Powell Street Promenade Refresh

Project Introduction

Powell Street is a critical entry corridor into Union Square. Every day, thousands of employees and visitors exit BART and Muni at Powell Street Station, come up through Hallidie Plaza, and head north, alongside San Francisco's iconic cable cars into the heart of the Union Square District. But currently, what should be a singularly memorable experience, is instead often disappointing, with a fragmented streetscape. Although the temporary parklets provide additional walking space, they have reached the end of their useful lives.

The Powell Street Promenade Refresh will replace the existing aluminum parklets, which are now past their useful lifespan, with a simple, clean, and elegant new sidewalk treatment, creating a unified widened sidewalk from Market Street to Union Square Park. The new design approach aims to call attention to and celebrate the cable cars and Powell's beautiful buildings.

Project scope

The project will refresh the two blocks of Powell Street between Geary and Ellis streets, replacing the existing parklets that have been in place for a decade with a sturdier design and new look. This new streetscape will provide a signature street for the iconic Union Square neighborhood, providing a welcoming environment for the area’s many visitors from around the world. Project staff will work with the Union Square Alliance and corridor businesses to review design options and develop a streetscape that reflects these values.

The project continues traffic regulations from the successful Powell Street Safety and Sidewalk Improvement Pilot, intended to reduce traffic volumes on Powell Street for improved cable car operations and a safer environment for walking.

A separate but related effort will upgrade traffic signals and street lighting at the intersections of Powell & Geary, Powell & O’Farrell, and Powell & Ellis to improve traffic safety and will follow a similar construction timeline.

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Project Timeline
2017 - 2022
Detailed Design
Project Status
  1. Detailed Design
Current Phase or Stage
Detailed Design
New parklets and a refreshed, pedestrian-focused design
Cable Car
Safety and reliability improvements for the cable car lines
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Improved traffic signals to keep people moving
Powell Street; Geary Street; O'Farrell Street; Ellis Street

Project background

Powell Street has benefitted from over a decade of ‘tactical urbanism’, beginning with the installation of temporary aluminum parklets in May 2011, sponsored by Audi and designed by Hood Design Studio. These parklets were originally designed to last five years, and while remaining, have passed their useful life; this project will replace them with a longer-lasting design that better reflects the character of the neighborhood.

In November 2015, the SFMTA initiated the Powell Street Safety and Sidewalk Improvement Pilot, which introduced vehicle restrictions on Powell Street between Geary and Ellis streets to reduce traffic volumes – addressing safety concerns and reliability issues for the cable car system. Specifically, the project restricted vehicle traffic from turning onto Powell Street for those two blocks to keep the roadway clear for cable cars and reduce the conflicts between turning vehicles and people in the crosswalks (it retained access for passenger and commercial loading for fronting businesses and hotels). In July 2017, these vehicle restrictions were permanently legislated by the SFMTA Board of Directors following encouraging results from the pilot. Traffic volumes decreased on Powell Street by roughly 60%, injury collisions within the project area dropped from 2-3 incidents per year to zero during the pilot, hazardous wear to the cable cars was reduced 23%, and turning movements fell 70-80%.

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