Stockton Street’s Scarce Transportation infrastructure
As well everyone knows, Stockton Street is an incredibly congested street filled with pedestrians, cars, trucks, and buses. As these different users of the street make their trips from point A to point B on Stockton Street, they are thrust into a competition to claim Stockton Street’s scarce transportation infrastructure - two lanes of traffic, two lanes of street parking, and narrow sidewalks about 9 feet wide. Close research into the spatial dynamics of each transit mode’s needs is required to improve transportation effectiveness along this corridor.
Where Competition Intensifies
Where this competition is most intensified is in the space between the sidewalk and the main thoroughfare. This space is most commonly used as street parking, but a simple stroll through Stockton Street shows that the space is also used for bus stop bulb-outs (and other sidewalk extensions), commercial loading/unloading zones, and even, as is very common between Jackson and Broadway, pedestrian traffic spillover.
Where we want to focus our efforts is on the “street parking, sidewalk extension, loading/unloading, pedestrian spillover” zone for several reasons. The first reason is that this is the space with the most flexibility and opportunity for physical modification. Modifying this space is much more physically viable than actually widening the street itself. The second reason is that this space is also the space that is most abused. Commercial trucks stay parked long after their parking meters have expired. Street vendors sell their produce illegally near bus bulb-outs, and even the established businesses extend their product display and storage space into the street. And pedestrians, in an effort to move efficiently and quickly through the crowded sidewalk, often place themselves in danger by moving off the sidewalk and into this space near the main thoroughfare.
An opportunity for open space
Modifying this 7-9 foot wide space in the transit thoroughfare is not only a transportation project. Recent trends in the redesign of the space, such as in the use of “parklets”# (approved of and promoted by the city government), are breathing new ideas into where public and open space can be used. Currently, most of these parklets are designed for leisurely, passive activities such as sitting, eating snacks, and conversing. “Open space,” as demonstrated by these parklets, is a very flexible concept.
This idea easily lends itself to open space provision in this narrow space, especially through the relevant example of Parking Day, a day in which people legally reserve parking spaces to create small parks.# Since Chinatown is one of the most underserved communities with regards to open space provision,# there is a tremendous opportunity presented here to create more open spaces while making physical modifications of Stockton Street for transit purposes. This is not an entirely new idea to Chinatown; the Chinatown Alleyway Master Plan, among its many objectives, creates a hybrid of 1) flexible open space for passive recreation and 2) transit effectiveness projects, specifically through creating a secondary pedestrian network.
What we propose is to create hybrid parklets which not only serve as “open space” but also as transit effectiveness projects. As we conduct field research into the spatial dynamics of each transit mode’s need long this corridor, we expect to find opportunities to implement parklets which can be tailored to each of those situations. At this point, we want to create a “design toolkit of parklets” which can be easily implemented various Chinatown nonprofits and associations. We hope that the success of these parklets will eventually cause the city to assist Chinatown nonprofits in these innovative efforts and perhaps, where necessary, construct permanent sidewalk extensions.
There are several hybrid parklet design templates which we have already created:
- Pedestrian expressway: For Stockton Street in between Jackson and Broadway, where it the most crowded due to the high number of businesses selling produce and prepared food. The main purpose of these expressways is to safely channel the pedestrian spillover occurring on these blocks. The fact that there is pedestrian spillover demonstrates that there is not enough space on the sidewalk and that the space that is normally reserved for parking is underutilized and should therefore be prioritized to meet pedestrian needs. The expressways would relieve congestion on the sidewalk also through creating two distinct spaces along those shopping corridors - one space, on the sidewalk, for shopping, and the other space, in the expressway, to get from point A to point B.
- Leisure activity: For the calmer areas of Stockton Street, where pedestrian traffic is still moderate along the sidewalk, and where people would like for an area to meet in public.
Bus stop expansion: For various bus stops on Stockton which are heavily-used. The purpose of this parklet is to provide seating and improve efficiency and ensure safety of the onboarding/offboarding process.
We recognize is that these parklets will have two effects: one, remove the number of street parking available on Stockton Street, and two, remove loading/unloading zones. We feel that these tradeoffs are worth making for several reasons.
First, because Stockton Street is already so congested, most local drivers have the tendency to avoid Stockton Street (will research to see if this is true; just our hypothesis). In the most crowded of areas, there is really no need for parking, and parking is often abused by commercial trucks who overstay their metered time. Secondly, commercial trucks not only abuse parking spots but also loading/unloading zones. By limiting the space in which they can load and unload their goods, we not only ensure that these spaces remain transient spaces and force business to collaborate loading and unloading times to create a more efficient system.
The number of parklets to be implemented is still undecided. The advantage of having these parklets is that that they are essentially tests and experiments to see what will work and won’t work. Because parklets are quite flexible, they can be easily set up and taken down, and with local nonprofits and associations facilitating this process, there is a high chance that this process will be highly responsive to community
Other related long-term goals
Besides parklets, we also propose other types of open space along Stockton Street that might take a longer time to accomplish. An example of this open space would be opening a community center on top of the Ping Yuen housing project located on Pacific Avenue and Stockton Street. Open community space is very limited in Chinatown due to it’s zoning laws. Because of this, we must find very creative ways to provide open space to accommodate the needs of the Chinatown community. The proposed Ping Yuen community center will provide a place for Chinatown residents to relax and also will serve as a meeting place for the Chinatown community.
Another way we propose to create more open space on Stockton Street is to utilize the new Central Subway Station. We propose to open a new park or recreation center on the roof of the new Central Subway Station. This park or recreation center will provide a much needed space for Chinatown youths to stay off the streets.