SFCTA Completes Exhaustive Parking Study, Supervisors Delay Action

RPP_zones_4.jpgResidential Parking Permit (RPP) zones. Courtesy: TA
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) presented the results of the comprehensive parking study it started in 2006 to the Board of Supervisors today, fleshing out many of the parking management principles espoused by parking guru Donald Shoup in his High Cost of Free Parking and recommending a plethora of solutions for managing the curb more strategically (presentation PDF).

Throughout the study, the TA clearly embraced Shoup's market principles for pricing the curb in accord with demand for space so that parking, particularly in commercial districts and spillover neighborhoods, is best utilized to serve the city's competing interests for the scarce resource.

The study is enormous and at the end of the presentation by the TA, the Board decided to extend its review for one month, as requested by Board President David Chiu. Chiu was concerned that the study didn't properly address issues for "the low-income neighborhoods, Mission, Chinatown, Tenderloin, where low-income folks who have cars don't have access to garages. I think that if you go forward with some of the recommendations here it could create really adverse conditions that I don't think were thoroughly vetted in their study."

"I do think at the end of it we'll probably end up approving the study," he added, though he said he wants to bring the stakeholders he assumes would be effected together to air their grievances.

The study estimated there are more than 600,000 parking spaces in San Francisco, of which 320,000 are on-street and only 24,000 are regulated with parking meters. Residential parking permits (RPPs), as evidenced by the map above, have been added throughout the city in an ad-hoc fashion and in many areas are not synthesized with metered parking.


The study recommends charging more for RPPs and adjusting them to better integrate with metered parking spaces. From the study:

The current RPP program provides benefits to a select group of parkers—those who store their car(s) on-street during weekday mid-days—and does not set an appropriate price level that recognizes the value and scarcity of on-street spaces. The price of a residential permit should be increased, and this action should be carried out in conjunction with restructured regulations that provide permit holders with a tangible benefit (e.g., extending hours of regulation, limiting overall permit supply, etc.).

Given the long time-frame of the study, parking management solutions like SFPark have come online and will test many of the recommendations in real-time, such as replacing individual meters with multi-space meters, improving variable payment options, adding directional signage with real-time parking data, and improving enforcement efficiencies.

One of the more politically interesting recommendations from the study is the Parking Benefit District (PBD), a Shoupian principle that would direct a portion of new revenues generated from increasing parking regulation fees to transportation objectives in the local district, such as improved sidewalks, transit enhancements, bicycle parking, etc.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who initially bristled at the PBD proposal, which could add meters to residential streets around commercial districts to deal with overflow from the commercial destinations, seemed to concede the point if the metering decisions were left to neighborhoods where the districts would be established.

Giving control of parking pricing back to local neighborhoods, however, appears to contradict Proposition A's intent to depoliticize parking by taking control of traffic decisions from the Board of Supervisors and giving it to the MTA.

"The voters have made clear that parking-related revenue goes to the MTA and our transit system," said MTA Spokesperson Judson True, referring to Proposition A. "That makes complete sense because transit has to be an attractive alternative to driving for smarter parking management strategies to work."

Parking Benefit Districts In Detail

From the study: "As discussed throughout this report, pricing is the most efficacious means of managing on-street parking when occupancy routinely exceeds practical capacity. A (PBD) program could be made available to neighborhoods facing parking challenges, regardless of whether the neighborhood is currently covered by an RPP."

A PBD program would incorporate the following components:

  • Allow neighborhoods to opt-in. Neighborhoods could elect (through an adopted administrative process) to create a PBD. If the neighborhood is currently covered by a [residential parking permit] RPP, the PBD would replace the RPP (or applicable portion thereof).
  • Employ price-based regulation and associated elements. Variable pricing is necessary to effectively manage on-street parking in high-demand neighborhoods. New technology would be deployed to allow for variable pricing, user information, and enhanced enforcement. The hours during which parking is priced would be evaluated and modified as necessary. Conventional strategies, such as provision of loading zones, would be reevaluated and adjusted appropriately.
  • Expand metering to areas with peak parking demands in excess of 85 percent. All blocks with practical capacity issues warrant price-based management. Expansion of metering into areas traditionally designated as “residential” could potentially be paired with an exemption for preferential permit holders (priced at higher than current rates, as discussed above) at all or some times of day.
  • Provide parking privileges to preferential permit holders at an appropriate price point. Residents of the neighborhood would be permitted to purchase monthly permits for on-street parking on residential streets in the neighborhood. Permits should be priced at a high enough level to appropriately value on-street space and reduce demand for on-street parking (by encouraging off-street parking, reduced vehicle ownership, etc.).
  • Invest a portion of net new revenues within the neighborhood and involve the community in prioritizing expenditures. This is the central element of PBDs. By pairing the PBD concept with price-based regulation there is even greater opportunity for neighborhoods to reap the benefits of pricing—through improved parking reductions and a reduction in traffic volumes, as well as through funding available to invest in local transportation projects.
  • Recognize the limits of fully addressing peak demand in residential areas. In many neighborhoods, demand for overnight on-street parking is especially high. Overnight parking demand is likely to be managed to some extent by higher preferential permit fees, but even a price-based PBD program must recognize the limits of using price during very late hours when enforcement is more of a challenge. It is important to note that on-street occupancies in excess of 85 percent may be more tolerable during the late-night periods, when traffic volumes are light, and businesses and other.