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Parklets On-Street parks that calm traffic and provide a sense of place

There are direct connections between improvements for people in city space and visions for achieving lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities.”

-Jan Gehl, Cities for People

What Is a Parklet?

Parklets are extensions of the sidewalk from the curb into the street that are protected from traffic. They include installations of public seating, art, plants, platforms, and other elements that replace several on-street parking spaces, either permanently or temporarily. Parklets can serve as a gathering place for the community, energize commercial districts, and calm traffic. Permanent parklets are typically proposed to a city by businesses and/or community organizations that agree to fund and maintain them, although more municipalities are launching and administering downtown parklet programs. Whether the parklet features benches, planters, landscaping, bike parking, or café tables and chairs, these projects create spaces that welcome the public.

Benefits of Parklets

Several studies and demonstration projects cite the following benefits of parklets in a downtown or central business district:

  1. Economic vibrancy: Boosts local economic strength by attracting more patrons
  2. Complete streets: Fosters safer and more walkable-, bikeable-, and transit-friendly environments
  3. Dynamic public spaces: Enhances public-realm activity and fosters placemaking
  4. Social interaction: Creates gathering spots that encourage opportunities for social exchanges and spontaneous interactions
  5. Traffic calming: Adds to a more controlled roadway environment when parklets are used in combination with measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior, and improve conditions for non-motorized street users

Designing Parklets

Design Considerations

Credit: DLANDstudio, Beyond the Curb Part II: Parklet Design Handbook (TNJ, 2014)

According to the National Association of Transportation Official's (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide, the design of parklets should include:

  1. Parking buffers, located four feet from the parklet, which define the space
  2. Vertical elements, such as bollards or posts, that make them visible to traffic
  3. A minimum width of six feet, or the width of the parking lane
  4. A flush transition at the sidewalk and curb to permit easy access
  5. Seating integrated into the design of the parklet
  6. A substructure that accommodates the crown of the road and provides a level surface for the parklet
  7. An open guardrail, about three-feet high, to define the space
NACTO's recommended parklet design elements. (Urban Street Design Guide, 2013)

Unique Designs

Although there are recommended design elements and guidelines, parklets can be customized to meet the needs of a community. Wikiblock is an open-source toolkit of design templates that can be downloaded at no cost and used to create street-furniture structures for placemaking initiatives. The Wikiblock library includes designs for benches, chairs, planters, stages, bus stops, beer garden fences, and kiosks to create spaces where people can connect with their city and one another. Its Mobility Parklet design creates a unique parklet, intended to reclaim public space for the pedestrian and incorporates bike racks, ride-share/public transit platforms, and a lounge area.

Wikiblock's Mobility Parklet design (Better Block Foundation, 2018)

The Parklet Movement

Mapping All 51 Awesome San Francisco Public Parklets (Dylan Pillar, 2015).

Temporary Parklets

Many cities establish pilot projects with temporary parklets to test the viability of creating permanent structures. Starting in 2005, the movement of temporary pop-up parklets began when an art studio, Rebar, organized the city-wide takeover of parking spaces in San Francisco, in what became known as PARK(ing) Day. This event has become an international movement and a catalyst for cities that wish to create temporary pop-up parks in curbside parking spaces. These temporary parklets are a great example of tactical urbanism at work.

PARK(ing) Day: Temporarily Transforming Spaces

PARK(ing) Day is an annual, worldwide event, held on the third Friday of September, which inspires communities to creatively transform on-street parking spaces into temporary parklets. The images below are examples of Washington, D.C.'s success during PARK(ing) Day 2017, which had of a variety of pop-up parklet projects throughout the city.

Pop-up parklets showcased during Washington D.C.'s PARK(ing) Day in 2017. Photos by: Alexandra Hay

San Francisco's "Pavement to Parks" Program

San Francisco's "Pavement to Parks" Program is a best-practice example of a program that tests the possibilities of transforming underused public areas by quickly and inexpensively converting them into activity-oriented pedestrian spaces. The program was established to be a public laboratory for the City of San Francisco to work with local communities to temporarily test new ideas in the public realm. In 2010, San Francisco piloted its first temporary, pop-up parklet, and by 2015 over 50 permanent parklets have been established throughout the city. The proliferation of parklets has been fueled through collaborative partnerships involving citizens, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, the San Francisco Planning Department, the Department of Public Works, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

Parklet Projects in Delaware

While no permanent parklet structures have been installed in Delaware, several municipalities have successfully experimented with temporary parklet projects.

Wilmington's 7th Street Arts Bridge Parklet

Wilmington's 7th Street Arts Bridge Parklet

As part of participation in the 2017 National PARK(ing) Day, the Creative District Wilmington unveiled it's first parklet along 7th Street Arts Bridge. The 7th Street Arts Bridge is a transformative project in an area in need of renewal. This project was supported by many organizations, such as Wilmington Placemakers Inc., the Challenge Program, and the Wilmington Parking Authority.

Wilmington Placemakers Inc. was in charge of designing this parklet. This nonprofit works to plan, design, execute and manage projects that promote, support and grow community culture, engagement, and wellness.

The Challenge Program worked to build the project along the 7th Street Arts Bridge. The program provides vocational training for Delaware's at-risk youth to empower them with the confidence, skills, and purpose needed to become productive members of society.

Town of Georgetown's East Market Street Parklet

Economic Development Initiative: Downtown Parklet (Town of Georgetown, 2017). Photo credits: Gene Dvornick

The Town of Georgetown's East Market Street Parklet was designed to be used for outdoor dining, informal seating, and entertaining. The project utilized parallel parking spaces along East Market Street for the purpose of temporarily extending the sidewalk for use as a public gathering spot. The project plan specified that parklets could be placed for one week duration at five different locations along East Market Street (never at the same time). The week following the parklet placement, selected businesses would provide a "parklet impact report" to document usage. The pilot project was projected to last five months during the summer. The sustainable construction incorporated used pallets and pressure-treated lumber. The portable design can be set-up or broken down in only 20 to 30 minutes. Important safety measures were incorporated into the design, such as:

  1. Dimensions that are one foot less than the the actual width of a parking space
  2. A 42-inch railing that surrounds three sides, with an opening facing the sidewalk
  3. The placement of water-filled traffic barriers at both ends, perpendicular to the curb
  4. 36-inch poly-urethane road markers

Seaford's Portable Parklet

"It [the parklet] has really helped to change the mindset of those that are driving through downtown..."- Trisha Newcomer
Seaford's portable parklet can be reserved by businesses for use at a variety of locations along High Street. Photo credits: Trisha Newcomer

The City of Seaford initiated and constructed a portable parklet, partnering with Seaford Tomorrow, as a tool to reactivate the streetscape and revitalize its downtown. The parklet enables local businesses to expand operations outside and provides extra space for patrons to gather, socialize, and linger, according to Trisha Newcomer, the City of Seaford's Economic Development and IT Manager. Any Seaford business is free to use the parklet for a week's time by simply reserving the structure through the Parks and Recreation Department. The parklet is considered multi-faceted, where it breaks up into two pieces, making it easily movable. The parklet takes up two parking spots, is the width of a car, and includes umbrellas and solar caps on the rails.

Seaford's parklet has a various opportunities for use, such as temporary outdoor seating for restaurants, art galleries, business meetings, and serving as a bandstand at Gateway Park. Seaford Tomorrow has also used it as a stage for its First Saturdays events. With numerous placemaking benefits, the portable parklet is an attractive public space that helps boost economic development and promotion of Seaford's downtown. In addition, Newcomer says that the parklet acts as a visual traffic calming measure. "As folks approach it, they tend to slow down....It makes them stop, take notice, and maybe want to come back to check out what is going on there."

Newark's New Night Downtown Parklet

Festival patrons relax in the temporary parklet on Newark's Main Street during the 2014 New Night event. A DelDOT 2018 Main Street rehabilitation and pedestrian improvement project will include installation of ‘parklets’ (Josh Shannon, 2017).

A temporary parklet project was showcased during Newark's New Night downtown festival in 2014. The community's premier street festival takes place on Main Street. Hosted by the Downtown Newark Partnership in cooperation with the City of Newark, the annual event attracts scores of citizens and visitors.

The success of the temporary parklet during Newark's New Night Downtown festival has sparked interest in installing permanent parklets. Two parklets have been approved by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) for installation on Newark’s Main Street, starting in the coming fall. The project will be incorporated into the DelDOT 2018 Newark Rehabilitation and Pedestrian Improvements project on Main Street that will expand traffic calming measures, including bump-outs at crosswalks. DelDOT and the City of Newark reviewed this parklet proposal thoroughly, to evaluate the project's feasibility. The feasibility was based on criteria such as cost, street slope, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility, neighborhood context, overall safety, public support, and the existing street conditions, such as traffic and pedestrian volumes.

After comprehensive review, the Newark City Council has approved the installation of two parklets, one in front of Panera Bread, and the other in front of United Newark Methodist Church that will be financed through a combination of federal, state, and City of Newark funds. The proposed design is intended to be approximately two-car lengths, comprised of brick columns and metal fencing to buffer traffic, and potentially include benches and landscaping.

Drawing of potential parklet designs for the City of Newark's Main Street. Photo provided by: DelDOT

Credits:

Created with images by Kathleen Corey and Brian Gould - "French Quarter Parklet"

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