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An idea from San Francisco: Sidewalk extensions

Posted by on February 18th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

A pilot project in San Francisco will replace two parking spaces with a patio.
(Photo: RG Construction)

From Streetsblog San Francisco comes word of interesting idea that seems like a natural fit for Portland:

“The city is about to unveil its newest plan to use its streets for something other than cars when it converts parking spaces to public space by extending sidewalks into the street with durable wood platforms.”

Streetsblog reports the project, which would transform two on-street parking spaces in front of a cafe into a mini-plaza, will be underway by the end of this month. The idea will be carried out through the City of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program.

Andres Power from the San Francisco Planning Department told Streetsblog, “We will take the occupation of a sidewalk off the sidewalk and move it into the parking lane.”

This is something Portland city planners should take note of.

Alberta needs on-street bike parking

Crowded sidewalk on Alberta Street.
(Photo © J. Maus)

We have several commercial districts that are in dire need of more human space: Think of Alberta, Hawthorne, and Mississippi streets just to name a few.

PBOT’s on-street bike corral program has been wildly successful (they’ll hit 50 corrals installed soon) so we already have a template for re-purposing parking space for non-traditional uses.

In addition, it seems like this “sidewalk extension” idea could fit into the Green Streets program run by the Bureau of Environmental Services. That program has grabbed headlines recently because Mayor Adams wants to use BES funds to pay for curb extensions and other infrastructure.

Extensions like this seem to have many of the “wins” that policy makers look for; they’re relatively cheap, they improve the health of the streetscape (and the people in it), they improve stormwater retention, then will help tame traffic speeds, and more.

Of course, this would make it much less likely that a cycle track would fit on the aforementioned streets, but the combination of fewer car doors to deal with and tamer traffic speeds would make taking the lane much easier.

What do you think? Is this an idea worth pursuing in Portland?

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  • Lance P. February 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    where do I sign?

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  • Jackattak February 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Do want!

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  • Tbird February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm


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  • BURR February 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    look at historic photos of the Hawthorne Business District, among others. The road was a lot narrower and the sidewalks wider one hundred years ago.

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  • Maura Deluca February 18, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    This is a really good idea, though I’m not quite sold on making them tables for cafes.

    @BURR, if you look 100 years ago, people would simply walk in the street, and the cars/horses would just go around them. Those were good days to be a pedestrian.

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  • patrickz February 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    BY ALL MEANS!!!!!

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  • Chris Smith February 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I was in Antwerp a couple of years ago and all the sidewalk cafes were set up on extensions like this. A great idea.

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  • Matthew Roth February 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Sweet! Jonathan and Portland looking to us in SF for an idea?? We spend so much time drooling over all the good infrastructure you’ve got up there (c’mon SF, how bout some bike corrals!).

    Keep up the great work and hope you explore these.

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  • Nick V February 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I like it as long as there is some sort of barrier such as the one shown between seated pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Otherwise I’m not sure how safe it would feel…..

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  • Daniel (teknotus) Johnson February 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Hawthorn essentially has 6 lanes. Two for parked cars, and 4 for moving cars. You could remove the parking, and split up the space so that you have two lanes for pedestrians, two for bikes, and two for cars.

    On Alberta I already take the lane. Unless it is last Thursday, and then it doesn’t even make sense to walk my bike.

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  • Matt Lyon February 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    can we get a Hell Yeah?

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  • Ted Buehler February 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Excellent idea. Here’s another example from White Rock, British Columbia.


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  • Kt February 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Wow, that looks awesome.

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  • A.K. February 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Daniel (teknotus) Johnson #9:

    Yes, Hawthorn has a lot of lanes… it makes me nervous to drive on that street, and I won’t ever consider biking it, rather I use side streets in that area.

    However, the only negative impact about removing parking would be that it would impact the already congested side-streets even further. I know the idea is to promote more people to use transit, walk, or bike to get there rather than car, but I think there would still be negative spill-over into the neighborhood.

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  • Spencer Boomhower February 18, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Great idea! Perfect for when we go all car-free and need something to do with all those parking spaces :). He said, only partly kidding.

    Actually, I’d love to see something like this on my street. It’s a residential street, but there’s a whole stretch near an unsigned intersection where hardly anyone parks, and (though I don’t have the data to back up this perception) it seems like people hit the intersection at higher speeds because the road seems to open wide at that one spot. It’d be great to let the elm tree right there spread its roots into a space currently occupied by pavement, or let more greenspace – even garden space – go in on the other side. Of course, I recognize this thing in SF is just a surface treatment, and what I envision would be deeper. What I envistion would I guess be like a bioswale, though not necessarily with the intention of filtering storm water.


    “Of course, this would make it much less likely that a cycle track would fit on the aforementioned streets”

    I could maaaybe see how a cycletrack could work with this. The Broadway implementation of the cycletrack works in concert with parking spaces; they’re simply slid into the street, so that there’s space for the cycletrack between the cars and sidewalk. A patio like this could occupy the parking spaces next to a cycletrack in the same way this one occupies parking spaces next to a sidewalk. Which would mean that people would have to cross the cycletrack to get to the patio. Which sounds terrible, but people already have to cross a cycletrack to get to parked cars. Of course if we’re talking a sidewalk cafe… Yep, that’s a lot of people crossing the cycletrack. But there is at least space to fit both one of these patios and a cycletrack.

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  • Steph Routh February 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm


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  • Alistair February 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm


    Starting in 2006 I think some folks in San Fransisco would re-purpose a parking space for a day (yes they plugged the meter). They’d lay down some sod and a few potted plants and there was a park for a day.


    art and activism
    then a mini movement
    then policy


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  • Jon B. February 18, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    I look at the picture, above, of Alberta and I think: these plazas would just provide more table space for cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, and the like. That’s okay, but unless the shops want to pay for it I don’t think that’s a good use of public space. It is one thing to convert heavily used transportation infrastructure to serve another mode of transit, but another thing entirely to repurpose transportation space away from transit.

    I would, however, be curious as to whether businesses in these heavy foot traffic areas would be willing to sacrifice parking and pay for extra patio room. That money could be used to improve parking and bikeways on nearby streets.

    Although more expensive, I think a better repurposing of parking spaces would be to add continuous sidewalk. Remove one 8-foot lane from a block, add 4 feet to each sidewalk, allowing far more room for bike parking, pedestrians, and shop use.

    Alternatively, sidewalk extensions as above could be used in areas where the city wants to encourage development into bike-friendly retail areas. Alberta, etc, are already popular destinations; if we want 20-minute neighborhoods, perhaps we should encourage creating more areas like those rather than improving already successful areas.

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  • morgan scott February 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Saw these in NYC Little Italy in ’05 for the San Gennaro Feast. They turned the streets into patios for their restaurants. Here is a photo of their construction…http://curbed.com/uploads/2009_9_san.jpg
    I would like to see this in PDX only permanent…less “Free” parking, more sidewalk cafe patios.

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  • Zaphod February 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    100% in support.

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  • Garlynn Woodsong February 18, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Uh, hell yeah! Only question is, why only temporary? Why not make these sidewalk extensions permanent, with permeable surfaces, trees and greenscaping?

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  • Dylan February 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Put these in on Hawthorne, and then close it to car traffic. Bikes only. Portland needs to start closing streets to cars. This is what they do in Copenhagen. Hawthorne first.

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  • Beth February 19, 2010 at 6:15 am

    This is a wonderful idea. It addresses beautification, traffic – pedestrian, bike & car. I agree with Garlynn, make these permanent so they can withstand Portland’s rain and sometimes freezing winter days. Other cities in the Portland metro area should look at this, too. I think it would be a great idea for downtown Hillsboro, which seems to be losing businesses and pretty much closes up shop after 5pm.

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  • Anonymous February 19, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Somewhat like state street in Madison Wisconsin. Except the only motor vehicle traffic allowed is buses.

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  • Jim Labbe February 19, 2010 at 7:51 am

    This concept is absolutely consistent with the city’s efforts expand green streets. The greatest volumes of urban stormwater run-off and the heaviest and most toxic pollutant loads come from streets and ultimately cars, which btw is another extremely under-appreciated benefit of bikes and pedestrians.

    But success of sidewalk extensions in achieving these and other goals (air quality, reduced urban heat-island affect, habitat enhancement, and traffic calming) will depend critically on design and, others have suggested, the permanence of such changes.

    The bamboo in planters in the schematic above will do precious little for storm water treatment. Surely here in Portland could produce something far more ecologically functional.

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  • Stefan February 19, 2010 at 8:03 am

    This is commonplace in European cities… I’m thinking Florence, Barcelona… but streets there are more pedestrianized/shared by motorbikes etc. Anyway, the experience is nice and it breaks up traffic flow and creates a destination point amid the parked cars.

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  • jim February 19, 2010 at 8:19 am

    so instead of bike corals- they made patios? maybe we can do that too?

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  • chrehn February 19, 2010 at 8:40 am

    WoW! I like it a lot.

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  • scotth February 19, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Hell Yeah

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  • Raleigh February 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Definitely yes. I am getting the feeling these are going to be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Can’t wait to see who will be first.

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  • Michael M. February 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    How would something like this fit in with the Sidewalk Management Plan the City Council passed last October? Would the idea here to install these where businesses requet them, like with bike corrals, and then make the businesses maintain them? What about the current code covering sidewalk cafes — how would this concept interact with that, or would this replace that?

    Seems like a neat idea, I guess there are just lots of variables to look into. It’s not quite as straight-foward a concept as bike corrals replacing a car parking space, mainly because “sidewalk” has a more complex meaning and role in our public space than “parking.”

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  • Ted Buehler February 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    > why only temporary? <

    Temporary is cheap, temporary is relatively easy to get approval for, and temporary wood and plywood can last 20 years, if not forever.

    If you want to be innovative and not raise a ruckus with the opposition, the term "temporary" is your friend.
    Ted Buehler

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  • Steve B. February 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    The people have spoken! Where should we put the first one here in Portland?

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  • kiwimunki February 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    A permanent sidewalk extension or patio space that does double duty as a raingarden with attractive, stormwater-filtering plants and grasses, sounds like something any business owner would line up to have installed out front.

    Beats a parked car any day.

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  • Bill Stites February 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Yes! Great to see more street-space being converted to non-auto uses.
    The street is public space, and should be used for many community uses.

    The effect on the Sidewalk Management Plan [#31] should be minimal and complementary – the sidewalk proper should always be clear for pedestrians [that’s ALL of us] to move through comfortably.

    Spillover into neighborhood side streets [#14] could be easily handled by zone permit parking – already in existence in many parts of Portland.
    “But where will the cars go?” — “AWAY”. All our free parking is just ridiculous. Fundamentally unfair to non-car owners [or is that car non-owners???].

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  • Michael M. February 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Bill #35: The street is public space, and should be used for many community uses.

    Ok, but are we talking about “many community uses” here or are we just talking about moving sidewalk cafes onto these extensions — in other words, are we talking primarily about a business purpose? It seems to me if we’re analogizing these to bike corrals (which Jonathan and many commenters are) then we’re not really thinking in terms of “many community uses.” The as-yet-undetermined usefulness of these for stormwater management will depend upon BES or somebody coming up with an effective design (comment #25) that is affordable (bike corrals don’t cost much) and “temporary” (comment #32).

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  • adam February 21, 2010 at 9:29 am

    the Portland demonstration project of this idea should be to make a block of these.

    Not sure where would be the best place to put it, but, on Alberta, for example – you would trade 5 car parking spots for enough room for 60 people to sit.

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  • snapple February 22, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I certainly wouldn’t want to sit within inches of moving traffic or bikes. One small collision puts you right in harms way.

    I’ve been to several cafes where they seat in parking spots, and being that close to fast moving bikes/cars is NOT conducive to a restful meal or relaxing sit.

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  • RyNO Dan February 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Pro getting rid of entire lanes of motor vehicle traffic. then go ahead and install this cutsy extension thingys.

    Anti cafe tables on sidewalk.

    Pro zone parking.

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