The NSS hits the streets #3: The Street Speaks

The National Street Services believe that our needs and history are reflected in the street. Our streets are fundamentally connected to our sense of self. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences the street equally. In fact, the layout of many streets is hard-wired to support some people and modes over others. So we created a program that sought to awaken people who the street privileges, to the fact that that their needs are often met at the expense of others with less privilege, or to the detriment of our shared values for safe, livable, enjoyable places to be.

The NSS hits the streets #2: Street Rangers

Our streets should be constantly changing places: the ability to adapt, accommodate, get reused and meet new needs as well as old ones, keeps a street valuable and useful. Great streets are forever being perfected. But what if you live on a street that’s changing, and you don’t feel good about that change? Or perhaps you desperately want to see change and it’s just not happening. How do we keep streets vibrant places that meet our needs today, while respecting our heritage and history and what made our streets great to begin with?

The NSS hits the streets #1: Price Tag the City

How many different ways can we value our city streets? There are things that immediately jump to mind, like the investment in a roadway, or the revenue the city receives from parking meters. And then there are more intangible values, like what a street tree contributes to the cleanliness of the air and water in the city, or what a bench gives to every individual who rests there.

Street Rangers Making an Impact

“I have power over the changes on my street.” Would you agree or disagree?

We at the National Street Service believe that the best way to be open to change is to get involved in it, and the best way to see change is to take the first step. The street is public space, and we as a community should have a strong voice in deciding how to best use it. But how can we engage everyone in the community in this process?

Through our Street Ranger program, we worked with 20 Street Rangers to help them feel a part of the change in their street and feel more confidence in their ability to make changes in future.

Our Street Rangers successfully completed a wide range of activities, demonstrating considerable talent and enthusiasm for street advocacy (thanks everyone!).

  • Street Rangers launched 14 conversations with city government officials around requests for physical street infrastructure.
  • Street Rangers added 10 chalk outlines to the street as a bold statement on where benches for rest and reflection should be installed.
  • Street Rangers worked with the Public Bench project to install 5 uniquely painted public benches. In fact, one is on the ground already!

Our Rangers also reported a significant increase in the power they felt they had to make changes in the street, all through taking small but important actions to improve on an issue of importance to them.

Our Street Ranger program was a broad success, validating our hunch that we can see a great deal of positive change by activating the people in every community who care deeply, but perhaps haven’t found the right opportunity to get involved. Stay tuned for what’s coming next for the National Street Service’s Street Ranger program (and let us know if you want to be involved,

In the meantime, read on to hear more about how our week of participation went.

Introducing the Street Rangers

Who are these fabulous people who made so much change, and indeed saw change themselves, in just one week? And what did we ask them to do?

Let’s learn more through the story of Street Ranger Em Havens, who generously agreed to let us share some details of what she got up to during her Street Ranger week.

Getting Started

Our first task for Em, and indeed all our Street Rangers, was the simple task of street observation. Setting a timer for 10 minutes, Em noticed that the street serves medical staff and passersby heading to and from nearby USCF, as well as neighbors headed in and out of their homes. Drawing on her personal history in Portland, Oregon, Em remarked that she missed the porch culture she experienced there, a culture where people stop and chat and engage with their neighbors. Yet, she also noticed that when people do run into each other on her chosen street in San Francisco, they are always friendly. Taking the leap to action, Em identified this as an opportunity to build upon this sentiment and provide more infrastructure to allow people to more casually collide and connect.

Done with her observation, it was time for Em to decide what to focus her Ranger energies on during the week. We offered Street Rangers three options:

  • Providing people with rest and reflection.
  • Protecting people who walk.
  • Protecting people who bike.
  We offered three options for street enhancement that the Rangers could choose from.

We offered three options for street enhancement that the Rangers could choose from.

Em decided she wanted to add spaces for rest and reflection, building on her own personal theory of change about the importance of providing spaces to better “collide and connect”. Like all our Rangers, she then got started on the 5 action items we provided - each of which had been carefully tailored for that topic area.

Making a mark

Observation is an important valuable activity but it’s also fairly passive, and our Street Ranger program was ultimately about taking action. But taking action for better streets can be daunting. How do you take the first step? To that end, one of the most powerful tools in our Street Ranger advocacy kit was a humble stick of chalk.

As Em discovered, chalk was transformative both for those drawing with it, and for those passing by and witnessing our Rangers’ creations. The chalk provided a means to physically interact with the environment while leaving a mark (in a low risk way), helping both the creator and the passerby translate the idea of new infrastructure into a more relatable and more tangible visual. Chalking the street was definitely an easy first step, but it also happened to be fun. Streets are serious business, but like anything that’s human-centered, need a healthy dose of fun from time to time. We try and ensure the National Street Service embodies this principle, from the focus on street chalk to the design of everything we produce.

Whatever they thought of the hidden powers of chalk, many of our street rangers, including Em, made amazing use of it.

Some of our rangers went beyond the physical, employing “digital chalk” to create renderings of their vision for the street. We aren’t fussy: any creative, non-destructive (and respectful!) means of expressing your vision for a better street, is fine with us.

Change, made

Chalk is powerful, but when it comes to changing the street for the better, rarely enough. The next step for our Rangers was, in many cases, to reach out to other organizations and authorities to put their personal visions for change into action.

  thanks to Ranger Em and local Public Bench Project hero Chris Duderstadt, this street now has a new facility for rest and reflection

thanks to Ranger Em and local Public Bench Project hero Chris Duderstadt, this street now has a new facility for rest and reflection

In Em’s case, we recommended she contact Chris Duderstadt of the Public Bench Project, who has installed over 75 benches in San Francisco. Em reached out, and Chris generously provided guidelines for how to get a public bench added to her street. He even designed a rendering, worked with Em to get the color just right, and then installed it, all while recovering from back surgery (thanks Chris!). While we wanted our Rangers to feel empowered, putting something physical into the street isn’t always easy: it requires navigating often hidden rules for what can be placed and where, and negotiating with neighbors and business owners for their tacit approval. Em did a fantastic job of following her intuition and Chris’ direction to get appropriate “social license” for her bench.

It took Em vision, thought, chalk, e-mails and conversations, plus some periwinkle paint to get done, but get it done she did. A beautiful bench now stands near UCSF, hopefully providing rest and reflection to passersby and neighbors for many years to come. Em demonstrated beautifully how a modicum of effort, time and partnership with other members of the community can deliver a better street (even in a physically small way). Thank you for your service, Em!

Setting sights higher

Physical installations like benches are a great way to dip your toes into advocacy for better streets. But like it or not, much of the responsibility (and power) to change streets lies with our politicians and city agencies. Getting involved with political debates and participating in public process can be daunting, so we looked for easy ways to get our Street Rangers engaged. Em, for example, also emailed her supervisor London Breed, urging her to support street designs that are more human focused and provide people with opportunities to socialize. We at the National Street Service believe that such requests can be powerful, especially when paired with photos and anecdotes from the observations. They go above and beyond a mass e-mail or petition, because they demonstrate the obvious commitment of the person making the request.

Perhaps more importantly, these relatively quick and easy ways of engaging with broader debate around better streets can be especially empowering for the individual. Our Street Rangers took surveys before they got started, and once again at the end, so we could measure how their attitudes and feelings had changed. In particular, we asked how people felt about their sense of power over the changes on their street.

For Em, this week was quite a shift in her perspective. She wrote that “[I] saw more of its beauty and experienced more of its secret social life. I learned that the barrier to entry is low for participating. This has been inspiring and motivating! It is actually pretty easy to take action and make the world more beautiful :) Psyched about the partnership in general and MOST psyched about feeling more connected to my local community.”

Here are some other ways in which Street Rangers reported their own personal change:

“It gave me permission to do things I would never do. With a greater understanding of the issues I had greater comfort in stepping up and speaking out.”

“It changed my mindset from the street is someone else’s responsibility to MY responsibility.”

“I’m feeling more conscious of the pros and cons of my street and how they contribute to the way I think about it.”

“I’m not as observant about my neighborhood as I had thought. The questions posed to me, as a street ranger, have made me think more critically about concrete ways to improve pedestrian life in my neighborhood.”

“My mindset has changed to include thinking about who is responsible for improving the pedestrian experience and to not assume existing conditions are permanent.”

“I’m more aware of the efforts people and local organizations are undertaking to protect pedestrians. Also, I’m recognizing the bureaucratic and funding challenges of implementing these improvements to pedestrian life and that advocacy doesn’t easily translate into action. I’m also more conscious of choosing to walk through and understand the city better.”

Coming to terms

Many of our Rangers really did start a conversation. They were pleasantly surprised that when they wrote to the city, they got a quick response often full of detail and support. They felt an awareness that someone was listening to their concerns, which can be a real hurdle to participating in broader change especially around big challenging issues.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.43.22 AM.png

But some of our Rangers never got an answer. For them, this project revealed inadequacies in the system: how our streets are designed, how they’re managed, and the public engagement process for ensuring that everyone can have a say. One street ranger said, “No one is responsible!” as they struggled with getting traction on their chosen issue. Others felt that the tools we provided them just weren’t enough given the scale of the problem and the effort needed to resolve them. Many Rangers felt they could have done with even more support, something we recognize and will be considering as we move forward.

Staying positive and engaged

While the challenges are significant and it is easy to feel disheartened at setbacks, many of the street rangers noted that they felt “activated” and wanted to do something bigger. Particularly in the context of there being few opportunities for change at a national level, this kind of hyper-local action felt especially tangible and important. We think there is plenty of evidence here that taking a small but personally involved step towards change can encourage people to feel fundamentally more comfortable with change. Our Street Ranger one-week program may be, for some, the first rung on the ladder of participation. We sincerely hope all our Street Rangers don’t stop here, and continue to intervene and advocate for safer, more livable and more human-centered streets in San Francisco and beyond.

What comes next

Our Street Ranger program was a roaring success, but only because our Street Rangers themselves launched themselves into it with enthusiasm and commitment that impressed us all deeply. We are, first and foremost, very grateful they all took a chance on us and committed so much time and energy and love to the project.

Stepping back, we think there is something unique and special about a well thought-through, highly localized support program for activating local change-makers, and will continue to work on ways to improve the program and perhaps consider it at larger scales.

What might this program look like in months and years to come? We have lots of ideas, including trying bigger things in San Francisco and expanding to other cities around the Bay Area - perhaps even the country as a whole. But we’re not done thinking yet, so stay tuned. If you have ideas about what you would like to see Street Rangers work on next, shoot us an email at or connect with us via Instagram: @national_street_service or Twitter: @Nstreetservice #nationalstreetservice

#TheStreetSpeaks - stories from, of and by the street

We've been out and about in San Francisco and Oakland today, sharing our National Street Service Listening Post with the community. The NSS Listening Post provided an opportunity to anyone walking by 16th and Van Ness in San Francisco, or 50th and Telegraph in Oakland, to step out of the flow, rest awhile and listen to what the street had to say. We also installed beautiful signage (by extraordinarily talented designer Liz at at 16th and Van Ness in San Francisco, and 50th and Telegraph in Oakland, with phone numbers anyone can call if they want to hear the stories for themselves. Perhaps most importantly, after each story has played, there's an opportunity to leave one's own story of the street.

Missed our Listening Post or can't make it out to our signs? Try these:

  • Call 415-212-4933 to hear Paula tell her story of the inimitable Chile Lindo and the empanada-based joy she brings to 16th Street.
  • Call 415-212-4986 to hear Coral talk about the struggles and alienation of people living on the street.
  • Call 415-212-4864 to hear Julie Mitchell tell the story of her beloved son, Dylan, who was killed by the driver of a garbage truck at 16th and Van Ness in 2013.
  • Call 415-212-4352 to hear Keys, sometime-fireman on Telegraph, talk about Oakland streets.

If you can't call for any reason (but please do, because you'll have an opportunity to leave your own story), you can also find the audio files at the following links:

National Street Service stories produced by Andrew Stelzer (Paula, Coral, and Elizabeth) Ali Budner (Julie), and Ike Sriskandarajah (Keys).

Music in Paula's story is El Palteado by Shhjjjjjjj

#Streetvalues - The Real Cost of a Parking Spot - what else could it buy?

 For what one metered space costs the City of San Francisco in maintenance, 291 people could ride Muni.

For what one metered space costs the City of San Francisco in maintenance, 291 people could ride Muni.

What does the City of San Francisco spend each year to maintain an on-street parking spot?

  1. The City of San Francisco spent around $30 million on parking enforcement in 2010-2011. In the absence of empirical data for the split between enforcement of paid and unpaid spots, we making the generous and simplifying assumption that the enforcement budget is 50% dedicated to paid spots even though these are fewer in number, because of the revenue incentive associated with enforcing their use. In this estimate, then, the enforcement budget expended towards on-street parking: $15 million.

  2. The City Controller’s office calculated annual expenditures on street maintenance as follows, for a total of $128.4 million annually.

    1. Street cleaning: $26.4 million

    2. Maintenance: $53 million

    3. Surfacing and reconstruction: $49 million

  3. There are 857 miles of maintained public road in San Francisco. (1)

  4. Given that the total number of on-street, metered parking spaces in San Francisco is 26,750 (2), and a parking space size of around 144 square feet, we assume a length of around 14 feet.

  5. 14 feet is ~0.0026 of a mile.

  6. On-street metered parking spaces as a fraction of total public road miles: ( 0.0026 x 26,750 spaces ) / 875 miles = 0.079 or 7% of San Francisco’s roadway miles are on-street metered parking. However, parking spaces typically only make up at most ½ of the roadway space for maintenance purposes, so we discount that number to 3.5%.

  7. Total annual maintenance costs of on-street metered parking per year in San Francisco = 3.5% * $128.4 M = $4.49M. Including the cost of enforcement, at $15M / year, the total costs of on-street metered parking come to $19.49M.

  8. Per metered parking space, this amounts to $19.49M / 26,750 = $729 / space / year.


What about an on-street unmetered spot?

  1. We assume that the costs of maintaining an unmetered spot are essentially the same as those for a metered spot: $4.49M / 26,750 = $167.85 per year.

  2. The number of unmetered spots is 248,700. (3)

  3. We assume that 50% of enforcement costs are expended on those spots: $15M / 248,700 = $60.31 per unmetered spot per year in enforcement costs.

  4. The per spot maintenance cost of a parking spot in SF we assume as $167.85 per space per year.

  5. So the total cost per unmetered parking space: $60.31+167.85 = $228.16 / space / year.


What does these amounts buy?

  1. Muni tickets: regular single trip is $2.50. (4)

    1. On-street metered: 291 Muni tickets

    2. Off-street unmetered: 91 Muni tickets

  2. Car-share time: Zipcar publishes its San Francisco rates at $7/hour (5), assuming you’re already a member.

    1. On-street metered: 104 hours of car-sharing time.

    2. On-street unmetered: 32.5 hours of car-sharing time.

  3. Bike-share time: Motivate lists (6) a 24 hour pass at $9 and a year pass at $88. Which means:

    1. On-street metered: 81 day passes or 8 annual memberships.

    2. On-street unmetered: 28 day passes or 2 annual memberships.



  1. Caltrans report:

  2. SF Park census:

  3. SF Park census




#Streetvalues - If This Parking Lane was a Sidewalk, or a Traffic Lane

 If a parking lane were converted into a sidewalk, it could accommodate 7,200 people per hour. As a lane for private traffic, it could move up to 1,600 people per hour.

If a parking lane were converted into a sidewalk, it could accommodate 7,200 people per hour. As a lane for private traffic, it could move up to 1,600 people per hour.

  1. NACTO calculates that a typical sidewalk can accommodate 9,000 people per hour or 60 people per meter per minute, allowing 1.5 m2 (16.15 ft2) per pedestrian and a 75 meters (246 feet) per minute walking speed. (1)

  2. Assuming a SF parking space is around 10 feet (3 meters) wide, a parking space repurposed as sidewalk could potentially move 120 people per minute or 7,200 per hour through parking-lane-as-sidewalk.

  3. An equivalent street lane width of 10 ft exclusively occupied by private motor vehicles is estimated at 600-1,600 persons per hour, assuming 600-800 vehicles per hour and 1-2 passengers per vehicle (2). Taking the upper bound for vehicles, 1,600 people/hour can move through parking-lane-as-dedicated-private-traffic-lane.




#Streetvalues - What is Biking Worth to local business?

 A bike rack is worth $1935 per month to local businesses.

A bike rack is worth $1935 per month to local businesses.

  1. A Portland study found that people who traveled to a shopping area by bike spent 24% more per month than those who traveled by car. Similar trends were found for Toronto and three cities in New Zealand. (1)

    1. Auto spending per month: $61.03

    2. Bike spending per month: $75.66

  2. The SFMTA can install up to 12 bikes in a parking space, as a bike corral.

  3. The SCFTA studied parking occupancy rates in commercial districts at midday across four neighborhoods, finding an average of 85.5% occupancy (2). Turnover across the same neighborhoods averaged 0.8 vehicles per hour per spot.

  4. Applying the same turnover rates to a car parking space as to a bike corral in the same location and an 8 hour active retail window each day, we can estimate unique bike and auto visitors as:

    1. Auto: 128

    2. Bicycle: 1,536

  5. Using Portland figures for different retail expenditure levels for people who bike versus drive over month, the value of dedicating a parking space to bike racks = 1,536 * 75.66 = $116,213. This, however, assumes that all 1,536 turnovers of the bike parking spot are completely new and spend their entire monthly estimate in one trip - which is likely unreasonable.

  6. We assume instead that car and rack usage is by repeat visitor, each of whom makes 5 trips a month.

  7. This drops unique visitors for bike racks to 307 and 25 for the parking spot.

  8. The total value for bike rack usage to local retail is therefore 307 * 75.66 over a month = $23,227 and for the parking space is $1,525.

  9. Divided by the number of bike racks, each bike rack is now worth $1,935 per month to local retail.


Other facts of note:

  1. When San Francisco revamped Valencia St and installed bike lanes and wider sidewalks, 66% of merchants saw increased sales. (3)

  2. A 2008 study found that a parking space delivers 19 cents in retail revenue per hour per square foot of on-street car parking. Bike parking delivers 69 cents per square foot. (4)

  3. A 2013 survey of San Francisco’s Polk St found that only 15% of people arrived by car.

  4. One estimate suggests that a bike rack in San Francisco costs the SFMTA around $540 to install (5). After that time, the rack is effectively zero maintenance (or at least no clear figures exist for maintenance costs). Compared with parking maintenance, the 5 year cost of a bike rack relative to a parking space:

    1. On-street metered: $3,645, or nearly 7 times greater.

    2. On-street unmetered: $912, or nearly 1.6 times greater.



  1.  Kelly J. Clifton, Sara Morrissey, and Chloe Ritter, “Business Cycles: Catering to the Bicycling Market,” TR News 280, 2012: 26-32.; T Fleming, S Turner, and L Tarjomi, “Reallocation of road space,” NZ Transport Agency research report 530,2013.; Clean Air Partnership, “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood,” 2009. Cited in


  3. Emily Drennen, “Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Urban Small Businesses,” San Francisco State University, 2003.

  4.  Allison Lee, “What is the Economic Contribution of Cyclists Compared to Car Drivers in Inner Suburban Melbourne’s Shopping Strips?” Master’s Thesis, University of Melbourne, 2008.


#Streetvalues - If We Grew Vegetables Instead of Cars

 If we grew vegetables in parking spaces instead of cars, we could grow 216 heads of broccoli every year.

If we grew vegetables in parking spaces instead of cars, we could grow 216 heads of broccoli every year.

Based on a Rutgers study (1) for mixed stand, small-scale agriculture, a general yield expectation is 0.5 lb per square foot, or 0.5*144 = 72 lb of annual vegetables yield for a parking space sized plot. Selected vegetable yields (upper bound):

  1. Broccoli: 0.75 lb/square foot. At around ½lb for a single head (2), that’s 216 heads.

  2. Tomatoes: 2 lb/square foot. At 5 oz a tomato (3), that’s 921 tomatoes.

  3. Asparagus: 0.1 lb/square foot

  4. Beets: 1.2 lb/square foot. At 0.44 lb/beet (4), that’s 393 beets.

  5. Lettuce: 0.4lb/square foot

  6. Sweet potatoes: 0.33 lb/square foot

  7. Spinach: 0.36 lb/square foot










#Streetvalues - What is The Value of a Street Tree?

 A single public tree provides an annual benefit of  $158.80

A single public tree provides an annual benefit of $158.80

  1. According to the census of the SF Urban Forest Plan (Planning Department, City of San Francisco), a single public tree provides an annual benefit of $158.80 (1). This includes energy savings, air quality improvements, stormwater interception, atmospheric CO2 reduction and aesthetic contributions.

    1. Reducing electric and CNG use by shading: $10.36/tree.

    2. Sequestered atmospheric CO2: $0.99/tree.

    3. Absorption and deposition of chemical pollutants: $2.1/tree

    4. Stormwater intercepted: $80.46/tree

    5. Aesthetic/socioeconomic: $67.52/tree.

  2. Total per capita benefits of the SF tree population are $4.86 per capita, with expenditures to maintain the tree population at $1.11 per capita. This translates into a 4-fold return on investment on the city’s investment in street trees.

  3. Current costs of maintaining a single street tree are estimated at $160-175 per year (2). This is almost identical to the estimated cost of maintaining an on-street spot in San Francisco (~$167/space/year), but you don’t get a tree out of it.

  4. In 2012-2013, the City recouped $54.6 million in parking meter revenues (3). At a total cost of ownership of $729/space/year, the city has only a 2.7 x ROI on every parking space. In other words, a street tree has a 50% higher ROI to the city than a parking space.





#Streetvalues - The Hidden Value of One Square Foot

 One square foot of Parking Space contributes $13 per year to the city. One square foot of commercial building contributes $50 per year.

One square foot of Parking Space contributes $13 per year to the city. One square foot of commercial building contributes $50 per year.

What is the revenue to the City of San Francisco from a square foot of parking space?

  1. As of 2014, there were 275,000 parking spaces in San Francisco. (1)

  2. Only 26,750 were on-street and metered. (1)

  3. The City of San Francisco collected $54.6 million from parking meters in 2012-2013. (2)

  4. The standard dimension for off-street parking in San Francisco is 144 square feet. (3)

  5. The average annual revenue per parking space is $54.6M / 26,750 places = $1985.45.

  6. The average annual revenue per square foot of parking space is $1985.45 / 144 square feet = $13.78/square foot.


What is the revenue to the City of San Francisco from a square foot of retail space?

  1. The City of San Francisco sourced $572,385,000 from business taxes in its FY 2014-2015 annual budget.

  2. Over the same period, the City sourced $136,100,000 from sales taxes.

  3. Total revenues sourced from commercial activity in 2014-2015 (excluding some more minor taxes), were: $572,385,000 + $136,100,000 = $708,485,000.

  4. The total land area of retail/entertainment land use in San Francisco is 4,621,410 square feet. (4)

  5. The total land area of office land use in San Francisco is 9,428,258 square feet. (5)

  6. The total floor area of commercial (office, retail, entertainment) land use in San Francisco is 4,621,410 + 9,428,258 = 14,049,668 square feet.

  7. The total revenue per square foot of commercial land area in San Francisco is $708,485,000 / 14,049,668 square feet = $50.42/square foot.


  1. SF Park census:

  2. SF Controller’s report:

  3. SF Planning Code:

  4. GET

  5. GET

Street Ranger Training begins April 17th

The National Street Service is seeking people in San Francisco to be advocates for their street the week of April 17th. If you care about your local street but don’t know where to start, becoming a Street Ranger is a great way to get involved. You will be provided with a range of options and activities over the week, each designed to make it simple to take action.

To find out more, and apply, visit our Ranger application page

On the Road with NSS: Inner Sunset, San Francisco

 An NSS mobile station chatting to the lovely locals of Inner Sunset

An NSS mobile station chatting to the lovely locals of Inner Sunset

On the first of April 2017 the NSS ventured out into the friendly community of Inner Sunset, to find out how people feel about their streets - what they like, what they think could be better, and the stories, emotions, and history of their local neighbourhood. 

 Stories of the Street; 9th and Irving, Inner Sunset. We collected a huge variety of emotions, stories and memories about the street, memorialized on our street board. 

Stories of the Street; 9th and Irving, Inner Sunset. We collected a huge variety of emotions, stories and memories about the street, memorialized on our street board. 

To enable people to have a say about what is important to them in their streets, we offered the opportunity to send a postcard to their local supervisor.

We learned a great deal about what the streetscape means to the people of Inner Sunset, and got to hear some touching local stories. To all who stopped to chat to us, thank you for participating!