Between the throngs of shoppers, tourists and passengers looking to board nearby cable cars, Powell Street can seem more like an obstacle course than a place for a stroll.
But starting in the next few days, that experience will change considerably when The City starts a pilot program to expand the sidewalk on a two-block portion of the downtown artery.
During busy weekend days, more than 100,000 pedestrians travel on Powell Street. That makes it the second-busiest pedestrian thoroughfare in the country, behind New York’s Times Square, said Andres Power of the Planning Department.
To accommodate this crush of visitors, new steel extensions will expand the sidewalk by 6 feet between Geary and Ellis streets, Power said. Crews also will add custom-designed furniture, potted plants and other amenities, he said.
To make way for the enlarged sidewalks, all parking spaces on the two-block stretch will be removed.
Work on the project is set to begin soon, with full installation expected by mid-July. Although it’s initially projected to last just six months, if the sidewalk expansion proves popular, the department will consider making it permanent, Power said.
The street currently is outfitted with parking meters for commercial vehicles. They will soon have a special loading zone for making deliveries on each block. Traffic conditions will remain the same, with one lane in each direction open for cable cars and private automobiles.
The project, which was first announced late last year, will be paid for entirely by donations from Audi. The Union Square Business Improvement District will be responsible for its upkeep. The walkway will not feature any corporate advertising slogans, Power said.
Florence Keawemauhili, a worker at the Quik-silver retail shop at Powell and O’Farrell streets, said the sidewalk expansion plan would be a great benefit for the neighborhood.
“During the peak times down here, people basically walk in the middle of the street because it’s so crowded,” Keawemauhili said. “I think this will make everyone a lot more comfortable and more willing to hang out longer and visit more shops.”
But Lee Wie, an employee at Official Team Stop, a sports memorabilia store on Powell and Ellis streets, said the pedestrian expansion project is unnecessary.
“I think the sidewalk is already wide enough,” Wie said. “Plus, we’ve had some delivery guys complaining that they’ll have to walk a lot further to make their drop-offs.”
Sidewalks are widening on Powell Street between Geary and Ellis streets.
6 feet Expansion of sidewalks
6 months Duration of planned pilot project
100,000 Pedestrians on Powell Street during busy weekend day
2 Rank among most-walked thoroughfares in U.S., trailingNew York’s Times Square
Source: Planning Department