San Francisco Better Streets Plan

I recently read through the San Francisco Better Streets Plan (BSP), a comprehensive guide to making streets more walkable and pedestrian friendly in San Francisco. It helps you figure out what kind of a street you’re working with, gives recommendations on what you can do to make it better, and even gets into the specifics of how far apart trees should be, what the slope of access ramps should be, etc. Although designed for a major city, I think that, with a few adjustments (for instance, not every community has to worry about tree species that are resistant to salt spray), and with the exception of truly rural communities, this plan could be applied practically anywhere, and I wanted to show how.

“Why not do some streets in San Francisco?” my wife suggested. Too straight forward. “How about Philadelphia?” Still not enough of a challenge. No, I wanted to pick a place that is as unlike San Francisco as I could think of. And that place that I chose was Spanish Fork, Utah.

Spanish Fork skyline. From

I worked for Spanish Fork for about three years while I was in undergrad, and got to know the city pretty well. It’s population is about 35,000, and growing quickly. Up until about twenty years ago it was a very small town, but as suburban growth supporting Provo and further Salt Lake City continued to expand, it was sucked into this sphere, and many of the newer residents work outside of the city. Spanish Fork is probably best known for its annual rodeo and for their championship high school baseball team and general baseball culture. I wanted to take a look at three streets in Spanish Fork and see what the BSP would recommend for them: 800 East, 300 East, and Main Street (see slideshow below).

800 East is not a particularly wide road by Utah standards, but it carries a high volume of traffic as well as transit. Local residents complained about the speed of cars going by, and the city restripped the road to narrow the lanes with some success. Interventions from the BSP could help calm traffic as well as make it more pleasant to walk along. Based on the aforementioned criteria, 800 East meets the BSP’s definition of a residential throughway. The first step I took was to widen the sidewalks based on chapter 4 of the plan. Next, for each street type, the plan lists standard improvements, which for residential throughways include crosswalks, street trees, and bulb-outs. Each street type also has case by case additions, and the ones I felt were most appropriate were an extended bus bulb-out and a high visibility crosswalk.

300 East is a simple local street, except it’s a million feet wide (okay, so more like 86 from curb to curb, but still, wide). The only explanation I ever received for why it is so wide is that it lines up with University Avenue in Provo and at one point it was thought that they would connect, but they never did and 300 East is still a sleepy residential road. With all that width, I thought it would be fun to turn it into what the BSP calls a parkway. This required some more sidewalk widening, and the standard improvements were again street trees (larger this time, to form a canopy), a crosswalk, and bulb-outs. For the case by case additions, the high visibility crosswalk comes back, but the main feature is a wide landscaped median with a shared-use trail and benches. A curb opposite the crosswalk from the median creates a pedestrian refuge.

Main Street has the double function of being a local-serving shopping area as well as being a major arterial connecting much of Spanish Fork and its neighboring communities to the south to I-15 and bigger cities northward. The street is bumper to bumper much of the day, and when it isn’t, the wide expanse encourages speeding over the already high 35 mile an hour limit. This double function makes creating a boulevard a simple choice. First, the lanes would have to be realigned and the side medians installed, and the existing sidewalks and planters actually pushed back a bit. Then the standard improvements include bulb-outs, street trees (although the existing spacing of the street trees is less frequent than the BSP would recommend, Main Street has a unique series of planters with two trees each that are maintained by volunteers, and I thought it would be good to keep that element; new trees are provided in side medians), and street furnishings, including benches, garbage cans, and cafe seating. The case by case additions I chose to include are raised crosswalks in front of the side lanes, another high visibility crosswalk, and a different paving texture on side lanes to give it more of a shared feel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The San Francisco Better Streets Plan is a great document that I hope will have a positive impact on their city, and could be used as a model by other cities to improve their streets as well.


About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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