Redesigning Crosswalks Into A Network Of Mini-Parks To Save Pedestrian Lives

Building out small bits of nature alongside streets creates more public space–and protects people from careening, deadly cars.

Even though San Francisco is known as a walkable city, it isn’t exactly safe: On average, three pedestrians are hit by cars every day. A new design proposal for city streets could change that, while also rethinking the idea of a street as public space.


“We wanted challenge the conventional expectation that the street’s pavement belongs to vehicles and the sidewalk belongs to pedestrians,” says Zoe Prillinger of Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects, the firm that created the design for the pedestrian advocacy group, Walk San Francisco.

The design starts with “bulb-outs,” which are curb extensions that make a sidewalk bulge into the street at crosswalks to make pedestrians more visible. Since making pedestrians stand closer to traffic also puts them at some risk, the curb extensions have high ridges to give more protection. The ridges are high and deep enough that they can actually become planters.

“It becomes a kind of occupiable public space,” says Prillinger. Someone could perch on a planter as if it was a park bench, or maybe help tend the garden. “We’re thinking about the planters as community gardens, which could encourage local ownership of the streetscape and also create a network of green that could expand and stitch streets to nearby parks.”

A graphic black and white hatch pattern extends into both the street and sidewalk to make it clear that it’s a hybrid zone not strictly for cars or pedestrians alone. “It does two things–it alerts drivers to the presence of peds, it’s kind of a warning a visual warning that something’s happening, but it also lays claim to the street for the pedestrian,” Prillinger says.

“We didn’t want a strict dichotomy between street and sidewalk,” she adds. “We’re interested in ambiguity, the idea of sharing and negotiation–between park and city, street and sidewalk, and cars and pedestrians. All users need to negotiate public space, and public space can be enriched to support a greater diversity of experience than it does currently.”

Though the plans were created for a design challenge, Prillinger says that the city is interested in learning more about the idea, and the firm will be meeting with the SFMTA soon to talk about more details. The architects have suggested starting with Divisadero Street, a major north-south street that runs through the middle of the city.


“We selected Divisadero because it’s a very active pedestrian street that’s evolving– it’s not entrenched yet in any particular style or feel,” Prillinger explains. It also has medians, which are an important part of the design. Plantings down the middle of the street will connect with plantings at each intersection, ultimately creating a path that connects the street with other green spaces.

Since the area doesn’t have a strong visual identity yet, she says, it’s a perfect candidate for something new in a city that’s often resistant to physical changes.

“We’re trying to make a statement about what public space can be in 2014,” Prillinger says. “We’re taking on the idea of what the city can look like, and how it can start to transform.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.