May 25, 2014

A Precedent for Davie Street? Castro widens its sidewalks

They’re widening the sidewalks on Castro Street – the heart of San Francisco’s gay village:


Castro 1

 Castro 3


Why?  (After all, it will affect traffic flows and parking – always controversial in SF.)

A bit of the Times Square problem: too many pedestrians at peak times for the capacity of the sidewalks, and an absence of outdoor seating as a consequence.  So it was time to reapportion the space more equitably – as they did in NYC, and in more and more cities around the world, primarily in the pre-Motordom parts of cities with the living legacy of the streetcar era.  (Design details here.)

Success is breeding success as places see it is possible to take roadway away from the car, still keep the traffic moving, benefit the associated businesses, and make it a better place for people.

Sometimes it seems we are pressing on the accelerator and the brake at the same time, setting contradictory directions for our urban regions.  The post-Motordom city is emerging, even as Motordom doubles down.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. Vancouver ought to do this on Robson, S-Granville, Broadway and 4th .. all shopping areas with far too narrow sidewalks and 4-6 lanes for cars.

    After the initial usual outcry businesses will thrive, pedestrians/shoppers will love it and cars will get used to it.

  2. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as ambitious as it seems. Castro Street was previously so overly wide for the traffic it sees that SF didn’t bother to mark the space into two travel lanes in each direction, so the space was basically just lying there waiting. It’s a very short commercial district (a couple blocks) running perpendicular to the actual transportation corridor in the area (Market Street). While it does technically have buses on it, the real transit draw is the subway station just to the north.

    If we want to find a Vancouver equivalent for this kind of slam dunk, we’re going to need a street with 60 feet curb-to-curb (and most are only 66 property-line-to-property-line), so we’re already in trouble and Davie Street is right out. The closest might be Commercial Drive below 1st, but that’s not nearly the commercial street that the Castro is, it hosts a major long-distance bus route, and there are plenty of people on bikes without a bike lane (As an aside, SF is hilariously claiming the sidewalk widening as a cycling improvement).

    So this is a good move and long overdue, but SF’s going to need to be much more ambitious and I don’t see Vancouver’s freebie. Please, someone point it out to me.

    1. B – I don’t see a freebie or no-brainier here either.

      While Granville has an 80ft ROW, as does Cambie north of King Ed, I know for a fact that the South Granville BIA would be thrilled just to have street parking restored all day, like Cambie Village has. Corner bulges and parkettes could then be incorporated as desired and as funding permits. Eliminating two travel lanes on these important north-south arterials to mirror the Castro example seems an impractical idea for the foreseeable future IMO.

      1. Granville can function well without any parking stalls. Just widen the sidewalks and take all parking on street away. There are parking garages.

        Better would be a tunnel starting downhill, say 6th or even on 3rd all the way to say 14th with a pedestrian zone on top.

        The folklore that cars shop needs to be broken. People shop.

        ==> Cars are choking Vancouver. Surface parking must be one of the worst landuses. Better would be housing, or commercial shopping, or parks, or walkways, or bike paths, or playgrounds, or grass, or a pedestrian zone. The more people realize that in Vancouver the better, the more livable the city will be.

        With a subway under Broadway this while Broadway / Granville intersection should be made far more pedestrian oriented. Ditto along 4th, Davie, Denman, portions of Cambie and Broadway etc.

  3. Thomas – before shooting from the lip yet again, please take the time to talk to a merchant on South Granville or their BIA, as I have. Maybe their executive director would even like to chime in here, if we ask her politely and not dump all over her comments. We were talking about freebies, or at least something analogous to Castro Street.

    Tunnels, indeed. Where do you come up with such stuff, sir?

    1. BIA like free parking. I get that.

      Look at the growth of shopping or housing along subway stations. Condos sell fast.

      Vancouver is too car friendly. To make people take the car less, driving and parking has to be further inconvenienced and made more expensive, and in parallel fast buses or subways introduced. As such, wider sidewalks, less parking along Davie, Granville, Denman, 4th, Broadway or S-Granville. How to pay for it: Raise property taxes. Toll roads/bridges. Higher vehicle levies by engine size. Higher parking fees. All that will come .. in time. Only when the bus passes people three times on their trip to work by car will they switch. A world class city has world class transit. I guess Vancouver is not world class. It just lives off its English Bay and mountain beauty. I think we can, we must do better here.

      Here is where global warming enthusiasts and I agree: we need less car use in cities.

  4. If you were to ask merchants on the west side of Granville about what happens at 3:00 when parking is stripped for the afternoon rush, you would discover that business plummets like a rock.

    For the past 15 years, the South Granville BIA has lobbied for more parking opportunities – not less, as this still remains one of our biggest ‘complaints’ from our customers. I do not anticipate this changing any time soon.

    We support transit. We encourage transit. But transit does not work for everyone. Until it does… people will still use their cars – especially when coming from areas outside the city. South Granville is destination shopping and we hope that fact will remain for many years to come.

    No parking would be the death of our neighbourhood.

    1. Thanks for commenting Sharon.

      Has the BIA inventoried pay parking spaces within easy walking distance, and contrasted that figure with the amount of street parking available? I usually walk to shop from 6th to 14th, but when I drive I frequently look for off street spaces. Some do exist; perhaps making them easier to find would help.

      1. Yes, Jeff we treat parking spots like they are little bits of gold. We have approximately 1,400 available spots in and around the area. We put P’s on our banner tails to help indicate where our paid lots are located. We offer parking maps…

        Coast Mountain Bus recently had discussions with us about using articulated buses on the #10 route. The buses require an extra spot to stop and the BIA lobbied long and hard to make sure there was no net loss of parking in the area.

        At the same time, we have doubled our bike racks in the area just in case you don’t think we are bike friendly. 🙂

        1. I find shopping along S-Granville pathetic. Sidewalks far too narrow, and then 6 lanes of traffic. Noisy and narrow. I bet if they took all parking out along Granville, and widened the sidewalk by 3 m on either side for a more pleasant shopping experience, perhaps even sidewalk cafes, you’d get MORE business, not less.

          The best would be a tunnel starting at 13th or 14th going below S-Granville to N of 4th and the entire 10 blocks would be a pedestrian area. Shopping would double !

          Vancouver needs some serious investment into urban oases with shoppers & pedestrians (and not cars) in mind.

  5. Yes, thank you Sharon.

    I understand that one of the community benefits to be delivered by Vancouver House at the north end of the Granville Bridge will be the greenway/pedway in the middle of the bridge. If true, I think this will be a tremendous asset for communities on both sides of False Creek and the city at large. Getting to and from it at both ends of the bridge is a real design challenges, but with the recent successful experience of the Burrard/Cornwall reconfiguration it should be a walk in the park for our City staff and their consultants.
    Pun intended.

    1. With that bridge greenway coming, it will be a challenge to figure out how to accommodate more pedestrians, and bicycles, along South Granville. If it isn’t addressed, many may just turn right or left off the bridge going southbound, and not venture up to South Granville. On the other hand, if we make it inviting there is an opportunity for the BIA and it’s members.

      1. Absolutely Jeff. We have been working hard to ensure that the south end of the bridge greenway is good for our neighbourhood. We have a plan… now we just need city staff to agree to do it!

  6. While more sidewalk for Davie Street should definitely be a priority, the S.F. can’t be easily adapted. Castro Street’s 82.5′ wide, while Davie Street’s only 66′ and encumbered as well as a major bus route. Even following the widening of sidewalks to 22.5′, there’s two parking and two moving lanes remaining, the same as Davie Street currently has. Good ideas welcome!

    1. yeah yeah yeah .. that is what business people used to say in many cities before they introduced pedestrian zones. Of course other transit options have to come in parallel, and nothing will happen overnight. I understand that less parking, wider sidewalks have to go in parallel with a subway or other transit options & higher density.

      Once car is $10/h and Broadway is a single lane, one for buses and one for cars, there will be less cars. But maybe this is 25 years out .. or 40+ given the myopic view in city hall.

      Shoppers will go for ambience and accessibility that is excellent, i.e. subway stations.

      Shopping today on S-Granvill is NOT nice nor on Robson or Davie or Denman as there are too many cars, and sidewalks too narrow.

      1. Walking on a sidewalk with buses and cars zipping past you at 50-60km an hour is not nice either. The buffer zone of parking adds a sense of safety for pedestrians as well as provide convenience for shoppers.

        Perhaps block all of Granville and divert traffic to Hemlock and Fir. Provide parking in behind all the stores. We would love it but I don’t think it is going to happen any time soon.

  7. It’s too bad we don’t have the money for it, but an actual metro line that serves densely populated Kits, the West End, and on up to Mt. Pleasant, is needed. Downtown Vancouver is so over saturated with trolley buses, I don’t think widening sidewalks is a realistic option. The corner of Denman and Davie is one of the great intersections in this city and could really use a lot more pedestrian space.

  8. I believe the trolley tracks are still under Granville. how about a free shuttle from Waterfront to 16th!

  9. Re: Davie street – There was some discussion a few years ago about widening sidewalks but it involved moving building frontages back as the street re-develops. There was no consideration for reducing road space.

  10. Sharon – don’t know about you but I’m convinced now that South Granville merchants should lobby council to eliminate all parking and build a tunnel to bypass the area entirely. Sounds like a real win-win to me!

    1. If the Cambie Corridor is any example of what happens when you offer a bypass route… no thank you.

  11. “If you were to ask merchants on the west side of Granville about what happens at 3:00 when parking is stripped for the afternoon rush, you would discover that business plummets like a rock.”

    Is it because there is no parking, or because the nature of the shopping experience has changed (from a buffered sidewalk, to an open traffic sewage)?

    What could happen if the parking lane was replaced by wider sidewalk, (allowing more patio), eventually buffered from the roadway by a bike path (bringing more customers), …instead of a non stopping traffic lane?

    To put parking in perspective, I have counted ~120 curbside spot (between Broadway and 16th), or 1.5 parking spot per business…

    In anycase, South Granville change should be part of a larger plan (Granville street from Marppole to ~ Davie) and could depend of other action (Granville bridge greenway, and Broadway subway).

    In the meantimes, other streets like Denman are rip for an overhaul

    regarding the tunnel:
    I just comment it to plug on a post on the topic:
    (since removing all traffic, including by burying busy avenues is presented as a solution too often):

    “killing traffic is destructor of value” (and “what about the urban integration of tunnel accesses”?):

    1. Voony, customers say it is because there is no parking. We would love wider sidewalks but as long as we remain a Provincial Highway, and Coast Mountain Bus needs the road to do its thing, and as long as there is no reasonable way for customers to get their large purchases home, I suggest we are stuck trying to make the best of what we have.

  12. Voony – The answer is due to stripped parking. People don’t just magically stop shopping at 2:59pm without a reason. It is an easily provable hypothesis, if we could only restore peak period parking for a sufficient trial period, just to see the results. Cheap thing to do, no barriers, etc.

    Wider sidewalks are not the one-size-fits-all answer for everything. Interestingly, one of the most vital shopping streetscapes in Vancouver is W.41st Avenue in Kerrisdale (the unwidened segment) just west of West Blvd., where sidewalks are only about 8′ wide. The widened stretch a block west, which incorporate a 17 ft. (!!) setback from the property line, which makes the total sidewalk space about 25-30 ft on each side, is boring as heck. While certainly not recommending narrow sidewalks everywhere, overly wide sidewalks, say more than 5-6m, aren’t particularly useful either in neighbourhood strips.

    (Apologies for mixing m and ft.)

    1. Augustin – I would go so far as to say don’t charge at all for on-street parking after 6pm in restaurant, theatre and gallery row, and free on Sundays, like back in the not-too-distant day. Just have a time limit. I know it’s counter to the Shouperites out there, but hey, I’m all for keeping our neighbourhood shopping streets alive and well. (Downtown could be a different animal, but not that much.)

      1. Hey, I’m all for keeping neighbourhood shopping streets alive and well, too, but I don’t see how setting a price ceiling on parking (especially one of $0) accomplishes that. The goal of dynamic parking pricing is to have one or two spots open in each block at all times, so that there is parking available. If you set an artificial price ceiling and the “real price” would be higher, then you will have fewer parking spots available, which means lower turnover, and I would expect fewer shoppers.

        What is a Shouperite? Does this describe a person who does not want neighbourhood shopping streets alive and well?

        1. Augustin – Donald Shoup is a professor of urban planning at UCLA and a big thinker about dynamic or variable pricing of on-street parking, which you referred to above. I believe he has many adherents in the Engineering Dept.

        2. Not just in the Engineering Department – this Shoupista (as we are called) is just a plain old retired school teacher.

  13. While there is an obvious correlation with stripped parking at 3 pm, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the people shopping up until 3pm can’t do so anymore. Using Voony’s numbers, if there are 120 street parking spaces for a large portion of the day, and 1400 in total (Sharon’s number), then why does an 8% reduction in nearby parking kill all shopping? Doesn’t it seem like the cars serving as buffers to traffic noise could be at least part of the reason for a reduction in pedestrians?

    A simple test would be to park 120 non-shopper vehicles one day and see if all shopping stops. All it would cost is a few hours of meter time.

    I don’t know what the optimum width for a sidewalk is, but I do know that my preferred pedestrian route to downtown from Beach is now Hornby, simply due to the calming effect of the moving cars being spaced away from the sidewalk. There may be others like me.

    I also think it is important to figure out how to inform motorists about open off street parking spaces, in real time. Chinook Centre in Calgary, and other shopping areas I have seen that are dependent on customers arriving by vehicle, use illuminated signs indicating open spaces in lots. I think something similar could help South Granville businesses in this respect. I found Sharon’s map of off street lots very helpful. It shows 11 lots, 5 of which have restricted hours. I have probably used three of them. Google Maps doesn’t show those 11, interestingly.

    Sharon, thanks for the note on the bike racks. While that is a part of it, I think bicyclists also need a way to get to those racks to get the most benefit from them.

  14. I abhor parallel parking on arterials and almost always look for parking on a side street first even when the side street is metered. I don’t like parallel parking at the best of times, but I know that doing it on an arterial makes other drivers angry and causes traffic jams. In areas dominated by permit parking I know circling the block hoping for a miracle is stupid so I’ll pay for a space in a big lot (ToysRUs, Michaels, etc.).
    Most of the time a trip that doesn’t require a car (large purchase, passengers) is completed via the bus. I’ve picked up lots of stuff by taking Canada Line and a bus home from work.
    Now that I own a bike I have another option for picking up items that fit in a backpack.

    I generally avoid South Granville. The signal at every cross street, turns competing with pedestrians and parallel parking brings traffic to a complete halt. If I do need to visit the area I’ll take the bus or park outside the area and walk in.

    I worked in retail on Broadway not far from Granville for a few years. I recall some change around 3PM when the restrictions kicked in, but nothing huge and the store was always busier at 4:30 than 2:00. The biggest factor for us was the presence of a half dozen customer parking spots in the lane. It meant we relied very little on Broadway to provide parking.

    I can’t see how Davie or Robson could get widened sidewalks without a complete re-thinking of the entire West End street system. Converting a parking lane to sidewalk plus bike lane could be done, but would mess with bus stops and we need more transit in the West End, not less. Restricting the remaining roadway to transit, taxi, goods movement and perhaps shared cars would further improve the pedestrian realm, but would cause problems for access to every building between Pacific and Alberni. The last thing I want to see is bumper to bumper traffic on Nelson or Jervis.