A boomlet for parklets

As Gilroy prepares to welcome its first brew pub in Golden State Brewery, the downtown will also receive a first-hand experience of a “parklet,” where outdoor seating juts out onto the street in front of the building.

The Golden State Brewery parklet is the first iteration of a pilot program that was established in 2013. It took the enterprising founder of the Santa Clara-based brewery, Seth Hendrickson, to reignite a program that was mostly forgotten as former members of city staff departed and were replaced.

The parklet concept began in 2010 in San Francisco, and hasincreased in popularity throughout the Bay Area. The parklets are designed to use underutilized space for outdoor patio seating for bars and restaurants.

The parklet in front of Golden State Brewery has replaced a handicapped accessible parking space, blocks a fire hydrant, juts out onto the road and partially obscures a crosswalk, raising concerns regarding the safety of the structure, which is surrounded by metal posts and railings.

For Zach Hilton, Chairperson of the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission, parklets are a good idea and are a step forward in making downtown Gilroy a more walkable destination.

“I’m a fan of the idea,” Hilton said. “I’ve been in them and have seen them in the area and as a firefighter in Oakland, I have never seen one struck by a vehicle.”

Hilton believes that rather than being a distraction, parklets focus drivers, who pay closer attention to the road and look out for pedestrians as they pass by the parklets.

The structure constructed around the parklet also goes beyond what Hilton has seen compared to others in the Bay Area. Often, these spaces have little to no barriers separating them from the roadway, he said.

Girum Awoke, Public Works Director for the City of Gilroy, said the posts on the four corners of the parklet are firmly bolted to the ground. He said the bolts run several feet below the pavement. Given the sturdiness of the structure and the close monitoring of its construction by city staff, Awoke believes the structure can withstand the impact of a vehicle.

The idea of parklets was introduced to the city in 2013, with the intent to drive more business downtown. In part an emulation of downtown Morgan Hill, it is believed that the outdoor seating, which will also take advantage of the weather in Gilroy, will help downtown become more attractive to diners, drinkers and shoppers.

Golden State Brewery’s parklet was constructed under a continuous encroachment permit, which allows private businesses to use public space, and a revised city policy regarding the placement of street furniture, which would include the tables and chairs. Golden State Brewery is the first to take advantage of what was designed to be a pilot program and the future of other similar endeavors depends on its success or failure. City officials are excited about the potential.

“It’s a great opportunity for downtown revitalization,” Awoke said. “It will make the downtown more viable and we’ll see how the program morphs.”

For Hilton, the parklets represent a step forward in making the downtown more walkable and friendly for bike traffic. The Bicycle Commission is moving ahead with plans to construct bike corrals in spaces not currently in use by the city.

The strategically placed bike corrals, which are common in the Bay Area, can hold up to 16 bikes and would further reinforce the downtown as a viable bikeable roadway. Already, bicyclist by law legally share the road with vehicles and are expected to take up the center lane, rather than stay to the right of traffic.

“The whole process of permitting in Gilroy, including the parklet, has been difficult,” said Michelle Goulart, Head Chef for Golden State Brewery. “We were supposed to be open in May and here we are are in November. I wouldn’t blame the parklet itself for that but we’ve been working very hard with the city to get through the approval processes.”