Curb cuts, also known as driveways, theoretically provide vehicle access from the street into a private garage. New development in San Francisco has been required to include off-street parking since the 50s, in an effort to ensure a convenient supply of on-street parking. But as documented by Mary Brown’s comprehensive investigation in the Mission District, 49-percent of all residential garages are used for storage, not parking.
Moreover, a resident is permitted to park at the curb blocking his own driveway, whereas if someone else parked in front of said driveway, her car would be towed away. In effect, the curb cut has become a reserved, free parking space on a public street, financed by the taxpayer. Meanwhile, on-street parking is so scarce that people will kill for it.
Curb cuts not only deplete on-street parking for shoppers and visitors who do not have their own driveway to occupy. Curb cuts dramatically decrease the available space on the sidewalk for trees, street furniture, transit shelters, lighting, or any other use that could preclude car access. Driveways also pose a safety hazard to cyclists and pedestrians, and decrease transit speeds when buses are forced to stop for driveway maneuvers.
Recent neighborhood plans have focused on increasing livability by flipping the previous parking minimums for new developments into parking maximums. However, in most neighborhoods, the parking code still requires a developer to build an off-street parking space for every residential unit constructed, even a studio apartment. Office space and commercial uses also have minimum parking requirements. In fact, according to the planning code, once a parking space is constructed, it can never be removed! It is well understood that requiring new housing construction to include off-street parking, along with prohibitions on converting existing garages into apartments, drive up the cost of new and existing housing.
Despite the clear impacts curb cuts have, these is no mitigation fee for maintaining one. Such a fee could help address the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s structural deficit ($100 million is the latest projection). Decision makers are beginning to understand a curb cut’s true public cost; in November, the Board of Supervisors adopted Jake McGoldrick’s legislation, which imposed a minimum $100 per year fee on all newly constructed curb cuts. However, the 200,000 existing curb cuts in the city are exempted.
To improve Muni’s budget, the agency chartered a Revenue Panel to investigate the feasibility of a variety of new revenue sources for the agency. Ideas floated range from fare hikes and payroll taxes to bridge tolls and vehicle registration fees. As the panel has evaluated options, most have been summarily dismissed as hostile to business or tourist interests. A curb cut fee would not negatively impact business or tourism, and would complement the MTA’s innovative demand-responsive parking program, SFpark.
In January, the MTA Citizens’ Advisory Council, in forwarding recommendations to the Revenue Panel, advised that the panel study a curb cut fee, levied on all existing driveways and with proceeds benefiting the MTA. The fee could be based on the number of parking spaces accessed by the curb cut, so that large parking structures pay proportionally more than a residential garage. Residents with garages used for storage could opt out of the fee by painting their driveway brown, which would declare the curb cut as abandoned and free the curb space for public parking. The CAC also recommended that staff study the elimination of minimum parking requirements in the planning code.
Hopefully, the Revenue Panel will give consideration to a curb cut fee. It would not negatively impact business or tourism, and could increase on-street parking. In keeping with the City’s Transit First policy, it would discourage private auto use while raising funds for transit and streetscape improvements.