San Francisco Better Streets Plan

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Location: San Francisco, CA. Major U.S. city

Streets make up 25% of the land area in San Francisco – more space even than is in all the City’s parks and open spaces. San Francisco’s streets are one of its most memorable features. However, in the past we have ignored the untapped potential of the streets to improve the City’s public life and civic design.

Responsibility for design and management of the City’s streets is split among various agencies, each with its own specific mission, goals, and criteria. The result has been a haphazard collection of individual streetscape elements that do not add up to an aesthetic or functional whole.

To change this, San Francisco has developed and adopted this project (referred to in this submittal as “The Plan”), a unified set of policies, guidelines, and standards for the design of the pedestrian realm. The Plan provides a once-in-a-generation update to the City’s street design guidelines and standards to create a single, unified source that emphasizes the multiple public values that streets afford. The Plan brought together an unprecedented collaboration of all City agencies with responsibility for the design and management of the right-of-way.

The Plan promotes a balance between all the functions of a street, and puts people and quality of place first. It will bring significant benefits to San Francisco: it will help to retain families in the City, support a transit-first city, help promote public safety, help to minimize sewer/stormwater overflows into the Bay, decrease the likelihood of pedes- trian injuries and fatalities, increase accessibility for all street users, and enhance the everyday quality of life for the City’s residents, workers, and visitors.

The Plan’s goals include:

  • A renewed emphasis on how streets can serve as public space;
  • Enhancement of pedestrian safety and accessibility;
  •  Realizing the ecological potential of streets; and
  •  Improved public health by encouraging walking and bicycling.


Key components of The Plan include:

  • Best practice design guidance for shaping curblines, crossings, and traffic calming installations to promote pedestrian safety and accessibility;
  • Unified design standards for typical streetscape ele- ments including lighting, furniture, and landscaping with a focus on placemaking and ecological function;
  •  A street typology to guide overall streetscape design, and which streetscape elements would be included based on the character of the street and the land use context, to be used to identify the most pressing deficiencies and shape the re-design of streets to meet the goals of The Plan;
  •  Streetscape features to manage the City’s stormwater and lead to reduced flooding and sewer overflows; and
  •  Innovative pedestrian-priority and public space treatments, such as shared public ways, street-side pocket parks, and use of the parking lane as public space.

The Plan included a robust community engagement program over three years, including over 100 public meetings, monthly meetings with a Community Advisory Committee (CAC), walking tours, street-side tabling events, and others. Due to the significant outreach pro- gram, The Plan was unanimously adopted in December 2010. In addition, the community engagement efforts have created hundreds of advocates for the implementa- tion of The Plan ensuring future success.

The Plan requires that anybody making changes to the public right-of-way in the City must conform with The Plan’s policies and guidelines. The Plan provides a user-friendly and context-sensitive tool for developers to incorporate new and improved streetscapes into their development. As a result, every major proposed development area in the City (e.g. Candlestick/Hunters Point, Treasure Island, and ParkMerced) is proposing a street network that incorporates the innovative treatments defined by The Plan.

As well, City agencies have embraced The Plan’s street design vision and incorporated its treatments into new capital projects. The Plan has created a new way of doing business in the City, such that planning and implementation agencies work together to create street designs that account for all functions and roles of the street to create a street system that accommodates all users and return streets to their rightful place at the center of the city’s public life.


Response to Charter and Cannon Principles

The Charter of the New Urbanism recognizes that physical solutions will not by themselves solve social and economic problems, “but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.” The aim of The Plan is to refocus public and private investment in street improvements to create the physical framework that will allow the City and its neighborhoods to thrive.

The Plan responds to all scales of the Charter, including:

Charter Principle #8 - A framework for transportation alternatives. The Plan creates standards and guidelines for achieving a balanced street design for vehicles, transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists, with appropriate emphasis on some modes while always providing for pedestrians. These include capturing space for small greens and plazas and creating flexibility within the parking lane for additional landscape, public dining, and sitting on a bench and enjoying the public life of the street. The Plan establishes a system of place-based street types, defines the method for applying them to the City’s streets, and provides a menu of improvements and specific guidance of the design of improvements linking back to the street types—a fully integrated set of guid- ance and implementation tools.

Charter Principle #14 - Transit corridors help organize urban structure and revitalize centers. The Plan takes to heart the City’s “Transit-First Policy” by providing transit-supportive streetscape design guidance for all types of streets within the City, and by providing detailed directives for the design of streets for pedestrians, be- cause a high-quality pedestrian environment is necessary for transit if it is truly to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods and downtown core.

Charter Principle #18 – distribute a range of open public spaces within neighborhoods (and cities). The Plan makes clear that San Francisco’s streets are part of its system of public spaces, not just for strolling, but as neighborhood greens, community gardens, play areas for children integrated into expanded sidewalk areas or within the median of a street. The Plan also establishes particular street types where the design of the street fo- cuses on public space functions, such as the Ceremonial (Civic) and Park Edge street types.

Charter Principle #19: Definition of streets as place of shared use is a primary task of urban architecture and landscape. San Francisco has a rich history of architecture and landscape that orients to streets and public open spaces. But over time, the City’s streets have not met their role as places of shared use in support of the City’s urban form. The Plan establishes street types based on urban form and land use (e.g. Downtown Commercial and Neighborhood Commercial) and also designates special streets related to urban form, com- munity function or particular transportation characteristics (e.g. Multi-way Boulevard and Shared Public Way). The street design guidance then provides the toolkit of street elements that allow the street design to complement the specific characteristics of the City’s neighborhoods and districts.

Charter Principle #23 – Streets should be safe, com- fortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. The Plan’s primary purpose is to create a pedestrian-supportive environment. From the details of crosswalk and bulb-out design to pedestrian lighting standards, support for retail display and dining within the public right of way, to the creation of new public open spaces within the street, The Plan creates guidance for establishing priorities to exceed the expectations of this principle.

Canons of Sustainable Architecture and Urban- ism—The Street, Block, and Network. The Plan meets and exceeds these principles of the Canons, particularly climate issues, sun and shade, energy use, and green streets. For example, street lighting guidance is provided that not just on minimum lighting levels, but also energy efficiency, color rendering, community character, and aesthetics. The Plan also provides climate-specific guidance for areas of the city where wind, fog, and salt spray make street trees and other landscaping difficult to maintain. Finally, The Plan contains significant guidelines for features to sustainably manage water resources in the right-of-way.


Lessons learned: The Plan was a first-of-its-kind planning effort in the City: a comprehensive evaluation of the design practices for city streets involving close coordination among multiple City agencies, complemented by an unprecedented outreach effort to community and development partners. Lessons learned from The Plan include: - All agencies with jurisdiction over City streets should be involved throughout the process. The Plan included a significant agency ‘in-reach’ or coordination program to get all agencies on board with the concepts being discussed, including a core multi-agency team that met bi-weekly, a Technical Advisory Committee composed of over 50 staff from 15 agencies, and ad hoc meetings as necessary to drill down on specific technical issues and develop creative design solutions. As a result, The Plan achieved a broad consensus from all parties about street design – including traffic engineers, landscape architects, and urban designers – resulting in an innovative and comprehensive set of street design policies and guidelines. -There is “market demand” for improved streets across all demographics and geographies. The Plan included a substantial public outreach process, including over 100 public events to promote a community dialogue and build public support for The Plan. Events included interactive community workshops, walking tours, street-side tabling events, focus groups, a Community Advisory Committee, and more. As a result, The Plan was unanimously adopted by the City’s approval bodies, and public pressure to achieve more balanced street design helped to influence City agencies. - A citywide plan must include flexible street design guidance rather than “one-size-fits-all” solutions. The Plan includes a ‘kit-of-parts’ approach to street design that identifies key elements and standards for good street design, but that can be variably adapted to particular contexts throughout the city, from down- town commercial streets to neighborhood residential streets. -The development community is a key provider of street improvements. Developers have considerable impact over the provision of public realm improve- ments associated with their development project. The Plan includes adopted requirements for new development to provide streetscape enhancements in line with The Plan. Street improvements would be reviewed as part of overall development submittals.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center, T6 core.
Status: Plan Approved
Project or Plan's Scale: Corridor
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Project team designers: San Francisco Planning Department in collaboration with Community Design + Architecture and Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associaites
Project team developers: N/A

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