The City of San Francisco has been enjoying some success with its Pavement to Parks program, a series of targeted interventions that convert asphalt to pockets of pedestrian-friendly spaces. The most-replicated prototype, the Parklet, colonizes on-street parallel vehicle parking spaces, redeveloping them with decks, seating, planters and bicycle parking. Other, more site-specific projects have changed odd corners of little-used asphalt into larger urban parks. The projects are initially temporary installations and are often modified during a rigorous and lengthy vetting process before they are considered permanent. http://sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org
In Spring 2010, a group of Noe Valley residents and business owners proposed a plan to create a plaza in Noe Valley. The plaza would be created adjacent to 24th Street – the neighborhood shopping strip – by closing Noe Street to all except emergency vehicles. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/04/06/a-tale-of-two-plazas/
The proposal to close Noe Street – a heavily-used car route and an integral part of the street grid – would be ambitious and not just from a design standpoint. During contentious public outreach meetings, Pavement to Parks program staff and the District Supervisor discovered a deep schism among the residents and the trial plaza project was abandoned. Instead, two trial Parklets would be constructed on 24th Street. http://noevalleysf.blogspot.com/2010/03/plaza-vs-parklet-your-voice-has-been.html
Watching the arc of this ongoing story, I am struck by the number of missed opportunities. Drama aside, the Pavement to Parks public meeting process revealed a constituency that recognizes the rich fabric of 24th Street and is passionate about protecting and improving it for everyone. And it highlighted some of the potential of the 24th & Noe intersection as a site to support those goals.
Competition for sidewalk real estate on the 24th Street commercial strip is fierce. Stereotypical “Stroller Valley” pedestrian traffic threads its way past well-used benches and merchant displays. Dogs are tied to parking meters and full bike racks occupy the curbside “door zone”, hampering access to parked cars.
At the same time, the intersection of 24th and Noe Streets produces pedestrian/car conflicts, resulting in near-gridlock on sunny weekends. Reallocating the Noe Street right-of-way on the block between 24th and Jersey Streets could reduce these conflicts while relieving some of the congestion on 24th Street’s sidewalks.
The existing 44’-long crosswalk on the south side of 24th Street means pedestrians are essentially crossing four lanes of asphalt. Introducing curb bulbs would shorten the crosswalk and reduce pedestrian/car conflicts, maintain full vehicle access and motorcycle parking, while sacrificing just a few car parking spaces.
This concept has considerable advantages over the options presented at the April 8th 2010 community meeting:
- Maintains two-way vehicular through traffic
- Maintains service access to businesses
- Retains convenient motorcycle parking location
- Provides bicycle parking without impeding pedestrian flow
- Reduces crosswalk length
Extending the sidewalk on the southeast corner into the intersection reduces pedestrian exposure and shortens the crosswalk. The curb radii are tighter, as well – a proven method of slowing car speed while turning.
If we reconfigure Noe Street to better accommodate the mix of car, motorcycle, bike and pedestrian demands, we can take advantage of the unbroken 60’ right of way just south of 24th Street along both curbs. By shifting the vehicle traffic lanes to the west for the block of Noe between 24th and Jersey, the existing parallel parking can be changed to a perpendicular on the east resulting in no net loss of spaces.
Consolidating bicycle parking here will discourage bikers from locking up to trees or signs on 24thStreet and keep the bikes out of the cars’ door zone. It’s close to the businesses and highly visible, features that make it attractive to cyclists.
This alternative offers many of the same benefits as the Noe Plaza scheme without closing the street to through traffic.
- It decreases pedestrian/vehicle conflicts by reducing the length of the crosswalk, and slowing vehicle turning speeds.
- It maintains the current parking space count for cars and motorcycles.
- It does not affect delivery access to adjacent businesses.
- It provides needed convenient, high-visibility bicycle parking.
- It will discourage bicyclists from locking up to meters on 24th Street, freeing sidewalk width and easing access to parked cars.
- Special events can be accommodated by the temporary closure of Noe Street, in the vein of the Block Party or the recurring seasonal events that occasionally close 24th Street to vehicular traffic.
Coupled with the proposed 24th Street Parklets, this proposal will support the stated needs of merchants and residents in this neighborhood hub.
Update: June 2011
San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program has completed the construction of two parklets on the North side of 24th Street. Each is comprised of two spaces and configured for café-style seating. They are well-used, especially on sunny weekends.
Meanwhile, the plaza proposal has been renamed and relocated to a privately-owned mid-block parking lot on the South side of 24th Street. Design alternatives for the Town Square have been prepared by CMG Landscape Architecture. Funding sources for purchase of the property and design implementation are uncertain. http://www.noevalleytownsquare.com/