A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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May 2021

Pictured above: In order to keep businesses from going under during the pandemic, San Francisco had to act fast. That urgency gave birth to the Shared Spaces Program, which allows businesses to construct socially distanced outdoor seating and commercial areas in the street and on the sidewalk fronting their storefronts.

FEATURE STORIES

 
Imagining Shared Spaces 2.0

In order to keep businesses from going under during the pandemic, San Francisco had to act fast. That urgency gave birth to the Shared Spaces Program, which allows businesses to construct socially distanced outdoor seating and commercial areas in the street and on the sidewalk fronting their storefronts.

Winding Down 
Pandemic Projects

As the health crisis is easing in San Francisco and the City begins to reopen, many of the City's COVID-19 projects are coming down.

Guardians of the
Guardrails

The Richland Avenue Bridge, a 94-year-old Public Works structure above the stretch of San Jose Avenue known as the Bernal Cut, will emerge next spring from a nearly year-long shutdown with new guardrails and freshly painted piers.

A New Collaborative Approach to Create Safer, More Welcoming Neighborhoods

As San Francisco emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor London Breed this month announced a new initiative to crack down on illegal activity in the Mid-Market and Tenderloin to create a safer and more inviting environment.

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Get Vaccinated San Francisco!

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Shared Spaces along the 700 block of Valencia St.

Imagining Shared Spaces 2.0

Photos by San Francisco Planning; videos by Public Works.

A lasting legacy of the COVID-19 health crisis in San Francisco may be the proliferation of restaurants and other businesses operating outdoors. 

San Francisco’s small, locally owned businesses are a backbone of the City’s economy. The cozy coffee shops, jam-packed bookstores, vibrant bars and dazzling galleries, help shape the character of every neighborhood, from the Outer Sunset and the Bayview to Dogpatch and North Beach.

Outdoor dining at the Front Porch on 29th Street.

These businesses, beloved by residents, workers and visitors, were hanging on by a thread this time last year, as the global pandemic dealt a hard blow to much of the nation’s economy.  Restrictions on gathering indoors to slow the spread of the virus rendered many of these businesses inoperable, especially those in industries that could not pivot to participate fully in in e-commerce or a delivery model.

 

San Francisco had to act fast to keep shuttered neighborhood businesses from going under. That urgency gave birth to the Shared Spaces Program, a collaboration involving Public Works, San Francisco Planning, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Economic Recovery Task Force, the Entertainment Commission, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Mayor’s Office on Disability. 

The program allows businesses to construct socially distanced outdoor seating and commercial areas in the street and sidewalk fronting their storefronts.

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An artist works on the Shared Spaces parklet in front of A Mano in Hayes Valley.

The concept for Shared Spaces is based on San Francisco’s Parklets Program, which began in 2010, and allows underutilized street space to be turned into built-out venues for outdoor dining, bike parking and other public uses sponsored by businesses, community organizations and nonprofits.

 

Unlike parklets, which are available for anyone to use, the Shared Spaces Program assigns sidewalk and curbside spaces to the fronting businesses for exclusive use.

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A family relaxes in front of Lapats on Larkin Street.

Shared Spaces launched in June 2020, two months after San Francisco’s Stay-at-Home Order went into effect. As the program got up and running, City officials worked hard to ensure that the structures were soundly built and designed to allow for proper social distancing, ventilation and fire safety. To assist business owners unable to cover the costs associated with building a Shared Space, the program awarded $3.1 million in grants.

Public Works’ Bureau of Street-use and Mapping has played a key role in the development, implementation and ongoing oversight of Shared Spaces. The team is responsible for reviewing and granting the permits and, once the structures are built, performs additional inspections to make sure they’re safe and don’t impede accessibility, especially for the mobility impaired.

These duties have kept our staff very busy. In the program’s first month of operation alone, more than 500 business owners were granted a Shared Spaces permit. Roughly one year into the program, that number stands at just over 2,100, with the City approving almost 70 percent of all permit applications. What makes this feat even more impressive is that we achieved a 72-hour turnaround on permit applications.

Heat lamps keep diners warm at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack on Mission Street.

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Taraval Street.

Not only did Shared Spaces help get San Franciscans back out on the town in a safe and socially distanced manner, but the initiative also proved to be a saving grace for hundreds of local businesses.

According to a recent participant survey, 84 percent of operators said that the Shared Spaces program allowed them to reopen under public health directives and 80 percent said the program allowed them to avoid permanent closure. A sample of more than 100 restaurants with an active permit for the first quarter of the program, from July through September, found they generated $82,000 more in taxable sales than other comparable restaurants without Shared Spaces. 

Although a large number of Shared Spaces are for outdoor dining and located in popular nightlife districts, such as North Beach, Hayes Valley, the Mission, the Castro and the Marina, the program has helped a diverse group of businesses throughout the entire city. 

Aside from dining, the program also permits for a variety of other uses, such as curbside pickup, outdoor retail, arts and entertainment programming and barbershops. In some high-demand areas, entire blocks are shut down to traffic on designated days and evenings. 

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A pop-up flower shop at the corner of 17th and Valencia streets.

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Squash for sale at a pop-up on 37th Avenue.

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37th Avenue San Franpsycho pop-up.

Due to the Shared Spaces program’s success in helping businesses stay afloat, popularity with patrons and the City’s overall progress in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Mayor London Breed announced legislation in mid-March to transition the endeavor from an emergency response into a permanent program to extend beyond the health crisis. 

This transition includes some important changes to the program going forward, with the intention of making it more sustainable and community-minded. 

The proposed permanent Shared Spaces program will keep the streamlined permitting process intact. The City will maintain a single, one-stop permit portal with Public Works handling many of the sidewalk and parking lane permits. Applications still will be processed quickly, but the 72-hour turnaround goal will be extended to 30 days in order to allow more time for community input and public hearings, which were not previously required for approval. 

This longer review period will help the City, businesses and the surrounding community try to achieve a good balance between supporting commercial activity and ensuring the public right of way remains accessible for people who walk, use wheelchairs, bike, drive and take public transit. 

The mayor also calls for deferring permit fees for another year to allow participating businesses to get on stronger financial footing.

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1824 Irving St.

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306 Clement St. in front of the Blue Danube Coffee House.

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601 Union St.

On May 24, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee took up the mayor’s proposal to make the program permanent but delayed consideration until later in June to work through concerns and details over such matters as accessibility and the use of public space for private enterprise. 

But one thing is certain: the vital role the Shared Spaces Program has played in buoying San Francisco businesses and lifting the spirits of residents during one of the most challenging periods in modern-day San Francisco.

Shared Spaces on Union Street across from Washington Square Park.

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Public Works’ carpenters load up wood panels they removed from the Moscone pop-up shelter.

Winding Down Pandemic Projects

For most of the past year, our marching orders were clear: Do what we can – and do it quickly – to help the City respond to the COVID-19 health crisis. 

We didn’t disappoint.

Our staff, all deemed essential workers, hustled to develop neighborhood safe sleeping sites for San Francisco’s unhoused residents – utilizing parking lots and a closed-off street as places where people could set up tents. Plumbers hooked up water, electricians brought in power, painters marked off individual sleeping areas to keep people six feet apart and our carpenters built sturdy wooden platforms to keep tents and belongings off the ground.

Our team built a medical surge site in the Presidio, which was on standby to serve non-COVID patients had San Francisco’s hospitals become overrun. Despite the winter rise in cases, the overflow facility was never needed.

We also transformed the Moscone West Convention Center into a large homeless shelter, boarded up Muni Metro stations to keep vandals at bay and outfitted neighborhood health centers to serve COVID patients safely.

The work involved trades workers, architects, engineers, the permits team, landscape architects, accountants, gardeners, street cleaners and many more of our staffers.

And now, as the health crisis is easing in San Francisco and the City begins to reopen, many of those projects are coming down.

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Our carpenters take down the barricades that kept people out of the Market Street Muni Metro stations during the system’s shutdown.

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Individual sleeping pods were built as part the convention center shelter, and now they’re coming down.

The wooden partitions that created separated sleeping pods at the Moscone shelter are being taken apart panel by panel, with the drills running counterclockwise to remove the screws. The large pieces of plywood that shuttered the entrances to the subway stations are being removed, as Market Street comes back to life. Next month, the painters will be back out at the Safe Sleeping Site at Haight and Stanyan streets to restripe the asphalt. We’re taking apart the makeshift hospital in the Presidio. 

Project by project, we’re seeing the dismantling of the COVID work. That’s a good thing, of course: It demonstrates that the insidious virus is on the retreat in San Francisco, and we can start inching back towards normal. 

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Contractor crews working on the Richland Avenue Bridge guardrail replacement project.

Guardians of the Guardrails

The Richland Avenue Bridge, a 94-year-old Public Works structure above the stretch of San Jose Avenue known as the Bernal Cut, will emerge next spring from a nearly year-long shutdown with new guardrails and freshly painted piers.

Crews started work in April on the 234-foot-long bridge that connects Glen Park and the College Hill neighborhoods. They are scheduled to wrap up construction next March. 

 

The work involves demolishing the old deteriorating concrete guardrails on both sides of the bridge and replacing them with new ones built on site that meet today’s safety codes. Crews also will make spot repairs on the piers, and then repaint them. In addition, the old streetlights in the area will be replaced. 

 

Public Works is managing the project; our contractor, Gordon N. Ball, Inc., is performing the work.

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A view of the t-beam Richland Avenue Bridge, looking north. The nearly identical Highland Street Bridge can be seen in the background.

The Richland Avenue Bridge, which was built in 1927 with five short spans, was modified in 1969 when the two mid-section piers were removed to allow Muni trains to run under the bridge on track along San Jose Avenue. A large arching beam was added to maintain the structure’s integrity. We have no records that show the guardrails have been upgraded in their nine-plus decades of existence. 

 

Once the job is complete, neighbors have plans to beautify the workhorse bridge. They won a $150,000 Community Challenge Grant from the City to create a colorful mural to decorate the cross and support beams below the deck. The images will represent Bernal Cut’s history, geography and neighborhood diversity.

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Curtis Jones tosses a bag of sidewalk trash onto the back of his truck.

A New Collaborative Approach to Create Safer, More Welcoming Neighborhoods

As San Francisco emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor London Breed this month announced a new initiative to crack down on illegal activity in the Mid-Market and Tenderloin to create a safer and more inviting environment.

The plan includes both a visible increase in police presence – with more officers patrolling on foot, horse, motorcycle and bicycle – and a cadre of community-based based ambassadors stationed on every block to engage with the public and help connect those in need of services.

The special operation runs along Market Street from Fifth to Eighth streets and adjacent areas just to the north and south and also includes U.N. Plaza and the Tenderloin north to Eddy Street.  

The law enforcement component started this month; the community ambassador program will roll out mid-June and ramp up over the summer.

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“I come to work every day to do my job and to help,” says Curtis Jones. “I hope I’m making a difference.”

Public Works also is dedicating staff to the effort to ensure quick response to street cleaning needs. On one recent morning, our Special Projects team members, Curtis Jones and Jorge Cruz, worked the Eddy Street corridor, picking up bags of illegally dumped trash left on the street corners, a smashed glass coffee table abandoned on the sidewalk and other debris. They start most of their workdays meeting up with officers from Tenderloin Police Station and go from there.

Jones said every shift in the Tenderloin can be different. On some days, people don’t want to move when he needs to clean an area; other days, everyone is cooperative. “Everyone’s going through their own challenges in life; as people, we all go through challenges,“ he said.  “I come to work every day to do my job and to help. I hope I’m making a difference.”

The work he and Cruz do is on top of our other cleanup operations in the Tenderloin that run throughout the day, which include encampment cleanups, litter patrol, steam cleaning and block sweeping. The Tenderloin Community Benefit District also has crews on the ground. We’re in the Mid-Market doing cleanups with other nonprofits, as well.

“All of our residents and workers deserve to feel safe, and this area of the City continues to face a number of challenges that need to be addressed,” Breed said in announcing the Mid-Market Vibrancy and Safety Plan. “This effort is really a collaboration with support and guidance from the community, especially the many families with children, workers and senior communities that live and work here. This sustained, focused approach will make a noticeable difference on the street as our City reopens and we continue to move forward with our economic recovery.”

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Curtis Jones and his co-worker, Jorge Cruz, pick up cardboard and other debris dumped in the Tenderloin.

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Fillmore

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Parkside

Neighborhood Dream Team

Armed with power washers, brooms, paint brushes, weeding tools, rakes, scrapers, mechanical sweepers and flusher trucks, our crews delivered deep cleanings in three more San Francisco neighborhoods this month as part of our special CleanCorridorsSF operation.

Each week, we send a large contingent of street cleaners to a different commercial corridor to provide a coordinated deep-cleaning blitz to create a more inviting environment for residents, merchants and visitors. May's targeted neighborhoods: Parkside, Fillmore, the Mission and Lower Polk. 

Mission

Polk

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Thanks for reading!