These renderings show the proposed promenade for lower Powell Street, between Ellis and Geary streets, which features added lighting, wider sidewalks and a flat curb level with the street. (Courtesy SFMTA)

These renderings show the proposed promenade for lower Powell Street, between Ellis and Geary streets, which features added lighting, wider sidewalks and a flat curb level with the street. (Courtesy SFMTA)

SF to transform car-free stretch of Powell Street into pedestrian promenade

A two-block stretch of Powell Street may soon become a Paris-style public promenade, replete with increased lighting, planters and significantly wider sidewalks.

The last open houses for the Powell Streetscape Improvement Project are Thursday, held at noon and 6 p.m., at JiNS at 151 Powell St. The project is slated to go to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors for approval in January.

Some businesses are decrying even more construction in the already construction-beleaguered downtown, but others welcome the revamped sidewalks as potentially safer.

The pilot project to create a car-free Powell Street between Ellis and Geary streets was initiated in 2015, and made permanent in July. Previously, lower Powell Street saw at least three injury collisions annually. Ever since traffic (except taxis, cable cars and loading vehicles) was banned, collision-based injuries dropped to zero.

“The pilot was tremendously successful” in terms of safety, said Dan Howard, an SFMTA transit engineer and project lead.

The lack of car traffic also helped ailing cable cars’ steel cables, which run under the street. Traffic congestion causes more wear and tear on the cables, since they’re clamped for longer and start to melt. Since lower Powell Street went car-free, the cables’ lives have been extended from 60 days to 80 days, Howard said.

Not only will the sidewalks be widened from 14 feet to 22 feet, they’ll be curbless — meaning flat with the street — noted Natalie Burdick, outreach director of advocacy group Walk SF.

“It’s a perfect example of The City prioritizing people walking,” Burdick said.

These renderings show the proposed promenade for lower Powell Street, between Ellis and Geary streets, which features added lighting, wider sidewalks and a flat curb level with the street. (Courtesy SFMTA)

The promenade will gain extra lighting from short vertical posts, called bollards, and the parklets on Powell Street will be removed, which neighbors complained were ill-maintained.

“It just attracts rats,” Phineas Ng, owner of Tad’s Steakhouse on 120 Powell St., said of the parklets and planters.

“Everything looks nice in the beginning and in the graphic design,” Ng said of project renderings. “But if you can’t afford to keep it up, it’s going to look worse than it was before.”

Union Square Business Improvement District Executive Director Karin Flood said in a statement, “We applaud any public-private initiative” that supports local business vitality.

Sensors installed by Union Square BID show 5.6 million pedestrians traversing the 200 block of Powell Street since January, and 40 million in the area around Union Square writ large.

John Konstin, owner of the historic John’s Grill right off Powell on 63 Ellis St., said his biggest problem with the promenade is construction-related traffic congestion, especially considering Central Subway construction on nearby Stockton Street.

“Traffic is just a mess,” said Konstin. “It’s going to make it worse.”

Howard said construction on the Powell Street promenade will not begin until 2021 — after the Central Subway construction is set to conclude. Transit

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
Shutterstock
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

COVID restrictions have prompted a benefit or two, such as empty streets in The City. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Taking the scenic route through a pandemic

Streets of San Francisco are pleasantly free of traffic

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina provide the voices of the title characters of “Raya and the Last Dragon.” <ins>(Courtesy Disney)</ins>
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ boasts full-scale diversity

Though familiar in plot, Disney’s latest is buoyed by beauty, pride and power

Most Read