20 Parklets on Duval in 2020
By Chris Hamilton, April 28, 2020
This is a more in-depth follow up to our article “3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street” where we advocated for quickly putting in parklets, bike parking and letting people take the street as a way to pedestrianize Duval, even if closing it off to cars completely or rebuilding it won’t happen right away.
Wouldn’t it be nice to reimagine a Duval Street with more people and less cars when the shops, bars and restaurants reopen? Many people want to make all of or parts of Duval Street a pedestrian-only zone, except for delivery vehicles. But the experimental Mall on Duval program is over and not coming back because the City is conducting a “Duval Street Revitalization” study. So it could be a long time before any action is taken. One way to “widen our sidewalks” and add more people activity to our Main Street quickly would be to allow businesses, organizations or even the City to install parklets in space that is currently used for car parking. How about setting a goal for getting 20 of these planned and started, if not open, during 2020.
Parklets are spots for people. Not cars. Parklets are an extension of the sidewalk out into the street, usually in what was formerly a parking space – thus the name. They are intended to be used by people, usually to sit, either as an open park or as part of a retail establishment nearby. They are often temporary and can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively. So putting these in now wouldn’t preclude more permanent infrastructure changes in the future. In fact, this little bit of tactical urbanism would be a nice way to test out wider sidewalks before going to the expense of rebuilding the street. It might be a way for restaurants to add capacity at a time when they may need to decrease tables inside to meet physical distancing guidelines.
According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Street Design Guidelines manual: “Parklets are typically applied where narrow or congested sidewalks prevent the installation of traditional sidewalk cafes, or where local property owners or residents see a need to expand the seating capacity and public space on a given street. To obtain a parklet, property owners enter into an agreement with the city, in some cases through a citywide application process, procuring curbside seating in place of one or more parking spaces.”
There are places along Duval where there is currently parking (300, 800, 900 blocks) or where the sidewalk narrows for temporary parking (200, 500, 600, 700 blocks) where parklets could be installed. On Upper Duval, beyond Truman Avenue, there’s parking on both sides of the streets, providing additional spots for parklets.
Parklets shouldn’t just be for Duval Street. Anywhere near Duval or how about anywhere downtown where there are groups of retail shops, should be able to participate. Southard and Fleming Streets between Simonton and Whitehead are perfect places to add street vitality. Why not on White Street? Where else?
Installing retail sponsored parklets provide opportunities for restaurants to provide dining for customers. Installing public parklets provide anyone with a place to stop, rest, have a drink from another establishment and people watch. Studies show that older folks especially consider sidewalk furniture important. Another benefit of public parklets is the community of Third Places. A public space to sit or to sit and eat, if it has a table, draws people to sit and chat and share and recognize their neighbors. Saying meet me in front of X now means I can sit down. Coffee shops are a great example of Third Places but you have to buy something to use it. A public parklet become a Third Place and that creates community. We need both privately sponsored and publicly sponsored parklets. And publicly sponsored doesn’t necessarily mean City-sponsored. It could be a nearby retail shop, a civic or non-profit group or a general benefactor.
Parklets would help further enliven the street and their extension into the right of way would slow down cars. Perhaps grants can be given to groups to build these? Restaurants and retail shops could build their own or team with others to help them. The TDC could provide money. Or CFFK. Team with Key West Hight School and/or arts organizations to help design, build and decorate them like was done with the trash and recycling on the street.
We need to make the permits for these free and restaurants should NOT incur additional charges for the new outdoor seating. This is something we should encourage and making it onerous for businesses to participate will kill any effort to enliven the street.
The dream of revitalizing Duval Street and making it more pedestrian friendly doesn’t have to wait for a study and an infrastructure rebuild to happen. If we could simply widen our existing sidewalks by taking over some of the space being used for car parking we could get closer to that dream right now.
Here’s more information and some design guidelines from the National Association of Transportation City Transportation Officials (NACTO) from their Urban Street Design Guidelines manual.
Active Streets for Business, City of Milwaukee – A pilot program to support local businesses by promoting the safe reopening of restaurants and bars through expanded options for increased physical distancing and dining in outdoor areas. View the presentation from June 3, 2020.