Ask Mayor Ed Lee what he has to say about Muni, and he’ll talk about how its riders need to be “a lot more civil.” But if you tell him how much you hate worrying about parking tickets — wow, he really feels your pain.
That was the gist of the transportation discussion last week when Mayor Lee joined a live on-air edition of KQED Forum (liveblogged by SFist). The contrast in the mayor’s priorities was clear in his responses to questions about the need for safer streets, better transit, and parking tickets.
Lee mostly stuck to his usual talking points, with a few exceptions. The excitement in the mayor’s voice reached a peak when he attacked the supposed evil that is Sunday parking metering, which he just had the SFMTA board strike down.
The estimated $11 million to be lost from Sunday meters is “hurtful revenue, not helpful revenue,” the mayor said as he expounded upon an issue he clearly cares about:
Why not just have a day where it’s less about the business of the city and more about everybody kind of relating with their families, going out there and enjoying the great things that we have built in the city, and being able to do that without the necessity of looking behind your back and seeing if somebody’s going to stab you with a $75 citation?
Never mind that Sunday meters actually made it easier to find a parking spot while enjoying the city, or that SFpark has substantially reduced the “stabbing” (or at least the cost) incurred by parking citations. In response to Lee, KQED host Michael Krasny quipped, “If you can find a parking spot.”
Lee continues to show that he’s ignoring (or is unaware of) key facts about Sunday meters that undermine his position. For one, he stated that “other jurisdictions haven’t done this,” ignoring the SFMTA’s 2009 study listing Sunday meters in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Miami Beach, Portland, Chicago, Tampa, and even the Port of San Francisco.
Not that he reads SFMTA studies carefully: He still has yet to acknowledge the November report showing that Sunday meters cut in half the time drivers took to find a parking spot during business hours, and improved parking turnover for businesses by 20 percent.
The mayor continues to say removing Sunday metering is “for the larger good” as the city asks voters for transportation revenue on the ballot this November, because it will show “compassion” for drivers constantly assaulted by meter maids:
When I walk through all these different neighborhoods, and I’ve heard people complaining over and over again: You’re asking us, mayor, for $500 million of investment to Muni, and we don’t think that Muni’s doing everything it can. In fact, when we go out, we get dinged! We get dinged, not just at the parking meter, but have you had a citation, mayor? That is $75 just to have a citation for parking a minute or two over the parking meter.
Oddly, the mayor only mentioned what’s arguably the least controversial of the three proposed transportation ballot measures: two $500 million general obligation bonds. He never mentioned the half-cent sales tax or restoring the local vehicle license fee to its 2004 level of 2 percent. That last measure is the only one that specifically asks drivers to pay more.
When it comes to transit riders, Mayor Lee shows none of the same “compassion” for dealing with slow, unreliable service, or even “getting dinged” with Muni fare while enjoying the city on Sundays, for that matter. In fact, he never really acknowledged the dire need to improve Muni, instead talking up the GO bond.
The mayor did, however, have a lot to say when it came to the behavior of people who walk and take Muni.
One caller on the forum complained to Lee that “Muni service has been cut,” though she lumped it in with vague gripes about fellow bus riders. This was a chance for the mayor to reject this snobbish view of transit, and thoughtfully comment about improving the system after decades of neglect. This is where Mayor Lee could show solidarity with Muni riders, just like he feels with people who hate parking tickets. That sentiment would go over well with voters: A recent survey for Bloomberg/Boston Consulting Group [PDF] found that residents ranked transit as the city’s third most important issue, far above 12th-ranked parking or 13th-ranked ease of driving.
His perfunctory response? “I will take that comment very seriously. And if you wouldn’t mind letting me know the routes that you ride, I will see to it that I talk with Ed Reiskin at SFMTA to pay attention to that.”
In other words, Lee cannot relate to your Muni-riding experience in any concrete way.
When Krasny suggested that the mayor ride Muni, Lee said he’d “make a promise that I’ll ride [the caller’s routes] myself, so that I can get the experience you have.” The mayor then turned his comments to the city’s scourge of ill-behaved pedestrians and transit riders:
I do agree with you that this city has got to be a lot more civil in every aspect, whether it’s on the street when you’re walking, or trying to cross the street, or on a major Muni line. Civility has to be — I can’t agree with you more that if we’re going to invite more people to use the public transportation system, we’ve got to get to an acceptable standard, kind of like when you’re riding on BART. I think there’s an instant respect. There are incidences that occur, but I think that people do have to respect each other, and I’m going to make sure that happens.
So there it is: Muni riders need to get their “civility” together and act more like BART’s suburban riders. No mention of such civility from drivers, who have killed eight people this year.
When Madeleine Savit of Folks For Polk called in to rip on the mayor’s “Be Nice, Look Twice” campaign and the lack of action on street safety, Lee did speak to the need to pursue Vision Zero. He touted the city’s WalkFirst plans, although he sounded more uncertain than heartfelt about the necessity of stopping pedestrian injuries (quite unlike NYC’s mayor, Bill de Blasio).
“I think we’re increasing funding” for safety improvements, Lee said, citing the ballot measures and the pedestrian safety improvements that Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit will bring to the deadly corridor.
“I am shocked, I am so saddened by the numbers of pedestrian fatalities that we’ve seen. We’ve got to do better,” Lee said, listing street redesigns, increased enforcement, and education as the necessary measures. “Our streets haven’t been designed properly for the kind of traffic that we’re seeing right now — walkers, bikers, and heavy duty trucks.”