Easy on Green Street

Matt Fabry, Manager of the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program, knows how to make a garden grow—plant a seed. 


In 2009 he did just that. Facing rising concern over polluted stormwater running into local waterways, the Countywide Program joined forces with Portland, Oregon-based landscape architects Nevue Ngan Associates to publish the San Mateo County Sustainable Green Streets and Parking Lots Design Guidebook


The guide illustrates how to create green streets and parking lots lined with a variety of plants and rock beds called rain gardens. When planted alongside streets and parking lots, the rain gardens act as living catch basins that can manage stormwater in a more sustainable and natural way. The plants, soil, and rocks absorb water and filter toxic urban contaminants like mercury and PCBs that normally would wash into storm drains and out into the Bay or ocean during rain storms.


Today the Countywide Program’s effort has expanded, giving rise to green streets and parking lots in Brisbane, San Bruno, Daly City, and Burlingame. The innovative and comprehensive guidebook has received three awards from the American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects, which recognize top public spaces, residential designs, campuses, parks, and urban planning projects. 


And the rain gardens themselves have blossomed as a solution to more than just water quality. “Through strategic placement of these green systems, we can calm traffic, improve air quality, increase pedestrian safety, improve neighborhood aesthetics, and even increase neighboring property values,” Fabry says.


Five Ways to Green Your Street


The San Mateo County Sustainable Green Streets and Parking Lots Design Guidebook serves as a resource for municipalities, landscapers, and developers looking to create cost-efficient, attractive roadside and parking environments that connect urban dwellers to nature. But there are simple ways San Mateo County residents can help take ownership over their streets and reduce stormwater pollution that enters the Bay and ocean.


  • Wash your car on a lawn or gravel. Or take it to a local car wash instead. Send an email to info@flowstobay.org to receive a discount coupon, valid at more than 12 car washes in San Mateo County. 
  • Don’t hose down your driveway; keep it clean using a broom instead. 
  • Pick up and discard your dog’s waste. Send an email to info@flowstobay.org for a free set of doggie bags.
  • Never apply pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides where they can be washed into a storm drain. Consider less toxic options, which are healthier for you and the environment. Visit www.ourwaterourworld.org for ideas. 
  • Ask your local elected official to install a rain garden on your street!


Local Green Streets


Want to see what a green street or parking lot looks like in action? Check out one of these four sites around the County.