Monday, December 14, 2009

Breathing Room

Powell Street near Union Square was the latest street to get a temporarily more livable trial project over the weekend, just in time for the holiday shopping rush.

The parking lanes on both sides of the street were removed to create an expanded pedestrian walkway from the cable car turnaround to Union Square (the block of Powell between the turnaround and Ellis Street is already pedestrian- and transit-only).

When I stumbled across the new space, it was pretty clearly that it was being somewhat disfavored by passers-by. That was likely due in part to the wet weather, which dampened (literally and figuratively) the usual crush of shoppers.

But a couple small design tweaks could make it a little more clear that the space is for walking. There are signs (pictured above) announcing the space, but in the sensory overload of Union Square in December, once could certainly be forgiven for rushing past them without reading.

The space itself ends awkwardly about 10-15 feet short of the street corners, I assume to make room for turning cars. But that also happens to be right where pedestrian logjams already occur, so forcing everyone to merge again right there is somewhat inelegant.

The metal barricades also give the feeling of a "no trespassing" sign. To counter this, the city decorated them with festive red ribbons but, personally, that made it feel to me like a private space that some hotel had reserved rather than an extension of public space (silly but true). Adding to that were the hedges, which were places along the curb rather than the barricades. That location served to separate the new space from the sidewalk, making it not an obvious extension thereof.

It's absolutely fantastic that the city is working to reapportion some of this prime real estate away from the spendthrift cars and toward the economic powerhouse pedestrians. And with a few tweaks it will certainly show great results.

According to Streetsblog there might be another, longer trial in the spring depending on the feedback the city receives. So head to the Better market Street website to add your feedback in support of great projects like this.

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