San Francisco Looks At Converting Parking to Public Space

Inspired by the home-grown Park(ing) Day parking spot conversion event, the city of San Francisco is launching a pilot project to convert street parking in its North Beach neighborhood to outdoor dining areas and public spaces.

"A new plan calls for transforming part of Columbus Avenue, the heart of North Beach's vibrant commercial corridor, where street parking already is scarce and alfresco dining is in demand.

If deemed a success, the parking space conversion program would be expanded to other neighborhoods.

The city already is testing road closures in the Castro and the Mission to create what amounts to asphalt miniparks in spaces once dominated by cars and trucks."

The plan will go up for approval at the end of the month, and if approved, could begin this spring.

Full Story: Cafes get more sidewalk under North Beach plan



Question: Reduced parking need?


Why are there all of these available parking spots? Is there a reduced need for parking on the streets of these communities?

In my region, lack of parking is an argued problem in many downtowns and I couldn't imagine that any could be converted to a different use.

Are parking garages being built in these communities, providing another option to those who previously parked on the street?

Reduced Parking in SF

Parking is extremely tight in North Beach. Nevertheless, some businesses have decided that it is more important to have more seating for customers in front of their stores than it is to have parking in front of their stores.

North Beach is different from most business districts because: 1) most customers get their by transit already, though many customers drive and have trouble finding parking 2) many (or maybe most) businesses are cafes or specialty food stores catering to tourists, which benefit heavily from having sidewalk seating.

The shortage of sidewalk seating is even worse than the shortage of parking. People looking for parking will have a harder time, but people looking for seating will have an easier time. The net result will be a more attractive neighborhood and more successful businesses - and, amazingly, the businesses recognize that fact and do not have the usual business attitude of Parking Uber Alles.

Charles Siegel

"Ample Parking Day or Night"

There will always be claims of a lack of parking, even in suburbia with its huge pools of parking. North Beach's entire appeal is its walkable urbanism. In San Francisco especially NB you could never build "enough" parking, and trying to build "enough" parking would literally destroy the neighborhood.

I think here they have decided its better to attract people by creating a great distinctive, enjoyable pedestrian space which can be enjoyed by 100 or so people, than having 6 on-street parking spots (which would only benefit about 6 people). Plus most walk, or use transit or a taxi to get to NB anyway.

If easy parking is so important, Olive Garden at a strip mall is an option.

I would suggest in your downtown, instead of trying to compete with the malls for easy parking (which can't be won because of their low land values that make free abundant parking much much easier and cheaper to provide), that you focus on making downtown a quality memorable authetic place for pedestrians with vibrant streetlife. Narrow your streets, slow through traffic, build squares on parking lots, improve mass transit, install art and flowerbeds, place your parking where it is least obtrusive, emphasize the historic architecture, create continuous streetscapes of retail and restaurants, forbid blank walls and dead streetscapes. This will in turn attract these same people looking for something unique, and if it is a quality place, people will put up with difficult parking or might try out that thing called 'transit.' Afterall why do people spend thousands of dollars and go through great stress to travel overseas on vacation? Its not for abundant parking or what they have at home, its for memorable unique places and culture which is a very very powerful emotional draw. Seas of easy parking ruin these very spaces with lifeless surface parking lots or then building expensive structured parking raises the rents on retailers to only the national chains and price out the unique independent businesses.

Yes, well said...

However, here in the Mid-Atlantic, many people are still conditioned to want the closest possible spot to wherever they are eating or dining in our downtowns (they even do this when they go to the gym- they try to find the parking spot closest to the Y entrance, even though they are going their to workout for an hour!) I always manage to find a spot to park, but don't mind walking a few blocks if that is what is necessary. Your climate is also more hospitable to walking year round.

I think the people that want to shop in a downtown "for the experience" are more willing to walk a few blocks from their parking spot than those that just want to shop their for basics, like a loaf of bread. Merchants here are always complaining about lack of parking in front of their stores and complain about the meters, which they feel penalize their customers- so some offer meter tokens to their customers.

Merchants And Parking

Here in Berkeley, there are proposals to replace diagonal parking downtown with parallel parking, so the sidewalks could be widened, cafe seating could be added, and so on.

The problem is the merchants, who believe that parking right in front of the business is the key to their success. There is no doubt that they will kill the proposal.

That is why I said that the amazing thing about North Beach is that the merchants support removing parking to add more seating.

"I think the people that want to shop in a downtown "for the experience" are more willing to walk a few blocks from their parking spot..."
You think that, and I think that, but the merchants are still living in the 1950s.

Charles Siegel

Parallel parking

Yes, what we have here is parallel street parking next to the curb. The boroughs already have widened sidewalks and seating. Residents and merchants alike complain about lack of parking in the borough.

I think- in addition to better mass transit here- more parking garages are a good solution. Also, changing people's mindset re walking a "block or two" to get to your destination is important.

Angled Parking

While I'm no fan of parking, I do see some advantages with angled on-street parking, you get a lot of parking and therefore can get away with less off-street parking (which is especially important in less urban places where they are willing to plow down half the neighborhood for parking). In Downtown Berkeley I recall Shattuck is very wide, why not have the angled parking take from a travel lane, instead of the sidewalk? As far as I'm concerned, the best situation is to make the case that you want to take away a travel lane in each direction on a faster thru-street and replacing that travel lane with angled on street parking which narrows the street, slows the traffic and makes more of a main street feel. Fast wide through streets cutting through a business district absolutely do not help downtown in any way and the merchants know it, they want traffic going slowly so people can see their business when they pass by. 'Shoup' the parking, and use that money to pay for an enhanced pedestrian environment... curb extensions, street trees, planters, benches, clean sweep crew, moveable seating and umbrellas at a European-style plaza on the wide sidewalk around the BART station rotunda?

Shattuck Ave.

Shattuck Ave. is part of a traffic bottleneck: many north-south streets terminate at the UC campus, and all that traffic flows into a few north-south streets, including Shattuck. Shattuck currently has two-travel lanes in each direction, and because of the bottleneck traffic, there is no chance of taking away one of those two travel lanes each way.

Traffic on Shattuck is already relatively slow and civilized because there are short blocks with stop lights at every intersection.

The one major pedestrian improvement possible is to remove the diagonal parking so the sidewalks can be widened.

I agree completely that they should Shoup the parking, and I wrote an op-ed saying so in our local newspaper.
With the right price for parking, merchants would still have plenty of short-term parking for customers in front of their stores, even if diagonal were replaced with parallel parking.

Charles Siegel

Problems re parallel

The only problems with parallel- aside from parallel parking being harder- is fender benders. My car was rear ended by an SUV while parallel parked at night on one of these main streets. The sides of people's cars and their side mirrors get clipped with some frequency.

One alternative here was a parking garage near the main street that offered free parking for four hours during the weekly seasonal (May through October) farmer's market. That was a great alternative.


Which part of Shattuck? On Google Maps I see 3 lanes in each direction on that couplet between the BART station and University Ave. In Downtown Portland on SW 10th & 11th (streetcar streets) they took out the 3rd travel lane and made it into angled parking...
Image 1
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SF and North Beach

HRP. I used to live in that neighborhood. To answer your first question, there are no available parking spots. There are a few garages, but no new ones will be built. However, this neighborhood, as Charles pointed out, is very dense, close to downtown and has decent transit options... and most households don't own cars (it's often rated as one of the best urban neighborhoods in America... so there's likely a vast difference between it and most of the downtowns one would run across). In this case, Columbus Ave. is both a main commercial thoroughfare and the main way to get from downtown to the wharf area. It has two traffic lanes in each direction and parking lanes on both sides. The sidewalks are pretty narrow, 6 to 8 feet, and almost all of the cafes have sidewalk seating that takes up half of that. It will be interesting on how they make this work given the traffic levels (i.e. sitting at a cafe table right next to buses whizzing by... or perhpoas the tables will take up the whole sidewalk and the former parking spaces will be for the walkers... don't know). I think it's a good idea. Although some people definitely have already complained about losing parking spots (mostly locals who commute everyday and park at the metered spots overnight when they are free and more likely to be available).

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