San Francisco’s local shopping districts help shape the City’s unique character and identity. Streets with lots of foot traffic also make for an attractive business environment. A gracious pedestrian environment can lead to greater numbers of people walking and spending time on a street, and enhances the value to shops and services. For example, one study found that customers are willing to pay as much as 10 percent more for certain goods and services for businesses on tree-lined streets.1 Residents, businesses and many others benefit when the City works closely with businesses to improve streets.

This page provides information to help merchants and related groups improve San Francisco’s street environment, to enhance both their businesses and the public street environment.

Process Overview

The City encourages appropriate use of sidewalk and street space for merchant activity. Merchants and property owners must obtain relevant permits to use street space, which entail responsibilities to maintain improvements in a safe, clean, and accessible manner. Permits are required for sidewalk seating, sidewalk merchandise displays, mobile food vendors, street events, and others. Merchant’s associations or business districts are also a key provider of streetscape improvements and maintenance in commercial districts.

General steps that merchants or related groups can take to make street or sidewalk improvements:

  1. Work with merchant and resident community and City agencies to develop preferred street improvements and designs
  2. Submit required applications for street improvement permits to appropriate City agencies
  3. City agencies will review street improvement permit applications, and request changes if necessary
  4. Certain permits require a public notice and/or hearing before they can be granted
  5. Permit will be granted or denied through staff review or public hearing
  6. If permit application is denied, the applicant generally may appeal the ruling

Relevant Permits

Merchant improvements fall into two categories: Streetscape Improvements (generally made by a merchant association or business district), and Street and Sidewalk Use (generally applied for by an individual business).

See Permit Process

Streetscape Improvements

Type of Improvement Permit Agency
Street trees Tree Planting Permit DPW
Sidewalk landscaping Sidewalk Landscape Permit DPW
Bioretention planters (Raingardens) Sidewalk Landscape Permit or Minor Encroachment Permit DPW
Banners Banner Permit DPW
Benches Minor Encroachment Permit DPW
Bike Racks Request from SFMTA: SFMTA will install SFMTA
Street/pedestrian lighting See SFPUC Street Light Catalog – coming soon SFPUC
Special paving treatments Special Sidewalk Paving Permit DPW
Signage (wayfinding) Minor Encroachment Permit DPW
Public Art Minor Encroachment Permit DPW; Arts Commission

Street and Sidewalk Use

Type of Improvement Permit Agency
Temporary (one-time) event (e.g. block party, street fair) Temporary Street Closure permit ISCOTT
Intermittent (regularly recurring) event (e.g. farmer’s market, Sunday Streets, conversion of alleyway to pedestrian use and outdoor restaurant seating) Temporary Street Closure permit ISCOTT
Outdoor café or restaurant seating Tables and Chairs permit DPW
Merchandise Display Display Merchandise/Produce Permit DPW
Mobile food vendor Mobile Food Facility permit (on-going); Temporary Occupancy permit (single day) DPW
Parklet (use of parking space for public space and seating) Pending. See Pavement to Parks Website DPW
Street artist General InformationStreet Artist Certificate; Street Artists Space Lottery Arts Commission
Bicycle corrals (bicycle parking in roadway) On-street bicycle parking corral application

 As city as crews are not able to sweep by hand, The SFMTA requires bike corral project sponsors such as merchants, property owners, or neighborhood groups to agree to keep the area clean and free of debris.

Merchant Associations and Business Districts

Merchant’s associations or business districts are a key partner in creating streetscape improvements and ensuring maintenance in commercial districts. Some of the improvements merchant groups may be most interested in include plantings, banners, street furnishings, district signage, public art, or other treatments. Some of the streetscape maintenance activities merchant groups may be most likely to provide include sidewalk power washing, graffiti removal, maintenance of plantings and street furnishings, and others.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) are common throughout the City through a partnership between the City and local communities. Once an area has voted to establish a CBD, local property owners are levied a special assessment to fund improvements to their neighborhood. The funds are administered by a non-profit organization established by the neighborhood.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development provides technical assistance to CBDs in San Francisco, and can help you form your own CBD.

See Funding and Maintenance


1. Georgia Forestry Commission

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