February 10, 2010
Make That 441,469 Spaces: Proposed Curbside Cafe Conversions
"Curbside parking spaces in North Beach would be replaced with cafe seating [along Columbus Avenue] in the latest initiative to rethink how streets are used in San Francisco - making them less focused on cars and more welcoming for pedestrians."
First Published: February 10, 2010 9:45 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
Awesome idea! Cafe life on Columbus deserves more than a crammed single line of chairs.
Posted by: wow at February 10, 2010 9:58 AM
"More welcoming for pedestrians"?!
A number of restaurant merchants have crowded and laid claim to the sidewalks on that strip of Columbus, and have made it among the most pedestrian-unfriendly places I've ever suffered.
My wife & I lived on Russian Hill and worked downtown, and we walked back and forth to work. When we had the chance to make the commute together, we would travel the two hilly legs of a triangle - Bush/Leavenworth - rather than suffer the hypotenuse of Columbus. It is effectively impossible for two people to walk side-by-side up Columbus and attempt to carry on a conversation.
And it isn't because of "curbside parking."
Posted by: Debtpocalypse at February 10, 2010 10:00 AM
this is a no brainer. just do it. convert all the spaces. Only the most unsuccessful curmudgeons oppose this stuff. A merchant of a sad little shop that barely ever opens in my neighborhood is currently opposing putting in meters in the shopping area where parking is currently unregulated. He says it'll keep his customers away. I say - what customers? He just wants to park in front of his own shop. All the hopping businesses actually support the meters to increase turnover and increase availability for actual customers.
Posted by: huh at February 10, 2010 10:04 AM
North Beach is definitely in need of love. Build it.
Posted by: spitpalm at February 10, 2010 10:07 AM
Who wants to sit in the gutter on the street at the traffic level?
If you are going to do something like this (and I support it) do it right as they are on Valencia and extend the sidewalks
Posted by: Zig at February 10, 2010 10:09 AM
great idea. hopefully this will lead to extending the sidewalks as zig suggests.
Posted by: dr. who at February 10, 2010 10:15 AM
I walk this stretch of Columbus about 3 times a week. I can tell you with some confidence that there is very little revenue from the meters. Almost all parkers in these spots have handicap tags hanging from their rear view mirror and park in the same spot all day. It's almost impossible to find a spot short term to run into a store or pick up a pizza. Lot's of double parking going on. If this is what the merchants want, this is what should be done.
Posted by: OneEyedMan at February 10, 2010 10:16 AM
Debtpocalypse - don't you think if cafes could move their seating off of the sidewalk and into the former parking areas that the sidewalks would be clearer and easier to walk side-by-side ? And bonus points for using "hypotenuse" in a discussion about walking route choices. Its the reverse of using the term "Manhattan distance" in chip design.
When it all comes down to it, this is a matter of the best and highest use of these small spaces. Perhaps we could let the free market decide with cafe owners buying out the parking spots at their current market rate.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 10, 2010 10:21 AM
Expanding sidewalks would be great. A temporary alternative would be to add a physical limit like planters. Because you don't want to be right next to the zooming traffic.
The way I have seen it in some European cities is wood platforms with a fence.
Posted by: wow at February 10, 2010 10:26 AM
Any vacated parking places would be secured by the restaurants. The result would be waiters & bussers shuttling orders and dishes back and forth across the line of pedestrian thoroughfare. Currently, at least, the outside seating is immediately proximate to Columbus restaurants.
Currently, if you need to traverse Columbus with any haste as a pedestrian, you move out into the area between curbside parking and traffic wherever available.
I honestly don't understand how this proposal creates a net improvement for pedestrians through there. If you want to recreate Europe, shut down Columbus all together. Or reduce it to a single lane in each direction for buses only.
I mean, it's romantic and all at first blush, but I see this proposal as simply affording restaurants more floor space at pedestrian expense.
Posted by: Debtpocalypse at February 10, 2010 10:39 AM
So we assume that merchants who avail themselves of this windfall space will clean (or assess themselves $$ to clean) not only immediately their store front but to the extent their activity creates any wind blown trash.
Posted by: Merchants clean it 2 at February 10, 2010 10:45 AM
@ The Milkshake of Despair
"Don't you think if cafes could move their seating off of the sidewalk and into the former parking areas that the sidewalks would be clearer and easier to walk side-by-side"
I've scanned the article twice, and I may be missing it, but I can't find in the proposal where the restaurants would be giving up their current sidewalk occupation? It might be there - it might also be a part of the proposal that didn't make SFGate. If so, that would likely be an improvement.
I just don't think the restaurants are going to give up one for the other, nor the city demand it of them.
Posted by: Debtpocalypse at February 10, 2010 10:48 AM
"The way I have seen it in some European cities is wood platforms with a fence."
I believe that is the plan. There are references and pictures of that in the pdf (http://www.sfcta.org/content/view/380/206/).
I assume this would be part of the trial run and the extended sidewalks and bulb outs would follow later if the trial goes well.
Posted by: spitpalm at February 10, 2010 10:49 AM
I have a simple solution to increase the number of parking spaces in SF by several thousand: Get rid of bus stops, and instead add "bulbs" that come out from the curbs so that people can still enter/exit the bus safely. This would add at least 2 parking spaces for every bus stop in SF. I propose this because Mumi drivers almost never pull into the bus stop anyway, so the space is essentially wasted.* A select few can remain in high traffic areas, and for designated rest stops.
* Of course, bus stops are a great opportunity for very pricey parking tickets, so The City would never go for it.
Posted by: lr at February 10, 2010 10:52 AM
This is a lot more informative than the SFGate article.
Sidenote - Does anyone at the Chronicle actually do any research?
Posted by: spitpalm at February 10, 2010 10:52 AM
Like some diesel exhaust with your latte?
Posted by: anon at February 10, 2010 11:27 AM
Finally a subject we can (nearly) all agree on.
It's a no-brainer. Do it.
Few if any will miss those parking spots, because they are never available for parking anyways.
Posted by: missionite at February 10, 2010 11:51 AM
butbutbutbut those parking spots have oil spots of historic value that must be preserved! And the parking meters are of an older make!
Back in the real world, sidewalk dining in former parking spaces has worked out well in Mountain View on Castro St:
Posted by: Delancey at February 10, 2010 12:18 PM
Castro Street in Mountain View?
Back in the "real world," we are discussing a small strip of California that represents among the state's highest population densities. This (FD: random link pulled near the top of google) suggests the area comes in at ~25,000 to +50,000 per square mile:
Wikipedia puts Mountain View at ~5,800/square mile:
I'm sure sidewalk dining is working well in Montana, too.
Further, my point has been to question whether this will improve pedestrian friendliness, which is among the proponents' marketing claims.
Thanks for the link, spitpalm.
Posted by: Debtpocalypse at February 10, 2010 12:31 PM
If city is letting restaurants use public space, they should charge them market rate.
Atleast (4$/hr * 24 hours) = 96$ a day.
Posted by: SFwatcher at February 10, 2010 12:32 PM
Go for it. Any effort to reproduce what they did in Times Square wrt outdoor seating would be awesome. Or take it even further - how great would it be to have an area like Leidseplein in Amsterdam where you could sit outdoors and have a drink/snack and not be sucking exhaust fumes.
Posted by: lolcat_94123 at February 10, 2010 12:32 PM
the lost parking spots will be sorely missed for residents who get off work late and rely on the evening parking spots and leave the next morning before businesses open up. the metered spots really alleviate the parking situation for resident commuters, not only in north beach but all the surrounding areas too.
Posted by: condoshopper at February 10, 2010 12:38 PM
Condoshopper - I really kind of doubt that. I couldn't imagine anyone living in North Beach and trying to rely on street parking, particularly Columbus. Then general rule all the fiends that I've had who live in the area is that you don't have a car without a garage. Unless you're a masochist.
Posted by: Fishchum at February 10, 2010 12:50 PM
California doesn't seem to get curbside dining. No one wants to sit right next to traffic. The reason curbside works in Europe, or even NYC, is due to the wide sidewalks that separate the diner from the traffic. Eating adjacent to traffic is unpleasant.
I would have thought that San Francisco knew better than this. For a bad example, see Castro Street in Mountain View. They converted parking spaces to tables and the results are not good. They should have just closed the street to traffic.
Posted by: John at February 10, 2010 12:56 PM
Someone already made the point, there is almost no lost revenue from parking as Handicap placards take up most of the spots all day long.
Note that the cafes charge sales tax and a 30% increase in business as evidenced by Steps of Rome would dwarf the revenue (assumed) from meters (which are not 24 hours of operation or on sundays). Add payroll tax and other ancilary benefits and it's a win for the city.
If you rely on street parking and live in NB, you have bigger issues.
This is a good idea.
Posted by: Jimmy C at February 10, 2010 12:57 PM
My point about Castro in MV is that diners will cheerfully sit next to traffic, especially if there is some visual barrier between them and the traffic.
I often walk between SOMA and Ft Mason, my route sometimes taking me on Columbus. It is obvious the impediment of a few blocks of sidewalk seating is trivial compared with having to dodge clots of tourons milling and trying to (slowly) walk 3-4 abreast.
Posted by: Delancey at February 10, 2010 1:02 PM
I like the idea, but wrong location.
These "sidewalk cafes" work best on streets or alleys that are not a main throughfare within the city or any city for that matter.
Too much traffic uses Columbus and it will not be easy for cars to find alternative routes, so you will get even worse traffic at a standstill on Columbus.
The tables and chairs i would assume would stay closer to the business itself and just making the sidewalk wider for peds to pass easier/quicker.
Tables in the previous parking spots is bad idea, keep them close to the business and let peds use the increased sidewalk space.
All n all love the idea but wrong street.
Better location would be just to close Grant from Broadway to Union or Filbert and make that all sidewalk cafes.
Increase in property values along Grant, its only one block away from the proposal, its not a main throughfare, plus Columbus is pretty good as it is and would even be better being located near the new sidewalk cafe.
Posted by: Kazee at February 10, 2010 1:32 PM
One last note:
Columbus and Market I would guess are set at an angle from the original layed out street grid for fast access in and out for traffic.
It was designed so traffic going further distances would not have to use the neighborhood grid. Chicago has several too.
Never designed as a sidewalk cafe and reduced to two lanes.
Its starting to get pretty obvious SF does not want us to use cars and wants us to pay the city for transportation.
Posted by: Kazee at February 10, 2010 1:47 PM
The streetside tables on Mt.View's Castro are just fine. I prefer them so long as the weather is nice, which is 95% of the time in Mt.View. Castro however does not bear nearly as much traffic as Columbus.
"Its starting to get pretty obvious SF does not want us to use cars and wants us to pay the city for transportation."
Its starting to get pretty obvious that motorists have grown accustomed to their parking subsidies and will complain any time even a tiny amount of city provided parking is removed.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 10, 2010 2:25 PM
I agree with the comments about Columbus being too busy a street. Sitting in the street will be unpleasant and dangerous.
Side streets, wide sidewalks or wide medians, plazas all work well. How about sectioning off parts of Washington Square Park and adding table service from nearby restaurants and cafes?
Posted by: John at February 10, 2010 2:35 PM
There are way more pedestrians than vehicles along there. This change makes sense.
Posted by: Mole Man at February 10, 2010 7:37 PM
How about everyone who does NOT live in North Beach keep their short sighted opinions to themselves. Parking is nearly impossible as it is, this will just make it more unbearable.
Posted by: Bobby at February 10, 2010 9:25 PM
San Francisco doesn't really have enough warm weather to support outdoor eating spaces. If this goes forward I think it will be under utilized.
Posted by: Willow at February 10, 2010 10:20 PM
I think people fail to appreciate the value that parked cars have in forming a buffer between the vehicular and pedestrian realms.
Walking along the sidewalk on a busy street where the sidewalk abuts the traffic lanes is uncomfortable and unpleasant, sometimes even scary. Sitting on the sidewalk at a table and trying to eat, with traffic rushing by 3 feet away is just as bad.
I'm all for creating more pedestrian space, but I'm pretty sure that taking away the buffer that parked cars provide will not have the intended effect on Columbus.
Posted by: Dave at February 10, 2010 11:28 PM
Then general rule all the fiends that I've had who live in the area is that you don't have a car without a garage. Unless you're a masochist.
North Beach is full of masochists. Just go there any evening and look at the number of vehicles with permit parking stickers.
Posted by: joh at February 10, 2010 11:55 PM
The buffer zone effect of parked cars is well understood as a way to improved conditions for pedestrians. It works great on very wide boulevards with ample sidewalks. On Columbus there's a space squeeze and using parking as a buffer isn't clearly the best choice.
The doubts mentioned here about weather and traffic volumes could be tested with small investments in temporary platforms (a la "PARKing Day) to see whether or not cafe patrons are willing to serve as the buffer.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 11, 2010 12:02 AM
I live in NB and find it a bit hard to believe that anyone here would depend on those spots. You'd have to show up after 10 PM and leave by 7 or so. Not very nice.
I hope they do this. Anything we can do to make the city more pedestrian friendly and transit oriented is good by me.
Now if only we could address that transit part…
Posted by: Embarcadero at February 11, 2010 2:44 AM
There's been a lot of "I'm for it!" enthusiasm here for a proposal with three different options. I'm not sure any proponent specified which of the three Alternatives they favored or why. When faced with options, "Just do it!" is not a coherent response. It does confirm the worst of kneejerk SF woohoo superficial holier-than-thou pedestrianism in neighborhoods we don't frequent of the sort one sees now popularly derided on $3m/minute Superbowl ads.
My gripe was with the existent pedestrian-unfriendly nature of NB restaurateurs, and the notion that expanding their turf would make things "more welcoming for pedestrians."
@9:58 yesterday, I wrote: "A number of restaurant merchants have crowded and laid claim to the sidewalks on that strip of Columbus, and have made it among the most pedestrian-unfriendly places I've ever suffered."
@10:39 yesterday, I wrote: "I mean, it's romantic and all at first blush, but I see this proposal as simply affording restaurants more floor space at pedestrian expense."
From Spitpalm's link, you can source the longer report by the SFCTA here:
On page 61 of the file (4-9 of the report), one reads of Alternative I:
Effectively widening the sidewalk by creating opportunities to move some café seating, which now often constricts the already-narrow four-foot pedestrian throughzone to three feet or less at pinch points, to the parking lane.
Why not, "all"?
Anyone who thinks restaurants that have already successfully seized limited sidewalks, and who currently agitate for more outside space, are going to cede what they already possess, I believe, are naive.
In practice, "some" will be "none."
Alternative I = expanded restaurant seating.
Posted by: Debtpocalypse at February 11, 2010 10:05 AM
Did anyone look at the example photos in the report:
Doesn't look like it's going to be so pleasant for the kid at the end of the table when the approaching bus drives by in the lane next to his seat at the end of the table.
Posted by: John at February 11, 2010 12:16 PM
Plain stupid idea. Chairs and tables right next to all the exhaust fumes from cars on Columbus. This is not how Parisian restaurants arrange their seating.
Posted by: Conifer at February 11, 2010 2:40 PM
This is not a close call - it's simply too dangerous. The first time that there's a fender bender and a car veers into some diners, that'll be the end of the experiment. This would only work with a safety barrier.
I agree with Delancey that the curbside dining in Mountain View is nice. And it will continue to be nice until someone is maimed or killed. Then it will be gone instantly as well.
Posted by: John at February 11, 2010 6:47 PM
I don't care about the parking, but I wouldn't sit that close to a 2 ton steel, rubber, and glass moving object: seems unsafe at any speed. And K rails are ugly.
Is there any evidence that removing parking places decreases number of trips a car takes. Don't people just drive somewhere else so they can park their car?
Until the choke points come out, pedestrian traffic will only get worse. The cafes won't give up their existing tables. So what is the point but to give the restaurateurs more potential revenue and generate additional tax? Unless there are constant lines waiting for a table, the increase income will only happen if the new patrons can find a place to park.
Will the bridge and peninsula crowd keep coming into town if they can't find a place to park?
Posted by: GetOffTheIvy at February 11, 2010 10:30 PM
This must be some kind of joke... this is already the most difficult neighborhood to find parking in the entire city, and people want to take away spaces on Columbus from Broadway to Filbert? No way. I agree with a prior comment, either go all the way and close the whole street or keep the parking. This will be a detriment to businesses along that strip if this happens due to the (increased) chaos is will create.
Posted by: are you kidding? at February 16, 2010 4:52 PM
ayk - Please explain why parking must be coupled with through traffic. All or none ? Why not keep the traffic and lose some of the parking ? Columbus is a major arterial and can function as such without being lined with parking for its entire length.
The amount of traffic throughput provided by the city should be driven by congestion and travel time goals. The amount of parking provided by the city should be determined by how much the city wants to foster using automobile as a transportation mode. The two are not necessarily linked since not everything driving on the streets consumes parking.
My guess is that closing Columbus to traffic will cause chaos on the adjacent streets. It might also increase emergency response times.
I'll stick by my suggestion of allowing cafe owners to use the parking space for tables so long as they pay the going market rate which I think is $18/day. Let the market decide how best to use these pieces of public property.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 16, 2010 5:13 PM
MOD - My point is merely that this city keeps trying to do whatever it can to reduce parking, and simply put people are still driving... and parking. The publiuc transit in this city is what needs work before parking can be eliminated. It simply is not good enough to warrant it's use 100% of the time and relinquishing one's vehicle.
I do see your points. These two do not need to be coupled. IMHO Columbus is a necessary artery in the city, what with the busses and such, and as you said taking away parking will only harm the surrounding streets. Let's just not make North Beach even more of a nightmare for drivers and dwellers alike...
Posted by: are you kidding? at February 19, 2010 12:49 PM
"The publiuc transit in this city is what needs work before parking can be eliminated."
Unfortunately I doubt that Muni will first improve to the levels that would encourage large numbers of motorists to switch to transit. That would require a huge investment.
Like most transit operators, Muni's funding is tied to ridership. So ridership must go up first before more and drivers are hired and equipment hits the road.
Instead increased competition for fixed street resources will impact motorists. There will be pain in the transition, felt by both motorists and transit users. I wish there was a better way. Money would solve this problem though even in good times it is hard to acquire for transit.
"... as you said taking away parking will only harm the surrounding streets."
You've misunderstood my statement. I said that closing Columbus to traffic would have a big negative impact on the surrounding streets. Removing some parking along this stretch of Columbus will have a small impact on parking availability on the neighboring streets and not anywhere near the magnitude of impact that closing traffic on Columbus would.
BTW, I took a walk along this stretch of Columbus several times last weekend as I was in the neighborhood and wanted to refresh my memory. The outdoor seating seemed to be very popular. Granted it was a warm weekend but this is the middle of winter after all. Sidewalk space for pedestrians was constrained and I can see how moving tables to former parking spots could improve the situation.
I think that the most reasonable trial plan would be to allow individual cafe owners to lease parking spaces at the market rate ($18/day). Lessees would improve spots with euro-style fenced platforms. Cafe owners who use these parking spots will need to clear the sidewalk of existing 2 tops. Unclaimed spaces would remain parking spots. This is sort of what Mt.View did with Castro St.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 19, 2010 1:19 PM
The Columbus parklet is now up and running : http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/10/15/eyes-on-the-street-new-parklet-on-columbus-avenue/#more-257111
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at October 18, 2010 11:36 AM
Niiiice!!! I am around there all the time. Usually across the street for great Tiramisu, but I guess I have another reason to cross over...
Posted by: lol at October 18, 2010 2:53 PM