Small Business Commissioner: San Francisco Needs More Parking Garages

As has become painfully apparent on Polk Street, there is a deeply-held belief among certain merchants that car parking is indispensable to their business — even if studies indicate that very few of their customers drive, and that removing parking spaces to implement safety improvements could actually draw more potential customers.

SF Small Business commissioner and former president Luke O'Brien. Image: SFGovTV

So it’s no surprise that when SFMTA officials came to the SF Small Business Commission to discuss its goals to make streets safer and manage parking demand, preserving parking spaces was pretty much the only priority voiced by commissioners.

But Luke O’Brien, the commission’s former president, topped everyone else — he wants to build more parking garages in San Francisco.

O’Brien told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin that city policies like “transit-first,” which limit the number of new parking spaces in favor of encouraging walking, biking, and transit, “give rise to this feeling that a way of life is being imposed” upon those who would like to drive.

O’Brien didn’t suggest which productive real estate in built-out San Francisco might be sacrificed to construct new parking garages, which come at an average cost of $19,253 per parking space [PDF].

As Reiskin explained, rather than inducing more traffic by building more parking, the SFMTA is instead striving to manage demand for the existing parking supply using pricing strategies under SFPark. As part of that program, the SFMTA is lowering prices on city-owned garages, which have gone severely under-used, to help make them more attractive to drivers than street parking.

“I think our main focus is on being smarter about how we manage parking, rather than increasing the supply,” said Reiskin. “The streets are not getting wider, so for us to build more parking, that would enable more people to drive, which would ultimately have the impact of clogging the streets.”

As the Bay Guardian reported last year, two other commissioners have said O’Brien, a developer appointed to the commission by former Mayor Gavin Newsom, “has been especially aggressive in pushing his ideological agenda.”

O’Brien seemed perfectly fine with the fact that more parking would put more cars on the streets. “I’ve gotta agree with you, if you build more capacity, people generally use it,” he said.