Two blocks of Stockton Street in the bustling Union Square shopping district are being converted into a pedestrian plaza for the holidays. The roadway has been occupied by Central Subway construction machinery for a couple of years now, but now crews are taking a break and covering up the site with turf for what's been dubbed Winter Walk SF, "an inviting open plaza in the heart of Union Square" that will run until the new year.
The two blocks "will be open for winter merriment with a nightly light art show projected on the Macy's Men's Building featuring Jack Frost's adventures as he spreads festive icicles throughout San Francisco," states the Union Square Business Improvement District on its website. "Expect caroling, demos and other wintery surprises."
The pedestrianization project should boost the bottom line for Union Square merchants during the big holiday shopping season. When Stockton was closed to cars in 2011, and remained open to buses, taxis, and people walking and biking, they said they saw a jump in business. However, ever since construction ramped up with cranes, and pedestrians have been corralled into a narrow passage, some merchants have complained that they've lost business.
Union Square's throngs of shoppers could certainly use more pedestrian space, and the Stockton plaza project could leave many wondering why cars should ever return to Stockton in the long run. Stockton and Powell Streets seem like good candidates for transit malls -- streets populated solely by people, bikes, buses, and cable cars. SFMTA planners say they plan to look at ways to reconfigure the car traffic flow around Union Square after subway construction ends. In the meantime, it seems that many lost drivers apparently end up on Powell instead of on intended detours on streets like Mason.
Adding space for people and businesses on Stockton, rather than giving space back to cars, seems to be a growing trend during peak holiday shopping seasons. On the Chinatown segment of Stockton, car parking has been temporarily replaced with space for merchant stands and pedestrians during the last two Lunar New Year seasons.
Aaron was the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco from January 2012 until October 2015. He joined Streetsblog in 2010 after studying rhetoric and political communication at SF State University and spending a semester in Denmark.