Sidewalk White Spots (

The dreaded white spots have been falling like holiday snow with the notices hung by the door. For those unfamiliar, the white dots mark sections of sidewalk in need of repair, reconstruction or improvement while the notices alert the adjacent property owners that they’re responsible to pick up the tab.

Once notified, property owners have 30 days to commence repairs on the spotted sections of sidewalk fronting their property. If they don’t, the Director of Public Works can order the repairs to be completed and send the property owners the tab, which if isn’t paid will result in a lien on the property. And yes, even if city planted tree roots are to blame.

One potential bright spot: in some cases there are opportunities to replace damaged pavement with landscaping instead.

39 thoughts on “Out, Damned Spotted Sidewalk! Out, They Say!”
  1. this is a special variety of San Francisco insanity that drives me crazy. We give all kinds of lip service to the “urban forest” but we make people deathly afraid of planting trees. Plus, the cracks that they tag are INSANELY insignificant. If they were dealing with real danger it would be one thing, but it really seems to be a make work program for paving contractors.

  2. the City is much friendlier to permeable paving systems now. ive seen several lots tear up street-side concrete and replace it with landscaping. planning’s website has some details.

  3. I think we should go out in mass and white dot the potholes on San Francisco streets. If not repaired in 30 days, have them fixed and bill the city with an in kind “customary” inflated rate plus applicable surcharges.
    Fair is fair!

  4. This is a DPW full-employment strategy. Since there is little new construction, DPW inspectors and plan checkers have less to do. In lieu of lay offs, they have embarked on a make-work project of tagging perfectly functional sidwalks for things like small cracks and chipped corners.

  5. The spots are extensive — there are sidewalks that are indeed dangerous (uneven with roots lifting slabs 10-12″) that seemed to be untagged, and yet practically imperceptible sidewalks generally well maintained are generously tagged. Seems really odd, and might be uneven application by ‘hood not sure.
    Notwithstanding — I’m in the hopes of concrete being replaced with concrete not plants. Pedestrians (kids, wheelchairs, scooters, roller skaters) need our narrow sidewalks. Gardens I’m in favor of but only as bumpouts, parklets and other real estate taken from the street. Sidewalk narrowing for better runoff puts the squeeze on smart urban uses.

  6. Any opening to the soil is good for water runoff. We need more plants, but maybe not big trees with root systems that will damage both sewer pipes and pavement. Succulents, planters with bamboo, you name it. Big trees are better suited to backyards.

  7. I’m all in favor of sidewalk narrowing: replacing concrete with plants and trees.
    Ever see how wide the sidewalks are on Noe St and Sanchez street between 24th and 30th? Insane. 19′ wide. Ridiculous.
    As a side-note, we replaced much of our wide sidewalks recently with landscaping and more trees. On inspection day DPW sent out 4! Yes 4 guys at once to look over the concrete. They all stood around for an hour basically bullshitting.
    This is SF hard at work for our citizens.

  8. thanks SS for mentioning the idea of landscaping.
    I’m in favor of this, and I think you can do it w/out significantly affecting ability for little ones to use bicycles/trikes/etc.
    I’m always blown away that when I visit certain streets that just really appear visually great, I realize it’s mostly because they have trees or landscaping. Cole Valley has some great streets like this.

  9. Do not plant a street tree, the idiots will dog you forever. Trees get too big, need to be replaced from time to time for any number of reasons, and the idiots act as though you intend to cut down one of the Redwood Giants. Then try to charge you $600 for replacing what is essentially a big houseplant. I cut both of my trees down one foggy morning and so to hell with it.

  10. Landscaping of our sidewalks runs counter to a dense, pedestrian-oriented city. Sidewalks need to be usable and clear. (This became especially clear when I became parent). Streets trees are one thing (I’m a fan — I was involved in planting of 45 trees in Jtown this mo — of the 150 to be planted) — taking away public pedestrian access on sidewalks is simply SF bad idea. That many of them look unkempt and scrappy is secondary to the focus on the importance of sidewalks in an increasingly pedestrian-oriented city. Give us our sidewalks back (including those nutty fenced-in plantings on Van Ness). Of all places where we need access!

  11. @invented: I’m not sure if you are joking or what? I hope you’re kidding.
    You really need a 19′ wide sidewalk to haul your rugrat around, so he or she doesn’t run into a tree?

  12. The trees we have on Hayes are crazy! This is broderick/baker
    We had them cut/pruned 18 months ago, and they are already massive again!

  13. 100% serious. Is Paris or NY pulling up its sidewalks? (Berkeley probably {sorry}. Sidewalks are where community & urban life happens; don’t minimize them. Rethink our streets themselves instead, unencumbered sidewalks in the bigger planning picture, are sacred. Get out of your BMV and take a walk. You’ll see. Rugrats in tow or not.

  14. Paris does not need to pull up its sidewalk because most streets and avenues are already planted with mature trees. When it wants to add green to a congested pre-Haussmann street, it removes car/parking lanes and builds new sidewalks with new trees and sometimes bike paths. The end result is usually wider sidewalks, more green and less cars.

  15. As far as I know, in all cities in the US, the property owner is responsible for maintenance of sidewalk in front. I grew up in NYC and it was true there.
    I don’t remember white dots, but remember being told as a kid that the home owner was liable for fixing sidewalk that could cause someone to trip or for removing snow (Selling point for the teenagers who roamed the neighborhood after a snow store with shovels … it was kind of fun to get a gang together and split $5 per house).
    I don’t know if things have changed in recent years.
    Agree with the pot hole comment above! How can the local governments get away with the bad streets.

  16. Well, now I see how invented is so disconnected from what makes a great city.
    Unencumbered sidewalks are “sacred”?? wow.
    Ever think about walking AROUND that tree that’s in your way?
    BTW: I walk about 15 miles a week in The City, all over..never ran into a tree so far.

  17. noearch, I’m on your side on this one.
    Granted, there are places where a landscape strip does not make sense. But on most residential streets, and even on some mixed res/commercial strips, there is plenty of hardscape to allow easy pedestrian movement, and alot of opportunity to plant a strip. It’s amazing the difference that makes.
    My current gripe is that the ADA police have decided that the landscaped strips need physical barriers (like a fence) so that blind people won’t fall into them. It looks dumb and is uneccesary..I don’t think blind people are that stupid. (I’m sorry for being so politically incorrect, but the way ADA is interpreted and enforced can be insane, IMO).

  18. Thanks curmudgeon. I agree with you also. That stupid barrier at the edge of sidewalk landscaping is just plain stupid. they are also easy to trip on getting out of your car ( for a sighted person).
    Bottom line, there’s no way in hell we need 19′ wide sidewalks in Noe (for example), just so stroller moms or nannies can push doublewides on thru without hitting a damn tree or shrub. Trees are good for kids too.
    My understanding is that the code requires only a minimum sidewalk width of either 44″ or 48″. A 6′ wide sidewalk is also very appropriate.

  19. I see that the discussion has meandered a bit.
    The sidewalks in SF are too narrow. I’m not talking about residential-only streets, but those in business districts and other more public spaces. This limits the use to which they can be put. Easy example is sidewalk cafe seating.
    Unfortunately, it’s probably not just the sidewalk that is too narrow, but the entire space for the road and the sidewalk. I suspect it would be hard to fix that. 😉 Probably something to do with the way property lines were drawn
    Yes, other cities, in the US and abroad have wider sidewalks (on their commercial streets).

  20. “Ever think about walking AROUND that tree that’s in your way?”
    I’m not referring to trees, I’ve organized and led plantings, am an advocate of the urban forest and continue to do that. I’m referring to ripping up stretches of sidewalks and planting bushes and natives and other for drainage.
    Bigger picture: In a city which endeavors to increase pedestrian life & is moving towards a denser environment, removing sections of sidewalk runs counter to this goal. (at the already risk of repeating myself).

  21. @invented: ok, I think you are seriously off the mark. and perhaps a bit myopic in your view of urban life.
    Just because you have planted a tree doesn’t suddenly make you John Muir.
    Increasing pedestrian life and livability of our streets is EXACTLY about removing some concrete and replacing it with trees, shrubs, flowers and permeable paving.
    You really should walk down Sanchez or Noe streets for some distance to see what I mean, where there are 19′ sidewalks, and then where good residents have “ripped up” stretches of sidewalk to add planting. There is a world of difference and enjoyment between the two.
    Check it out. learn something. open your mind.

  22. My trees were blown down. I asked the Organic Mechanix to plant a sidewalk scape of their choosing. Many of my neighbors gave me input on new trees, and that was clearly the popular n’hood sentiment replant trees.
    I am so glad I did ther permeamble sidewalk instead.The kids in the neighborhood love the sidewalk garden and often stop to look at it. I don’t think it made the sidwalk passageway any narrower than the old carob and ficus trees.
    It nice to seee the neightbors pause at the sidwalk garden and talk about it. If I could only install a beehive out there.

  23. Yet you were against the Noe/24th park. And in favor of allowing it to be the horrid mess/ worst intersection in SF without a stoplight that it remains.

  24. Point of clarification. I agree that in many commercial districts the sidewalks are too narrow, and further landscaping wouldn’t be desirable (unless you go into the parking lane). There are some locations, notably in SOMA, where sidewalks were cut down in the past to provide more room travel lanes…in locations like that we need to be adding to sidewalk width.
    However, on many many residential streets, sidewalks are very commodious and there is plenty of room for plantings without hindering travel. I think Invented is wrong on this…it’s not anti-urban or anti-pedestrian in these cases.

  25. “There are some locations, notably in SOMA, where sidewalks were cut down in the past to provide more room travel lanes”
    I’m guessing that Folsom for most of its length in SOMA. I recall hearing of a plan to reallocate the space just as you describe, removing some vehicle lanes to make for more pedestrian and landscaping space.

  26. Wow, look at all the hate for the idea of usable sidewalks!
    The ADA says I need 32 inches to squeak by an obstruction, 36 to travel through a continuous area, and 60 inches for two chairs to pass each other. That’s about one sidewalk block per wheelchair. (And yes, it needs to be flat.) I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
    Owners may wish to know that Cole Hardware sells spares of those little grate coverings like the one in the photo for a very reasonable price, which will keep you off the naughty list a lot better than a piece of duct tape.
    And here’s a handy clue: the squeaky wheel gets the smooth sidewalks. Whenever my wheelchair-using way is blocked by a lack of ramps, tree roots or bad paving, I phone or text SF311 and tell them to fix it. The more people who complain, the more likely it is you’ll see the dots or even construction crews. The same, incidentally, goes for potholes. (And when you park on the sidewalk and block my access, I have City Tow on speed dial.)
    Many of our sidewalks are too narrow in places, and getting narrower. Remember that 60 inches to pass? Between sidewalk cafes, bus shelters, and ugly plantings, it’s getting pretty hard to navigate around the tourists on Van Ness, not to mention the people who can’t walk and text at the same time. High-traffic sidewalks need more area for pedestrians, not less.

  27. 60″ wide for passage AND sidewalk landscaping is possible in almost ALL locations in The City.
    As for flat sidewalks: hmmm. uh, we do have hills here. A lot of them.

  28. I’m with wheelchairgirl on this one. I have a colleague who is blind and gets around town quite amazingly by herself, but she gets tripped up (literally) by things like this all too often. Shouldn’t happen.
    noearch, “flat” and “level” mean two different things, as an architect should know. But to clarify: (And yes, it needs to be smooth.)

  29. Well, no, of course it shouldn’t happen. There are codes in place for tree and sidewalk landscaping that takes into account walking. I’m all for equality and access for those who are disabled.
    Tell me why, however I see quite often, someone in a motorized wheelchair on the sidewalk or in a store or restaurant and they are moving fast and saying in a loud voice: “coming thru, move away”.. As if they have a “special” right to move fast. It’s impolite and not necessary.
    Yes, I know the diff between flat and level. Have you seen the latest ADA ramps installed on 29th St. at Zircon in Noe V? 29th st. is, I believe the 3rd or 4th steepest street in the city. Total waste of taxpayer money at this location. Check it out.

  30. umm,
    “Yes, I know the diff between flat and level.
    “   /flæt/ Show Spelled [flat] Show IPA adjective, flat·ter, flat·test, noun, verb, flat·ted, flat·ting, adverb
    horizontally level: a flat roof.
    level, even, or without unevenness of surface, as land or tabletops. ”

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