since the city is already dense. I trust David Baker to understand the issues and make it work. But on the whole, I don’t think the effort is worth the gain. Golden Gate Park is one block away.

  • gneiss

    What I find interesting about the that article you cite is that it talks about the factors that lead to success as well as those for failure. Here’s whay they say leads to a successful implementation:

    “Among the keys to a successful mall, the study concluded, are a varied mix of active uses and activities; a large population of “captive” users (such as downtown residents and workers); efficient public transit; strong anchors that draw pedestrians (popular stores and restaurants, for example); centralized, coordinated retail management; and a nearby college.

    That latter point would help to explain the continued success of Boulder’s four-block pedestrian Pearl Street Mall, closed to traffic in 1976 and today a lively street circus of students, buskers and strollers.”

    I’d say that the area along Irving Street (and it fact many shopping districts in San Francisco) conform to those success factors. To suggest that SF is in any way similar to Kalamazoo, Fresno, or Sacramento, ignores the very real fact that many more people live, work, and shop within the city than in any of those other places. Recent studies by the MTA on Polk Street back this up. People who live in the central neighborhoods simply do not head out to suburban shopping destinations but walk and take transit to do most of their shopping.

  • ladyfleur

    It’s one block in the middle of a dense neighborhood. The ones that failed were largely multi-block closures in an attempt to make an dying downtown area appealing again to suburban dwellers by making it more shopping mall-like.

  • murphstahoe

    “You do your homework”. You just said you cannot get me the reference for the 3000% number in Noe Valley. How can that be? Surely you did your homework on that statistic and checked it before posting it, because you are so diligent.

    But you don’t because there was no data of that sort. You are making that up. The worst part is that you then repeat that lie to everyone you are trying to get to sign the petition. Democracy in action.

  • murphstahoe

    I don’t think the effort is worth the gain. Golden Gate Park is one block away.

    Golden Gate Park being one block away is not relevant. There is a huge difference between being in that park – and being in a pedestrianized retail area.

    The Boulder Creek Path is one block away from the Pearl Street Mall. Had Boulder residents refrained from installing the Pearl Street Mall because of proximity to the creek, they would have not built the greatest pedestrian gem in the country.

  • Sean Rea

    Can you let us know which merchants? I live in the neighborhood and would like to know which ones to stop frequenting.

  • halbur

    I don’t want to be the party pooper here, it is great to see people engaging with their local built environment and thinking things could be different. I’m just interjecting a note of caution from experience, and it feels like this idea is half-baked.

  • murphstahoe

    I was living in Boulder when they built the Mall in Boulder and the one in Denver – both wildly successful.

    The difference I see. The failed malls were places that were already down, and it was a hail mary to see if putting in a ped plaza could fix that. Pearl Street and 16th Street were places that had nominally established uses and the cities were hoping to keep them vibrant in the face of increasing car usage.

    To me, this makes sense because when you go to the Irving corridor, there are established businesses and pedestrians. This improves things for current users and is thus additive, as opposed to trying to figure out if by changing things we can attract users that don’t exist.

    Comparing SF to Kalamazoo or even Sacramento is silly. Boulder – especially near where the mall is fairly close to campus, is a better parallel to the Inner Sunset.

  • January 30, 2014, 1pm.

  • coolbabybookworm

    wow, you actually exist in a parallel universe with 41 days per month. (for the record, Jerry first posted the meeting was on January 39th)

  • Really? Then why did the city not get behind the closure of Noe Street? The MTA study had a lot to do with why your side lost.

    And you call it “democracy in action” when only 6 people go to the city– –to the supervisor, the planning dept. and MTA about their idea to close off Irving Street without consulting, discussing or even telling the very people who live and work adjacent to the proposed street closure “democratic”? That’s what happened here in the Inner Sunset.

    You’ve obviously got a lot of rage and a lot of extra time on your hands. You can continue to be the jerk that you are, but it is entirely irrelevant to what we’re doing. I am no longer responding to any of your comments, posts or questions.

  • Why don’t you do that on your own time and ask them?

  • What kind of jerks am I dealing with here? January 39th was an obvious typo and you know it. The fact that you have to make a big deal about a small typo that was corrected within a minute of posting tells me you people are grasping at straws and are still angry about not getting your way in Noe Valley.

  • Actually, it’s over 90% of the merchants within a two block distance from the proposed street closure! The people who will have the most say about this are those who will be most impacted by it.

  • coolbabybookworm

    It’s always funny when someone is so tightly wound. And it really does seem like we live in alternative universes that somehow cross.

  • murphstahoe

    Then why did the city not get behind the closure of Noe Street?

    Projects like this are generally subject to the sponsorship of the District Supervisor. In this case it was Bevan Dufty. The people who opposed the project really scared the crap out of Supervisor Dufty, and he feared that supporting the project would have an impact on his Mayoral aspirations. That didn’t work out so well for him.

    Meanwhile – current Supervisor Scott Wiener was the only one of the Supervisor candidates running in the campaign who supported the trial – standing in front of a room that had been yelling at Supervisor Dufty Scott calmly explained that he supported the project. Since then he has supported similar projects. He won handily, and his prospects going forward are bright.

  • murphstahoe

    Merchants – important. Residents – not important. Noted.

  • exemplary1

    If we had these very same residents and merchants a hundred years ago, would there have been a Golden Gate Park? No way. The greed and selfishness expressed is beyond amazing.

    A car-centric SF no longer works. With or without closure, we have gridlock everywhere. Horns and traffic all weekend long on Irving. Let’s make the right choices now that make our city as pleasant as other world-class cities do, where they place pedestrians and public transport above cars.

  • exemplary1

    To follow you claim, is Golden Gate park a “failed” park? How do you measure that? Why, it could be all urban, with parking spots, houses, and other aspects of a hardcore urban space – then would it be a success? It’s ridiculous and fraudulent for anyone using the word “success” and ” pedestrian plaza,” there is a quality of life beyond your slide calculators.

  • exemplary1

    There he goes again…The urban planner. Vitality? The block is a mass of people already, who can barely walk around each other. If it’s closed to cars, despite a world-class museums withing two blocks distance, people would stop coming? Have you been to Paris? Hello!?

  • exemplary1

    These streets are already gridlocked. We are not the suburbs, people should use and the city should improve public transportation. Anyone who has been to London, New York, Paris, or Rome knows you don’t drive up to the Eiffel tower and park – and these cities regularly close streets or convert parking lots into public spaces, it has nothing to do with age of the cities, after all there is far more density in Europe.

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