San Francisco could eventually see car-sharing come to the curbside after the Planning Commission voted yesterday to urge the city to explore the idea of allowing on-street car-share pods. The commission also voted to start a process of updating the city's guidelines for car-share requirements in new buildings.
Car sharing first came to San Francisco in 2001, and just a year later, the Planning Commission began requiring some new buildings to include car-share spaces as a condition of project approval. According to the Planning Department, San Francisco is the only city that requires car-share spaces for many new buildings by law, a policy it adopted in 2005.
Almost all of the city's car-share parking space, or pods, are in private garages and lots, where they've been required as part of a building's approval for construction, or where building owners have voluntarily leased out spaces to one of the city's two major car-share organizations, City CarShare and ZipCar.
That could soon change, as the Planning Commission urged the city to study using some public on-street spaces as car-share pods.
Planning Department staff wrote in a memo [PDF ] that providing on-street car-share parking spaces could greatly expand the number of available spaces, increase car-sharing's legitimacy and visibility, make it feel safer for people who don't want to go into garages, and make more efficient use of on-street spaces that otherwise often stay occupied by one person's vehicle all day.
While San Francisco is cutting-edge in requiring many new buildings to include car-share pods, it's already lagging in on-street car-share parking: Planning staff pointed to Philadelphia and Vancouver as models of cities that already allow on-street car-share parking, for a fee. And state law isn't holding San Francisco back: the California vehicle code was amended in 2006 to allow on-street car-share parking.
The Planning Code encourages car-sharing  as a way to "mitigate the negative impacts of new development by reducing the rate of individual car-ownership per household," and early on, the city provided some spaces in public garages to car-share companies. But that sparked a debate about giving away public goods to private companies, which put a halt to the practice.
On-street car-share parking could also face the same questions about the use of public goods, but Planning staff suggested the city could lease these spaces instead of giving them out for free, using the money to fund other transportation improvements.
City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson said he strongly supports the idea and called for an immediate on-street car-share parking pilot program. "City CarShare is a non-profit organization, and we recognize that there are some controversial issues about on-street parking," he told the commission. "However, we strongly support it."
Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich also voiced his support for car-sharing and expanding it to the city's streets. "Lots of [new buildings] are not quite large enough to trigger the requirements" for car-share spaces, said Radulovich, "so it's important to think of on-street spaces there."
Update to Car-Share Guidelines for New Buildings
The commission also adopted hard guidelines for how many extra car-share spaces to require in "extraordinary cases where transportation impacts of the specified project combined with the project location warrant additional mitigations."
Right now, new residential buildings with fewer than 50 units don't need to include car-share spaces, while 50-200 units triggers a one-car-share-space requirement, and new buildings with over 200 residential units must include two car-share pods, plus one space for each 200 additional units. There are guidelines for non-residential uses, too.
"The City's existing car‐share requirements are generally appropriate at this time," the Planning Department memo notes.
But while standard guidelines are already clear, the Planning Commission hasn't always had clear guidelines for just how many car-share spaces should be required in buildings that might have an exceptional impact on traffic. The commission approved a set of guidelines for such cases yesterday, outlined in the adjacent table.
The commission also approved a policy yesterday for setting car-share requirements in new projects that replace old buildings that have car-share parking spaces.
In several cases, the commission reviewed projects where a building that had voluntarily leased out spaces to car-share organizations was going to be replaced with a new building, and the commission sought to require that the new building replace those spaces one-for-one. But that has had the side-effect of discouraging some building owners from leasing out spaces voluntarily.
"Property owners have described an increasing hesitance to voluntarily provide car-share parking on underutilized lots due to a perception that the Planning Commission or Department may require that such voluntary spaces be indefinitely retained by the property owner," a Planning staff memo notes. That's a big problem, since the majority of the city's car-share pods are provided at will, not as conditions of project approval.
The Planning Commission moved to clarify that old spaces don't need to be replaced in such instances, whether they were voluntary or required. New projects will be evaluated based on requirements for new buildings, not based on how many car-share pods the previous building or lot had, voluntary or otherwise.
City CarShare's Hutchinson told the commission that Planning staff had done a "thorough job of developing guidelines and producing what is effectively a new policy for car-share."
Planning Commission Vice President Christina Olague also praised staff for its "great work" on the policy, but suggested developers that wanted to include excess parking should not just provide car-share spaces, but actual memberships. "If buildings want tons of parking, I want to look at requiring them to provide memberships too."
The Planning Commission will have a further hearing on the policy sometime after July 1.