Parklets – Resource Guide

A resource guide to parklets, people spots, street seats, and curbside cafes

The term “Parklet” originated in San Francisco to describe the process of converting one or more street parking spaces into a small public “park”. Parklets can introduce new streetscape features such as seating, plantings, bicycle parking and provide additional outdoor eating areas for restaurants and coffee shops.
While parklets are primarily intended as assets for the entire community, they encourage increased pedestrian activity and quite often sales at nearby businesses by breaking the flow of foot traffic and offering passersby a reason to stop, socialize and relax.

A primary consideration in designing parklets is to minimize permanent physical impacts on their location. Typically they are designed to be relatively easily installed and removed as may be required by the City, and the process must be planned and timed in a way that doesn’t interfere with traffic flow.

All parklets must comply with local regulations and design criteria and possess all required permits, meet ADA requirements, maintain roadway drainage, allow for access to any below-ground utilities, be properly insured, have community support and possess a maintenance plan. Parklets are normally required to have a local steward, usually a nearby business or group of businesses who accept the responsibility of keeping the parklet clean and landscaping and street furniture maintained.

The best designed parklets take into consideration all amenities that would benefit the immediate surroundings, such as benches, lighting structures, planters, landscaping and vegetation that screen the seating area from traffic while still providing vistas across the street. If bicycle racks can be incorporated into the parklet design, it can increase the number of potential patrons at local businesses and encourage more people to travel by bicycle.

Key Points For Researching Parklets

When searching for local information or seeking out parklet ideas, know that public parklets are sometimes referred to as Walklets, Pedestrian Plazas, Curbside Seating, Street Seats (NYC and Portland), and People Spots (Chicago).

Aside from the Department of Transportation, other common city departments that control Parklet Programs are the Bureau of Planning, Office of Strategic Planning, Department of Public Works, Office of Planning, and Bureau of Transportation. If you are struggling to find information about Parklets in your area, we suggest starting with any one of these local departments.

Parklets are public spaces. A privatized sidewalk seating area is often referred to as a Curbside Café, Sidewalk Café or Streatery, and operates as an extension of a retail establishment such as a coffee shop or deli. Permits and regulations for such private seating areas differ from those of Parklets and are usually governed by a Planning Department or Department of Public Works.

Parklets are expected to be regularly maintained, handicap accessible with a safe transition from curb to deck, offer comfortable seating, contain landscaped planters, and have perimeters that create a comfortable buffer to the street.

Parklets must be easily and quickly moved for city maintenance, elevated for street cleaning purposes and drainage, and in some locations deconstructed and stored seasonally for snow removal.

Public use and misuse, weather, and seasonally deconstructing a Parklet can have significant effect on the lifespan. It is not uncommon for a wood Parklet to last just 2 years in cold climates.

Parklets are not permitted to block fire hydrants, manhole covers, storm drains, city utilities, or street signs, must sit at least one parking space in from a street corner, cannot be next to a bus stop, and the speed limit cannot exceed 25 mph.

Parklets are commonly restricted to the width and length of a parking space which is 6′ x 20′. A 4′ setback defined by a wheel stop is commonly required at both ends, meaning the actual decking space for a single parking space would be roughly 16′ and 32′ for two spaces.

Parklets are generally permitted on streets with a running slope of 5% or less.  The primary reason is to ensure safe access for wheelchair users along the length of the deck. The maximum allowed slope across the width is typically 2%.

Due to the numerous benefits parklets bring to the public, some cities such as New York offer a significant reimbursement for eligible purchases related to materials, fabrication and installation of parklets. Inquire about this at your local city department that governs parklets.

Additional Resources and Facts

Does your city have a Parklet Program? Try searching “CITY_NAME Parklet Program” in your web browser.  In a number of municipalities, public authorities such as the Department of Transportation have introduced “Parklet Programs” and comprehensive brochures about the proposal, application and approval process, fees, and design and maintenance requirements in their specific localities. You will find that criteria outlined by Parklet Programs differs by city, so try to obtain local information.

We often find that the culture of a city also results in unique parklet features and regulations. For example L.A. has introduced “active parklets” which include outdoor gyms; San Francisco has built mobile parklets like the Parkmobile and has implemented parklet corridors that stretch for blocks; Seattle is known for its “Streateries” which act as extended sidewalk cafes, allowing both food and beverage table service; and some cities allow parklets on nearly all streets, while New York generally limits them to one-way streets and other streets with lower speed limits and less traffic. Additionally, some cities including New York are so attracted to the positive benefits of parklets that they offer significant reimbursements on materials and installation costs.

NATCO

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NATCO) is a non-profit association that represents large cities on transportation issues. They created a comprehensive Parklet Guide containing a detailed list of critical, recommended, and optional elements that a Parklet should have, as well as a helpful list of Member Cities.

Pavement to Parks

Pavement to Parks is another source of excellent information, based out of San Francisco where parklets originated. The organization maintains a list of Parklet Programs By City which could be useful depending on your location.

Parklet Impact Studies

From social to economical, to simply adding a delightful place to take a seat, the positive impact parklets have on their communities is often remarkable. Here’s what some major cities have reported as specific benefits directly arising from their respective parklet programs.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Planning Council and Sam Schwartz Engineering in Chicago observed 450 visitors at Chicago’s nine People Spots. We interviewed 100 visitors and almost 40 adjacent business owners. When a parking spot becomes a People Spot…

  • 80% of businesses found People pots brought more foot traffic and customers some businesses found a People Spot caused a 10 to 20% increase in sales
  • 34% of visitors made unplanned food or 34% beverage purchases
  • 33% would be at home if not for the People Spot

A whopping 93 percent said the feeling of the street is more positive since the People Spot opened. They added, “It makes people comfortable,” “gives a better sense of community,” “slowed down traffic,” “gives us a better image,” “it’s attractive,” “makes the street look cleaner“, and that “no question it has enhanced the pedestrian experience.”

Seattle’s Department of Transportation conducted a study on local Parklets and found the following:

  • 70% of businesses believe Parklets enhance the look and feel of their neighborhood
  • 80% of businesses believe parklets benefit the business community
  • 90% of the people surveyed want more Parklets built in Seattle
  • 100% of the people surveyed believe that Parklets provide a useful neighborhood space

Regardless of where you look or who you ask, Parklets make a difference and they are growing in numbers throughout the country.

In 20011 SFGreatStreets.org conducted the “Parklet Impact Study” to gain information on the influence of parklets on pedestrian traffic, behavior and perception of the area at three different Parklets after they were installed. These findings pertain to one or more of the Parklets studied.

  • Average foot traffic increased 44% per hour
  • The average number of people stopping to engage in stationary activities at any given time, and primarily on weekdays, tripled.
  • There was an incremental increase in the number of bikes parked at each location.
  • Perception of the area as a good place for socializing and as a place that looked clean increased.
  • Business owners saw no decrease in customer traffic, and some saw increases.
  • Most businesses observed that the customers arrived to their location by foot.
  • None of the businesses expressed concern about the parklets creating loss of nearby parking.

In summary, the most tangible benefit of Parklets identified is the creation of a new public space for anyone to sit, relax, and enjoy the city. The number of people stopping to socialize in a positive way increased significantly in all areas tested, and no negative impacts on nearby businesses were identified.

People St is a program within the city of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation that launched in 2014 to foster a greater sense of community by transforming underused roadways into vibrant spaces for neighborhoods to enjoy.

Several Parklets were surveyed and the following are some anticipations and realizations expressed by business owners because of Parklets being installed:

  • 50% of businesses felt they would need more employees over the next 12 months.
  • 80% of businesses said they expected more customers.
  • 70% of businesses anticipated both revenue and profit to increase.
  • Foot traffic, sales volume and sales volume by neighboring businesses did increase.

 

The Great Street Project organization in New York City was partially responsible for the Divisadaro Street parklet, which was constructed as a 6 month long pilot project. 42 additional parklets were constructed in New York following the successful project.

Surveys showed:

  • The average number of weekday visitors doubled
  • Pedestrian activity measured in the number of people per hour increased by 37% on weekday evenings.
  • The overall consensus was that the parklet was a benefit to public health.

 

And remember, New York City’s Department of Transportation offers large reimbursements on nearly all expenses associated with parklets.

The University City District (UCD) partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities to pilot Philadelphia’s first parklet which was deemed “an innovative temporary seating platform that transforms parallel parking spaces into a place to sit, relax, eat and enjoy street life”.

In 2015 UCD gained national attention after publishing “The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses”, which was a study based on analyses of six Parklets from the 2013 season and their ability to increase social vibrancy and foot traffic to neighborhood businesses.

Key findings were:

  • A 240 sq ft parklet can attract over 150 unique users in a day, utilizing a space that would otherwise have hosted one or two parked cars.
  • Parklets coincided with an average 20% increase is sales for nearby businesses.
  • People using the parklets often spilled over into neighboring sidewalks and more distant business, as opposed to just passing through.
  • Parklet success can be predictable, meaning there is extreme confidence in the effect parklets have on their surroundings.

Boston’s Office of Transportation conducted a pilot program of two parklets in 2014, and soon after sought to improve and expand the Parklet Program due to these positive findings:

  • The parklets quickly energized the neighborhood and increase vitality.
  • Immediate use, positive user experience and integration into the neighborhood was felt.
  • Half the respondents surveyed had already visited the parklet(s) multiple times.
  • Parklets were found to operate as social spaces, with increased human interaction observed.
  • The majority of visitors claimed to have visited nearby businesses before or after using the parklet.
  • Plants, shade and seating were the favorite aspects of the parklets.
  • Surveyed business owners said half their customers admitted to using the parklet prior to shopping.
  • The majority of businesses surveyed would recommend a parklet to other businesses.
  • The sponsoring businesses generally felt the City made the process of acquiring a parklet easy.

Portland Oregon began a Street Seats Pilot Program operated by the Bureau of Transportation in 2012. Their two main goals were to enhance street vitality and support local businesses. Three businesses participated in the programs and a large sample of pedestrians and surrounding business owners were surveyed.

  • 90% of businesses surveyed believed that the program benefitted neighborhood businesses, not just the businesses in close proximity to the parklets.
  • 80% of pedestrians surveyed believed the parklets positively impacted their streets vitality.

Information Sources

Seattle Department of Transportation, “How to Build a Parklet or Streatery” https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/parklets_howTo.htm

NewUrbanMechanics.org, “City of Boston Parklet Evaluation Report” https://newurbanmechanics.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Parklet-Evaluation-Report.pdf

SFBetterStreets.org, “A Guide To Making Street Improvements in San Fransisco, Parklets” https://www.sfbetterstreets.org/find-project-types/activating-street-space/parklets/

SFBetterStreets.org, “Street and Sidewalk Pocket Parks” https://www.sfbetterstreets.org/find-project-types/reclaiming-roadway-space/street-and-sidewalk-parks/

Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, “City of Philadelphia Parklets Guidelines and Application” https://www.philadelphiastreets.com/images/uploads/resource_library/City-of-Philadelphia-Parklet-Application.pdf

UniversityCity.org, “University City District Parklet Reports” https://www.universitycity.org/blog/ucd-releases-report-parklets

National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), “Urban Streets Design Guide for Parklets” https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/interim-design-strategies/parklets/

UniversityCity.org, “Transforming Public Spaces” https://www.universitycity.org/parklets

UniversityCity.org, “The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses” https://www.universitycity.org/sites/default/files/documents/The%20Case%20for%20Parklets%202015.pdf

New York City Department of Transportation, “Street Seats” https://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/streetseats.shtml

Pavement To Parks, “San Fransisco Parklet Manual” https://pavementtoparks.org

Seattle Department of Transportation, “Pavement to Parks Overview” https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/ptp_overview.htm

CityLab.com, “3 Ways that Turning Parking Sots Into Parklets Helps Businesses” https://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/3-ways-turning-parking-spots-into-parklets-help-businesses/381390/

People St, “Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Parklet Program” https://peoplest.lacity.org/parklet/

New York City Department of Transportation, “Street Seats Program”, https://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/streetseats.shtml

StreetSeats.org, https://www.streetseats.org/

Philly Voice, “Parklets Emerge for AIA Convention” https://www.phillyvoice.com/parklets-emerge-arch-street-aia-convention/

Portland Bureau of Transportation, “Street Seats Pilot Program” httpss://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/429163

Streets Blog Chicago, “Economic Benefits of People Spots” https://chi.streetsblog.org/2014/09/25/mpc-study-provides-data-on-the-economic-benefits-of-people-spots/

Minneapolis Public Works Department,  “Minneapolisismn.gov 2016 Parklet Program” https://www.minneapolismn.gov/pedestrian/projects/WCMS1P-137752