Update (Sept. 11, 7:53 p.m.): The pro-meter petition now has 197 signatures. ENUF’s anti-meter petition has 199.
It’s pretty easy to find people who want to perpetuate the free parking giveaway on SF streets, despite the traffic and street dysfunction that result. But it turns out that it’s also not that hard to find people who think the status quo needs to change. A new online petition launched last Wednesday has amassed 95 signatures in support of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s efforts to expand meters and introduce parking prices that cut traffic and increase turnover for local businesses.
Transit advocate Mario Tanev launched the petition last Wednesday in response to a petition opposed to parking reform launched by Mari Eliza of the Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF) on August 29, one week prior. That petition currently has 165 signatures.
In a draft press release sent to ENUF’s members today, the organization claimed the counter-petition was launched by the SFMTA. Tanev has no affiliation with the agency.
“As residents and taxpayers of San Francisco we believe that the SFMTA’s first and foremost responsibility is to improve Muni, bicycling, and walking and to make them a more desirable means of transportation,” the counter-petition reads. “As part of that, it is SFMTA’s job to decrease congestion and single-occupancy traffic on its streets. It will also benefit drivers by setting market rates on parking, improving turnover, availability, and reducing congestion due to circling for parking.”
The petition, addressed to the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA, calls on the agency to expedite four actions:
1. Installing new parking meters and extending the hours of enforcement
2. Rolling out SFPark
3. Enforcing Sunday parking meters
4. Increasing meter rates, fees, and fines as appropriate to prevent double parking and sidewalk parking
As Streetsblog has written, merchants and residents often come out against expanding parking meters, even though it’s been shown to benefit merchants by increasing turnover and allowing more customers to access businesses.
Under SFPark, the SFMTA’s groundbreaking pilot program, the agency uses sensors and special parking meters to adjust prices throughout the day based on demand, with the goal of leaving one parking spot open on each block. The SFMTA had intended to install new SFPark meters in the Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and northeast Mission neighborhoods, but vocal opposition from residents organized under the ENUF banner led the agency to alter the plan. Instead, the SFMTA is developing plans for an expansion of conventional parking meters in those neighborhoods.
The Northeast Mission Business Association (NEMBA) has been organizing merchant opposition to parking meters in that neighborhood, where a parking lot at 17th and Folsom Streets is set to be turned into a park and a housing project, removing nearly 200 spaces. SFPark planners say demand for parking in the area already far outstrips the supply, and rampant cruising for open spots is generating a significant amount of traffic. Unless parking is priced in response to demand, the problem will only worsen.
Angela Sinicropi, a merchant and vice president of public affairs for NEMBA, told Mission Local recently that she thinks new meters will “put us out of business.”
However, evidence that metered parking benefits retail businesses is only growing. A study in Seattle released in April found that downtown restaurant receipts increased by 5.4 percent after parking meter hours were extended from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Sinicropi did not return a request last week to respond to parking meter supporters. Jim Lazarus, public policy director of the SF Chamber of Commerce, said “we support the SFPark program,” but that “meters must serve the local community and foster turnover, not just revenue for Muni. Same with early evening hours and Sundays.”
Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, who lives in the Mission, said local merchants who support metered parking may not be as visible, and that opposition seems to stem largely from businesses whose employees benefit from free parking in prime spots, as well as automotive businesses who store vehicles on the street for free. Two of the four opposing merchants quoted in the Mission Local story represented automotive or motorcycle repair businesses.
“They would have to pay for something they’re getting for free now,” said Radulovich. “I think for those particular businesses, it’s not good, but other businesses would probably appreciate the turnover.”
Tanev pointed out that even merchants who sell heavy merchandise which may require a car to transport would benefit from parking meters, since “more spaces will be available to those who truly need them, and those who don’t will be [encouraged] to release the space as soon as they no longer need it.”
With the petition, Tanev said he hopes to “point out that [the opponents’] opinion is no more important than the opinion of those who believe parking should not be free.” He said he also hopes it leads to a “more permanent” collaboration of livable streets advocacy organizations “whose core constituencies would benefit from a saner parking policy” but haven’t united on this particularly contentious issue.
“Unfortunately, there is no organization uniting those in favor of a sane parking policy (one that argues for expansion of SFPark and parking meter hours to improve parking availability and reduce congestion, and also gather revenue for improving alternative transportation),” said Tanev.
“I don’t know how effective [ENUF’s] petition campaign will be, but I am concerned that our political system is biased towards the voice of the loudest,” he added. “I don’t want them to be the loudest.”