Did You Know There’s No Department of Parking and Traffic Anymore in SF?

MTA_DPT_curb.jpgOut with the old, in with the new. Even the curbs are showing signs of the transition to more sustainable streets in San Francisco. Photo: Matthew Roth.

Though most San Franciscans probably don’t realize it, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) recently phased out its Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) as part of the promise made to voters in 1999 to merge Muni with the department that managed the streets, theoretically realizing greater efficiencies for transit in the process.

The new wing of the SFMTA replacing the DPT is called the Sustainable Streets Division, and it is tasked with managing the streets to promote the city’s Transit First Policy, whether that is manifest in the new protected green bike lanes on Market Street or planning for the rollout of SFPark later this summer.

"The idea is to meld all the planning into one position," said SFMTA CEO Nat Ford at a recent meeting with Streetsblog, and "not to have bike
planning, streets planning, and Muni planning separately."

To assuage any doubts, Ford pulled out his organization chart and budget documents to demonstrate the change as it relates to the agency’s structure. "There is no DPT. There’s not even a department to get paid out of," he said.

Ford pointed to the green bike lanes on Market Street and said the quick movement to add the lanes once the bike injunction was partially lifted was a product of the new mindset among those who manage San Francisco’s streets.

"I think the whole vision of that group led them to do what they’re doing
now," said Ford. "They’re getting the opportunity to break out of the box they were
in as DPT. I think that’s given them the courage to go out there and do
those creative things."

Market_St._green_2_small.jpgSan Francisco’s first green bike lane is a product of shifting staff environment in the SFMTA, according to its director. Photo: Bryan Goebel.

Another important point Ford stressed was the transition of the bicycle and pedestrian staff to more visible positions with real decision-making power, a shift that has occurred over several years. "When I first got here, DPT was still solidly DPT and Muni was still
solidly Muni," he said. "Parking and traffic was separate, planning was separate."

At the time, bicycle and pedestrian staff members were funded through grants, but weren’t part of the normal SFMTA budget. "If bikes and
pedestrians are important to this operation, why aren’t they part of
this budget?" asked Ford.

Many of the city’s livable streets advocates were understandably happy with the change in the SFMTA and argued even the symbolic shift from a foregone parking and traffic mentality was significant.

"We’ve been working for more than 10 years to create a truly integrated
transportation management function in city government," said Gabriel
Metcalf, Executive Director of SPUR, a transportation think tank and one
of the primary supporters of the voter initiatives that created the SFMTA. "This is a major
step in the SFMTA becoming a truly multi-modal agency that plans for the
needs of Muni, cars, bikes, and pedestrians and makes the whole system
work."

"The demise of the parking and traffic division is good news for
those of us who think that streets are about more than just parking and
traffic, auto traffic," said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of
Livable City and one of the pioneers of smarter parking policy in San
Francisco. "That definitely feels like progress."

Radulovich noted that Proposition A in 2007 had removed a portion
of the City Charter that mandated the city have a department of parking
and traffic. But whether this is just lipstick on a curb, according to Radulovich, is a deeper issue. "The real question is has the thinking changed."

"Certainly you can change the org chart, but if you are moving
the same people around and they have the same approach to streets and
public space, then you’re going to get a lot of the same outcomes."

Ford acknowledged that they still haven’t hired a permanent director of the Sustainable Streets Division, despite a nationwide search. Much of the challenge, said Ford, is due to how unique the SFMTA is as a transportation agency. In most cities, the transit operator doesn’t also control planning and policy for how street space is allocated.

At present, Bond Yee, the Director of the former Department of Parking and Traffic, is acting Sustainable Streets chief. Ford said they needed to finish the arduous negotiations around the MTA budget and labor concessions before he could devote his full attention to the hiring process.

Regardless of who will eventually take the helm, Ford said his "deep pool of talented individuals" working in the division were already making a name for the SFMTA in the circles where transportation planning is meaningful.

"A lot of people talk about [NYC DOT Commissioner] Janette Sadik-Khan," said Ford, who stated that San Francisco is gaining momentum, and innovating in ways even New York City hasn’t. "There’s not a week our people are not being invited to come around the
world to present on what’s happening in San Francisco."

on_street_racks.jpgIt’s fitting that the SFMTA changed its curb stencils as it experiments with innovative on-street parking for bicycles. Photo: Matthew Roth.

  • So does this “Sustainable Streets Division” have any say on planning code / CU applications? I’m thinking in relation to the mall with 200 spaces they want to build on Market and this rumored UCSF parking monstrosity they want to put out near the panhandle.

    Parking restrictions (or lack there of) greatly determine whether a street functions or not. If that mall gets to put another 200 spaces on Market, we might as well kiss a functioning Market good-bye. It’ll fail cars, bikes, and transit.

    I’d like to see this new division have a larger say in where and how much parking is allowed.

  • Nick

    Real change often starts with symbolic change. No more “Department of Parking (lots) and Traffic (jams).” It’s about time we had “More Transit Advocacy.”

  • Brandon

    Interesting department merge, but the best transit doesnt run on streets at all.

  • twompsokill

    this is going to either fail horribly, or be exactly the same as before

  • The new MTA has been doing doing great stuff, from the bike corrals on Valencia (which are very intelligently designed) to the separated green bike lanes on Market. This has been a difficult transition, but I feel this is much more than a new org chart. There is definitely a change in viewpoint and an experimental and competent spirit in the unified organization.

  • gibraltar

    “Lipstick on a curb”… lol! Yeah, if they will be as successful living up to their new name “Sustainable Streets” as they were living up to their old one “Parking and Traffic” (particularly enforcing the laws), then Lord help us all.

  • The green bike lanes may indeed represent a positive shift in institutional viewpoint–when they’re actually open to bicycles. MTA must shift its approach to *enforcement* as well, because a blocked green lane is really no green lane at all.

  • greasybear, have you had ANY success with the site you post to? I just threw up something last night (I could have been posting every day for the last year with how bad it is). I’ll keep putting pictures up if they keep blocking, but just wondering if it has done anything.

    http://sf.mybikelane.com/

  • mikesonn, sf.mybikelane.com is a collaborative and growing catalogue of evidence showing exactly who blocks bike lanes, and where it happens the most. As this record grows, we can bring this evidence not only to individuals and associated parties (*cough* Hotel Whitcomb), but also to the city itself. It is one thing to complain the bike lanes get blocked at rush hour, and quite another to clearly show the SFMTA dozens or hundreds of photographs illustrating which lanes get blocked the most, and by whom.

    And, of course, when scofflaw motorists and bus drivers see us taking photographs, they often decide to move along and reopen the bike lane to bikes, which is the ultimate goal.

  • Sean

    I have posted there a bit too, but have admittedly lapsed lately. It isn’t that I’m not taking the photos, I just forget to post them. However, since there isn’t much traffic on the site, I think (as pointed out) the social pressure of being photographed and getting the driver to move along is more important.

    On Election Day I was biking home along Fulton and there was a woman in a minivan stopped in the lane with a big Dept. of Elections seal printed on a piece of paper in her window. Evidently this granted her the right to block the lane while she ate dinner.

    I took a photo and then got on the phone with DOE and made eye contact with the driver while I reported her. After a moment or two she got tired of the attention and pulled forward half a block, but continued to block the lane (in the meantime I counted about ten cyclists who had to swerve around her). When I made eye contact with her again she finally took the hint and drove off.

    All this aside, enforcement really is the key.

  • TheFacts

    No Nat. Parking, traffic and planning were not separate. Get your facts right. They were working very well together as a unified team to make this a more livable city until SPUR started spewing out bigotry, personal attacks, bullying and lies about DPT staff. These jerks pedaled lies to everyone and City Hall about interdepartmental fighting, about car-only thinking, and not planning for peds/bikes/transit, and much more. Then seeing that their lies were starting to be noticed, these jerks tried to START interdepartmental fights within the MTA, mass firings of staff and continued spreading more lies and hate.

    Wow Nat. First, you demonize the bus drivers, and now former DPT personnel? Great morale destroyer. Now, the bus drivers’ complaints about your lack of support and backing against Elsbernd’s ballot initiative (which I supported) is looking more clearer now. This even isn’t about money. It’s about the lack of respect that these jerks have with former DPT staff. Now you want to join them? Who are you going to put down next? You’re running out of friends.

    More sh*t coming out of Gabriel/SPUR and Tom Radulovich’s mouth/ass as usual. DPT was already a multi-modal agency that dealt with all the walking, biking, transit, auto issues before MTA was formed. They were well ahead of their counterparts in other cities. Nothing has changed – the former DPT part of MTA still is one of the leaders in pushing for more ped/bike/transit safety and facilities. These jerks just keep trying to give themselves more credit than they deserve by telling everyone how their lies and hate “changed” the behavior at MTA/DPT. Disgusting people. It is truly disgusting to see people support his hate group called Livable City.

    The City would have been much farther ahead than we are now if it weren’t for these disgusting people.