Sidewalk width has significant implications for streetscape design and the quality of the pedestrian environment.

Sidewalks that are too narrow prevent pedestrians from moving safely and comfortably. Narrow sidewalks also make if difficult or impossible to provide important additional streetscape elements and pedestrian amenities.

A wide sidewalk offers pedestrians enough space to walk at their chosen pace, stand, sit, socialize, or merely enjoy their surroundings. Wider sidewalks also offer more space for landscaping and amenities, making the streetscape more useful and attractive and also acting as a buffer between traffic and pedestrians.

The following variables should be considered in determining appropriate sidewalk width:

  • Street types: Sidewalk width and function varies based on street types and levels of activity.
  • Adjacent land use: High-intensity uses attract more pedestrians, generally necessitating greater sidewalk widths.
  • Adjacent building form: Taller buildings create greater shadow and scale; wider sidewalks can create greater separation from the buildings, and allow more sun to reach sidewalks opposite tall buildings.
  • Adjacent ground floor use: Office and residential uses are often slightly set back to allow a transition from public to private spaces. In contrast, buildings with active ground floor uses typically front more directly onto the street and often spill out into the sidewalk with seating or merchandise displays. These features may constrain clear sidewalk width.
  • Roadway characteristics: Pedestrians are typically more comfortable on sidewalks that are buffered from moving vehicles. Faster, higher volumes of cars and trucks require a wider buffer to create a comfortable walking environment. On-street parking and bicycle lanes can serve as buffers; where they are not present, additional sidewalk width and landscaping may be necessary.

Minimum Sidewalk Width 

All sidewalks should meet the minimum widths shown here, as measured from the face of the curb.

Existing sidewalks may be narrower than the minimum widths for a variety of reasons, from physical constraints to historical context. Sidewalks that are below these widths should be considered deficient; when funding allows or the street is otherwise being reconstructed, they should be considered for widening as feasible given right-of-way constraints.

Where it is not possible to achieve minimum widths within existing rights-of-way, requiring consistent building setbacks may be considered as a way to provide extra space.

Recommended Sidewalk Width

Sidewalks should strive to meet or exceed the recommended sidewalk widths, as measured from the face of the curb, shown here. These  widths allow for the provision of all desired streetscape elements on the sidewalk.

Major new development or redevelopment areas that create new streets must meet or exceed recommended sidewalk widths per Planning Code Section 138.1. On new streets, where continuous building setbacks are proposed, minimum sidewalk width may be narrowed by the width of the applicable frontage zone, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

Streetscape improvement projects should evaluate opportunities to widen sidewalks to the recommended minimums as conditions allow. However, most street improvements in San Francisco take place within existing constrained rights-of-way (as opposed to entirely new streets), and trade-offs among various travel modes are often necessary. 

Minimum and Recommended Sidewalk Width by Street Type

Street Type Minimum Width Recommended Width
COMMERCIAL Downtown commercial Per Downtown Streetscape Plan
Commercial throughway 12’ 15’
Neighborhood commercial 12’ 15’
RESIDENTIAL Downtown residential 12’ 15’
Residential throughway 12’ 15’
Neighborhood residential 10’ 12’
OTHER Industrial 8’ 10’
Mixed-use 12’ 15’
SPECIAL Parkway 12’ 17’
Park edge 12’ 24’
Multi-way boulevard 12’ 15’
Ceremonial Varies Varies
Alley 6’ 9’
Shared public way NA NA
Paseo Varies Varies

Sidewalk and Median Width

Though medians can add aesthetic value and safety benefits, roadway space is often more valuable to pedestrians as part of sidewalks rather than as part of a median, particularly where sidewalks are less than the recommended sidewalk width for the appropriate street type. On the other hand, due to the difficulty and cost of moving curbs, utilities, driveways, site furnishings and plantings (especially if trees are mature), widening sidewalks by a small amount may be a less cost-effective manner of improving a street than adding median space. This determination should be made on a case-by-case basis.

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