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Urban Design Critic Says SF’s Outdoor Dining Spaces Are ‘Accidents Waiting to Happen’

Also, stop calling them parklets

The outdoor seating at Tupelo’s is on the street, in metered parking spaces
Wonder what the SF Chronicle’s urban design critic would have to say about the shared spaces platform at Tupelo’s
Patricia Chang

Since San Francisco launched outdoor dining in June, hundreds of parking spaces across the city have turned into dining areas. Typically, the loss of even one parking space in a San Francisco neighborhood is grounds for a Nextdoor.com panic, but the temporary transformation of oil-stained car storage spots into sit-down restaurant use hasn’t stirred much in the way of complaints quite yet.

Enter the SF Chronicle’s urban design critic. Since 2001, John King, a two-time Pulitzer finalist, has picked apart the city’s architecture, parks, and landscape. Today, he’s taking on restaurants that have used the city’s Shared Spaces program to take over the parking lane, warning that blocks with loads of parking-space dining are likely to “end up looking so cluttered and desperate that potential patrons won’t want to visit once the novelty wears off.”

King has many opinions on who’s doing in-the-street-dining well and who’s doing it poorly, saying that many of the spots are “accidents waiting to happen” as “padlocking a few bicycle racks together won’t repel a car whose driver turns the corner too sharply.” We here at Eater SF are not urban design critics, so we’ll encourage you to click through for his aesthetic evaluations, but among his complaints are a few pieces of information that we all need to know:

  • These aren’t parklets, so stop calling them that. Parklets are permanently constructed installations that have to go through rigorous SFMTA, Department of Public Works, and Planning Commission approval. These temporary, in-the-street dining spots are not parklets, King says. Instead, we should all call them “shared spaces platforms,” city officials tell King. Got it? Good.
  • Some of these walls are way too high. According to King, city guidelines say that the walls of any shared spaces platforms that face the street may only be 42 inches high. That’s 3.5 feet — to help you visualize this, the height of the average four-year-old. The walls can climb higher if they use open woodwork (think the open, lattice-style walls at some Chestnut Street restaurants), but the solid portion must remain below the 42-inch mark...which many, King notes, do not.
  • At the end of 2020, they must all disappear As noted all along, SF’s Shared Spaces program only lasts thought December, so these shared spaces platforms are only approved through December 31, 2020. After that, who knows?