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San Francisco: Reclaiming Streets With Innovative Solutions

Tom Radulovich, the executive director of the local non-profit Livable City, describes the recent livable streets achievements in San Francisco as “tactical urbanism” — using low-cost materials like paint and bollards to reclaim street space.

That willingness to experiment was a big reason that the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) gave its 2012 Sustainable Transport Award to San Francisco (an honor shared with Medellín, Colombia). In this Streetfilm we profile the innovations that earned SF recognition from ITDP.

Perhaps the city’s most exciting new development has been the parklet program, which converts parking spaces into public space complete with tables, chairs, art, and greenery. These mini-parks are adopted and paid for by local businesses, but they remain public space. The concept has its roots in the PARK(ing) Day phenomenon started by the SF-based Rebar Group in 2005.

San Francisco has also seen an impressive 71 percent increase in bicycling in the past five years, despite being under a court injunction that prohibited bicycle improvements for most of that time. The city aims to have 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. Sunday Streets, San Francisco’s version of Ciclovia, has also drawn huge numbers of participants and continues to expand.

The city has also taken the lead on innovative parking management with the SFPark program, which uses new technology to help manage public parking in several pilot neighborhoods. It aims to make it easier to find a parking spot by adjusting prices according to demand, helping to reduce pollution, traffic, and frustrations for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.


Fun Facts About the Sad State of Parking Policy

Wichita_Surface_Parking.jpgSurface parking stretches halfway to the horizon in the heart of downtown Wichita, Kansas. Image: Wichita Walkshop via Flickr.

If you haven’t checked out the ITDP parking report we covered yesterday, it’s a highly readable piece of research, walking you through parking policy’s checkered past and potentially brighter future.

addition to describing six cases of innovative parking strategies, the
authors draw from a wide-ranging body of evidence about the woeful
state of most current parking policy, marshaling revealing facts and
figures. We culled some of the ones that leap out the most. Enjoy:

  • Ninety-nine percent of U.S. car trips begin and end in a free parking space.
  • The average automobile is parked 95 percent of the time.
  • Although
    many businesses today believe they benefit from free parking, curbside
    parking meters were actually introduced in 1935 by an Oklahoma City
    department store owner. He wanted to increase parking turnover so that
    there would always be spaces available for his customers.
  • Conventional
    parking policy counsels providing enough spots to handle car storage on
    the 30th busiest hour of the entire year, usually the weekend before
    Christmas. That means intentionally planning for an oversupply of
    parking the other 8,730 hours of the year.
  • At free parking spaces, 40 to 60 percent of vehicles overstay posted time limits.
  • Parking typically represents a full 10 percent of development costs.
    What’s more, the people who actually park only pay 5 percent of the cost of non-residential parking,
    meaning that public subsidies and developer capital pay for the rest.
  • In
    Francisco, parking requirements have reduced the number of affordable
    housing units nonprofit developers can build by 20 percent,
    with each residence costing 20 percent more to build than it would have
    without parking.
  • Seventy percent of Southern California suburban office developments built exactly
    the number of parking spaces required by law, suggesting that parking
    minimums are forcing developers to build more parking than they want
  • Read more…

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Want to Foster Walking, Biking and Transit? You Need Good Parking Policy

The high-water mark for American parking policy came in the early
1970s, when cities including New York, Boston, and Portland set limits
on off-street parking in their downtowns. They were compelled to do so
by lawsuits brought under the Clean Air Act, which used the lever of
parking policy to curb traffic and reduce pollution from auto
emissions. This level of innovation went unmatched over the ensuing
three-and-a-half decades. Only now are American cities implementing
effective new parking strategies that cut down on traffic.

parking_graphic.jpgGraphic: ITDP

A report released today by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF]
highlights the new wave of parking policy innovation that could pay
huge dividends for sustainable transport and livable streets. If your
city aspires to make streets safe, improve the quality of transit, and
foster bicycling, your city needs a coherent parking policy.

was a 35-year parking coma during which the federal
government, cities, and environmentalists forgot why parking was
important," said John Kaehny, who co-authored the report with Matthew
Rufo and UPenn professor Rachel Weinberger. "This study shows people
are starting wake up and understand
that parking is one of most important influences on how cities work and
what form of travel people choose to use."

The early 70s
parking limits beat back the cycle of more car storage, wider roadways,
and greater sprawl that decimates urban areas. The underlying idea was
simple: Manage the supply of parking, and you can reduce the demand for
driving. Yet in America this notion has gone largely unheeded, even in

Instead, the authors note, parking policy is
typically divorced from transportation policy and goals like reducing
congestion or encouraging walking and biking. In most of our urban
areas, planners determine parking volumes using suburban standards,
drawing heavily on ill-suited recommendations in "Parking Generation,"
a manual published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers. The
product is abundant, cheap parking — much of which sits unused most of
the time.

Fully 99 percent of car trips in America end in
free parking, an incentive that crowds out all other modes of
transportation. "Even when the price of parking is free," said
Weinberger, "it’s far from free."

The resulting congestion
impedes the effectiveness of transit. Traffic volumes and
double-parking make bicycling less pleasant and more dangerous.
Walkable environments give way to curb cuts, dead walls, and
land-devouring parking facilities that spread destinations farther
apart. The whole vicious cycle is heavily subsidized, with the cost of
parking absorbed into the price of everything from housing to movie

"In a time of economic distress, we can’t afford
to continue these policies,"  said ITDP’s Michael Replogle. "Continuing
to subsidize parking is very costly for all of us."

Read more…