Assignment 7

San Francisco parklets: Good for business?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Putting a park in a busy commercial district to beautify and increase street traffic sounds like a good idea, but some San Francisco residents say it isn't. ABC7 takes a look at the growing pangs of the city's growing parklet program.

A parklet is a parking spot turned into an urban oasis. There are big ones like those near Union Square and smaller ones like the one on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights.

"We wanted a parklet not just because it was good for our business, but it's a great thing for the community," said Craig Stoll of Delfina. "It's fun and it slows people down."

Residents along busy Valencia Street in San Francisco say there are already too many in their Mission District neighborhood. Five parklets have been installed within three blocks, some right across the street from each other and two more are planned.

"For the most part they're cafe seating for the businesses near them -- sidewalk cafes. And the occasional sidewalk cafe in the neighborhood, I really like. It adds vibrancy to the neighborhood," said resident Kathryn Bowsher. "The question is, how many of them do you need?"

The first parklets in the city were created as temporary spaces in 2005. Five years later the city jumped in to help people make them more permanent structures. They've been so popular, other cities including New York, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia and Chicago have sought advice from San Francisco on building their own.

"The whole idea is to look differently at how we use our streets, to make them not just for cars, but for pedestrians, for walking, for biking, for hanging out," said San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim.

According to the San Francisco Planning Department, there are currently 27 parklets in the city, another seven have been approved, and 33 more are proposed. More than 70 people have expressed interest in installing one.

"When you look at the total sum of the parking spaces that are removed, it's not a huge amount of parking, but what it gives back to the community is so much more," said Rahaim.

Businesses pay up to $20,000 for the construction, planning and permits for a parklet, then pay the city $200 a year to keep it there.

"I love the parklet," said Tony Azzollini, owner of Caffe Roma on Columbus Street. "It's been very good to us." He says the parklets add a European flair to the neighborhood by providing more sidewalk seating. "It's brought my business up 35 to 40 percent, so in the past year, my numbers are great."

He says that increase in business equals more tax revenue for the city, making up for any revenue lost by taking out parking meters.

But not all the parklets appear to be so well used -- some of them sit empty during the day. A study released last year by the San Francisco Great Streets Project found that while most parklets increased foot traffic in the neighborhood, not all of them were as widely used, on some days foot traffic actually went down.

People who live near parklets say the city needs to make sure parklets get installed where they will be most beneficial.

"The more difficult the parking becomes, the more desperate the people coming to the neighborhood become, and they start taking spots they really don't fit in on the residential streets [and] blocking driveways," said Bowsher.

City planners say they are monitoring the growth of the parklet program, but so far they don't see too many.

"At one point we're going to have to look at that if we have four on a block, maybe that's too many, and we'll take a look at that," said Rahaim. "I don't think we are there yet."

>> More: Google map of San Francisco parklets

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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