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.

  • Anonymous

    oh go fuck yourself, jerk wad! clouding civility with your brand of bullshit? Seriously fuck off, fucknard

  • Anonymous

    BRT as proposed on Van Ness is a terrible idea. Removing all the greenspace, spending a firtune, and not even getting that much improvement in throughput.

    What we need is undergronding. It is not that expensive – SFCTA/SFMTA projects cost of $1.6 billion per mile to underground the High Speed Rail underneath the downtown infrastructure. A simple parking garage under a street will cost peanuts, comparatively. Reed Construction Data estimates that a commercial underground parking garage the size of Polk street between two cross streets would be around $30 million. SF Planning Dpt regs specify that this size parking garage would hold approximately 60 cars, or an average of $500,000 per spot. The financing cost of $500k at today’s interest rate with 30-year amortization is approximately $800 per month in interest, or $1,800 including principle repayment. Parking on the open market costs $80,000 per spot. However, revenue potential of a single metered parking spot along Polk St could exceed $1,800, or more than offset the cost of building it. So the question merely becomes, do you want to remove all cars from the surface streets?

    As to roads undergrounding, this should be paid for by motorists, by way of toll roads. Make SF roadways toll roads. Charge congestion pricing, too. Use the billions raised to finance better and more stable infrastructure spending such as underground Van Ness auto and BRT traffic, with grass, bike lanes & walking streets above ground.

  • Anonymous

    But you will if the public transit options are safe, reliable and rapid (of which they are none of today) and the walking/biking infrastructure & milieu is inviting, well-travelled, safe, and comprehensive (which it is not) and also that driving costs money, as it should – based on the costs it imposes in terms of land use and other factors. I am a huge fan of the predictability of subways, but not so much their noise, grit, or (sometimes) limited reach. Bus Rapid Transit can use the same dedicated tunnels infrastructure that trains do, thereby eliminating the issues of stoplights, traffic, etc., while also having the capability of extending reach beyond the end of the subtunnel road to stations on surface streets. They are also quieter. They are also much cheaper to run on a per-unit basis, which means you can run them more frequently for the same cost. Would you rather have a single Caltrain every hour that can hold 200 people, or an equally fast bus that runs every 5 minutes and has capacity for 30 people?

  • mikesonn

    How is that a response to my comment? I must be missing something.

  • Anonymous

    Transit-first is a farce until Muni becomes safe, clean, reliable & convenient. It is none of those, and consequently, people with kids perceive the need to drive. (1-year olds cannot ride bikes, and I don’t feel safe enough on SF streets to bring a baby on board). Riding in SF requires too much weaving, hopping, and… praying.

  • Anonymous

    Put the garages underneath streets and there will have been a large net gain in real estate, not the other way around.

  • Anonymous

    Garages could add CCTV surveillance and good lighting and become preferred over street parking. Pricing should be high for garages, and even higher for street parking.

  • Anonymous

    $100,000 equals $350 per month in financing costs, being fully-paid off in 30 years. Parking in the city should cost at least $600 per month, so not only would undergrounding parking be a revenue center for the city, it would free up tons of real estate at surface level for parks, bike lanes, housing, etc.

  • Anonymous

    BRT is the same as subway. just a different vehicle. Underground BRT that surfaces every few blocks would imho be superior to rail subways because it is cheaper to run (and the vehicles more flexible/interchangeable/available for cheap purchase, and how often do you hear of “suicide by Muni”? Suicide by Caltrain happens every week and it totally fcuks up everybody’s commute), while maintaining all the benefits of dedicated rail lines (predictability, reliability, etc.)

  • Anonymous

    One side has study after study showing pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure encourages a mode shift which is intrinsically more likely to seek out local merchants, versus traveling to remote big-box discount options. The other side has “this feeling”….

  • mikesonn

    Hopefully we can end this bizarro-world discussion of “put everything underground”.

    http://www.eltis.org/index.php?ID1=5&id=60&news_id=4201

  • Anonymous

    Sanfordia113 that’s some pretty sad math. $100,000 was a very made up estimate, it could easily be twice, or even 10 times that amount. Interest will also cause that final amount to be much more expensive in the long run. And finally building underground parking assumes that there is going to be interest by drivers to paying $600 a month to park there, when currently most people park in this city for the price of a permit and fight any changes to that status quo, so they’d likely not want to or be able to afford to park for $600 a month. Right now, most large public garages in the city are underutilized as SFpark has been lowering their prices to try and get more people to use them.

    Finally the city has more important things to consider than how to hide cars, such as, how to make cars less necessary and the alternatives more attractive.

  • Anonymous

    $350 is the total amortized cost of financing and paying off the debt to zero over 30 years at urrent interest rates for mortgages. Including interest. The interest on municipal bonds are even lower, so probably would come in around $300. Which means the interest-only portion of the payment is only about $100 per month. Everything else if paying off principle. If the per-spot cost was the high-end estiate of $500k (as has been described elsewhere), that is a maximum of $500 per month in interest and $1,000 per month in principle. terrestrial property in NE SF is worth about $350 per month per parking sport sized parcel of land on the open market. (at current interest rates.) To any parking revenues derived from underground parking, you have to also add in the benefit and/or revenue derived from having either more open space or retail above ground. I would 1 million times rather have more open space than homeless programs.

  • Anonymous

    wow, only $2 billion for 6km, that is $500 million per mile! One-tenth as much as the Big Dig in Boston, one-third what SFCTA has budgeted for Transbay Terminal, and about the same as CalTrans spent on the Devil’s Slide tunnel. If the info you posted is true, then there is even a stronger argument in favor of undergrounding. Thanks for posting!

  • Anonymous

    It’s a fantasy to think that parking will pay for itself, especially when the initial investment is going to be so high and when parking is so cheap (subsidized) in most of the city causing the demand to pay premium prices for parking to be low. The places with the highest land value, in NE SF, already have a lot of underground garages as well as parking structures and a smaller share of on street parking than other parts of the city. Therefore you wouldn’t actually be freeing up much above ground space nor would you likely make any money since parking garages are already money losing ventures for the city. If you did make money on the garages, which I find doubtful, you would only due so by promoting driving on streets which doesn’t solve the problem of too many cars in a dense environment. What’s the point of putting a bunch of holes in the ground to park cars when it does nothing to change the negative affects of cars on the street? I know you suggested tunneling arterials, but even as toll roads those wouldn’t pay for themselves. You’re ideas fit into some weird jetson’s era vision of a utopian city and that’s too bad.

    I think Golden Gate Park is a good example of the problem of putting parking underground. GGP should be car-free, and even with a large underground garage, parking is still permitted on most streets in the park and people use GGP to cut through the city by car. Building more parking didn’t alleviate parking demand because it’s free on the street. Putting parking underground didn’t reduce driving or alleviate any problems caused by cars in a dense environment, it just made driving easier and potentially induced more driving.

    Money is better spent to change our mode share away from driving by making transit, biking, and walking safer and more efficient.

  • Anonymous

    Well that is the problem. The minimum price or parking in paces like outer Sunset should be $1 per hour, or $500 per month for local residents. I NE SF, the rate should be $5-$10 per hour, or $600-$1000 per month for local residents. Street parking should be restricted to hourly-only at $12 per hour. Would also need to prohibit the future construction of any further garages that are at or above grade. No reason to have cars above ground.

  • Anonymous

    To manage demand, you need to address both supply and demand. On the demand side, impose variable cost pricing on driving and parking in the form of user fees. On the supply side, once you build out the Va Ness underground corridor, close down the other streets that are currently used as intra-city freeways by imposing slower speed limits, narrower lanes, and stop signs on all roads that aren’t undergrounded.

  • at current interest rates for mortgages. Including interest. The interest on municipal bonds are even lower,

    That was my assertion when Prop B came up. Turns out SF’s borrowing costs are higher than my residential re-fi. Surprising but true.

    There is also a hidden cost to MUNI bonds – since they are exempt from state and local taxes, the income people earn from MUNIs does not return to the state in the form of income taxes.

  • The problem with building this infinite supply of underground garages in SF is that the dense areas area already riddled with underground utilities, the relocation of which is going to add a lot more cost than digging a tunnel through Devil’s slide. Your comparison should be the Central Subway, much more expensive than any of those projects.

  • Anonymous

    Njudah, you do great work w your blog and advocacy, but you are out of line here. If people start cursing each other, many will stop posting thoughts and the discussions and blog will suffer. Restraint is a public virtue in this situation.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with all these variable cost pricing + underground proposals is that the demand we currently see is a result of the price being artificially low. If you actually instituted variable cost pricing, prices would be fairly low and there would be no shortage, so the idea of embarking on a massive underground construction project would be ridiculous.

    It’s as if I was giving away free burgers day after day, and finding that people were lining up around the block for them. So I decide that the demand for burgers is so strong that I’m going to build a top-notch high-volume kitchen, and I’m going to charge $10 a burger to pay for it. And when I’m done most people say “well I’ll just get a $5 burrito instead,” and my giant shiny new kitchen leaves me bankrupt.

  • Anonymous

    The Transbay Terminal is going to be much more technically difficult to dig and design than Geary, Van Ness, or 19th Ave would be. Downtown SF has 50 floor buildings plus dense underground utilities infrastructure. As does Oslo and New York. They figured it out, and SF has budgeted what I described above for the Transbay Terminal.

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