Commentary: Sidewalk Sitting? No Way! Sidewalk Parking? Stay All Day!

One weighs 200 pounds or less, the other maybe two tons or more. One is involved in odd scuffles, the other in nearly 40,000 deaths nationwide each year. One is being targeted by the mayor and the press in San Francisco, the other sails under the radar.

Even as Mayor Gavin Newsom, SFPD Chief George Gascón, and the San Francisco Chronicle press for a new law that would punish sitting or lying on the sidewalk, drivers continue to park with impunity across the pedestrian pathway, with nary a word from Newsom or the editorialists at the Chron, notably recent suburban transplant C.W. Nevius, who’s devoted several columns to the perils of sitting and lying.

Though cloaking their campaign for the new law in concern for beleaguered pedestrians, who they say must now run a gauntlet of surly youth and their unleashed dogs along Haight Street, Newsom and Nevius have completely ignored the real threat to pedestrians of cars obstructing their path.

Nevius, in fact, has a history of blaming pedestrians for their own injuries. In a column last October that was sharply criticized on Streetsblog, he attributed San Francisco’s high rate of pedestrian deaths and injuries to spacey walkers not looking where they were going, ignoring data to the contrary that cited driver speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks as major factors.

Some opponents have suggested that the push for sit/lie is actually a campaign tactic to stir up conservative voters in the fall, when several supervisorial races could shift seats on the board away from progressives. This makes sense, but I also think concern for property values plays a large part in the push from some Haight neighbors, who have shelled out big bucks for their houses but don’t feel like they enjoy a posh enough environment so long as these undesirables are allowed to occupy public space.

Property values have been an issue in the Mission, where some neighbors have tried to move day laborers away from their blocks. Other neighbors have spoken up for the rights of the day laborers, and many heated meetings and hearings have seen neighbors lined up against one another. The proposed sit/lie measure could target day laborers along Cesar Chavez and nearby streets, and the Day Labor Program was the scene last month of a lively protest against the proposed new law.

When I spoke as a supportive neighbor who lives a block away from Cesar Chavez, I pointed out the lack of sidewalk parking enforcement and asked, “Do cars have more rights than people?” The response was a resounding no.

Sit/lie targets commercial streets such as Haight, which are more visible to tourists. But residential streets, where sidewalk parking is rampant, are where our lives take place.

Sidewalks are an extension of our homes, where neighbors can enjoy casual contact, where the person walking the dog can bump into the person trimming the tree or the parent watching the child’s first ride without training wheels. We live in a city, and our sidewalks are as vital as our libraries, museums, and parks. When we have to slide over oil slicks and do a slalom to make it from one corner to another, walking becomes a chore.

Lighthouse_image_small.jpgAdvocates for the blind and disabled have repeatedly sought relief from sidewalk parking and attendant hazards. Photo: Matthew Roth.

Whatever the pros and cons of sit/lie, the massive media and political attention devoted to problems with a few youths and dogs on a few blocks contrasts with the total blackout of an issue that affects every San Franciscan who walks even a few blocks in just about any neighborhood. Unfortunately, this discrepancy is nothing new.

Compare the number of tickets given for residential parking permit (RPP) violations versus sidewalk parking. RPP enforcement, being time-related, by definition requires two visits by parking control officers (PCOs), first to note the time a non-permitted car is spotted and then a second time to check if it has exceeded the time limit. Cars blocking the sidewalk are immediately obvious. An RPP violation may inconvenience a few drivers if all other parking spots are taken and the space in question is needed by a resident. Sidewalk cars physically endanger all walkers trying to get by, especially the most vulnerable: the disabled or visually impaired, seniors and parents with children in strollers or holding toddlers by the hand.

Still, RPP tickets outnumber sidewalk tickets by a margin of five to one, year after year. Typically, sidewalk violations must be called in, and neighbors are often reluctant to snitch on each other, and the time lag between phone call and actual enforcement allows many violators to leave and avoid being ticketed. RPP has dedicated teams of PCOs that seek out violations.

Even the oft-cited thuggishness of the sitters and liers has its reflection in sidewalk drivers. Assaults on PCOs have increased in recent years. One PCO testified at a hearing on the extension of parking meter hours that extending hours into the evening would endanger PCOs ticketing cars at expired meters after dark. Sidewalk parking often occurs right in front of the perpetrator’s home, as a result of confusion about the definition of driveway versus public space.

PCOs ticketing such cars are especially vulnerable to assault, and this has been cited as a reason for official reluctance to enforce the law. So the thuggish threats of the sitters and liers are a reason we need a new law, but the thuggish actions of the sidewalk parkers are a reason not to enforce the laws we already have.

We’re being told that punks and pooches are the real danger to pedestrians. And if you’re forced to walk in the street by some lout parking across a driveway and you get hit in traffic as a result, you can count on Nevius to chalk up your contusions to pedestrian inattentiveness! 

  • Mario

    Does anyone know the exact policy regarding called in violations. I have an arrogant neighbor that parks their car on the sidewalk at 5 pm on Sunday night and leaves it there until Monday morning. I always call it in but have never seen any ticket on the car in the morning. DPT always tell me that they will send someone soon but I have never seen anyone sent and I have been calling almost once a week for the last year. So I wonder what their response policy is and for some reason there its no reporting on that at all:
    – do they wait for corroboration before dispatching an agent
    – do they have a minimum or maximum wait time before responding
    – do they stick a ticket or do they mail it in, or do they just warn the owner
    – do they have enforcement hours and not enforce outside those hours
    – how many calls do they get a day, how many of them do they act on, and what percentage off those get ticketed

    I feel like I am wasting my time calling them and they never come. People here complain that they don’t enforce the law automatically but I have serious doubts on whether they enforce the law even after a call. I would really like to see that investigated.

  • Mario,

    I think I’m going to try the tactic of social pressure – carry around post-it notes, and when I see a car parked on the sidewalk (or in a bike lane) write a note to put on the car asking them not to do that (or why they are), and that it’s very rude, illegal, and dangerous especially for people with disabilities. If legal enforcement isn’t happening, we need to let them know it’s unacceptable socially.

  • Tom Hundt

    This post mixes up two issues: sit/lie (truly a problem in the Haight, not so much elsewhere) and sidewalk parking. I’m going to talk about the second one.

    Part of the problem is that the CVC statute is indeed too strict: If it said “you must allow free and easy passage along the sidewalk, minimum 6 ft, on the flattest part of the sidewalk” and parking elsewhere was okay, then people would know how to park and the rule could be enforced much more stringently. The way it is now, ANY sidewalk parking is illegal, so there’s a lot of political pressure from car owners not to enforce the rule AT ALL. So, it gets enforced sporadically, only when people complain.

    Rationalizing the law would make things better for everyone. The goal is to coexist peacefully.

  • Tom, the point was to bring the issues together. And I don’t think it mixes them up. Sit/lie will be applied to the whole city, not just the Haight.

    Also, there are laws on the books to address what is happening in the Haight. Just like there are laws on the books to address the rampant sidewalk parking.

  • Moley

    Mike

    No, I think Tom makes a good point there. I’ve been driving in the City for 15 years and I have never been absolutely sure about when it is OK to park on the sidewalk and when it is not.

    According to a traffic cop I talked to, it’s always OK during street cleaning. It’s OK as long as it doesn’t cause an obstruction. According to others, it is OK if it leaves a 6 foot gap. And you seem to be saying it is (or should be) always illegal.

    Despite all that, there is a common sense approach, it seems. Egregious cases get ticketed and others do not. I don’t like not having precise rules but I can live with that. If it’s in your way, ticket it. If it is not, let it be. But no ideology please.

    The Sit/Lie doesn’t interest me that much as I don’t live in the Haight. But as long as existing laws mean that the cops can move on or arrest the bums, then the only question I have is then why aren’t they doing that already?

  • It’s never OK to park on the sidewalk. How hard is that?

  • Eric, it’s hard to understand when you’d rather skirt a rule then just follow it. “But but my car, there is no parking!”

    And this I will never understand, “According to a traffic cop I talked to, it’s always OK during street cleaning.” Who the hell makes up that rule? Does that mean that people don’t walk down a street during street sweeping hours?

    And Moley, the question of why they aren’t enforcing existing laws is a good one. But if in doing nothing they get more power, then I’d say they got what they wanted in the end.

  • Moley

    Eric

    Are you citing a Statute or expressing an opinion?

  • Personal conviction, but I can also cite the California Vehicle Code if you would like that better:

    22500. No person shall stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle whether attended or unattended, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a peace officer or official traffic control device, in any of the following places:

    (f) On any portion of a sidewalk, or with the body of the vehicle extending over any portion of a sidewalk, except electric carts when authorized by local ordinance, as specified in Section 21114.5. Lights, mirrors, or devices that are required to be mounted upon a vehicle under this code may extend from the body of the vehicle over the sidewalk to a distance of not more than 10 inches.

  • Moley

    Eric

    Well I guess that rather depends on how you define “except where necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic”.

    If leaving the vehicle in the street would create “conflict” with other vehicles, that appears to justify sidewalk parking. And let’s face it – nobody parks on the sidewalk because they want to, but because they have no choice.

    But even so, I’d also like to understand where the “6 feet rule” comes from. Perhaps it is just a “rule of thumb” for DPT officers in deciding whether to cite, rather than a statute.

    I don’t know, and that’s the problem. Nobody else seems to know either.

  • @Moley “nobody parks on the sidewalk because they want to, but because they have no choice.”

    That’s just untrue. I see, all the time, people that park on the sidewalk because they are too lazy to park 1/2 block away.

  • Great, maybe you’ve found your loophole. Have fun arguing about it in court.

    Meanwhile it is obvious that in the context of this statute, which enumerates a long list of places where you can’t arbitrarily stop or leave cars, not just sidewalks, “to avoid conflict with other traffic” means “if you would crash into somebody if you didn’t stop right now,” not “if you can’t be bothered to find a legitimate parking space.”

  • Also Eric, since when is walking not traffic? He fails to see walking as legitimate transportation so arguing with him is pointless.

  • “nobody parks on the sidewalk because they want to, but because they have no choice.”

    Excuse me?

    If they boxed theirselves into a situation where they own a car that they cannot legally park, it seems to me that they already made at least one, if not many, bad choices. But they don’t want to suffer the consequences of those ill-advised choices, they want to foist those upon other people. Socialism!

    Somehow many people find it logical to throw a safety net out for people who buy a car and move to a neighborhood with limited parking, but howl in massive protest about any number of other safety nets that apply to people who have found misfortune through bad desicisions or luck.

  • Here of course is one of the most ironic sidewalk parkers I have ever seen.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vRFFlXZvjN4/SLGfgSLM3gI/AAAAAAAAAEk/NS0MNOeJ9DM/s1600-h/download.jpg

  • “It only takes a war to power my car to take my bicycle places.”

  • nt

    So in your world, blocking a sidewalk with a non-moving car is magnitudes worse than some punk or his dog assaulting people on the street? Nice. I’m not a fan of sidewalk parking, but I’m even less of a fan of being assaulted, either verbally or physically, by some loser who has nothing better to do. If these guys just sat on the sidewalk all day and minded their own business and picked up their trash – no problem. But sadly that’s not reality here in many cases.

    And, as primarily a pedestrian in this city, our argument for safer streets would be much more effective if I didn’t see scores of people deliberately (or cluelessly) crossing the streets against lights on a daily basis. I’d like to see at least some level of pedestrian education being done in addition to campaigns targeting drivers.

  • Fran Taylor

    “If these guys just sat on the sidewalk all day and minded their own business and picked up their trash – no problem.”

    This is exactly the population targeted by sit/lie. If someone assaults you, the charge is “assault,” not “sitting on the sidewalk all day contemplating assault.”

    I also want to update my piece after learning that the Mayor’s Office did criticize cars on the sidewalk in its sit/lie presentation to the Board of Supervisors. That’s welcome news, but it hardly qualifies as public leadership on the issue, since only those present or watching the video would ever know.

    Evidently, in a few neighborhoods where enforcement has been stepped up, the drivers are ripshit because they don’t understand why behavior that’s always been tolerated is being punished. That’s where the missing leadership hurts. It may be embarrassing to say “Alert! We’re going to start enforcing the law!”, but leaders have the courage to admit a changed course and address the true problem: the sidewalk parking, not the unexpected tickets.

    If I’ve never cleaned up when my dog craps all over the sidewalk and suddenly get a ticket, saying “Waah, waah, waah, I never got one before” may be a valid argument for better public education, but it’s no justification for my original actions.

  • I live in the Haight (along w/ family members and various friends). No one I know has ever had a problem w/ the street kids or their dogs.

    Like Fran said, if there is an actual assault, existing law addresses that.

    If the problem is just that someone looks scary (to nt or others), that’s too bad, but not a valid law enforcement issue.

  • Matt

    Sorry streetblog, they ticket cars blocking the sidewalk in the Haight ALL THE TIME. I live on Masonic and have a kid with a disability and no garage and park in the driveway, with the back of the car in the street and at least 6 feet of clearance in the front (Masonic is a big sidewalk), and I still get tickets at least once a month. Seems like it just depends on the neighborhood.

  • doesn’t a driveway imply a garage?

  • Souper

    JohnM

    A driveway does not necessarily imply a garage. Some houses have paved front yards wirh a driveway entering into it. Or driveways down the side of the house.

    And of course, in multi-unit buildings, there is often one tenant or owner who gets the garage while, by mutual consent, another owner or tenant gets to “block” the garage with another car in the driveway.

    Then there are two-car families with only one garage space.

    And garages that get coverted to other uses.

    Lots of scenario’s for why vehicles park in driveways.

    If Matt does this for his disabled kid, and always leaves the required 6 feet, then he isn’t the problem here.

  • A paved over yard is not a parking lot. I think we’ve covered that before. Also, isn’t blocking your own curb cut still illegal? Not that it is a big deal.

    And what are you converting your garage into that is more important then parking your car in it when you are then parking on the sidewalk? Obviously parking is important to you – just only enough so to block other people not yourself. Talk about selfish.

  • Souper

    Mike

    I wasn’t talking about what I do but rather what other people in SF commonly do.

    I’ve no idea what has been covered here before but people routinely park on their own property. Whether you want to call it a yard, a drive, a paved area or whatnot – I don’t mind. But the topic here isn’t people legally parking on their own private property anyway.

    If you call out DPT because a vehicle is blocking your garage or curb cut, they ask you to prove it is your garage being obstructed e.g. by having you open it up. In the example I gave, with tandem parking, the two car owners have an agreement to do this. Often they will have spare keys to each others’ cars.

    Again, routine in SF and not illegal.

  • Souper, I was using “your” in the overall sense of the word. I have no clue what you do nor do I care.

    Routine in SF doesn’t equate to not illegal. 99% of the time it means not enforced. And I’m sure the “open it if the garage is yours” is just the way the rule has been adapted over the years to keep the work load down.

  • Mikesonn, blocking the curb cut actually turns out to be legal in some circumstances. In particular as allowed by the San Francisco Traffic Code (http://search.municode.com/html/14143/level2/DII_A1000.html):

    SEC. 1004. – PARKING OF VEHICLES ACROSS PRIVATE DRIVEWAYS.

    The owner or lessee of property shall be permitted to Park the owner’s or lessee’s vehicle across the private driveway of said property, provided that such vehicle displays a valid license plate registered to the address of that property with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and provided that such driveway serves no more than two family dwelling units. This Section does not permit the Parking of vehicles across sidewalks or in red zones.

    However, as far as off-street but ungaraged parking is concerned, the Planning Code (Article 1.2, http://library.municode.com/HTML/14139/level1/A1.2.html) continues to forbid parking within a building setback unless the vehicle is screened from public view and is further from the street than the required setback (the average of the setback of the adjacent buildings). And it is certainly illegal under the California Vehicle Code (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22500.htm) to park in such a way that blocks any portion of the sidewalk except for by an overhanging light or mirror.

    Thanks, Matt, for letting us know that the police are paying attention to this at least some of the time.

  • Souper

    Mike

    I wasn’t saying parking in your driveway is legal because it is routine.

    I was saying it is legal AND it is routine.

    If you know of a statute that makes parking in your own private driveway illegal, then cite it.

    And yes, DPT always ask you to open your garage door to show that you have a legitimate right to have a driveway blocker ticketed and/or towed. If DPT decide that you are instead, say, just a nosey, interfering or envious neighbor, they’ll refuse to act. DPT’s job is not to escalate neighbor squabbles. It is to remove genuine obstructions.

  • My earlier comment seems to be stuck in moderation, so Souper, the statute you are looking for is San Francisco Planning Code Article 1.2, Section 132, which regulates building setbacks and says that “no motor vehicle, trailer, boat or other vehicle shall be parked or stored within any such area, except as specified in Section 136.” Section 136 says that garages and driveways can exist but “in no case shall parking be allowed in the setback”.

  • Souper, it has been covered time and again here – in articles and in comments. Don’t charge in here expecting me to rehash basic research for you.

  • Souper

    Eric

    Thanks for answering the question that Mike couldn’t. And yes, I can see how there might be a Planning Code issue if you convert your garden into a car junkyard.

    But I was addressing the narrower issue of DPT parking rule enforcement. And private land is not under DPT jurisidction, so DPT would not get involved in any case where there is a complaint that that a resident is parking on his property (which is what we were discussing).

    DPT would only get involved if the vehicle is parked at least partly on the public sidewalk, if the 6 foot rule is broken.

    Planning’s enforcement of their rules is more long-winded and bureaucratic. They don’t have enforcement officers out there ticketing and towing vehicles. They might write you a letter though.

  • Souper, you’re completely missing the fact that there is no “six-foot rule.” Unless you’re referring to the one that isn’t written down anywhere but is status quo anyway.

  • Souper

    Stuart

    I was referring and responding to Matt’s citing of that rule.

    I have no idea whether it is in a statute or is just a guideline. But it seems a reasonable provision, whatever its status..

  • Souper: It’s not reasonable at all. Cars have enough space on the streets. In fact, they have too much. We need to protect the space – sidewalks – that is supposed to be reserved for humans.

    If I, as a pedestrian, stored my private property in the middle of the street, leaving just enough space for cars to squeeze by, you surely wouldn’t be calling that “reasonable.”

  • Souper: And, if you read Matt’s comment, you’ll notice that he didn’t actually cite anything.

  • To clarify the whole driveway/setback/sidewalk thing: it’s legal to park in the parking lane of the street blocking your own driveway. It’s illegal to park in the sidewalk or setback.

    The SF traffic code was amended in 2008 to explicitly make it legal to block your own driveway, as long as the vehicle is registered to the address that it is blocking, so this is no longer a “gray area.”

    The CVC bans any part of the body of a car from blocking any part of a sidewalk, i.e. they only need to show that one inch of your car was on the sidewalk to cite it.

    To report illegal use of a setback for parking, you need to call the Planning Information Counter at 558-6377 instead of MTA Parking Enforcement, who only handle public right of way.

  • @Sean, June 10

    Adding to what Sean says, what DPT ticketers have told me is when DPT does get a complaint about a car blocking the sidewalk (and acts on it) they have to ticket every other car on that block that’s parked across the sidewalk. I imagine it has something to do with preserving anonymity or some aspect of fairness.

  • Tom Hundt

    Wasn’t this supposed to be about sit/lie (the new issue on the block) and not parking (a perennial axe-grinding favorite)? Hence my original statement about mixing up the issues.

    A good friend of mine who’s a single mom and lives in Cole Valley recently bought a car. It’s a small, stubby old thing (she can’t afford much) and so of course it’d be easy to park in a driveway and block neither sidewalk nor street. This seems reasonable and no harm to anyone. We’re all in favor of fixing the parking laws to reflect this.

    She hates walking down Haight Street with her daughter because of all the creeps stationed there who harass passers-by as a matter of course. The daughter expresses fear and the mother expresses anger. This seems like a bad situation. We’re all in favor of sit/lie legislation.

  • Souper

    Tom

    Yes, there seems to be at least different threads to this topic.

    1) Sit-Lie i.e. do we need extra laws to deal with hippies on Haight Street?
    2) Is it ever OK for a car to park on a sidewalk?
    3) Is it OK to park entirely on your own property?

    I guess we can all vote. I’d go for No, It Depends and Yes.

    Stuart,

    When I said that the 6 foot rule (if it even exists) was “reasonable”, I meant that that allows for the widest wheelchair or double-wide stroller to pass. I wasn’t trying to get into an ideological battle over cars.

    Personally, I’d prefer a 20 foot wide sidewalk with a parked car obstructing one foot of it to, say, a four foot wide sidewalk with no car parked on it.

    But that’s just me. I’m practical more than ideological.

  • Fran Taylor
  • Alexei

    With regard to parking garages, I found this interesting–especially p. 5.4-10.

    http://www.vtpi.org/tca/tca0504.pdf

    I think land costs in most of SF are $6m/acre or more, ie ‘CBD’-level prices in the article. That would imply that the cost of building and maintaining parking structures is ~$320/month per spot over the lifetime of the structure. Frankly, I don’t think that level of demand exists. Of course there’s demand for free parking, but there’s always going to be demand for free stuff.

  • gibraltar

    “Is it OK to park entirely on your own property? Yes”

    “But that’s just me. I’m practical more than ideological.”

    These two statements are in direct contradiction. Your yes answer is purely ideological, and based on the mythical concept of private land-ownership giving unrestricted rights. “Don’t tell me what to do with my land” is one in fact of the most damaging ideologies floating around in the country these days.

    Believing that one should be able to park on their own property as one wishes, is as ideological as anything I’ve ever seen.

  • Souper

    Gibraltor

    I disagree. DPT have no jurisdiction over private proeprty. This topic is about parking on public property.

    If you want a discussion aimed at dismantling property rights in the US, then start one. But until then, I promise not to complain about what you do in your house if you don’t complain about what I do in my house.

    Good fences make good neighbors.

  • Alexei

    Regarding parking on the sidewalk during street sweeping, that’s something I never saw in the inner richmond, but then one day I was in the outer richmond and a bunch of people were doing it, even though (I imagine) the parking situation is easier in the outer richmond. I guess it’s a real ‘cultural’ thing– if no one else does it, no one will start. It might also help to have a lot of street trees which make it more difficult to drive around on the sidewalk.

  • Souper

    Alexei

    It seems to me that a lot of the so-called parking rules in SF are more like unwritten guidelines than actual statutes.

    I have heard variously that it is OK to:

    1) Park on the sidewalk during street-cleaning.
    2) Park on the sidewalk as long as there is 6 feet free and clear
    3) Double-park for a couple of minutes if I leave the hazards on

    Now, technically each of these is illegal. But as a matter of discretion, a cop maybe won’t ticket in those cases.

    The street-cleaning one is particularly interesting because, on my street anyway, the cops make a point of ticketing any car parked on the street, but totally ignore all the vehicles moved onto the sidewalk.

    And of course there is the infamous one where you can illegally park or double-park outside a church for a Sunday service.

    It seems there is an additional set of “insider” rules on the down low, depending as always on the discretion of the individual cop.

  • Mike M.

    What about out here in the Outer Richmond where people are literally parking their vehicles on the sidewalk up against the side of buildings not their own (in fact mine)? They are using the sidewalk as a driveway and treating the entire sidewalk up to our building as a parking area.

    This is not “crossing” the sidewalk but as far as I can see it is:

    – Destruction of public property
    – Blocking the sidewalk
    – A public nuisance

    I don’t see how some of the penny pinchers out here turn their garages into studios and rent them out this allows them to park all over the sidewalks. Is this worth calling DPT about it has gotten much worse in the last few weeks..

  • Sean

    Souper –

    WRT to #1 — I called DPT one morning because there were a bunch of cars parked on the sidewalk.

    Dispatcher: “Is it marked for street cleaning?”
    Me: “Yes.”
    Dispatcher: “We don’t ticket for sidewalk parking during street cleaning.”

    Cars 1, pedestrians 0.

    Mike –

    From what I understand that too is technically prohibited but it would probably depend on the discretion of the individual officer and the probability of one being dispatched to the Outer Richmond.

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