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San Francisco: Reclaiming Streets With Innovative Solutions

Tom Radulovich, the executive director of the local non-profit Livable City, describes the recent livable streets achievements in San Francisco as "tactical urbanism" -- using low-cost materials like paint and bollards to reclaim street space.

That willingness to experiment was a big reason that the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) gave its 2012 Sustainable Transport Award to San Francisco (an honor shared with Medellín, Colombia). In this Streetfilm we profile the innovations that earned SF recognition from ITDP.

Perhaps the city's most exciting new development has been the parklet program, which converts parking spaces into public space complete with tables, chairs, art, and greenery. These mini-parks are adopted and paid for by local businesses, but they remain public space. The concept has its roots in the PARK(ing) Day phenomenon started by the SF-based Rebar Group in 2005.

San Francisco has also seen an impressive 71 percent increase in bicycling in the past five years, despite being under a court injunction that prohibited bicycle improvements for most of that time. The city aims to have 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. Sunday Streets, San Francisco's version of Ciclovia, has also drawn huge numbers of participants and continues to expand.

The city has also taken the lead on innovative parking management with the SFPark program, which uses new technology to help manage public parking in several pilot neighborhoods. It aims to make it easier to find a parking spot by adjusting prices according to demand, helping to reduce pollution, traffic, and frustrations for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hart-Noecker/100001623066825 Hart Noecker

    So friggin' dope.  Talk about a holistic transit!

  • Mike Lydon

    Great new film! For anyone interested in learning more about tactical urbanism, check out the overview guide: http://issuu.com/streetplanscollaborative/docs/tactical_urbanism_vol_2_final

  • Anonymous

    Very inspiring and so exciting to see so many great programs all pointing to the same conclusion:  People have a right to as much, if not more, space than cars.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    The Bicycle Coalition's "20% by 2020" slogan just makes you folks sound dumb, since only 3.5% of commuters in the city now ride bikes. In 2000 it was 2.1%, an increase of only 1.4% in ten years.
    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rbikes/documents/2011BicycleCountReportsml.pdf

  • guest

    When are you going to understand that mode-share adoption is not linear, Rob? You really should spend some time studying behavioral economics (or maybe just basic math, for starters) instead of parroting the same old tiresome non-point every chance you get.

  • Jarrett M

    Wasn't bike infrastructure construction frozen for a lot of that time period due to the ridiculous bike injunction? It's hard to grow mode share when you can't build new bikeways. 

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Jarrett and guest:

    "Mode-share adoption is not linear"? You mean we shouldn't pay attention to the actual numbers provided by the city? Common sense says that, compared to other "modes," those riding bikes in the city is still a small minority, but I guess I'm just being too "linear."

    When you look at the city's annual bicycle counts, the greatest increases happened while the injunction was in place, beginning in 2006. The moral of the story: riding a bike in SF is essentially a political fad that has nothing to do with bike lanes and bike "infrastructure" in general.
    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rbikes/documents/2011BicycleCountReportsml.pdf 

  • Anonymous

    The greatest increased happened when gas went to $4 per gallon due to rampant speculation.

    Fortunately prices went down, because peak oil is bunk.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Murph:
    Oil prices flucuate mostly because of events in the Middle East and speculation in the oil market, not because of a shortage of oil. Peak Oil is bunk if you think we're going to run out soon.

  • Trillbet

    This guy is a troll.  Don't inflate his ego by responding.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Trillbet:
    As a party to the litigation that required the city to do environmental review of the Bicycle Plan, I know about these issues. I've provided a link to the city's latest bicycle count to support my argument. Your definition of a troll: someone who contradicts your argument.

  • http://www.streetsblog.org Ben Fried

    @ea1809617b00430091318d0e92a6ef00:disqus The point of the "reply" function is to give you space to reply within threads, instead of hogging the comments section by creating new threads every time you respond to someone else. Other commenters have been so kind as to use this feature. If you don't use the tools we provide to help manage the discussion here, you'll be banned.

  • Anonymous

    First of all, "reclaiming streets" is a bit backwards since San Francisco city streets were designed for vehicular transit in the first place and not pedestrians. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Not street. So I don't get why you say we are "reclaiming" streets. From what exactly? Cars? if you really were reclaiming streets, you would be working to have all of the parklets removed so that cars can once again use those spots for parking, which is what they were designed for in the first place.
    And while we're on the subject of Parklets, this is our big weapon in our war against cars? How many cars have actually been taken off the streets because of these so called mini parks (a wooden platform with some potted plants hardly counts as a park BTW)? Seems to me they haven't done anything to curb car use and that they've only contributed to the already annoying problem of there not being enough parking in this city. But hey, Cafe's have been able to increase their dining space for pennies so that their patrons can sit out on the street next to zooming cars and inhale exhaust with their frisee and goat cheese salads. Sounds like a great plan! Go ahead. Keep patting yourselves on the back for this genius idea.
    Here's an even better idea. How bout we fix our public transit system so it doesn't suck so much and would be actually worth using! I bet nobody's thought of that yet. We seem to be so preoccupied with making car drivers the villains instead of actually finding a plan that works.

  • Scott E.

    Rob, I'm afraid you need to review your math concepts and read the report more carefully. Assuming the total number of commuters using all modes did not change (the report doesn't provide total numbers), the increase is calculated as ((3.5-2.1)/2.1 = 1.4/2.1 = 67% increase. That's from 2002 (not 2000) to 2010, or 8 years, averaging 8.3% increase per year. That's significant, but at that rate we wouldn't reach 20% until 2032. However, we also know from the report that the increase in commuting and general bike use for all trips is non-linear, i.e., the rate of increase is also increasing -- so most of the increase has occurred. For example, bike commutes increased 14.2% from 2009 to 2010 -- (3.5-0.5)/3.5=14.2%. Even if we stayed at an average 14.2% increase, we get to 20% by 2022. But if the rate is increasing, as the data indeed show, it will happen much faster.

  • USbike

    If you take a look at the history of transportation, you would see that streets were for everyone, particularly pedestrians for about as long as human civilization has existed.  This only started to take a drastic change 90 or so years ago.  This is also when the term "jaywalking" was invented.  This all gradually happened as more and more cars began showing up and dominating the streets and policy began to favor cars over everything else.  Many streets were widened in the last 100 years or less to make room for more car lanes, or for parking.  Just think for a minute about how narrow and crappy so many of our sidewalks are.  Do you really think that's how cities looked like before the advent of cars, that for instance NYC in the late 1800's had 6/7 lane roads that were exclusively reserved for horse carriages or something of the like, and not pedestrians at a time when most people walked everywhere)?  

    What we all get to see in much of the US today is the consequence of decades of development and policy that almost completely neglected the needs of all other users (pedestrian, cyclist and transit riders).  "Reclaiming the Streets" is an initiative to bring back some balance into our transportation and public space infrastructure so that it's not all about cars and allowing drivers to get anywhere as fast as possible, at the expense of the safety, comfort and quality of life of everyone else.  

  • Archie Leach

    Like USbike wrote, if you look at old videos/film and pictures of New York City or San Francisco in the pre-mass-auto period the thing that jumps out are the pedestrians are not only on the sidewalk but are clearly "spilled" out onto the streets and are congregating or conducting business or other activities in what we presently deem "the gutter".  There would be stalls and carts set up along "the gutter" and business would be conducted.  With the advent of mass ownership of cars the use of the gutter for people activities ended as they became a place for auto storage.  In other words: people activity in "the gutter" preceded "the gutter" for auto storage.

    Parklets are simply bringing a return of the "natural" people activity of "the gutter" that had existed before the mass automobile.

  • Archie Leach

    Peak oil or not the days of North America and Western Europe and Japan having the oil pie to themselves is over as the end of the Soviet Union has seen car ownership in Russia explode and then we include the economic development of India and especially in China - where internal engine utilization there will dwarf anything in North America - means that the oil pie is going to be divided up into smaller pieces; which bodes NOT well for just how much oil gets to North America.

    You seem to like math.  You should also include rational reasoning thought into your character too.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    If I mention "gentrification", "high housing prices" and "exodus to the East Bay" do I get banned from Streetfilms? I love Leah Shahum saying everything is "always changing... re-inventing". Sigh. Streetfilms shows great stuff, not by way of journalism of course, but corporate video. I think it is at least a bit of a deception.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Okay. I guess I don't understand how this system works. Often there is no "reply" link to those replying to me, only a "like" link. How do I reply without that reply link?

  • Kevin Walsh

    http://www.voicepark.org/ VoicePark is a good addition to the SFpark system. It uses the public info from the parking sensors to navigate people to parking spots by voice. The SFpark app requires someone to look at a map, which is illegal for drivers.

  • Eric Nordman

    Nice film. SF has a grid system of streets with lots of 4 way stops. Having biked across it a few time I found it slow and confusing for outsiders. They could really benefit from a grid of bicycle boulevards where the stop signs are set to allow unimpeded travel. To prevent cars from using these streets as expressway periodic car barriers are set up. This fairly cheaply provides fast and low stress riding across town.

  • city0880

    thanks for share.