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People, Parklets, and Pavement to Parks (plus Mojo Bicycle Café)

In San Francisco, the Pavement to Parks program has launched an initiative that may someday alter the way many dense U.S. cities decide to treat the streets of their commercial strips.

Taking the PARK(ing) Day concept to a more permanent, logical level, the Parklets Program has begun experimenting with trial spaces allowing businesses to convert parking spaces into outdoor public spaces and cafes.  The first was installed in March outside the Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisdero Street where two parking spaces were reallocated to people-space; now cafe tables & chairs, benches, bike parking, and plants sit over a raised platform over the asphalt.  If all goes well thru the evaluation period, the idea is to eventually turn the process into a regular permitting process that business groups and communities can apply for.  It looks good: owners of Mojo say business is up 30% and they have had to hire more staff.

The Pavement to Parks program has already transformed a number of community spaces in the Castro, Showplace Triangle and Guerrero Park. We briefly look at those at well in this video.

[intro music]

Matthew Roth: [00:01] We’re here in the middle of the San Jose Guerrero Pavement to Parks trial plaza which is really exciting because right where I’m sitting about a year ago would have been a street. Now we have this trial pedestrian plaza, a mini park if you will, and it’s part of the Pavement to Parks Program. It’s an innovative initiative led by the Mayor and the Planning Department here in San Francisco to take underutilised street space and give it back to people.

[music]


Andres Power: [00:37] So here behind us is the city’s first parklet, which is the new design typology under the Pavement to Parks Program, and the idea here really is just sort of very simply and relatively cheaply build out a platform into the parking lane, essentially taking the grade of a sidewalk out into the street, and just providing on top of that sort of a variety of different amenities, so café tables and chairs where appropriate, benching, bike parking, some landscaping.


John McDonald: [01:04] As far as I know we are the first full operation restaurant, beer, wine sandwiches, food, breakfast, lunch, dinner that also is attached directly all one business to a full service and sales bicycle shop, and now has a patio courtesy of the City County of San Francisco.


Andres Power: [01:21] At the end of last year we sort of got the idea sort of inspired by these sort of reclamation of parking lanes, you know, like programs like Parking Day and such, to really think about ways that we could sort of have smaller scale interventions in places where we had a lot of commercial activity, a lot of pedestrian activity on the streets, a lot of bicyclist activity, and looking for places where we could really repurpose and sort of more equally distribute the limited road right of way.


Speaker: [01:46] I’m from down south and there’s so many kind of suburban strip malls, endless places… kind of the same thing. And places like this just have a unique character and I think it’s really great.


Speaker: [01:56] What’s not to like? I mean you get rid of a couple of parking spaces, you add a lot of outdoor tables, I mean that’s what San Francisco’s all about.


John McDonald: [02:03] The space is working amazingly well. We’ve been packed every single day since it opened cos we’ve had probably a 30% increase in business already. We’ve had to hire some more people.


Speaker: [02:14] Our pilot Pavement to Park project, our first plaza project was at the intersection of 17th, Castro and Market Street, which was a place in the city where we had multiple street grids coming together. So we had a lot of… we had a very awkward space for pedestrians, for cyclists. And the idea was to regularise that intersection and in doing so provide some great public space. From that project we did two sort of concurrently, one at the intersection of 8th and 16th in the neighbourhood of Lower Potrero Square. At the same time we also put in a project at the intersection of San Jose and Guerrero.


Matthew Roth: [02:46] The architect, Jane Martin of Plant SF, found these trees in an old park and wreck facility that had recently been uprooted from Golden Gate Park because they were old and they were dying. The very first trees that were planted in Golden Gate Park back when it was just sand dunes, I think, 150 years ago. You see a very active community group here that advocated for this space and then actually a lot of the maintenance of the space is done by neighbours.


John McDonald: [03:13] If I had a business somewhere else and was witnessing what’s happening around here, I would be on the phone to the city trying to make my spot the next location.


Speaker: [03:21] Every café ought to have something like this.


Speaker: [03:23] This is what makes San Francisco such a unique place.


Andres Power: [03:28] Assuming that the trial program goes well, by the end of the year the goal is to have a permit system up and running that would allow essentially any entity, any business, any commercial group, residential group, ultimately to apply for a permit and be able to do this on their own.

[music]

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Lars

    "I'll take a ham sandwich, a glass of wine, true up my back wheel - and then come get me sitting in a chair in a parking space outside."

    How much more awesome could this be? It's like a dream.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/MG MG

    To all SF locals: The part near the end where the guy says that any neighborhood should be asking for something like this; did anyone else feel like his comments were addressed directly to a certain south-of-the-Castro, NIMBY-infested neighborhood?

  • Ed Pino

    Hey Charlie are you ready toopen a cafe

  • http://crankmychain.com Dan Kaufman

    This is one definition of livable streets! Well done.

  • tracie sanchez

    wonderful feature. i used to live out there. now i'm in athens/atlanta trying to lead the revolution here. i hope if we get it right you'll consider a film-let on us. glenwood park, atlantic station, decatur are heading the right direction. and we are hosting CNU new urbanism conf this week!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Tila Tila Duhaime

    Careful, there, guys. I'm considering moving to San Francisco based on the last few Streetfilms you've done on it. I love the pedestrian screen wipe at 2:05, too.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/supertamsf Tami Twarog

    As the man says: "What's NOT to like?"

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/IanD Ian Dutton

    The idea of converting parking space into a valuable neighborhood resource like a sidewalk cafe was proposed at a recent forum on parking policy held by my community board, covering Greenwich Village and Soho. It's great to see functional examples leading the way here in the US - and it's so well implemented!!

  • http://www.noevalleyplaza.com cr

    It's so inspiring to see San Francisco taking the lead in rebalancing our streets.

    MG & all SF Locals:

    The YIMBYs in Noe Valley could use your help saving our plaza trial. Please take a sec to sign the online petition to show support. The neighborhood really does want this.

    www noevalleyplaza com

  • Oscar

    I used to live in Vancouver's West End, where traffic calming barriers were designed as parklets with gardens and benches. Although the concept sounds great, it came with a big problem. Cigarette addicts would take over those public spaces, effectively excluding anyone who does not want to partake in their addiction. Walking across those parklets was very uncomfortable and, for those sensitive to cigarette smoke, painful. As one would expect, the parklets were constantly littered with cigarette garbage, even though the city cleaned it often. Most people I knew in the West End dreaded each time a new bench or public sitting area was created near our building, as it would add nothing positive to our community, only cigarette smoke and littering. In principle it is great that cities are restricting car use and creating public spaces. But for those spaces need to be clean, healthy and open to everyone, instead of being allowed to turn into places for addicts to get high.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Cool to see the NYC "temporary trial" model being applied elsewhere and over all I give San Fran major applause for taking these bold steps.

    However, I was just reading about ADA concerns for visually impaired pedestrians and these "Pavement to Parks" seem to have no way for blind pedestrians to detect that they are leaving the relative safety of the new park and are instead entering the street with vehicle traffic. I think many of NYC's new street parks may also have this same potential problem which is an all too often "overlooked" detail in pedestrian street design. I don't think it would take much to correct this potential problem and please consider this constructive on criticism job otherwise very well done.

    Well almost. While they might make a very large and cheap planter, I really don't think those dumpster are at all attractive in anyway! Yuck!

  • Jason

    Parking spaces ARE valuable public spaces, you idiots.

    San Francisco businesses rely on tourist money to survive. Make the city hostile to drivers and your businesses will collapse.

  • Oscar

    While we are on the topic of constructive criticism, I question the wisdom of turning public space that was reserved for cars over to private businesses. This video advocates allowing restaurants a city license to use a former public space, even if it was designated for car use, for its own private business use. Sure, the business may have its costumers take over the space, and that would entail turning a place that was inhabited by cars into a place that will be inhabited by people. But that is not a public space.

    This also reinforces the mistaken notion that businesses have some ownership claim to the public space around them. That is not the case under the law.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Oscar,

    Sorry if the video doesn't make it completely clear - would love to include lots more information but the truth is we need to keep these right around 3 or 4 minutes - but as I understand it these are public spaces. Sure the business benefits from having them right outside and they agree to monitor and help with maintenance and all, but ANYONE can sit down or use the space without buying anything. There are tables and chairs and likely the folks in them will want to buy something to drink, but they are not required. There is also a bench that while I was there saw numerous people just sit on. Then there is also bike parking which is free for anyone.

    The truth is even if these were tables for use only by restaurants, it is a good trade in a place like NYC. It'd be great to free up the sidewalk of cafe tables and place them in the street so people can walk more comfortably!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    @Andy B: I normally agree with ADA-supported arguments, except in this case. No, it's not you think: What I think is that vision-impaired people are more important than motor vehicles.

    "Complete Streets" addresses this with its over-simplified populism, and disabled-advocacy groups simply accept that private automobiles will always be around in cities.

    So, as we sit at our indeed lovely parklets sipping our cappuccinos - now about 5 ft. or so closer to traffic - what will we think of that will lead us to a next, better step?

  • James

    In response to Jason: Divisadero St., is in a tight central SF neighborhood where riding a bike to local businesses makes more sense than driving. Thus the extra bike parking in that parklet probably benefits those businesses. Mojo's 30% increase in business is testament to that.

    Jason, you idiot don't you know gas powered cars are cancerous dinosaurs anyway. Look at the Gulf and the alarming amount of species having trouble surviving in this warming world. Tsk, tsk!

  • e

    I don't own a car and don't frequent restaurants, so neither use is that great for me. But I'd sure rather be a pedestrian walking by a bunch of people eating than a row of boring cars.

  • Eric Ruston

    I think all of these concepts are fantastic.  This city is ideal for bicycling and I think we need to emphasize more of the benefits... less congestion on the streets, less pollution, etc.  By many standards, SF is one of the more progressive areas in the country or the world, for that matter.  Where is the initiative to shut down Market street to only bicycle/bus/streetcar traffic?  

  • loveyourcity

    In response to the construcitve criticism, parklets are designated as public space. Businesses cannot kick people out of them if they are not customers. In this way, they are just a small park that is hosted by the business.

    The benefit for the business is that they are creating a public spot where people can sit down and hopefully decide to buy something. But if they choose not to, the business has no say in wether they stay or go.