The Land of the Free (Parking)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of you who didn’t watch the San Francisco MTA Board meeting yesterday on your live-feed or on SFGTV that the meeting devolved into a referendum on the merits of free, or nearly free, parking. With half a dozen television cameras lined up along the far side of City Hall’s Room 400, approximately 60 people took the microphone to testify, some with the opprobrium of a pastor admonishing the unrepentant, all with a fervor that few other issues in urban life can stimulate.

Every small business owner who addressed the MTA Board about its parking meter study asserted that
extending parking meter hours beyond 6 pm would drive their customers
to distraction, compelling them to seek the lush asphalt pastures of
suburban malls, where they never have to worry about a parking ticket
again. Never mind that three quarters of your customers, on average, come to your stores by foot, by Muni, or by bike. Never mind that parking meters were first installed in San Francisco in 1947 to promote turnover to help your business, nor that meter hours basically haven’t been changed since then.

Elliot Wagner, owner of Dimitra’s Skincare and MediSpa in West Portal, said, "If you add in the consistent increasing in meter rates plus the vigorous enforcement, the outcome is simply that you will be driving people to Stonestown, which is next door, and there’s ample parking, all free, and they’ll never, never get a $53 ticket. The $2-3 per hour cost in parking meters is in fact a de facto 2-3 percent parking tax that we add onto every shopping bill."

Ken Cleaveland of the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) argued that the study was not "in-depth enough," and said, "At this time I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, certainly not for our local economy.  Most of the residents and businesses really are not prepared to pay more for parking." He said the city needs to build a lot more off-street parking garages and requested the MTA conduct a thorough cost-benefit impact analysis in every commercial zone where they proposed extending meters before they extend the meters.

Jim Lazarus of the Chamber of Commerce, who committed to convene "all the merchants and neighborhood groups in the city, bring them together with your staff, day after day, to work this out," had a very dim view of the study. He also highlighted a trend on streets like Clement in the Richmond, where residents park in metered spaces after the meters are turned off:

On Clement, where you have residents above commercial, those parking places at nighttime on Clement are used by the residents as well. You’re taxing residents, potentially hundreds of dollars a year for that resident without off-street parking that comes home at 5:30 or quarter to 6 and has to park at that meter. You’re going to tax that person until 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock at night to park at that meter. That doesn’t work in this city…. You cannot kill our commercial districts. You cannot pit merchants against residents and residents against merchants. 

schmidt2_small.jpgForest Schmidt of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition testifying to the MTA Board. Photo: Michael Rhodes

By far the most quixotic of the nearly four hours of public testimony were several speakers organized against the MTA study by the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, better known for its opposition to the war in Iraq ("No Blood for Oil!") and, locally, to Chevron’s environmental record. Members of A.N.S.W.E.R. greeted those entering Room 400 with lavender fliers bearing the picture of a parking meter with "Fail" in the meter window and a sampling of misguided populism: "Stop the Parking Meter Hike! Make the rich pay, not the workers! It’s time to organize and defeat the parking meter robbery!"

Forest Schmidt, representing A.N.S.W.E.R., said in his testimony:

When people receive tickets from an expired meter, they’re treated like they’ve committed a criminal offense.  The reality is that there are not enough parking spaces in the city.  It is a tax that is disproportionately put on the poor, the working class and small business owners. The reality is that… it comes out of their rent, their bills, the money they have for food. The working class population in San Francisco is being driven out.  I hope that this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, because people are having their cars stolen from them because of this random taxation. If you make $15,000 a year, if you only get one $50 ticket a month, it’s a 4 percent income tax. This is ridiculous, it’s out of control.

Never mind that car ownership and poverty rarely go hand in hand, especially in San Francisco, or that a person making $15,000 each year would be paying more than half of their salary for the upkeep of their car (car ownership costs on average $8,758 on average per year). Never mind that the 700,000 daily Muni passengers, demographically much closer to working poor, will be forced to bear another round of fare increases should the MTA Board fail to find creative sources of revenue, such as the parking study.

CC Puede’s Fran Taylor pounced on the dubious claim that free parking is social justice, asking rhetorically: "I wonder if the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition is as embarrassed to be in bed with the landlords as the Chamber of Commerce is to be in bed with the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.  Where were these people in 2005 when Muni fares went up? Where were they in 2009 when they went up again…? The crocodile tears I hear for the working class? The real working class, the real poor, they’re on the bus."

And this from Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, "These parking spaces weren’t here when the Spaniards arrived, they were built by somebody, they’re maintained at some cost, and the notion that they are free in a city that is very short of real estate and space and somehow it’s about human rights in the constitution that we should have these parking spaces available to everyone–well, no…. I’d rather live in a city where we paid for parking and transit was free."

Bob Planthold of the Senior Action Network reminded the MTA Board that they have a duty to find revenue to better fund paratransit and to enforce parking violations such as parking on sidewalks. "You’ve had the opportunity as an MTA Board from the very beginning to put funding measures on the ballot. This is a potential internal funding measure that can help paratransit and better enforcement. You can do something by principle, or you can cave in to political whims and pressure."

In the end, MTA Chief Nat Ford told his Board he would prepare a schedule of public outreach meetings and the agency would take the proposal throughout the city to get public opinion on it. MTA Board Director Malcolm Heinicke urged Ford to heed the advice of several speakers to set up a one-year trial of extended meters in a commercial district where that might not be too controversial and gather data based on the experiment.  Ford said he would direct staff to do so.

MTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan reminded his board that MTA staff presented them with three service cuts options for balancing the budget, each more "draconian" than the last. The board chose the middle option with the understanding they would have to come back and find more revenue or face service cuts. "I think about that, what it means if we don’t find additional revenues for this agency. The last thing that I’d like to do on this board is cut any additional service. To my mind we’re here to provide service."

So then it comes to whether or not the MTA Board has the fortitude to
back an unpopular parking proposal to fulfill its Transit-First mandate. If it’s true that Mayor Newsom is washing his hands of the study and leaving it to the MTA Board and the Supes, this small paean to rational parking policy proffered by MTA staff might not be dead yet. 

  • AlexJB

    As I read this, I contemplate how I will go downtown to the farmer’s market. Will I spend $2 round trip for MUNI, or $2 per hour for a parking meter? The same thought will apply to evening trips out for dinner, etc. If mass transit is the cheaper option, more folks will choose it. Parking meters are a form of congestion pricing.

  • This kind of nonsense makes me so angry:

    “You’re taxing residents, potentially hundreds of dollars a year for that resident without off-street parking that comes home at 5:30 or quarter to 6 and has to park at that meter. You’re going to tax that person until 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock at night to park at that meter. That doesn’t work in this city…”

    You already have taxed residents, hundreds of dollars a year for those residents without cars that have jobs and errands to run around town and have to take the bus. You’ve taxed that person already in May and you’re going to tax them again in January. That works every time in this city, apparently…

  • huh

    I’ve always thought the ANSWER “coalition” was a bunch of hyperactive, scatter-brained conspirtaorial wingnuts who wouldn’t know a progressive policy if it bit them in the rear, and this solidifies that impression. The thing that has kept me away from anti-war rallies is the fact that they are often front and center, and their presence serves to diminish any worthy cause.

    Jim Lazarus clearly doesn’t know what he wants. Is it customers for shops or is it long-term free parking for residents? Because he can’t have both.

    Sometimes when there is the air of a popular populist cause, anyone will jump on board, regardless of how misguided and contrary to their own best interests.

  • Thank you Matthew, thank you. Well stated. And you picked out the two points I was most upset about (ANSWER and Lazarus).

  • The sheer amount of bullshit that was put out by the Mayor, his MTA and so-called activists for the “business community” was incredible. The fact that you and others had to attend such a meeting and endure this crap earns you a medal in my book,

    I also find it hilarious that “ANSWER Coalition” which goes on and on about wars for oil, is pro-car and pro free parking. The fact that a pack of assholes like that is against the parking meter study just means it’s that much more valid.

  • EL

    “Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, “These parking spaces weren’t here when the Spaniards arrived, they were built by somebody, they’re maintained at some cost, and the notion that they are free in a city that is very short of real estate and space and somehow it’s about human rights in the constitution that we should have these parking spaces available to everyone–well, no…. I’d rather live in a city where we paid for parking and transit was free.”

    Tom Radulovich, BART Director, should listen to his own words above and shart charging for parking at the Glen Park station, where people park all day and never get a ticket because BART admittedly doesn’t enforce it. I can’t even fathom why parking is free at Glen Park, when BART already charges at Daly City, Colma, SSF, San Bruno, SFO, and Millbrae.

  • “Elliot Wagner, owner of Dimitra’s Skincare and MediSpa in West Portal, said” – amusing that if you check Dimitra’s hours – his business is closed during any meter extension times in West Portal.

  • Brian

    Welcome to Oakland. Where fake “progressives” will lay down in the streets to protect “their” free parking. Reminds me of those giant SUVs with “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers on them. Talk about FAIL.

  • “Never mind that the 700,000 daily Muni passengers, demographically much closer to working poor, will be forced to bear another round of fare increases should the MTA Board fail to find creative sources of revenue, such as the parking study.”

    The poor drive, MUNI is for the illuminati. I was discussing that with Barack, Nancy, and Gavin on the 19 Polk headed to Barack’s speech last week.

  • SFcan

    wow, A.N.S.W.E.R. gets it wrong every time: wrong strategically, wrong politically, just wrong. It’s almost uncanny how they can be so consistently wrong. One thing’s for sure, A.N.S.W.E.R. is not the answer.

  • Virginia Balogh-Rosenthal

    For the most part, the threat of decreased services on MUNI doesn’t affect the same population that is outraged at the thought of increased meter hours.

    One of Shoup’s criticisms of Oakland’s parking plan was that it didn’t give anything back (such as enhanced streetscape) to the people who would be paying more. The proposed plan only offers the argument that increased meter hours would increase turnover and thus increase the chances of finding a parking space.

    What if the giveback to those who would pay more was the chance to pay the meter remotely. One of the problems for many drivers is the potential for a hefty parking ticket when it is impossible to get back to the meter in time to deposit more quarters (or parking card). MTA could charge a premium for a service that gave peace of mind against getting a hefty parking ticket.

  • zsolt

    Ha ha! I love how anti-“oil war” A.N.S.W.E.R. is coming out in favor of cars. This reminds me of Jim Kunstler’s story of how he asked people in his neighborhood to remove the “War is not the answer” stickers from their SUVs. War *is* the answer for this lifestyle.

    Thanks for this write up and all who testified in favor. I’m glad that there is organized opposition to the opposition (SFBC, Streetsblog, Livable City). Let’s hear all the dumbasses make idiots out of themselves!

    The big unanswered question is, will the leadership have the guts to do what rational thinking suggests so clearly?

  • Jym

    =v= Too much irony going on here. “Free” parking (and the many other public subsidies propping up car transportation) is a malign and dysfunctional form of the kind of “socialism” that teabaggers and other fossil-fueled fools drive their SUVs in from the suburbs to protest. Yet here we have A.N.S.W.E.R., real live commie socialist types, coming out to support it.

  • friscolex

    So many comments above are well-stated to the point that I have very little to add except:

    Driving is a privilege, not a right.

    I’m off to bike to the UN Plaza farmers market, park compactly and laugh at the misguided defenders of the American “right” to park their bloody hunks of metal anywhere they damn well please.

  • Dave Snyder

    I approached a guy from ANSWER in the hallway, and after enduring him calling me an asshole over and over and not letting me get a word in, he finally let me talk and I came to understand his position. They are against user fees in general, as a regressive tax on the poor. He basically said electricity should be cheap, oil should be cheap, cars should be cheap, transit should be cheap, etc. He blamed everything on “big corporations” and the “oil companies.”

    It’s one of our challenges as environmental progressives to shift the tax burden from the poor while simultaneously increasing the cost of resource use, in order to assign the appropriate cost to socially damaging things you want to discourage, like using energy-wasting lights, watering your lawn, and using a car for trips where transit would work, like in San Francisco. He shared no such understanding of the complexity of that issue, and no concern for the children and grandchildren and future grandchildren of working class people who want to grow up in a safe, sane world without more resource wars.

    He did say he would be there to fight transit cuts and transit cost increases, and for taxing the Pacific Stock Exchange. Let’s hold him to that commitment.

  • Dave Snyder

    I also talked with another community leader whose permission I don’t have to share this perspective, so they’ll go un-named. They’re worried that the backlash against changing the hours of meter operation will threaten the success of SFPark’s proposed market-based parking fee plan, which stands to raise a great deal more money. I don’t share their concern about this, but I wonder if other readers here do.

  • e

    Is there a list of the businesses that spoke against the proposal for raising parking rates to fund Muni, so that us transit users know where not to shop?

  • huh

    @Dave Snyder:
    I applaud you for trying to force the ANSWER nutjobs to explain their rationale for anything, but what you squeezed out of that guy shows how contradictory and divorced from reality their ideology is. Oil should be cheap? And where exactly should we San Franciscans/Californians/Americans be getting our cheap oil? Free shipments from Hugo Chavez? I don’t think Hugo would be interested in that scheme.
    Their logic on user fees as uniformly regressive is equally non-sensical. User fees are only regressive if the population paying the fee is predominantly poor, which is quite the opposite here.
    If there’s one thing this shows, it’s that the advocates for progressive parking reform need to unceasingly drive home and yell from the top of their lungs at every meeting the point that the majority of people, particularly poorer people, are overwhelmingly benefited by increased fees on driving.

  • @e, that would be pretty much all of them, or at least their representatives in the business associations they belong to. I think perhaps a better solution might be to think of this as an education campaign, continuing to shop at the businesses in question, but letting them know how you got to their business, how often you go, how much you support sound parking management that benefits transit service.

    The business groups who had representatives speak out against the study were:

    Chamber of Commerce
    Mayor Newsom’s Office of Small Businesses and Business Commission
    Bulding Owners and Management Association
    SF Apartment Association
    North Beach Merchants Association
    Chinatown Economic Development Group
    Polk St. Merchants Association
    Union Square Association
    Sunset Neighborhood Association
    Chinatown Neighborhood Association

  • I’m happy to see no South of Market business associations spoke against the plans. I like to believe South of Market residents recognize the need to decrease the number of cars driving into downtown San Francisco.

  • I wish Chinatown and North Beach would feel the same as SOMA. I’m beginning to think that the reason Upper Grant is dying is because the sidewalks are unbearable. You can barely have two people pass each other. There is parking on both sides of the street – instead of increasing the meters, they should remove a lane of parking and widen both sidewalks. Then again, I feel this needs to happen on Columbus also.

    Cars have not been treating North Beach and Chinatown well and to keep making it as cheap as possible to bring your car to these areas only reinforces the downward spiral.

  • Sean

    Someone should do some investigative work and figure out which businesses are represented by the nine or so aforementioned groups. If the only customers those businesses are interested in are drivers then I’ll gladly find somewhere else to shop.

  • The thing with boycotting them (and I’m with Matthew on this) is that if all of us were to stop shopping there and they implement the metering changes, then business will decline and they’ll think it is relation to the parking. We need to shop there and tell them we walked, or biked, or MUNI’d to them.

  • Sean

    That’s a valid point, and truthfully I don’t ultimately want the local shops hurt. I think the ultimate goal would be to either convince them to leave the merchant groups that are misrepresenting the issue or to get said groups to stop misrepresenting things.

  • Agreed. And I would like to make them realize their mistakes, and boycotting is the best way to make your opinion known. Maybe the actually owners aren’t thinking enough for themselves. The merchant groups have an agenda that doesn’t always (though it should) line up with the actual merchants’ best interest.

  • Sean

    A quick survey of a few of the association websites shows that dues per year are in the $100-$200 range, so I would imagine most just enroll for whatever fringe benefits are provided. Aside from the vocal business owners who show up at the MTA meetings I wonder how many are actually proponents of what is being said on their behalf.

    Of course the visceral reaction is to oppose any metering increases, but once you get past that it becomes fairly obvious that it would be beneficial change.

  • My colleague Michael had a great story surveying merchant reaction to the MTA study recently. Some definitely get it.
    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/10/14/mta-must-act-quickly-to-convince-merchants-of-parking-plans-benefits/

    As far as a trial meter hour extension, I would think that merchants on Valencia Street could be fairly easily-organized to support it. There are a number of them that saw the benefit of Sunday Streets and who recognized the heavily ped/bike/BART customer base they have.

  • Additional Irony Alert: Chinatown merchants are one of the main opposition groups. But go to Grant St in Chinatown sometime and try to find a single parking meter where money has been put in. Last time I did that every single meter I looked at had no money put in. For some there was someone waiting in the car (their time is only worth $1.50/hour???) but for the majority the car had a disabled placard. So why do they care? Very few people are paying for parking there anyways. Increasing the hours there wouldn’t even make a difference until the disabled placard abuse is effectively dealt with.

    And of course disabled people who actually need to drive can never find a parking place there because they are already all taken!

  • Nick

    I think there is a semi-populist uprising against this because motorists know that if this passes, then more will follow. It doesn’t matter if the plan does not even affect them personally. There is no rationing with emotion.

  • e

    Ah, so no actual businesses spoke, just business associations?

    On the national level we’ve seen resignations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to its global warming stance not reflecting its members. I doubt we can hope for that locally on this issue, but it does seem likely that actual businesses are not as universally opposed to change as the reactionary business associations would have us believe.

  • Robo

    You would think that the merchants (especially the restaurants) along Clement and other areas of the city would applaud the city enforcing turnover after 6PM. They really need to start operating the meters on Sunday too. This is a holdover from when everything was closed on Sundays. When did that all end? Only 40 or 50 years ago.

  • D

    –“I think perhaps a better solution might be to think of this as an education campaign, continuing to shop at the businesses in question, but letting them know how you got to their business, how often you go, how much you support sound parking management that benefits transit service.”

    Can someone get on producing buttons or stickers or something that say something like “I walked/biked/took Muni here!” for people to wear while they go about their daily business on Polk Street/North Beach/Union Square/Chinatown, etc?

    It seems kind of ridiculous, but there’s got to be a way to illustrate the disconnect between the merchants’/merchant associations’ ideas of who they think their customers are and the actual on the ground reality of their everyday, bread-and-butter customers.

  • Yeah, a lot of problems are being caused by the SFMTA and the parking restrictions. One would think after so much money is taken in every day for fines, tickets, and fees, that one could build 1000s of additional parking spaces. Yet,,, no such luck. SFMTA even goes so far as to send out bogus parking tickets… Collect more revenue?

  • East Bay Biker

    “Ken Cleaveland of the Building Owners and Management Association … said the city needs to build a lot more off-street parking garages …”

    So where will these garages go in? Also, aren’t garage rates higher than on-street spaces?

    This knee-jerk reaction to preserving the “holy ideal of free parking” makes me laugh as I bike/Muni/AC Transit to my destination.

    ANSWER is SF’s equivalent to Oakland’s Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater, who posted propaganda on his marquee all through the debate .

  • SFResident

    “Can someone get on producing buttons or stickers or something that say something like “I walked/biked/took Muni here!” for people to wear while they go about their daily business on Polk Street/North Beach/Union Square/Chinatown, etc? ”

    Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking too. We need to get some activists to hand out business cards that say something like “I took MUNI to your business” to leave with the restaurant bill or at the cashier of the store that you’re shopping in.

    The opposition of the merchant associations to these sorts of measures is baffling and borderline insane. As so many here have pointed out, if anything they’ll increase business. I understand why these organizations oppose things like Healthy SF (though I find their opposition morally reprehensible), but to oppose something that is good for business? Talk about ideological blinders!

  • Thank you to Tom Radulovich and especially Fran Taylor for being there to say what needed to be said. Wish I could’ve made it myself.

    I might have more sympathy with complaints about parking tickets… if driving were the only mode that was reasonably provided for (e.g. the majority of the U.S.).

    But this is SF, and that doesn’t fly here.

    SF is widely regarded as the country’s most walkable city, with a public transportation system regarded by many to be one of the most comprehensive (despite its underfunding woes and reliability issues). Not only that, but the city will soon be a leader in bike-friendliness and already has some relatively decent bike infrastructure. 60% or so more people have been doing it over the past few years.

    And this is probably the main reason I (and many others) live here. The truth is, we save shit-tons of money living in SF by not owning cars.

    So, “poor” car-owners, if a third of the city can do it… why can’t you?

  • Shouldn’t the parking spots be for the customers? Why should the store owners or employees take away the spots from potential customers? How long does a customer shop for, shorter than the employee who works at the store?

  • FYI, I’ll be on KQED’s Forum this morning (10/22/09), second hour (10:00am), speaking up for the extended parking meter hours study, it’d be great to have some smart people call in and stick up for equitable trip pricing and sustainable streets:

    Radio: 88.5 FM
    Streaming: http://kqed.org/radio/listen/
    Call In: 866-733-6786
    Email: forum@kqed.org

  • Andy, great job so far!

  • North Beach Merchants just had a caller. I may make a business card that says “I walked, biked, MUNI’d to your business.” These people need to know that a majority of their business comes from people who DO NOT drive.

    Also, I really want to know how the poor are affording a car in the city. I can’t afford a car and my wife and I are doing pretty well for ourselves. But I feel our quality of life is better because we are able to walk. Maybe these poor families are stressing over a cost they don’t really have to burdened with.

  • I don’t have CS3 here at work, so it may have to wait ’til I get home. But I really like the idea that D posted – we do need to have something to hand out or wear. If anyone puts something together, please let me know.

  • zsolt

    Mike if you come out to the outer neighborhoods, you’ll see how. I live in Ingleside and it’s a different world out here. There are a lot of families with cars. Old, shitty, leaking clunkers, often parked en masse on the sidewalks. I’m convinced the upkeep and shuffling around of these cars is a huge burden on these families.

    Of course, these people are not relevant to the discussion because they hardly would go to North Beach to shop for hardware. But this is where these statistics about the car owning poor come from – the car ghettos of our outer districts.

  • james

    @Andy: Great job on the radio today.

    @mikesonn: You may be right about North Beach sidewalks impacting business there. On sidewalks on Grant and Columbus, you need to walk single file down the street. If you want to sit at an outdoor cafe, you will have people walking by you inches from your table because there is not enough room. The area is very inhospitable to pedestrians, particularly those with strollers or those who may be disabled.

    Since only 15% of customers arrive by car in North Beach, you might expect that the merchants there would strive to better accommodate the 85% who do not.

    This is a fascinating issue to watch play out and has far reaching impacts, both now and in the future. Clearly, emotions are running high.

  • zsolt, that does make sense. The burden has to be extreme. How do we address that issue? MUNI cuts will only make it that much more difficult for those families to function without a car with horrible snowball effects. I’ll plan on taking a bike ride out there to better take in the area. I rarely make it out past the inner sunset/richmond areas.

  • Our family got rid of our 11-year-old van this summer, downsizing us one car. It was completely paid off, so there were no payments, but in getting rid of it, we figure we are saving $4000 a year in car insurance, repairs (they were getting pricey), maintenance and gasoline. We joined City Carshare, but with bikes and Muni we haven’t needed to use it yet.

    People’s attachment to their cars is emotional, not rational. Cars make us powerful, they transport us, they protect us. They can even, on occasion, house us. The fact that they isolate us, poison our lungs, destroy our environment, deteriorate our community, and suck up vast amounts of our money is surprisingly irrelevant. The thing is, though, I always feel much better, mentally and physically, after riding my bike than after driving my car.

  • Fran Taylor

    Transportation advocates need to take the initiative to talk with folks who consider this proposal a financial threat. We can distinguish between the posturing opportunists and drivers who will genuinely suffer, like the families living near 16th St BART mentioned by Maria Guiterrez of Campaneros del Barrio on KQED this morning. I’m self-critical about my comments at the MTA in asserting that the “real working class” rides the bus. Muni riders as a group are poorer than drivers as a group, but this doesn’t mean that every driver is richer than every transit rider. That nuance got lost.

    This issue could drive a wedge between advocates for complete streets and other community activists unless we show more willingness to reach out and acknowledge the possible hardships and seek solutions together. BOMA, the Chamber of Commerce, and the mayor are just looking out for their very comfortable selves, but a whole chunk of the city has valid concerns, and it’s up to us to find some common ground.

  • zsolt

    Mike, and others weighing in on the car-owning working class in the city: I think taomom (and others) is right on the emotional attachment to cars. To many of these people, I imagine owning a car is progress, proof that they are doing better than their parents. You can guess what’s next: the first thing anyone who is a little better off around my ‘hood does, is to acquire more than one cars (preferably pickups and SUVs), making the problem even worse. As far as they are concerned, there is no problem with their cars. The problem is the downtown elites “taxing” them higher for parking, which ought to be free, right? I’m not sure how to address the issue without them being unhappy and feeling disenfranchised from local government. I couldn’t even talk to most of them because of the language barrier. For all I know, next they will elect another Dan White type who promises free parking to them. So I suppose we’d need to diversify our predominantly white movement?

    Mike, for your bike ride, I suggest riding down on the Alemany bike lane and branching out in side streets. I would do this at night or early in the morning, as during the day things will look deceptively empty – though there still will be a lot of cars on the sidewalk. Right where the bike lane on Alemany ends, where it intersects with San Jose, is Regent street, which is the worst car heavy street I have ever seen. De Long is also bad (and if you keep going on it, you will end up at DC Bart).

    I keep meaning to take pictures of my neighborhood for Streetsblog. I have been exploring this issue ever since I moved here.

  • Alex

    I disagree. Being attached to cars is often a very rational argument. MUNI’s very own blingfrastructure slashed service to City College. Even in the Sunset, the MTA has been trying to eliminate the 28 (which stops at SFSU) for a long time. Would you rather spend 40 minutes on public transit getting intimate with 80 of your nearest neighbors or spend 5 minutes in a car?

    For that matter, what about workers who live in the city and work in the peninsula? Even if MUNI worked perfectly every time (it doesn’t), you’ve still got lousy service to contend with on the peninsula.

    In good weather, a bike can work well in many situations. In lousy weather, not so much.

    Then think about how unpredictable delays are on MUNI. Most entry level workers aren’t afforded the ability to work from home, or even to have a boss who’ll understand being late because of the bus (Borders, for instance, will fire you for being more than 5 minutes late after three instances in six months). In many ways being able to depend on MUNI is a luxury.

  • patrick

    @Alex

    pretty much all of your arguments are massive exaggerations.

    Yes, there are situations where a 5 minute drive equates to a 40 minute bus ride, but that pretty much is only the case for non-downtown directed rides, and it’s pretty rare that you don’t have an option for the destination. Example the closest grocery store might be inconvenient by bus, but there’s probably another one a little farther that’s much more convenient.

    There’s not many poor people who live in SF & work in the peninsula, most of those types of commuters are affluent. Even if there were lots of poor living in SF and working in the peninsula, that has no bearing on parking prices in SF, you can still take MUNI, walk or bike to your SF destination.

    Although MUNI has it’s issues, it’s not that unreliable. In two years of busing every day to work I was only late twice due to the bus. Plus, a responsible person in your Borders situation would leave a little earlier after their second late to make sure it doesn’t happen again until the 6 month time period was over.

    Finally, yes for some people it is their choice to live and work in such places that mean they absolutely have to have a car, but that is a choice they made, and the rest of the city should not be forced to cater to them because of that choice.

  • zsolt

    Ugh, Alex. 5 minutes in the car will not get you anywhere. Not even the neighborhood grocery store, especially if you include the time you spend in the store’s parking lot or looking for a parking spot.

    The prime reason for Muni’s unreliability is congestion caused mainly by cars. The less of them clog the streets, the more reliable Muni will get. And you completely gloss over the fact that car ownership is a huge burden on most people. Yes, sure, some may need a car. But it is well documented that car ownership is an emotional, sentimental issue for many people. It’s not that people can’t imagine driving less – it’s that they don’t want to.

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