SFMTA’s NE Mission Parking Management Plan Rounding Into Form

Efforts to reduce traffic caused by drivers circling for parking in the northeast Mission took another step forward last week when the SF Municipal Transportation Agency presented its revised proposal for the expansion of parking meters and permit regulations. Opposition seems to have slightly dwindled compared to the first neighborhood meeting in November, though the SFMTA’s presentation was still interrupted by shouts from audience members who seemed to feel that drivers shouldn’t have to pay the going rate for limited street parking.

Drivers hunt for scarce, unregulated parking on Shotwell Street in the northeast Mission. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Under the SFMTA’s new proposal, about half the area’s currently unregulated parking spaces would be metered, with the other half subject to time restrictions for those without residential parking permits, said Jeff Tumlin, an SFMTA consultant with the transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard.

SFMTA planners have been tweaking the mosaic-like map of proposed parking regulations for months, using an unprecedented level of data collection and community input to tailor it to a neighborhood with a mix of residential, retail, and PDR (production, distribution, and repair) buildings that can make it hard for planners to determine where meters and permit restrictions are most appropriate.

But with growing parking demand, it’s become increasingly clear that the status quo of free parking is exerting a high cost in transit delays, noise and air pollution, degraded conditions for walking and biking, and wasted time and fuel. According to the SFMTA, finding a parking spot in the area in the morning hours takes, on average, 27 minutes, or 3.3 miles of driving, with search times running as long as 50 minutes. In the afternoon, the average search time drops to just over 2 minutes. At any given time during business hours, one out of every four blocks reportedly has a double-parked vehicle on it.

“As we all know, the neighborhood is changing, and changing rapidly,” said Tumlin. “As a result, the period of laissez-faire management doesn’t work as well as it once did.”

The proposed meters would start with a rate of 50 cents per hour (a full day of metered parking would cost just $4.50), and all meters could be paid by coin, credit card, phone, or an SFMTA debit card, all in advance of enforcement hours. Meanwhile, any resident within the project area would be eligible for a residential parking permit — a departure from normal rules that only allow residents on RPP-designated blocks to acquire them. The price for a parking permit is $104 per year, or 28 cents per day.

While some attendees did offer some nuanced critiques of the proposal, many of the plan’s staunch opponents seemed to simply dismiss the notion that charging for parking makes spots more readily available. When Tumlin said, “The data is really clear that in the neighborhood as a whole, there is a severe parking availability problem,” a woman in the audience shouted in response, “That’s not going to change.”

See the SFMTA's proposed parking management plan on ##http://www.sfmta.com/cms/phome/NEMission-data.htm##the agency's website##.

Yet the fact that parking prices affect behavior can be seen at work at the metered spots that already exist in the neighborhood. The problem is the current mismatch between the few metered spaces and the vast quantities of free, unrestricted parking. Priced at the city’s conventional rate of $2 per hour — which Tumlin said is “clearly too high”  for the neighborhood — those parking spaces are often left empty as drivers opt to take their chances hunting for one of the free, unrestricted parking spaces throughout the neighborhood which make it a magnet for car storage.

Residents suggested the SFMTA’s outreach efforts, which included mail surveys to every known resident and an extra community meeting in February devoted to collecting public input, were insufficient, and that the agency should have gone door-to-door. Many also seemed to distrustful of the SFMTA’s motives, claiming that they would simply raise meter prices beyond the 50-cent rate in the near future to increase revenue. But Tumlin pointed out that since unused parking meters don’t make the SFMTA any money, the agency has no incentive to charge more than the market rate.

“I know many of you have accused the MTA of only wanting to put in parking meters in order to make more money,” he said, eliciting a roar of agreement. “The right price for parking is the lowest price at which a few spaces are always available. That not only creates convenience for people who need to drive, but it’s also the price that makes the MTA the most money.”

Still, said Tumlin, the SFMTA is looking to address complaints from business owners who claim that free parking is a necessity for employees who drive by analyzing “the legality and the effectiveness” of providing subsidized parking permits for employees at PDR businesses, which don’t rely as heavily on parking turnover for customers as retail merchants do.

Under the proposal, eight hours of metered parking would only cost $4.00 — the same as a round-trip Muni fare. “While 50 cents an hour is a new cost burden for employees, it’s effectively the same cost burden that employees who don’t drive to the neighborhood are currently bearing,” said Tumlin. “So, while we want to be sensitive to the reality of incomes, we also want to be respectful for those who are already not driving and provide transportation services on an equal basis.” To that end, he said the SFMTA is also exploring the creation of a “transportation benefit package” for low-income employees that would provide a choice between discounted parking and transit passes.

In addition, the SFMTA is looking to add loading zones for businesses while inviting them to request new bike corrals. The agency is also looking to create new on-street car-share parking spots to encourage reduced car ownership, and to increase the regular on-street parking supply by converting some parallel parking spaces to angled or perpendicular parking, even though this would only induce more driving. The SFMTA has already begun placing parking restrictions on large vehicles to discourage long-term parking in campers.

Although D9 Supervisor David Campos told the SF Examiner last week that the new meters would hurt PDR businesses, he told attendees at the meeting said that he was pleased to see the SFMTA refine the plan based on public input.

All of the proposals in the plan would be implemented in phases. The first phase, to be implemented once the plan is finalized in May, would include the expansion of an RPP zone across the neighborhood, adding some parking meters where businesses are asking for them and on blocks adjacent to the parking lot set to close this summer at 17th and Folsom Streets, and lowering prices on existing parking meters while upgrading them to accept multiple forms of payment.

Other parking meters would be installed in late fall or winter, and meters in front of PDR businesses would be installed along with the potential business parking permit program later on, but the timeline for that phase is yet to be determined. Residents can comment on the proposal before it goes up for approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors this Summer.

Read more from the meeting at Mission Local.

  • Mario Tanev

    One thing that should be kept in mind is that I have never ever seen such a detailed fine-tuned proposal by any public organization. Not even the TEP has such high level of detail. Yes, in an ideal world SFMTA would have the resources to commission a door-knock survey of every single resident to understand their needs, but in the real world that’s an unreasonable demand.

    At the very least the opponents should not try to dismiss the process because that means that no matter how much work the agency puts in, it doesn’t matter, and it might as well do less work next time.

  • Mario Tanev

    BTW, the argument that Jeff Tumlin made that $2.00 is too high is not without caveats. One of the reasons $2.00 is too high right now is that nearby spaces are currently effectively free. Since some spaces will be converted to RPP, short-term parking supply will be limited to the metered spaces, creating contention and pressure for the price to go up. That’s not a bad thing in my world – if there is demand, it should be paid for.

  • I was too late to jump into the Polk St. discussion, but I’ll make the point here, since it applies: I don’t think it matters how much data the planners can come up with when they present changes to the community- there is an active contingent of people who respond viscerally and are immune to such data.

    Instead, there needs a specific effort, on the part of both planners and supporters of complete streets, to weave narratives into our arguments. At meetings, we need to be vocal and tell specific stories about people and neighborhoods that illustrate our points. We can’t rely on data. Data will only be a supporting player- a necessary one, but not the lead role.

    I hate to say this, but we can learn from McDonald’s here. Two months ago I attended a community meeting here in LA in which McDonald’s was fighting a restriction on new fast food joints in a particular area. They didn’t show up with numbers and job data, though there was some of that. They had 7-8 different people tell stories- the mom of the kid at the Ronald McDonald house, the rags-to-riches stories of a black franchise owner and an immigrant store manager, a “health” expert who lauded the salads on the menu. They came to the meeting prepared to take on the issue from a number of angles, and they spoke in stories.

    We have to do the same. I’m not saying I have all the answers for how these narratives should be constructed, I know the first step is getting people to show up at meetings. But when we do, we need a visceral argument of our own, and we need to put the car-defenders on the defense by telling our stories.

  • Anonymous

    You got that right!

  • Immune to data. That’s a nice way of putting it. (Or maybe impervious would be a better word?)

    At the Polk Street meeting this afternoon, the SFMTA presented that they did a random survey of people of 600 people on Polk Street over two days (one midweek and one Saturday afternoon) and asked how they got there. Over half came by foot. Only 15% came by car. The response at the meeting? “I don’t believe it. I have my own data.” (I actually laughed. It was just so perfect.)

    In a way I admire the sheer, unadulterated obstinacy in the face of all facts. It’s not even cognitive dissonance. There is no inconsistency to their thoughts because they do not let any new ones pass across their synapses. At the root, I believe, is an enormous amount of fear, and not of just loss of parking on Polk Street, but the sense that the city is changing and that their very way of life is ebbing away from them no matter how hard they clutch at it. And it’s true. San Francisco is changing. That’s what this city does, probably better than most cities. Cities that don’t change (don’t adapt in the face of new economic, demographic, and environmental realities) die.

    But this was not everybody! A surprising number were quite reasonable and congenial after the meeting was over. Some really did want to find a compromise that would work for everyone. (Some had obviously received a heck of a lot of inflammatory disinformation.)

    As to narratives, puppies and soft kittens wouldn’t melt some of these hearts. (I shared a “narrative” that for the past 19 years, I haven’t gone to Polk Street because it has a reputation of being seedy and run down. I compared it to Valencia and the renaissance there. I shared that I don’t go to Polk Street now because it is dangerous and unpleasant to bike on, that they won’t see people like me until there are bike lanes. I mentioned all the neighborhoods in the city I do visit and shop in. I was told Polk Street didn’t want me or my money. Tough crowd.) Perhaps if merchants were convinced they would make more money off bicyclists than off their dwindling, aging, car-driving customers, that might sink through.

    NE Mission is a different crowd with different issues, of course.

  • guest

    As much as I want to see these people begging and paying for the improvements on Polk, I must say that SFMTA cannot keep bending backwards slowing down, and watering down projects to appease absolutely everyone. There will always be a naysayer and opponent, but if they have a sound proposal they need to move forward with it. Yes, definitely take constructive criticism and work it in to the proposal and be willing to make changes if things are not working out during implementation, but these people need to understand that they do not live in their own world. Props to progress on NE Mission, but no, SFMTA can not start creating benefit packages for this group or that. What we really need is affordable alternatives that are safe, convenient, and accessible for everyone! (yes, lofty long term goals, but we need to start somewhere, and that’s got to be realizing the real costs of our daily choices.)

  • Very good points. I agree that a single story won’t impact these people- especially if it comes from the type of person they think they don’t need. Hence the need to come at this from many angles, like McDonald’s did, and to think about which ones in particular are most likely to give make these people think twice.

    And in this case, perhaps make a concerted effort to get as many elderly people as possible to come to the meetings.

  • gneiss

    Karyn hits the nail on the head. In 1980 the city population was 678,974, lower than it had been in since the 1940’s. So even though more people owned cars and drove them more, there was still room to store them on many city streets. For people who owned businesses or grew up in the bay area during the 1980’s and 90’s, it must seem inconceivable that driving in the city could be a problem. It was the solution! However, by 2010, our population has risen to 805,235 (825,683 by 2012 an increase of 18% since 1980) and car ownership rates have changed. Instead of having one car per family, many families now might own one per adult, doubling the number of cars we own. We simply don’t have the space to continue to accommodate the desire of everyone one of the new car owners (and all those families that didn’t have cars before) to have a place for it on city streets.

    The city planners know this, but they have yet to find an effective way to get the message out to business owners and other longer term residents that we are not the same place we were 20 years ago. That to maintain the vibrant city life they have come to expect we need to rethink how people get around, like many people who live here or have moved here already have.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that explains things a lot. Has there been a concerted effort by any city agency to present this information (as you just did) to the public? I find it much more immediately persuasive to accepting different SF parking, driving, and transit changes than loftier but more difuse global warming reasons.

  • Anonymous

    Karen, I did some post-meeting listening too (at the earlier meeting on 3/18) and found the same stereotypes, perceptions of old SF, and lack of statistical facts. But my question is different: in the recent 600 person survey, if 15% drove and 50% arrived on foot (walked, I presume), what percentage biked and what percentage took transit? Thanks for any info you have.

  • They flashed up the pie chart with the modes only briefly, and there weren’t even numbers, only wedges on the chart. It was easy to see by foot was over half, transit came in second, and bikes had a smaller wedge than cars. However, the 15% by car is a definite number as they stated that and repeated it. The other modes went something like 50% walk, 25% transit, 10% bike. To get the real numbers you’ll have to contact the SFMTA.

  • Anonymous

    Many thanks!

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