Category Archives: Parks

Tight Times Inspire Micro Parks

SAN FRANCISCO — A trip to Castro Commons on a recent Sunday afternoon yields most of the usual park vistas: the hand-holding couple on a lazy stroll, the teenager fiddling with his iPod, and, yes, the transient babbling to himself.


n this photo taken Friday, June 11, 2010, Josie Mattson of San Francisco, left, enjoys the sunshine while sitting at the Divisadero Parklet in San Francisco. Transportation reform advocates and municipal budget deficits here are reviving an old idea in urban planning: the micropark. The parks are cheap _ an advantage for a city known for its commitment to open space but struggling with a gaping budget deficit and limited space. Advocates say they are good for the environment, adaptable, and have the potential to revitalize neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

But this is not your average park. The 140-foot-long stretch of tables, chairs and planters sits in part of the intersection of two major streets with the tracks of a heavily used streetcar line running right through the middle.

“At the end of the day, it’s the same as being on the sidewalk,” said city planner Andres Power.

Except that the sidewalk is now a park.

Transportation reform advocates and municipal budget deficits here are reviving an old idea in urban planning: the micropark. City officials say small parks like Castro Commons could remake traffic laden streets, which take up a quarter of San Francisco’s land area, into public spaces just as welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The projects range from small plazas to “parklets,” stylized sidewalk extensions that are shoehorned into what were once parking spaces.

The parks are cheap — an advantage for a city known for its commitment to open space but struggling with a gaping budget deficit and limited space. Advocates say they are good for the environment, adaptable, and have the potential to revitalize neighborhoods.

But not everyone is agog for parklets, inspired by similar spaces opened in New York City since 2006. Some projects have raised the hackles of residents and business owners who worry about traffic and parking disruptions or danger to pedestrians.

Joel Panzer opposes a proposal to cordon off an intersection near his Noe Valley home and turn it into a plaza. He says the plaza would close off an arterial street, making it harder for people to drive in the area, and that the proximity of pedestrians to traffic might create a hazard.

“No one’s listening to the people who own property,” said Panzer. “This is a make-work project.”

Others fear that parklets could reduce parking supply in neighborhoods where spots are notoriously difficult to come by.

Herb Cohn, president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations, said customers fed up with circling the block in search of a spot often take their business elsewhere.

“In a high parking need area taking away three spaces would be a problem,” Cohn said.

Yet not all business owners see the parklets as a problem. Remy Nelson, the owner of the Mojo Bicycle Cafe, said he has consistently seen more customers since a parklet was placed in the parking stalls in front of his cafe and bicycle-repair shop. The addition cost Nelson nothing, though he is responsible for the parklet’s maintenance.

Power, who runs the city’s Pavement to Parks program, said that the city’s parklets have been installed only in places where the parking impact was minimal, and that they will eventually be leased out through a permitting process that is being developed. He added that parklets are no more unpleasant or dangerous than city life overall.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has announced plans for a total of 12 street parks to be built by the end of the year. Five have been opened so far.

“You’ve been demanding that we begin to democratize our streets,” Newsom said at a park opening in February. “Who said that every single street that’s paved has to be a street that has a priority exclusively for automobiles?”

Cities have long used microparks, like “pocket parks” on the land of abandoned houses, as a way to create green space in the middle of the concrete jungle. In the 1960s, the parks were built in cities including New York as a way to curb urban discord, according to Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College in Claremont.

The urban unrest of the 1960s forced many eastern cities “to realize that amenities were not equally distributed,” he said.

Parks were seen as a way of bringing neighborhoods together and reducing stress otherwise directed at police and other authorities, Miller said. Today, climate change has given municipalities another reason to discourage car use, he said.

Cities are also creating microparks as a way to expand green space even during the recession.

San Francisco’s own parks agency has seen deep cuts in staffing and funding in recent years. The mayor’s latest budget, which attempts to close a half-billion dollar deficit, calls for a 42 percent cut in Recreation and Park Department funding.

The city has used grant money, volunteer labor, nonprofit assistance and donations from businesses to build the projects for as little as several thousand dollars.

“This idea was conceived of during the boom years so it’s certainly not a product of the recession,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “But luckily it is cheap so we’re able to keep it going.”

That’s good news for people like Philip Lesser, who owns a business in the same neighborhood as a parklet.

“Green is good, places for people to sit are good, places for people to recreate are good, and if they’re in proximity to a commercial corridor they are good,” he said.

Dowtown Cycling Circut Drawn


The Press-Enterprise

Video: Riverside exploring ‘downtown loop’ for cyclists, walkers

Two abandoned railroad bridges strewn with trash might be the missing links in a plan to circle downtown Riverside with bicycle paths, proponents of the trails said.

Standing on one of the bridges that spans University Avenue, two blocks east of Vine Street, Jane Block said the 30-year effort to bring a bike loop to downtown is nearing completion.

“This is as close as we’ve ever come,” Block said.

Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise
Local activist Jane Block, top, has pursued development of a downtown Riverside bike path that would run along the 8th Street railroad bridge.

The plans don’t stop at the two bridges. Block, working with Riverside Councilman Mike Gardner and others, has devised a route using some existing bike lanes on city streets, little-used city alleys and paths through neighborhood parks to cobble together a loop.

Though she said it is subject to change depending on engineering, cost and available land, Block said the proposed path would allow cyclists and joggers to travel around most of the city’s downtown, from Fairmount Park to the Riverside City College campus and as far east as Kansas Avenue.

Linking places where people might want to bike has numerous benefits, Block said. It encourages cycling, which can improve the health of a community, she noted. It also gives downtown residents a safe recreation route between city parks and helps meet goals of reducing traffic congestion in Riverside.

“This is all doable,” Gardner said on a recent tour.

Safety First

Bicyclists eager to hit the roads don’t have to wait for the loop, Gardner said. Magnolia Avenue and many other city streets have bike lanes.

What’s different about the proposed loop, Block said, is it allows for greater separation from cars and trucks — and with the two bridges allows cyclists not to compete with cross-traffic. The route would also add a continuous path for cyclists that the city could denote with signs.

“We want to have Class A bikeways,” Block said, meaning cyclists have enough space to ride along the side of vehicles, and not worry when someone opens a door on a parked car.

“It is not very safe to have parking and bike lanes,” Gardner said, explaining how putting cyclists close to parked cars put added pressures on both riders and drivers. “So if you have bike lanes, maybe you don’t have parking.”

He said city planners are examining the proposed bike path but no decisions about removing on-street parking has been made.

Early drafts have the route going from Fairmount Park along Spruce Street, then southwest along a route on or near Kansas Avenue.

From there, provided the city can acquire some right of way from the railroads, cyclists could ride across Mission Inn Avenue, University Avenue and Fourteenth Street, then cruise down Commerce Street. The loop would then go around or through the Riverside City College campus and across Brockton Avenue.

Gardner said the final pieces include a trail through the planned Tequesquite Park and a connection to the Santa Ana River Trail, which runs along the west of the park.

Because much of the route relies on streets, Gardner said the cost isn’t daunting.

“It’s more planning than it is cost,” he said. “It’s restriping some places and putting in some trails through Tequesquite Park.”

Nationally studies suggest adding bike lanes costs about $5,000 per mile, according to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

If officials can chart a course for the loop and acquire small tracts to connect the sections, Gardner said much of the trail could be in place by spring.

Block said path supporters will consider outside fundraising if needed.

“I have learned that if you have an idea and it is a good idea,” Block said, “you don’t hesitate to execute it because of money.”

Work and Play

Cyclists said a loop around downtown Riverside would be a welcome addition, both for recreation and commuting.

Drew Scott, 26, already commutes from Colton to Riverside along the Santa Ana River Trail, a 120-mile bike path from San Bernardino to Orange County.

Block said the Santa Ana River Trail, which connects Highland at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains to Huntington Beach along the Pacific Ocean, is “the freeway” for cyclists interested in longer rides or inter-city commutes.

What’s missing, she said, is the local link to shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces.

Adding a downtown route that’s safer would make it much easier, he said.

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Scott said. “It’s the cars. Some people act like the bike lanes aren’t there.”

The loop also links three key places that officials would like to connect for safe bicycling, Gardner said. When built, the path will allow someone to ride from the UC Riverside campus to the city college campus and downtown seamlessly.

Alternative ways to travel to the city college campus south of downtown are important, said Edward Bush, vice president of student services at RCC’s Riverside campus. Construction of two buildings decreased the number of parking spaces on campus, Bush said.

But putting a trail across the campus, as some loop supporters have suggested, might not be likely.

“At first blush, that would be somewhat difficult,” Bush said. “Students are allowed to ride their bikes to the bike racks but cannot ride around campus because of pedestrian safety.”

A dedicated route might be different, Bush said, but charting through a maze of sidewalks and small access streets could be tough.

But Bush stressed that the college is interested in hearing loop proposals. The city’s bicycle advisory council, formed last year, has members with ties to the college, Bush said.

Scott said Inland cities have made progress in encouraging cycling by putting bike trails in parks and adding bike lanes to streets.

“I see people riding on them all the time,” he said.

Santa Ana River Trail Closing Gaps

The Press-Enterprise

Design and partial construction of the most complicated section of the Santa Ana River Trail and Parkway — a 25-mile gap from Norco past Prado Dam — can proceed with $5.2 million in grants from the state, officials said Monday.

The 100-mile recreational trail from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean has been in the works more than 50 years. All but three miles of trail through Orange County are complete, but work remains on the Riverside County stretch and 14 miles in San Bernardino County.

“This mountain-to-the-sea trail might be finished in my lifetime where I can actually enjoy it,” said Chris Van Matre, a Riverside Bicycle Club member and frequent trail user. “I can’t tell you how excited I am by that.”

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As it is, she and other riders must use city streets in Norco and Corona. The paved trail picks up just over the Orange County line.

“It’s going to be a lot safer” for recreational trail users and bicyclists who commute to work between Riverside and Orange County, she said.

The grant awarded Thursday by the California Coastal Conservancy will be used for trail design, construction drawings and some of the work that will begin next year, said Patricia Lock-Dawson, a consultant for the trail Policy Advisory Committee, made up of 14 cities, counties, a land conservancy group and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.

The work covers 22 miles in western Riverside County and three miles in Orange County west of Green River Road. The project is expected to be completed by 2015.

“It’s been the Holy Grail of this whole effort. It’s a horrendously complicated section, through Prado Basin, over the dam, under the 71 freeway and through some beautiful, undisturbed riparian habitats,” Lock-Dawson said.

That section of trail, known as the “pinch point,” is the last to be developed for several reasons, including the complex physical borders and the number of agencies that have jurisdiction over the land, she said. Officials have dealt with the raising of Prado Dam for flood protection, the changing course of the river over the last several years, railroad tracks and endangered birds living along the shores.

In 2006, the trail advisory committee was formed to secure funding and push through completion. The latest development “shows the importance of partnerships … and the continued need for investment for recreational infrastructure,” said Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, whose district includes the area.

Also in 2006, California voters approved Prop. 84, the bond act funding the trail improvements.

The trail will give children safe access to the outdoors, said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, a group that funds land preservation throughout California.

His group donated $3 million in private money for completion of the trail, which will connect to the San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests, state parks and dozens of city and county parks where people can fish and swim, he said.

“It’s a key to nature for inner-city kids,” Myers said. “It reminds me a lot of the way so many of us grew up as kids. We went down to waterways and caught frogs and crayfish and spent the summer in short pants with our shirts off. Hopefully it will mean the same to kids for generations to come.”

Reach Janet Zimmerman at 951-368-9586 or

Northside Meeting Save Soccer Fields




The north Riverside community invites you to an interest and orientation group about the future of the Riverside Golf Course.
Wed. March 2, 2011
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.



UCR Neighbors Want Community Center

Our collective voices are being heard in larger circles. 

10:55 PM PDT on Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Residents in Riverside’s University neighborhood have long been asking for a community center of their own, and while there’s no money to build one now, the city will start looking at where and what to build.

City parks officials also will explore ways to expand recreational options in the meantime, such as giving residents more access to Islander Park and putting in a playground, city Parks Director Ralph Nuñez said.

The park, which includes a swimming pool and a grassy lot, is now fenced off and often closed. Nuñez said fences could be moved to create a small park that would be open more regularly.

But a full-scale community center is what residents living near the UC Riverside campus ultimately want, said Gurumantra Khalsa, who represents the area on the Riverside Neighborhood Partnership board.

The issue has been discussed in earnest since last summer when community leaders polled people who came to a “National Night Out” event. University-area residents noticed new centers opened recently in Orangecrest and La Sierra.

“It’s wanted and it’s needed, and residents kind of made that clear,” Khalsa said. “We’re an old neighborhood and we don’t have anything.”

The University area may have been passed over for a community center because its population is smaller than Orangecrest, for example, said Councilman Mike Gardner, whose Ward 1 includes part of the neighborhood. The University area overlaps wards 1 and 2, which have four community centers between them.

Gardner said there’s also a perception that residents have access to all UCR’s amenities, though that’s not the case for people who don’t attend school or work there.

Nuñez said possible sites for a community center include Islander Park, Highland Park and the undeveloped Mount Vernon park site, though each has limitations. Using about $10,000 saved on work at Bobby Bonds Park, this summer officials will begin evaluating the three sites and studying what features people want in a community center.

Khalsa said a lot could be done with existing recreation resources, but for now he’s just happy the city is looking at the issue.

“The fact that there’s actually a conversation going on is an extremely positive step,” he said.