Aiming to Win Over Critics, SFMTA Spells Out Its Parking Policies on Paper

On Shotwell Street near 17th Street, three drivers apparently cruising for parking stopped at the sign of an opening parking spot (left). (The driver of the red car, seen through the silver car's windows, won.) This is one area where parking meters would be installed under an SFMTA plan to free up parking spaces. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s embattled efforts to put a rational price on the city’s car parking supply by expanding parking meters have led the agency to develop a document [PDF] that, for the first time, lays out its parking policies in one place. SFMTA officials, who presented a draft to the SFMTA Board’s Policy and Governance Committee today, say the document is intended to clarify the agency’s goals and make its parking management decisions more transparent.

As Streetsblog has written, when parking is free or underpriced, spaces fill up, and drivers cruise around for a spot. That means more pollution, traffic congestion, gas consumption, wear on the roads, slower transit, more danger for people walking and biking, and fewer driving customers able to park near businesses.

The SFMTA’s plans to install parking meters in the Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and northeast Mission neighborhoods ran into heavy opposition in January from the Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF), which was formed in opposition to the parking plan. Among the group’s wide-ranging complaints, it says the SFMTA performed poor outreach, and that some of the proposed locations for meters aren’t appropriate. The SFMTA delayed its metering plans to do more analysis and outreach and plans to hold community meetings later this year.

But whether ENUF’s members just don’t want to pay for parking (which they deny), or the group’s complaints are legitimate, one thing is clear: many members say they distrust the SFMTA when the agency says its goal is to properly manage its parking supply. Rather, it seems to many car-owning members, the SFMTA is simply after their money (even if the cost of free parking is externalized to the general public, and the meter expansion plans are supported by advocates like Livable City who don’t receive revenue from them). Mari Eliza, an organizer with ENUF, told the SF Chronicle this week that “people are really ready to fight back” against parking meter expansions. “The city is just going too far,” she said.

“Meters are appearing all over San Francisco,” ENUF’s website says. “Next, the meters will be on your street in front of your home.”

In response to the insistent opposition to SFPark, the SFMTA’s promising pilot program to test out demand-responsive meters which accept credit cards (and can even have lower rates than conventional meters), the agency removed SFPark from the meter expansion in those neighborhoods. By adjusting prices according to demand, SFPark’s goal is to generally keep one space open on every block. Instead, the SFMTA is developing a plan which will only include conventional parking meters.

While the new document doesn’t actually change any policies or practices, SFPark manager Jay Primus called it “a really positive step forward.”

“This mundane document, like the parking census, is actually very exciting,” said Primus. “This helps the MTA communicate how, where, and why it uses different parking management strategies, it increases the transparency of its parking management decisions, and it explains how those decisions are consistent with the MTA’s goals.”

How many of these drivers in Potrero Hill are circling for parking?

To create the “effective, efficient, and safe transportation system” called for in the City Charter, the document says the SFMTA’s policy is to manage parking in pursuit of four goals:

  • Improve safety for all road users. Reduce circling and double-parking, lessening hazards for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers presented by distracted drivers looking for parking.
  • Improve Muni’s speed and reliability. Reduce circling and double-parking, helping Muni and other transit operators operate more reliably and safely, especially on busy commercial corridors.
  • Improve neighborhood quality of life. Manage parking to improve access, reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance quality of life in San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods.
  • Increase economic vitality and competitiveness. Improve access to commercial areas whether by car, foot, bicycle, or transit. This facilitates deliveries, commerce, and overall economic activity for San Francisco’s businesses.

The document also lists a number of principles which it follows in managing parking. Here are a few (check out pg. 4 of the document [PDF] for more):

  • Limited right of way should be well-used. Maintaining a minimum level of parking availability is critical for  delivering the SFMTA’s goals for parking and transportation and is a core measure of parking management success. When a minimum level of availability is achieved, it is easier to find a parking space, drivers double park and circle less, access to businesses, and public safety are improved, as is transit performance.
  • Maintaining a minimum level of availability creates a desirable level of turnover. Parking turnover is a consequence of maintaining parking availability. On blocks with low parking demand, availability can be maintained with little turnover. Conversely, blocks with high parking demand require more turnover in order to maintain a minimum level of availability. Thus, the desirable amount of turnover can vary block to block and will result from achieving a minimum level of parking availability.
  • Parking policies are designed to encourage travel by public transit and sustainable modes of transportation. The SFMTA manages parking to prioritize public transit, walking, bicycling, and the needs of paratransit and commercial deliveries. City policy notes that “parking policies for areas well served by public transit shall be designed to encourage travel by public transit and alternative transportation” and that “decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety.”

The document lays out a range of guidelines for where to use meters, residential parking permits (RPPs), time limits, and color curb regulations. Lauren Mattern, manager of the SFMTA’s eastern neighborhood parking management plans, said the document would set clear policies for which of those to use on blocks with mixed-use buildings like “live-work” lofts, where the differentiation between residence and businesses can be a grey area — one of the major issues of contention with ENUF.

Whether the document will help appease ENUF is unclear. In discussions with Streetsblog in April, Tony Kelly of the Potrero Hill Boosters Association insisted that he and members of ENUF agree with the need for parking management, but take issue with adding meters to some mixed-use blocks where they didn’t think the demand was high enough. However, ENUF spokesperson John Lum said he didn’t see how meters increase turnover, and that “making one neighborhood more expensive to park in for the people who live and work here, for no added benefit, is tacitly unfair.” (Lum also opposed bike lanes on 17th Street that removed some parking spaces.)

17th Street next to the Jackson playground.

ENUF’s website says it is conducting its own survey of parking demand in the neighborhood which it expects “will result in a more tailored parking plan that meets the real needs of our neighborhoods rather than the one-size-fits-all plan to blanket the areas with parking meters.”

On ENUF’s email list, members discussing the document questioned the SFMTA’s motives. “The usual MO of MTA has been to print appeasing public policy, and then to aggressively do whatever they want to do without listening to anybody else,” one member wrote.

Some also seemed to think the document would change the RPP program, which gives permit-holding residents priority for free curbside parking by imposing time limits (the document only describes the system that’s been in place for decades). Although ENUF has called for the creation of RPP zones in place of meters (they’re initiated by petition), Primus said the program has been ineffective in creating parking turnover and encouraging residents to use other transport modes. Enforcing RPP is also a drain on the SFMTA’s parking enforcement staff, who must make multiple rounds and mark tires with chalk to gauge how long a car is parked. SFMTA staff said it is reviewing the RPP program and may add changes to it in the policy document next year, along with more specific policies on the use of time limits.

Primus said the document was emailed to distribution lists this week, has been presented to the SFMTA Citizens Advisory Committee, and is still under review by city agencies before it’s set to go up for approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors on September 18.

A driver parked on the sidewalk on Shotwell.
  • Joel

    Just so you know, the second photo is not in Dogpatch.

  • Mario Tanev

    This is a step in the right direction. It starts with what the objectives are and shows that strategies employed are to further the objectives. Communication, clarity and transparency is very important in reaching the right decisions internally and in explaining them externally. Government entities typically have a really hard time doing that, so it’s commendable that SFMTA is trying.

  • Ah yes, Potrero Hill. My bad – fixed.

  • Bfd853

    SFMTA is anti-family!  Their draconian measures penalize families who have to drive around children and elderly parents by making it harder to drive and park. This “strategy” is nothing more than a way for them to increase *revenue* to pay for its excess programs. The City gets over $50M from parking meters and another $87M in fines – YET IT IS NOT ENOUGH!!!!  I, for one, will fight these efforts to penalize hard working families and will not vote for what is basically a tax/fee/increase against families. Good Luck!!

  • Guestamos


  • Sprague

    It looks like you did not read or comprehend the article.  The stated goals of improving safety, encouraging travel by public transit and other sustainable modes of transportation, improving neighborhood quality of life, increasing economic vitality, and improving Muni are clearly pro-family.  San Francisco is a difficult environment to raise children in.  Less automobile congestion (including less circling for parking spaces) will make it safer for my kids and yours to cross the street or ride their bikes.  It’ll also help to speed up Muni, helping our kids get to school and to after school appointments on-time and allowing their moms and dads to spend more time at home and less time stuck on the bus.  Less automobile congestion will help us collectively lower our carbon footprint – something that is in the interest of all families with children.  It’s a red herring to claim that this is anti-family.  The vast majoritiy of cars on our streets are serving single occupants/owners.  Our lungs and occasionally our limbs have long been penalized by SFMTA’s neglect of transit and other sustainable modes of travel.  Finally the tide is beginning to turn and all families stand to benefit.

  • The last time I drove from the east bay to the Haight, it took longer to find parking than it did to drive the entire way! All because parking is free in my neighborhood, so there are never any spots. Enuf is enuf!! Free parking is a nightmare for regular folks with families who have better things to do than circle the block endlessly!!

  • There is nothing–*nothing*–more anti-children than gobbling up all the fossil fuel resources in the world, combusting them as fast as we can, and then spewing out carbon into the atmosphere. The result is the destabilization of our planet so that it cannot provide enough food and fresh water for future generations and the rapid extinction of half of all species that currently co-exist with our own. There is no good luck about this. It is short-sighted and cruel.

    We need to use the energy we have more efficiently. People driving around in 3-5000lb vehicles is an extremely inefficient use of energy. People living far away from jobs, goods and service is also energetically inefficient. While it doesn’t need to become Manhattan, San Francisco will become more dense to accommodate more people living energy-efficient lifestyles. In a dense, urban environment, cars are an extremely poor form of transportation first and foremost because they hog such a disproportionate amount of public space that could be devoted to other purposes.

    Car owners have grown so used to having their vehicle subsidized by non-car owners in the form of free vehicle storage and free roads (paid for from general taxes) that they are indignant when this subsidy is even questioned. Car owners don’t pay for the damage their cars cause the climate and other aspects of our environment, they don’t pay for the damage their cars inflict on other people’s health, they don’t pay for the general unpleasantness in terms of noise, smells and congestion their car use inflicts on everyone. Of course driving a car is convenient–other people are paying for 2/3rds the cost!

    Owning a car in a dense city should not be cheap, it should not be the preferred method of getting around. For distances under two miles, it should always be more pleasant and convenient to walk or bike than drive. In order to create a dense, energy-efficient, pleasant city to live in, SFMTA’s plan is rather paltry and does not go nearly far enough. Fewer streets should be through streets for cars; cars should be discouraged from
    cutting through residential neighborhoods. Sidewalks in crowded shopping
    districts should be widened. Businesses that provide off-street parking should be
    taxed per parking stall for inducing congestion. Car storage on public streets should be reduced by at least a third and the resulting space turned back into public space either in the form of protected bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, parklets or public plazas. Both parking meters rates and residential parking permits should be raised so that depending on the density of the neighborhood, anyone who parks their car routinely on the street would pay between $300 and $1000 a year. Parking meter hours in commercial areas should be extended to at least 8pm and on Sundays, and meters should be placed on JFK in GG Park. (I am also fine with taxing curb cuts so that people with garages share in this.) The money raised should be devoted entirely to Muni, road repair, and the costs associated with putting in bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, parklets and public plazas. The result? A city where human beings are more important than the cars that some of them ride around in. A city that is healthier, wealthier, less polluted, and vastly more livable for the average person. A city where people feel more connected to each other and their physical surroundings. A city that will thrive in the lower carbon, declining fossil fuel future necessarily ahead of us.

    I’ve raised three children in this city. (In my opinion it’s a fabulous place to raise culturally-aware, intellectually curious kids who are lively, street smart, and can not only cope with but embrace the variation and diversity in what it means to be human on this planet.) I used to drive a ridiculous amount. I’ve reorganized my life to drive a great deal less, biking if I am going anywhere by myself or with just my husband, forming carpools, shopping locally, choosing doctors and dentists and other service providers close to my home. Several years ago we were able to drop from two cars to one, saving us lots of dollars. I invested in an electric bike to cart heavy/bulky things like groceries and preteens. Once my children hit Muni-riding age, things got much easier. (Urban parents–this is when you get the pay out for raising kids in the city!) It would be even easier if our streets were safe enough for children to bicycle everywhere by themselves after age 8 (like they do in the Netherlands), but this would take allocating more space from car congestion and car storage to create safe bicycle infrastructure.

    We need to design our lives around very limited car ownership and car use, even for families with children and/or elderly parents. Our young children need to attend schools and daycares within walking or biking distance. Our older children need to bike or take Muni.  Our seniors need to be able to walk without fear of being hit by cars as they cross the street. We need to no longer give sixteen year olds their own car; we need to no longer drive three blocks to the grocery store. We need to choose doctors and dentists whose offices are a short transit-ride away. We think we “have” to drive in the US because we’ve designed our lives that way. But other cities in other countries have weaned their populations off cars, and we can, too. Ultimately our children will be less concerned about free car storage (or even car ownership) than they will about clean water, clean air and a planet that can sustain life.

  • The voters are fed up with the SFMTA’s draconian measures and hope the supervisors who expect to be re-elected will pay attention to their needs. 

  • Abe

    Karen Lynn Allen for President!!

  • Abe

    Yeah! I vote and I want my needs met!

    Needs like faster better Muni, walkable neighborhoods and less-dangerous streets and intersections. Less noise/air pollution would be great too.

    One think I don’t need is more cars in this city or more space devoted to their storage. The intersection of Mission and South Van Ness is not what I want this city to be.

    It’s time for motorists to finally pay their share.

  • Sprague

    Draconian means exceedingly harsh or very severe.  Many things in our society may be characterized as draconian, but increasing the public parking spaces that are subject to user fees is neither exceedingly harsh or severe.  Our collective mistreatment of our planet may be draconian.  We are lucky to have some public officials who choose to think globally and act locally.

  • Nothanks

    Putting parking meters near the Caltrain station only has the effect of less people taking Caltrain.  That mean cars back on the road, pushing SF’s problem to the Peninsula, increases air pollution, decreases their revenue and discouraging public transit.  It’s all for the $$ folks, don’t fool yourself.

  • Sprague

    Caltrain’s ridership has risen to a record high since the installation of meters near 4th and King.

  • realitybites

    The photo captions in this article belie the strong bias of this blog. Shame on you.

    Mariposa and Mississippi – there’s a steady flow of cars here as they exit from 280. Circling for parking? Really.

    Shotwell – three cars standing. They’re cruising for a parking spot? On what information is this claim based. Did you interview the drivers?

    Shotwell – car parked on sidewalk. How is this even relevant to the issue? Sidewalk parking is permitted in many part of NE Mission. Or perhaps SFMTA needs to do a better job of enforcing existing parking rules?

  • If parking is priced at 25c an hour, I predict every parking spot near 22nd will still be full

  • JOE

    Did you know an interesting parking law on the books in SF? If you are in a 2hr parking zone, and you MOVE YOUR CAR before the two hours are up, BUT….BUT….you don’t move it to another block, and merely move it to a new space on the SAME block, you WILL get a ticket—a car not moved to another block is considered to have been “stationary”  Yeah, it’s really true. I looked it up after I got  a ticket for doing that. How cruel and inhumane is THAT? 

  • Gneiss

    Sidewalk parking is illegal in all parts of the city.  However, violations must be reported before SFMTA will come out and investigate.   In many neighborhoods, there is a bias against calling and reporting this infraction as many people don’t see anything wrong with blocking sidewalks, and pedestrians don’t typically have the time to call in every single time they see someone doing it.  So the end result is people block sidewalks until they get caught and then rail at the ‘inhumanity’ of it all.

  • I thought about pointing out the Mariposa/Mississippi location is unlikely to be traffic circling looking for parking, it’s more likely to be traffic tearing away from the freeway.  Though it does appear to be during sunset, so it’s not the usual commute traffic that fills that part of town.  But then I took a deep breath and realized that it was probably being used for illustrative purposes such as generic traffic stack images.
    I’m guessing the other photographs are likewise trying to be illustrative to a larger story rather than a factual report of a few anecdotes.
    I think we can agree that going out with a camera to document all the items here would be relatively easy.

  • Note: almost NONE of the parking spots near 4th&King Caltrain are “SFPark” variable rate parking spots, they’re fixed rate at $1/hour from 9am to 6pm.

    They’re now empty of most of the habitation vehicles and jitney buses that used to plague the neighborhood.  But don’t worry, they’re all still around, they just had to move ~1 block away.

    So you can still exchange sexual favors for drugs or sell a stolen bike or strip insulation from copper wire and leave the mess behind, but you’ve gotta go a bit more south east. 

    And now people don’t have to park so far away to use the many businesses in that area.

  • Kevin

    ENUF totally wreaks of opportunism, hijacking the cause for working class people by yuppies and others moving for the tech boom. If you’re so “concerned” for working families, how come I don’t see you defending foreclosed homes? Why don’t I see you advocating for free muni for working class youth? How about sheltering the homeless? More Section 8 housing?

    Until I see you doing any one of these things, I have a hard time believing you are actually advocating for working families, instead of a parking space to park your Audi/BMW/Benz etc. At least be honest, jeez.

  • mikesonn

    101 is still a bumper-to-bumper crawl. I think Nothanks brings up a great point, 101 needs to be a toll road.

  • mikesonn

    Sidewalk parking has everything to do with parking availability. No spots available, park on sidewalk. See also: double parking, parking in crosswalk/bus stops/bike lanes, etc.

    Also, as @002ec2dcc5273303fbfd34e45385ab64:disqus said below, sidewalk parking is NEVER legal.

  • Abe

    … not very?

  • Chris

    While I support better parking policies, if part of the goal is to increase use of public transit, then the MTA should really be rolling out service increases along with increased parking regulation. Yes, cutting down on double parking and cruising for a spot will (theoretically) speedup service, but that doesn’t seem quite enough of a trade-off. 

  • mikesonn

    That’s a HUGE trade off! Running routes faster is an increase in service. Also, it will make transit a much more appealing. There has to be some stick before the carrot, there just enough enough ROW space.

  • Chuck

    Would be nice if they committed to reforming Muni before instituting a transit first policy.

  • Chuck

    Also, sucks that the current policy generates 80% of revenue from tickets. A good system would focus on generating more revenue from compliance instead or punitive fines. Why not raise neighborhood parking permit costs, get ride of meter time limits, and offer daily neighborhood parking passes online to put on your dashboard?

    Also, Muni is a shambles – they should get private contractors to run the railway, and probably the bus too. System is way disfunctional.

  • mikesonn

    -RPP costs are fixed per state law to only recouping admin costs.

    -New SFPark meters will do away with meter time limits (or at least lengthen them significantly)

    -“daily neighborhood parking passes” would allow commuters to park in residential neighborhoods, this goes against the whole point of RPP, no?

    And, again, there needs to be some “stick” before the “carrot” of improved Muni. To continue to push off parking reform because Muni has to be at a certain level of performance is pretty much pushing off parking reform forever.

  • J282sf

    We are the Transit Riders Union have been working for increased service at Muni for a while. Come and help us out. We have a great calendar on our site of our next meeting.

  • J282sf

    I have a family and not owning a car and riding Muni is the only way I can live in the city.

  •  Exiting from 280 in order to park in Potrero Hill so they can park for free instead of paying to park in the Giants lots…

  • I don’t drive often, but when I do, it’s a relief to quickly find a parking spot. Street parking should be priced according to demand. I don’t mind paying for it when I need to drive. Otherwise, it’s the bus, my bike, or a good walk. We can’s just have free and plentiful parking because we want it.

  • Andy Chow

    The neighborhood pass is supposed to be for those who at the clients’ home (like baby sitters).

    As the stick and carrot, the problem with Muni is that it is a budget black hole (it can suck every dollar available but not much visible improvements in return). I can understand why some groups don’t want to make more parking as a revenue source for Muni without something visible in return.

  • mikesonn

    “The neighborhood pass is supposed to be for those who at the clients’ home (like baby sitters).”


  • Andy Chow

     Re: Karen Lynn Allen

    I don’t agree that non-drivers are subsidizing drivers. Even though a lot of transportation expenditures are coming out of taxes that aren’t collected based on transportation usage, people who drive also pay most of that taxes as well. Sales tax from automobile and fuel sales made up a significant amount of sales tax revenue that funds transit. It is kind of like collecting cigarette taxes for breast cancer treatments. Smoking is bad, but if for some reason it is completely eliminated, there it goes a revenue source to treat something that is not directly resulting from smoking.

    The difficulty in further reducing automobile dependence is zoning/density restrictions. Residents in general are fearful of higher density, whether it is because of traffic, or impacts on housing prices.

  • mikesonn

    *face palm*

  •  Wrong, Andy.

    Even if drivers pay 100 times what non-drivers pay, drivers incur 10,000 times the cost. If I don’t drive, what value am I getting from the Bay Bridge or US-101, which I am not allowed to use? Don’t try to pull the stunt that my deliveries come on those arteries stunt – drivers deliveries come on those arteries too.

    You say people who drive pay the most taxes? Do you care to back that up with facts? You sound like my cousin in downstate Illinois who claims that Chicago is nothing but welfare queens and thus downstate Illinois subsidizes Chicago. The fact remains that the job center of the Bay Area is San Francisco, the jobs in San Francisco are the highest paying jobs, the housing in San Francisco is the most expensive, and most of the people living and working in SF do not drive to work, and most of the people coming into SF to work take BART.

    Residents in general are fearful of higher density? Would you care to explain why real estate prices in San Francisco, the second densest city in the nation, are skyrocketing, and exurbs like Antioch which are very sparse are the center of the foreclosure crisis?

    I hate taking an increasingly hostile tone towards your posts but you continue to make up your own theories grounded in no facts.

  •  For example Andy –

    “Sales tax from automobile and fuel sales made up a significant amount of sales tax revenue that funds transit.”

    No – don’t give me “significant”. If you are going to make a claim, look it up and give us a number.

  • @014d815e337305dccb0b861fe6cdb3e3:disqus your posts are one big fat:

    [citation needed]

  • Andy Chow

    Muni, BART, and many other transit, are subsidized, in which sales tax is a significant source of the subsidy. If you don’t own an automobile, you will not be paying $100+ (used car) to $1000+ (new car) in sales taxes for a single transaction. Prices of bicycles are a fraction of automobiles and so is the sales taxes generated from it. Muni also benefits from parking revenue and citations which are not collected from non-auto owners.

    As for the high housing prices in San Francisco, land use/density restriction is certainly a factor. It is not as if some homeowner in the city can easily rebuilt his single family home into an apartment to cash in. It is actually not any more easier to do it in the suburbs too, but at least in Antioch you can build on empty lands.

    Your criticism that some of your tax money going into roads is no different than criticisms from others of their tax money going into transit or bike/ped projects. Roads were and are publicly funded because it promotes economic growth by preventing a single entity from over-profiting (If you know California history, the progressive movement was created out of the resentment of monopolies, particularly the railroads, which they essentially had the control of economic growth because they own the transportation infrastructure. The highways were seen as the “public option”. Muni were created for the same reason, to compete with private streetcar companies.). Transit projects provide economic benefits and also provide an alternative to automobiles.

    I support a shift of spending priorities to promote transit and non-auto transportation, but don’t kid ourselves that people who don’t own cars (a minority) are somehow subsidizing those who do. It doesn’t mean that people who own cars never takes transit or bike, or would support a shift in spending priorities.

  • mikesonn

    Arguing that automobile sales are a large portion of total sales tax revenue? Really?

    “Your criticism that some of your tax money going into roads is no different than criticisms from others of their tax money going into transit or bike/ped projects.”

    You are aware that there is a huge disparity between money spent on roads vs money spent on bike/ped/transit projects, right??

    “that people who don’t own cars (a minority)”

    They are not the minority in SF.

    Again, one big [citation needed] rant.

  •  @014d815e337305dccb0b861fe6cdb3e3:disqus  I realize that drivers really, truly believe they pay for the roads through gas tax, auto registrations, auto sales tax and various tolls. But they really, truly don’t! Not even close! You might like to read this report:  Whose Roads? ( )

    Some highlights:
    –In 2008, vehicle user fees covered roughly one half of the money spent nationwide on roads. Because road construction and repair costs have increased while gas taxes have remained flat, this percentage continues to shrink.
    –Nationwide, more than 90% of local roads (like the ones San Franciscans drive on) are paid for out of general taxes. (If you remember, we just passed a $248 million dollar road repair bond last November. Everyone pays this, not just drivers!)
    –Drivers are subsidized far, far more heavily for their external costs than bicyclists or pedestrians. (I’ve reproduced a chart from the above report below. I apologize in advance if the formatting comes out poorly.  Remember, these numbers are already understated due to being three years old. Also they don’t include increased health care costs due driving-incurred obesity and diabetes. There are multiple studies that show time spent in the car correlates to weight gain and diabetes. Obesity and diabetes are the leading causes of skyrocketing health care costs that we all end up paying for.)

    External Costs (Cents per Mile) (Litman 2009)

    Cost                                     Automobile       Bicycle        Walk
    Roadways subsidies               3.3 cents      .3 cents     0.0 cents
    Parking subsidies                     10 cents      .2 cents     0.0 cents
    Traffic congestion                       4 cents      .2 cents     0.0 cents
    Crash risk imposed on others    8 cents       .2 cents    0.2 cents
    Environmental costs                  4 cents      0.0 cents    0.0 cents
    Totals                                      29.3 cents      .9 cents     .2 cents

    So you can see *per mile* those who don’t drive are wildly subsidizing those who do. Even if you drive a lot, you are better off if everyone else walks and bicycles! 

    Now, I understand you may feel you are already paying a lot for your car use, (and, indeed, operating a car is expensive!) but actually you are not paying nearly enough. If drivers had to pay the true cost of their driving (and also the true cost of any extra health care they receive due to their sedentary lifestyle) we would see car ownership and vehicle miles traveled in this country plummet.

  • mikesonn

    @KarenLynnAllen:disqus Thank you. I think this again brings up the point that Streetsblog should have a link section on the sidebar for when [citation needed] comments pop up.

  • Andy Chow

    Go do some Google Search and you’ll find that new car dealerships are one of the top sales tax generators, along with big box stores.

    They don’t make up the majority, but is significant enough that if those revenue were to suddenly go away (like move to another town), the cities would have to cut services to close the budget gap.

    Regarding that “huge disparity”, I don’t know if that’s true in the Bay Area and San Francisco specifically. Locally, 65% of SF’s Prop K is dedicated to transit, with an additional 8.6% for paratransit (which most people aren’t qualify but required under ADA). Only 24.6% to local roads which includes bike/ped.

    Portions vary on other transportation sales taxes in other counties. Even so, a 1/4 cent sales tax is collected all over California and is specifically for transit in urban counties.

    In Los Angeles, only 35% of the 2008 Measure R is for highways and local roads (including bike/ped), with the rest for transit. 20% is specifically for bus operations.

    Nearly 70% of the household own a car if not more in San Francisco. So no, I don’t think the 30% is contributing more sales taxes than the 70% so much so that the sales taxes from the 30% is subsidizing the less than 24.6% that would be spend on directly to benefit auto drivers. In fact, the opposite is true because auto drivers recognize and have faith that more transit would at least provide them with an competitive alternative (like Caltrain and BART) and would free up road spaces for those who have to drive.

  • Andy Chow

    [citation needed] for “Even if drivers pay 100 times what non-drivers pay, drivers incur 10,000
    times the cost.”

  • Andy Chow

     re: Karen Lynn Allen

    I know that a lot of the road costs aren’t coming from user fees. That’s why I wrote: “Even though a lot of transportation expenditures are coming out of taxes that aren’t collected based on transportation usage.”

    Sales taxes and general taxes are paid by drivers and non-drivers alike. But a portion of those taxes also funds non-auto transportation (you have to combine federal, state and local funding). It is not as if some taxes were specifically collected from non-drivers just to fund roads.

  • @014d815e337305dccb0b861fe6cdb3e3:disqus yes while it is true non-drivers are not targeted with a special tax to help build auto-first infrastructure, the larger point is that the tax dollars that are collected from me are not spent proportionally with respect to the modes of transportation I use.

    If they were, 5% of the taxes I paid would go to paving new roads, 10% would go towards transit upkeep, and the remaining 85% would go towards new bike lanes and pedestrian improvements. 

    Instead, a meager 1.5% of the federal transportation budget is spent on enhancements targeting bicycle and pedestrian traffic[1].


  • mikesonn

    The frustrating thing about this is that we have to have the same conversation every 3 months. “Drivers pay for the roads” isn’t true and it has been proven again and again on Streetsblog in articles, columns, and comments many times over. And Andy has been around long enough to have seen a vast majority of these sources. But since he decides to again just toss out random feelings about the state of things, we are forced again to dig up old discussions and links to once again combat the false narrative that is holding back progress in not just this city but the entire country.

    It’s all been hashed out and I’d rather we move past it and have an actual discussion based in reality.

  •  Andy – I was being charitable.

    Drivers incur 100% of the cost of US 101 from Gilroy to San Francisco. 100%
    Drivers incur 100% of the cost of the Bay Bridge. OK, they threw on a bike path onto the new span, which is pretty much useless since you have to turn around at TI.

    Drivers kill 41,000 people per year. Cyclists and pedestrians kill maybe 10. Not a citation? Look it up, it’s true. The dollar cost of that is high, and drivers cause 4000x the cost.

    Road wear and tear? The wear and tear of a motor vehicle on the roads is 9600 times the wear and tear caused by a cyclist. Source –

    Bike rack costs a couple hundred dollars per rack to park two bikes and can be placed on the sidewalk without accruing additional real estate. The cost of a new parking spot in a place like SF is tens of thousands of dollars.