Checking In On Fell And Oak Streets' Rain Gardens

Checking In On Fell And Oak Streets' Rain GardensPhoto: Nuala Sawyer / Hoodline
Nuala Sawyer
Published on July 10, 2015

It's been three months since construction wrapped up the rain gardens located at Fell and Divisadero, Fell and Baker, and Baker and Oak streets, and thus far, reviews from residents in the neighborhood have been mixed.

Reader Marcus D. emailed us to point out that trash has been collecting in the rain gardens, commenters on our previous story about rain gardens voiced criticism about the choice of plants and maintenance, and readers also raised questions about safety, as multiple incidents of cars hopping the curb and driving into the gardens have been reported.

Curious how success was being tracked, and what the plans were for maintaining and protecting the gardens, we reached out to the SFMTA, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and San Francisco Public Works to learn more about how the rain gardens are doing thus far.

Ari Frank from San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) pointed out the positive goals of the rain gardens. "During the drought, these rain gardens play an important role by capturing precious stormwater for drought tolerant plants which beautify the neighborhood and provide habitat," he told us in an email. "The rain gardens slow stormwater, reducing the burden on our combined sewer system."

SFPUC is also monitoring how much water each rain garden receives, and how quickly that water sinks into the ground. Down the line, they'll use that data to inform the design and placement of other green infrastructure projects throughout San Francisco.

Aesthetics and functionality aside, many in the neighborhood have noticed that the rain gardens are gathering trash. Street sweepers can't access the deep trenches, meaning that newspapers, cans and other debris often hang out in the gardens for days or weeks at a time. 

Trash in the Fell and Divisadero rain garden. Photo: Bryce Bishari

According to Cristina Olea, the San Francisco Public Works project manager for these rain gardens, a contract is in place for trash will be picked up by a contractor for three years. Each month, maintenance workers remove weeds and litter by hand, and clear any sediment or debris that may have gathered at the drains. 

Another issue raised by readers is the likelihood of vehicles driving in to the rain gardens, like this truck last May, which prompted a temporary orange barrier to be erected at the corner of Fell and Divisadero. Ellen Robinson from the SFMTA told us that crews were sent out this week to paint the exposed sides of the rain garden curbs reflective white to increase visibility. "The missing fence that has been hit at the Fell and Divisadero rain garden will be replaced and a bollard installed at the corner," she said. Whether this will do the trick and prevent cars from accidentally taking that turn too tightly remains to be seen. 

Whether you're a fan of these rain gardens or not, more are planned for the neighborhood. The Wiggle Neighborhood Green Corridor Project includes a plan for sidewalk bulb-outs that contain rain gardens. The design is still being developed, but construction should begin next year.