Thanks to Sup. Farrell, It’s Finally Legal to Store Bikes in Your Garage

In a trailblazing move that advances sustainable transportation policy in San Francisco, Supervisor Mark Farrell successfully changed an outdated and mostly unknown law that prohibited San Franciscans from using their residential garages to store anything besides automobiles.

Sup. Farrell changed a largely unknown law he said he felt “was discriminatory against bicyclists.” Image: SFGovTV

That’s right — until now, an archaic law in the city’s Housing Code required that garages be used solely for car storage. Of course, this law has never been known to have a noticeable impact on storage habits — or known of much at all, for that matter. But Farrell heard from attorney Gary Rabkin, who said a landlord was “giving grief” to a friend about storing her bike in her garage, apparently citing the Housing Code.

“We all know we use our personal garages for much more than just parking our cars, if we even have one,” Farrell said at a recent committee hearing. “I know I have more strollers and bouncy houses than I can seem to care about in my own garage.”

Rabkin “felt it was discriminatory against bicyclists, and didn’t make sense in a city that’s trying to encourage alternative forms of transportation,” Farrell said with a grin. “Obviously, I agreed, and acted by introducing this law.”

The SF Chronicle first reported on Farrell’s endeavor in January, which is part of his larger campaign to “abolish ridiculous laws.” The effort appears driven less by Farrell’s passion to reform transportation policy and re-purpose car space for more efficient uses, and more by a general desire to bring city codes up to date. This forgotten law happened to be brought to his attention.

There are certainly other outdated parking policies, with far greater impact, that Farrell and other leaders at City Hall could get on board with. Take, for instance, the elimination of parking minimums citywide, so that unwanted and unused garages and don’t get built in the first place — freeing up space to house people, instead of bouncy houses. Or take parking metering on Sundays and evenings, which would drastically reduce the amount of time drivers circle around to find a parking spot on the street.

Unfortunately, on the parking meter front, Farrell has instead been at the cutting edge of keeping San Francisco in the mid-20th century.

  • djconnel

    Scofflaw cyclists!

  • Dubocian

    I’m not convinced this is even a semi-win for bicyclists and pedestrians. So many garages in Duboce Triangle are just used as “storage units” for household junk. The owners park their cars on free street spots with S Permits. Instead of Farrell’s code repeal, I like to see the law maintained and enforced *requiring an automobile to be housed in a garage* — or the property’s curb-cut is removed within 3 months. If people can report “cars parked more than 72 hours” for ticketing, they can report garages that don’t house vehicles just the same. We give away public space by allowing curb cuts for these “garages”, but if they don’t house cars, we should be reclaiming the streetscape. Not passing laws giving a pass to taking street space and then just storing old Ikea junk behind the curb cut.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Ah, well… People use garage space for all kinds of things, and in many areas of SF, street parking is not at a premium (Sunset, Richmond). Let’s not treat car owners as class enemies. On the other hand, it would be nice if parking your car across the sidewalk, even in front of your garage cut-out, was ticketed and enforced.

  • davistrain

    One person’s “junk” is another person’s “treasure”. Let’s not be too judgemental about folks who have trouble parting with what George Carlin called “stuff”.

  • djconnel

    If you own a place with a curb cut that’s a considerable financial asset. To preserve that asset, your proposed policy would provide an enormous financial incentive to buy a car. Once the car is purchased, it substantially reduces the marginal cost of driving (both in $ and convenience). So it sounds good from a socialist perspective, but from a pragmatic perspective, the result would be more driving. OTOH, allowing people to store bikes in garages facilitates replacing that car with a bike, which is to everyone’s interest in many ways. The real solution is to charge a reasonable rental rate for street parking. That would incentivize storage of private property on private property, increase the viability of private parking garages, decrease congestion, and allow for more investment in public transit.

  • Chris J.

    Strictly speaking, if you read what the law used to say, it didn’t outlaw garages being used as storage units. It only said that if a garage had a car, then you weren’t allowed to store anything else in it. This is because it defined private garage as, “A building or a portion of a building, not more than 1,000 square feet in area, in which motor vehicles used by the tenants of the building or buildings on the premises are stored or kept.” In other words, if you weren’t storing at least one car in it, it wasn’t considered a garage.

  • 94103er

    [I]n many areas of SF, street parking is not at a premium (Sunset, Richmond)

    Are you kidding? Have you tried to go out to eat in these neighborhoods, like, ever?

  • Dubocian

    At first blush you might think someone would buy a car to maintain a curb cut, but that’s not taking this ‘economic actor’ approach logically (or seriously). Vehicles are high cost and a deprecating asset. Acquiring one to offset the decrease of property value from losing your curb cut doesn’t make as much sense (from a “maximize my assets” perspective) as simply renting the garage out and having someone else *pay you* to maintain your curb cut’s value. Transparent, well-structured, and enforced laws that align private behavior and public costs are what good capitalist economies are built upon.

    But this is SF… where existing laws (like this one) are more like we find in socialist countries. Under the guise of “fairness to all”, we allow vehicle ramp cuts that incur cost the public economy — street space has economic value; deaths and injuries from the inability of local municipalities to adequately build safe, multimodal transit-ways because private individuals control street parking (and won’t give it up even if they don’t use it), etc — this misalignment of laws just benefits a very select cadre. And the opacity and non-enforcement of the law fosters misuse. It also hides the true cost of the policies. Just like Commissars who owned dachas despite there being “no private property” laws. Or state paychecks in Greece to workers who didn’t actually work… Sure, those private individuals who privately gain from the opacity and misalignment of laws to public policy get testy when you challenge them (much as DJConnel does here, with this concoction about someone buying a car to save their curb cut).

    But such whining from the ‘Party elites’ who dread the loss of their economically wasteful personal use of public property doesn’t mean SF should continue this kind of Eastern Bloc-style policy in our laws around garages and vehicle curb cuts.

  • If I had a garage, I’d keep my teardrop trailer in it. Taking away my (imaginary) curb cut would make it less convenient to hitch up.

  • Diamond heights

    Does anyone have a link to the new full language so I can read it firsthand? I checked the city site and it appears to trail a few weeks. Thank you in advance.

  • Erica_JS

    The only way that would make sense is if the house would never be sold.