SFMTA, Union Square Businesses Seek Input On Powell Streetscape Plans

SFMTA and the Union Square Business Improvement District (BID) will host a community outreach event about proposed changes to the southern end of Powell Street on Thursday, November 2nd.

Community members will be able to share their opinions of SFMTA’s plans for a shared mobility space on Powell between O’Farrell and Ellis, which will include wider pedestrian paths along with new streetscaping and lighting fixtures. 

New traffic rules restricting vehicular traffic to loading zones were piloted in November 2015 and permanently adopted in July 2017. The loading zones can be used for deliveries or passenger pick-up and drop-off, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said, but any vehicles using the street for through traffic may be ticketed.

The pedestrian path in some areas will expand by three feet.

Since the pilot traffic configuration was launched in 2015, there have been no injury collisions in the two-block stretch, and traffic volumes have been reduced by 60 percent without any measurable effect on congestion in the surrounding area, Rose said. 

The Powell Streetscape Project has been developed through several rounds of community outreach to ensure the plans to free the cable cars from traffic congestion and increase pedestrian safety do not interfere with businesses’ operations, Union Square BID executive director Karin Flood told us. 

“We have had a great partnership working with them,” Flood added. “This is arguably the busiest area in Union Square, and it is really begging for streetscape improvements.”

In 2011, the neighborhood advocacy group initiated the Powell Street Promenade, which offered sidewalk extensions along parts of the two blocks. The parklets were sponsored by Audi and had a five-year life span, Flood said.

When the end of that term was approaching, SFMTA and the BID started looking for ways to provide more permanent street improvements, she added. 

Flex zones would separate pedestrians and the flow of traffic.

Current plans include ‘furnishing’ or ‘flex’ zones, where stores that face the sidewalk could locate seating, signage, planters, or other items in what would otherwise be considered the path of travel, Rose said.

Property owners would need a permit from the Department of Public Works to use the sidewalk, he added. Based on conversations with property owners and the Union Square BID, SFMTA expects many stores to take advantage of those flex zones rather than set up sidewalk displays, Rose said.

The businesses favored the idea of limiting frontage areas to provide a cleaner design for the storefronts, he added.

SFMTA and the Union Square BID will be on site explaining the design for Powell Street and accepting public feedback from noon until 6pm on Thursday, November 2nd at 151 Powell St.

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Sfmta union square businesses seek input on powell streetscape plans