Four years ago Loring Sagan (Sagan Piechota Architecture and Build Inc.) and David Winslow (Winslow Architecture & Urban Design) who both have offices on Linden were awarded a challenge grant of $100,000 by the City of San Francisco for a master plan to make Linden Street more pedestrian friendly.
As the execution of the master plan for Linden nears completion, however, not everyone is thrilled. From a reader who resides off Linden:
Now that the concrete curbs are pored, it’s become clear that this pedestrian plaza was designed without any thought put into the existing driveways/garages that exit onto Linden, or the industrial users further up the street. I’ve spent the last two days watching my neighbors struggle through 12-point turns to access their homes — it’s only going to be worse when we have to navigate around pedestrians who don’t realize they’re loitering in the street because we’ve managed to “blur the distinction between the pedestrian and automobile realms and to create a unified space.” That is poor urban planning — period.
It’s not an “outdoor living room”. It’s an alley — a public street. An alley that people drive through, put their garbage bins in, and park trucks to deliver things to the light-industrial users. It’s also one of the last blocks with free all-day parking in Hayes Valley, and you’ve managed to take away three more parking spaces (plus the one that blue bottle took, when you cut the curb to pretend they were just a driveway).
The primary (and possibly singular) goal of the project was obviously this: “When completed, Linden living alley will serve as a comfortable “great good place” for the habitual customers of Blue Bottle café.”
And it’s going to do a very good job of that, at the expense of virtually every other user of this alley.
It should come as no surprise (considering the financial relationship between Blue Bottle and the architects involved in this project) that the neighbors’ concerns were ignored in favor of providing greater benefit to Blue Bottle and their habitual customers. Blue Bottle is a tiny cart in a block-long mixed use street. It’s also a relative newcomer here (2005), and has never made much of an effort to make nice with the residential neighbors nearby.
[It's worth noting that they went through the motions of soliciting input from the community when they were trying to get the permits in 2008, until the neighbors voiced the very concerns and objections that are now becoming realities. They made no effort to change the plans to alleviate our concerns -- just paid us lip service and thanked us for our feedback (which they ignored). All communication stopped when we refused to sign a document that would make us perpetually responsible for additional maintenance costs and liability.]
This entire project is really just an expansion of Blue Bottle, who will soon get the benefit of a rent-free plaza, owned by the city and used almost exclusively by their customers (if this weren’t about Blue Bottle, it would be at the other end of the street, where it would logically connect with Patricia’s Green and the impending pop-up spaces in the city-owned lots).
I predict tables and no more through traffic, within two years — the complete elimination of this as a public roadway. That’s great if you’re running a cafe (permitted as a kiosk/cart), and want a place for your customers to sit…but it’s not so good if you happen to have a 20 car garage that opens into someone’s living room.
I can only hope that the residents of Ames and Sumner alleys have better luck than we did (or have alleys that are more suited to pedestrian-only use). Initially, we were excited by this project. It would clean up the alley, and probably make our home a more desirable place to live. Instead, it’s only confirmed our fears about having to share an alley with professional property developers that own a cafe next door.
We’re not taking sides and keep in mind that the Proxy project at the other end of Linden is intended to be temporary. Regardless, if you’re lining up to buy a cup of coffee, get on the sidewalk. Standing in the street is more annoying (and dangerous) than hipster cool.