The quality of the street environment depends not only on the physical design of the street, but also the uses and programming that activate it. There are many ways for public and private entities to activate spaces along our streets and sidewalks. Some projects like outdoor café seating or sidewalk merchant displays add vibrancy and fine-grained visual interest to the City’s retail districts. Others like street fairs, street artists and play streets, operate at certain times of the day or year. These events and happenings add life, enrich our cultural landscape and connect us to the ebbs and flows of the seasons.
Greening is attractive, enhances property values, and shows a sense of care for the neighborhood. Some greening features, such as bioretention planters or rain gardens, can also manage stormwater on our streets and sidewalks. Stormwater management facilities slow and cleanse stormwater runoff, improving water quality and reducing flooding. Many of these improvements can be made collectively or by individual property owners.
A great pedestrian environment relies on creating streets that are safe for pedestrians and that calm traffic through the city’s neighborhoods. There are many effective measures to improve pedestrian safety, such as enhanced crosswalks or curb bulb-outs. Traffic calming measures such as traffic circles and chicanes slow traffic and discourage neighborhood cut-throughs. Many traffic calming features contribute to the aesthetic and environmental quality of the street by incorporating greening and stormwater management features. Pedestrian safety and traffic calming initiatives are typically built by the City, with input from community members.
San Francisco’s streets make up 25% of the city’s land area, more space even than is found in all of the city’s parks. Within that space there are large areas of the roadway that are excessively wide or underused. Such spaces represent opportunities for “urban acupuncture”—strategic punctual interventions like bike corrals, parklets and pocket parks – that convert underutilized paved area into vibrant pedestrian space. Many of these improvements can be made or applied for by individual property owners or merchants.
Streetscape Elements such as lighting, special paving and street furniture provide important amenities for pedestrians by adding functionality and vitality to the pedestrian realm, announcing that pedestrians are welcome and that the street is a comfortable place to be. These amenities provide a functional service to the pedestrian and provide visual detail and interest. Improved street vitality has marked impacts on public safety and comfort, health of local businesses, local real estate value, and transportation habits. Many of these improvements can be made collectively or by individual property owners.