Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 22, 2013

Why don’t we do it in the road

Filed under: Alameda, Business, Development, Public Resources — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

The success of last year’s Park Street parklet (and the pains it took to get it there) has lead the City to consider adopting formal guidelines for parklets in the future.   Parklets — which get commonly misused by people wanting some random park somewhere, such as the person who wanted to convert the whole of CVS into a “parklet” after Walgreens moves in — is a small park that is placed in a traditional parking sport on a (mostly) temporary basis.

The guidelines went before the Transportation Commission a few weeks ago and followed some serious smack down by the TC of CalTrans over the whole Tube beautification thing.  If I have time maybe I’ll post about that because it was pretty interesting and a real incident of a public agency (CalTrans) getting little to no public input on a hugely expensive capital project with a limited goal for safety (handrails) and a major goal for beautification.  But I digress.

So the TC added some conditions like no parklets in residential zones and in commercial zones it needs approval from 75% of the storefronts directly in front of the proposed parklet.   At first I was a little confused by the no parklets in residential zones, because as someone who has an um parklet of sorts in front, it’s really nice.   But then I remembered people’s obsessions with “their” parking spaces directly in front of their house as though they own the rights to the exact spot and realized the someone might pop down a “parklet” in front of their house that is conveniently rolled away when they need to park there.  So no parklets in residential neighborhoods, I can understand that.  But man oh man, Otis from Grand to 8th Street could really use some parklets to liven it up a little.

Other cities have already started this formalized parklet movement, like San Francisco which has a beautiful (and thorough) guide with beautiful example photos.

There was a great article in Grist about parklets a few days ago which shows how well parklets do, highlights, the appropriate title is “The littlest parks could make the greatest civic changes”:

With explicit goals of encouraging non-motorized transportation, eco-friendly design, and reshaping neighborhood interaction, these teeny parklets pack a big political punch.

“In terms of changing the dialog about what the public realm can be, I think it’s been really successful, both with the public and within the city bureaucracy itself,” says Chasan, who has headed up the program for two and a half years. “When you park your car on the street, you’re essentially privatizing a public space. So when you turn it into something for everyone, it becomes a very literal metaphor.”

Even when they take over that private parking spot, parklets still straddle an odd private-public line. Each one is sponsored and bankrolled by a local entity, most often a business, and can cost about $20,000-30,000 — a significant investment for what is truly a public space. Those parklets outside coffee shops and cafes may seem like an extension of the restaurant that ponied up that cash, but they’re really not. The city requires that parklets look and feel public and separate from the sponsoring business.

…one city traffic engineer has proposed a totally new type of parklet that’s not meant for people at all: raised gardens that would act as bulb-out “chokers” in traffic lanes, slowing cars down and adding a bit of greenery to the streetscape. It’s a traffic-calming measure that other cities have tried, but this would be the first application in San Francisco — and by going the parklet route, the city could try it out without the cost and disruption of tearing up the road.

Of course parklets are not for everywhere and for every block, but selective application could provide the missing “gathering spaces” that are needed in our major commercial districts like Park and Webster Streets.    And quasi-parklets to try out bulb outs in certain areas might be a way for traffic calming in certain streets that need it but the City is reluctant to plop down the capital.


  1. Okay, let’s just say that I totally “get” this idea, which, frankly, I don’t–why in the name of all that’s holy does it cost $20,000 to $30,000 to accomplish? By the way, yeah, those of us who don’t have a two-car garage and have had to schelp our groceries down the block are a teensy bit territorial about “our” parking spaces. Call us selfish if you must. A number of houses on my street don’t even have a single off-street parking space.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — July 22, 2013 @ 7:14 am

  2. I really don’t need parking right in front of my house, but with a school, a dance studio and a corner store, and a mosque all in a one block radius, we have parking issues most of the time. Oh, and not to mention that people park in a three car spot so as to make it a two car or even a one car spot, with no thought to who else may need the spot. Or the overly ambitious parking control guy/gal who gives tickets to people “outside the lines” when some parkers make it impossible tor another car to park “inside the lines” and are not willing to forego parking in the neighborhood they live in. It is frustrating sometimes, especially when one has to unload bulky or heavy stuff. I think the idea of parklets is lovely, but where they go is important. If not in commercial or in residential areas, where does that leave them to go?

    Comment by Kate Quick,. — July 22, 2013 @ 7:57 am

  3. Any of you know the name Richard Register? A bit of a visionary. He co-founded Urban Ecology but was eventually ousted from it’s board. He is credited with the smiley face design but never got copy rights, really. He lived in a communal house on Cedar Street in Berkeley in the 1970s and they had The Vegetable Car parked in front of their house. It was towed to various locations for events. Richard had an entire plan for the NAS which was based on concentric circles of walkable communities which completely abandoned the grid. He was actually disillusioned that the City Council and the regional board didn’t embrace his vision for urban realignment.

    Comment by MI — July 22, 2013 @ 8:36 am

  4. 2: Kate, the parklets are intended primarily for commercial districts, but the Park Street Business Association wanted to make sure that surrounding businesses were not negatively affected: thus the 75% approval needed from adjacent businesses. (IMHO that is an excessive requirement, but PSBA has never been much for visionary and progressive ideas…)

    The city is now working on a related but separate proposal to permit selected auto parking spaces to be converted to bike parking areas with bike racks in the street.
    This would alleviate the bike rack shortage and bike parking problems in some downtown locations as well as relieve overall parking congestion by adding parking spaces at a 10:1 ratio…

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 22, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  5. The bike parking makes more sense to me as an alternate use of parking spaces. Sitting on a hay bale inches away from a constant stream of exhaust belching vehicles is not my idea of a day in the park. I predict that this, coupled with the outrageous price tag will result in very few actual parklets until the whole thing is forgotten. In the meantime, thank goodness all this effort has been put into the guidelines. It’s given the Transportation Commission something to do while they’re waiting to deal with the traffic nightmares headed in their direction once all these planned housing developments are built.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — July 22, 2013 @ 11:13 am

  6. I don’t see a whole lot of these things being created either. One note is that although most have been successful in SF there have been some exceptions. Some have not been properly maintained and the City has had to take steps to remove them. So it should be very clear if we are going to have them that there be compliance as to maintenance and what steps can and will be taken to have them removed and who pays for the removal. Really as we keep cutting back services the state of things we already have has deteriorated.

    Comment by frank — July 22, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

  7. I don’t have an opinion on serious parklets, but I think the one day parklet on Park Street last year and guerilla art stunts like the Vegetable Car are great just to tweak consciousness a little. I’m certain I’ve posted about Richard, Veg Car and Urban Ecology before including Register’s failed attempt to sell his new age vision of redeveloping the Point. I’m far too pragmatic to have a lot of empathy with Richard’s sincere dismay at being spurned, but it’s great that there are folks who have a purer vision and put it out there. He and I were part of movement to revive urban creeks and Richard had enough clout and where with all to actually get Berkeley to rip open some culverts, to “daylight” sections of creeks.

    Comment by M.I. — July 24, 2013 @ 11:06 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: