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Posts Tagged ‘The Core Project’

The Parklet Project was a success! We set up 3 parklets on Main Street and blocked a section of street to create a pop-up plaza last Saturday. The 3 Main Street parklets were all of the same design; plywood floors on sleepers to align with the sidewalk, and OSB walls to offer some separation from the adjacent traffic.

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The 3 parklets were customized by the adjacent businesses, or by The Core Project for the parklet in front of the bike shop. People were really interested in what we were doing and most feedback was favorable. There is a severe lack of pedestrian space on Main Street, and the parklets offered the opportunity to relax and have a conversation, or catch up on some reading, out of the flow of pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk.

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Being a small town, you invariably run into someone you know while walking downtown. When you stop to chat you end up blocking the sidewalk. A parklet gives you an opportunity to step aside and carry on your conversation without blocking the flow. And the walls of the parklet gave a surprising amount of separation from the adjacent traffic lanes. They really had a cozy feeling to them.

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The fourth parklet was really more of a plaza. We realized that shade was a premium for this space as it was a relatively warm day. Once we repositioned the umbrellas we had, and re-located several from the Main Street parklets people were more apt to populate the space. And as more people ventured to Screamin’ Mimi’s later in the afternoon, the pop-up plaza really came alive.

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parklet 6The event showed that people will use more space, when we give them more space, and that the space allowed for spontaneous interactions. One parklet even hosted a birthday party (my wife and several friends brought down a cake for my birthday, to my surprise) that resulted in sharing birthday cake with passersby.

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Several businesses expressed interest in creating permanent parklets. I’m hoping this event showcasing what could be will inspire one or more of them to create something more permanent.

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The Core Project and the City of Sebastopol are sponsoring The Parklet Project, tomorrow, Saturday, April 29th. The Core Project has been working to bring parklets to Sebastopol and was instrumental in getting the city to adopt an ordinance to allow their development. We have participated in PARK(ing) day several times and sponsored a lecture by Robin Abad Ocubillo from San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program to introduce the community to the idea and the benefits parklets have shown to have in San Francisco.

For those not familiar with parklets, the idea is simply to convert a street parking space to a space for people. Parklets provide for an expansion of the sidewalk for places to stop, rest and relax. It is one way to reclaim part of the public realm for people.

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Sebastopol PARK(ing) Day park on Main Street

The Parklet Project will consist of 3 parklets on Main Street and the creation of a plaza from a strange underutilized section of street for one day. The 3 Main Street parklets will be at The Gypsy Cafe/Sebastopol Cookie Company, Retrograde Coffee Roasters and West County Cycle Services. The blocked street is in front of Screamin’ Mimi’s ice cream shop, Glass Fusion and Pottery Too, and Thrive Yoga.

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The Parklet Project Locations

As downtown Sebastopol sits at the intersection of two state highways we applied for and received a Caltrans encroachment permit for the event. We’re hoping that this project will show the community the benefits of parklets and in improving the pedestrian realm which is dominated by cars. And we hope that it makes it easier to get an encroachment for a more permanent parklet from Caltrans in the future.

So if you are anywhere near Sebastopol, come by and check out the parklets tomorrow. Sit, relax, converse, support our local businesses and imagine a more people-friendly downtown Sebastopol.

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Standardized Parklet Project Design

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The Parklet Project Apple Blossom Festival Parade Entry, April 22, 2017.

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Recently closed restaurant

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Recently closed toy store

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Great corner retail opportunity.

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Soon to close wine shop

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Corner storefront location occupied by the jiu jitsu studio

I’ve noticed something a bit troubling recently. There are a couple of vacant storefronts on Main Street. In addition, there is another that is about to close and a recently closed business was replaced with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio. I don’t know about you, but a martial arts studios opening on a main commercial street in a community is often not a good sign. Storefronts on Main Street should be just that, the fronts of stores. Stores, restaurants, bars, cafes generate pedestrian activity which is necessary for the vitality of a downtown commercial district. Martial arts studios and professional offices do not. Often you walk to a store on Main Street with a specific task at hand. But other times you walk along Main Street to window shop, and sometimes you see something in the window that draws you into the store. I doubt many people walking down Main Street suddenly decide they need to take a Jiu Jitsu class, and if they did if would be too bad because it seems to have rather limited hours, mostly in the evening as far as I can tell. I rarely see anything going on inside.The economy seems to have improved over the days of the recession, yet these businesses have closed.

Some people may be ready to blame The Barlow. It’s been a concern of Main Street merchants from the early planning stages of the project. The Barlow is a rehabilitated former warehouse/light industrial area adjacent to downtown. And while there are still vacancies in some of the spaces at The Barlow, it generally seems more lively than Main Street. There is a mix of light industry like wineries, breweries, a coffee roaster, a distillery, a bakery, a glass blower and a foundry. But there are also retail shops, restaurants, a local co-op market and cafes.

If The Barlow seems to be doing better than Main Street, and I have no data on whether or not this is true, I would offer a couple of reasons why. Firstly, The Barlow has done a very good job of marketing itself. It was recently written up in the New York Times travel section, Sunset Magazine and USA Today. They have billboards around the Bay Area, they sponsor a weekly street fair during summer months. It’s a definite draw.

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McKinley Street in The Barlow

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Narrow lanes and on-street parking keep speeds slow on McKinley Street.

IMG_20150911_140648676IMG_20150911_140714280_HDRBut more importantly, it’s just a nicer place for people. One of my early blog posts was about how Main Street is not a place for people. It feels like a highway, and it is, California Route 116. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Main Street needs a face lift. To start with, returning streets to two-way traffic, and reducing the lane width would help. The one-way traffic, wide lanes, straight street and limited traffic controls encourage speeding, particularly once traffic is ‘freed’ from the light at the main downtown intersection. Traffic literally takes off at that point and speeds over the posted 25 mph are a regular occurrence south of Bodega Ave.

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Storefronts are nice enough, but this environment is dominated by cars.

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Lots of space devoted to cars, not much to people.

IMG_20150911_142233154_HDR The pedestrian infrastructure takes second seat to the car. As a pedestrian, you feel this is a place for cars, and you are here provisionally. Most of the street furniture is decent enough, but sidewalks are narrow, trees are pathetic and lighting is dismal. The Barlow has much nicer landscaping, street furniture and narrow, slow streets. When walking in The Barlow, you feel welcomed, relaxed. This is a place for you. If something catches your eye in a store front across the street, you can cross mid-block without concern that you’ll be run down. Traffic moves slowly here; it’s not on it’s way somewhere else. You don’t feel welcomed as a pedestrian on Main Street, you feel like you always have to keep an eye  on the cars, particularly when crossing the street. Even at crosswalks, cars are not looking out for you.

The Barlow also has restaurants with outdoor seating.

Covered outdoor seating

Covered outdoor seating

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Uncovered outdoor seating

With the narrow sidewalks of Main Street this is not really possible. One solution I’ve come across recently is to extend the sidewalk into the parallel parking zone to allow for outdoor dining.

Outdoor seating in San Rafael, CA. Notice how the sidewalk swings out to occupy the parallel parking zone.

Outdoor seating in San Rafael, CA. Notice how the sidewalk swings out to occupy the parallel parking zone in order to allow for the seating.

If we want Main Street businesses to succeed we need to improve the streetscape to benefit the pedestrian. The Core Project has partnered with the City of Sebastopol on the submittal of an encroachment permit to Caltrans for a parklet demonstration day on Main Street. We have 5 different  locations selected where we propose to construct a parklet for a day. The hope is that this will inspire businesses to apply for more permanent parklets. And we hope that the demonstration will make Caltrans comfortable with the idea of permanent parklets. To our knowledge, Caltrans has never approved the construction of a parklet on a state highway.

Parklets could be a first step to improve the pedestrian environment of Main Street. But not the only solution. We need to turn the tables and make people in cars feel that they are passing through a pedestrian priority zone.  There are enough visitors and people living in Sebastopol and it’s environs to support both Main Street businesses and The Barlow. We just need to be able to put the Main Street businesses on equal footing when it comes to a pleasant pedestrian experience.

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