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How to Build a Parklet

So you want to build a parklet. Great! But it’s important to remember the program is currently in the “pilot” phase. The City will evaluate the pilot program and decide late this year whether to transition into a permanent program in 2015. The information in this section is provided for those interested in applying to be part of the pilot program, but is subject to change if the program becomes permanent.

The makings of a good site

Not all potential parklet sites are created equally. The best sites are on streets that already see lots of people walking and biking and that feature attractions like restaurants, cafes, and shops that draw people to the area. Locations with strong community support are ideal.

Streets with lots of pedestrians and cyclists and a mix of attractions are great for parklets.
photo by: San Francisco Planning Department

Parklets can only be built in lanes that are always used for parking—if the parking lane converts to a vehicle travel lane at certain times of the day, it’s a “no go” for a parklet. Parklets are best on streets with speed limits at or under 30 miles per hour, and parklets can’t block public utilities, fire hydrants, bus stops, or driveways (unless the parklet sponsor provides written permission from the driveway owner). In such a hilly city, it’s best to look for streets with a grade less than 5 percent. So the Counterbalance on Queen Anne is out!

In short, you’re probably in good shape if you don’t build on a steep hill, don’t choose a highway, and don’t block anything that looks important: driveways, utilities, public transit, or the fire department.

Steep hills like the Counterbalance are tough for parklets.
photo by: glabah,

Designing your parklet
SDOT has developed guidelines to help ensure all parklets are safe, accessible, and attractive. To make your parklet a great public amenity, you will need a design that features high-quality materials and elements like benches or seats and landscaping. You should think about what people will do in your parklet and the kinds of activities you want to promote. Locally-sourced or reclaimed materials are encouraged. If you are interested in hosting a parklet, contact SDOT to request a copy of the draft design guidelines. Some of the basics are outlined below.

Sample parklet concept design rendering from San Francisco.
image by: Perkins + Will

  • Parklets must be at least as long as a single parking space (20 feet), and can be no wider than 6 feet, measured from the curb. Exceptions may be made on very wide streets or on streets with back-in angle parking. There is no set limit on parklet length.
    Photo by: Kay Cheng, San Francisco Planning Department
    A wheel stop is one type of buffer than can be used. photo by: Kay Cheng, San Francisco Planning Department
  • The parklet must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The platform must not impact drainage flow.
  • A buffer or barrier is required 4 feet from both ends of the parklet. This can be as simple as a rubber wheel stop or can be another amenity that provides a useful function, such as an on-street bike rack.
  • Edging—whether planters, a railing, or cabling—is required.
  • All materials must be high quality, durable, and beautiful.
  • Furniture must be distinct from any other used by a sponsoring business.
  • All parklets must feature SDOT-provided signs indicating the space is public.

Fees and other costs
You will be responsible for all parklet costs, including design, permitting, and construction costs as well as materials. The costs for design and construction will vary depending on your parklet, but reports from other cities are that parklets can easily cost $15,000. Final permitting fees will be determined if a permanent program is approved, but it’s reasonable to expect to pay about $1,500 in review, permitting, and inspection fees to get your parklet from concept design through construction. As with all SDOT permits, you will be required to carry $1 million in liability insurance, and to name the City as an additional insured. Annual permit renewals cost $140.

You may be able to get some services or materials donated to reduce costs—for example, a design consultant might be willing to work pro bono for the chance to be involved in the program—and you might also consider applying for a Department of Neighborhoods grant for a portion of the project or using fundraising tools (like Kickstarter) to raise money.

Public notice
Pilot parklet hosts are required to submit at least two letters of support from adjacent properties or businesses, neighborhood associations, or nearby residents. After approval of the parklet’s concept design, you must also post a notice of the proposed parklet in your window for 14 days, and mail a notice to all addresses within 200 feet of the proposed parklet site.  

Design review and the permitting process
Applicants selected to join the pilot program provided SDOT with a site plan featuring the elements listed below:

  • North arrow
  • Name and location of adjoining streets and alleys
  • Width of adjacent sidewalks
  • Any driveways
  • Location of existing street furniture like tree pits, utility poles, utility access spots, sign posts, and parking pay stations and their distance from the nearest edge of the proposed parklet
  • Parklet dimensions and amenities

Click to view larger

The City reviewed the proposed locations to determine their feasibility. For those sites accepted as part of the pilot program, staff will now conduct a preliminary design review and make a public notification before undertaking permit review and considering final approval. The graphic below shows the permitting process as it currently exists.

Click to view larger

Once you’re the proud sponsor of a beautiful parklet you’ll have regular duties as parklet caretaker to keep the space in tiptop shape. You’ll be expected to keep the parklet rubbish-free and maintain its surfaces daily. Any furniture not affixed to the parklet base must be taken indoors or chained down every night. You’ll also have to sweep up the area around the parklet daily, and give the area beneath the platform a good hosing weekly. Graffiti removal is your responsibility, and you’ll be expected to keep any plants lush and healthy. Failure to keep up with these obligations could result in SDOT revoking your permit.

Parklet maintenance is the responsibility of the permit holder.
photo by: Green Futures Lab

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