Pavement to Parks gives road space back to cyclists

San Francisco pilot program gains nationwide popularity

San Francisco’s Pavements to Parks project is busy converting unused road space into thriving pedestrian and cycling friendly plazas and parklets that increase the revenue of local business.

What began as a small pilot program in 2009 now enjoys citywide popularity and interest from other major cities including Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York.

“The city is working hard through a variety of initiatives, including Pavement to Parks, to encourage more sustainable transportation patterns such as walking, bike riding and public transit,” said Andres Power of San Francisco Pavements to Parks. “These improvements are intrinsic in the development and the city’s goal of enhancing and providing infrastructure and amenities that encourage other modes of transportation, besides automobiles.”

The organization is dedicated to building two types of infrastructures for pedestrians and cyclists, plazas and parklets. The plazas close off portions of odd and dangerous intersections and turn concrete space into a pedestrian walking area that includes bike parking to attract the city’s cycling community.

Car parking replaced with bike parking has been shown to better local business revenue

“Our goal is to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists,” Power said. “All the facilities are designed to encourage bicycle use through them and to them. The designs are cognizant of bicycle circulation paths and we make sure that the design enforces those paths. Each location has new bicycle parking and racks that are formal and informal providing amenities for those who are on bikes.”

Parklets are designed on a smaller platform and are built on top of two or three existing parking spaces along a sidewalk to provide some extra space for pedestrians and cyclists. Seating, landscaping, bike parking, solar lighting and treatment of the asphalt are common features in parklet designs.

The parklets are temporary in that they do not change the infrastructure of the street. The conditions of removal are loosely defined and evaluated on a case-by-case situation.

“Every project that we have put on the ground has been very successful,” Power said. “The idea is to provide a wider sidewalk experience in places where we don’t have the funds to do that. The platform is built in a parking lane to provide pedestrian and bicyclist amenities. They have integrated bicycle parking in them and there is space for people to sit and relax. They also help stop people from parking bikes on car park meters which get congested easily. Providing bike racks helps encourage people to come to the site and move along the project corridor on bikes.”

Pavement to Parks receives funding through a variety of city grants and private entities but with limited capital each project operates mainly off of donations of design, materials and volunteer labor and maintenance services. Many donations and volunteer services come directly from the cycling community such as the San Francisco’s Bicycle Coalition and the Great Streets Project.

Four parklets were installed last year on Divisadero Street, Columbus Avenue, Noe Valley and 22nd Street under the original pilot program. This year, each new parklet will require a permit issued from the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

“Once an entity is awarded a permit they are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the parklet,” Power said. “We issued a call for projects under the new permit a few months ago and we’ve received 50 applications from cafes, bike shops, local non-profits, business groups and residential property owners. We are moving forward with permitting the majority of those.”

According to a recent study conducted by he San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Divisadero Street Parklet located outside of Mojo Bicycle Cafe has influenced a 14 percent increase overall in cyclists walking their bicycles in the area and a 350 percent increase on weekdays.

Undoubtedly, a parklet is a nice place to spend a lunch hour

Furthermore, the number of bikes parked on weekday afternoons increased to an average of 10 at a time, weekend and afternoon use decreased slightly. The percent of respondents who recommended more bike lanes, racks, and other facilities be installed increased from nine percent to 40 percent.

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