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SFMTA Board Repeals Sunday Parking Meters

Get ready for the return of Sunday traffic dysfunction and double parking. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors today caved to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee by removing Sunday parking meters, a move folded into its approval of the agency’s two-year budget.

The Sunday meter reversal was supported by all but one of the SFMTA’s board members, who are appointed by the mayor. Board member Cristina Rubke said she thought reversing Sunday metering is “a mistake.”

But the change went unopposed even by other progressive board members, like Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, who had supported Sunday parking metering when the policy was approved in 2012. Brinkman and Ramos said they agreed with Mayor Lee’s stated strategy of bringing back free Sunday parking to win support for transportation funding measures headed to the ballot in November, and that SFMTA needed to do more education about the rationale behind parking metering.

“I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in the city working with him in his office, and that they are very focused on helping to solve the city’s transportation funding issues,” said Brinkman, who is up for re-appointment at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday. “It sounds like the mayor’s office is certain that this is going to help us in November.”

Brinkman said she’s “calling upon the mayor’s office to work with the MTA Board around education and community involvement in San Francisco’s parking problems. I feel we need to step back and find a way to work with our communities to really explain the reasons behind, and the need for, progressive parking management.”

“We have failed, frankly, to convince the great majority of people” of the benefits of Sunday meters, said Ramos. “You can listen to Matier and Ross, or read the papers, and see that the general sentiment of it is a negative one.”

Mainstream news reporters who have covered the Sunday metering issue, like columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross at the SF Chronicle and CBS affiliate KPIX, typically don’t mention that the SFMTA found that meters cut cruising times for parking in half and increased turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent. Instead, parking meters have typically been framed as a way to collect revenue, even in the Chronicle report on today’s vote.

Mayor Lee issued this statement about “reinstating free Sunday parking in San Francisco”:

Read more…

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Speak Out: SFMTA Board Could Scrap Sunday Parking Meters Tomorrow

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Correction: The SFMTA Board meeting begins at 2 p.m., not 1 p.m. as previously stated. Depending on the number of speakers, the meeting could last hours. You can view the meeting live on SFGovTV 2.

Tomorrow is your chance to speak out about the SFMTA’s proposal to repeal Sunday parking metering, as the agency’s Board of Directors will vote on a new budget that eliminates the $9.6 million in annual revenue that the meters bring in. It’s up to the board to stand up to Mayor Ed Lee, who has sought to reverse one of the smartest transportation policies to begin under his administration with unfounded claims of a popular revolt against Sunday meters.

The SFMTA Board of Directors. Photo: The Phantom Cab Driver Phites Back

Although SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin proposed compromises, such as re-directing parking enforcement away from Sunday meters, or only enforcing four-hour time limits, the proposal on the board’s agenda calls for a complete reversal of the policy. Lee’s office reiterated to CBS just last week that the mayor is unwilling to accept anything less than free parking on Sundays. Reiskin and the SFMTA Board, all mayoral appointees, appear poised to undo the hard-fought policy success, even though it has cut cruising times for parking in half and has increased parking turnover near businesses by at least 20 percent.

“It’s highly disturbing that SFMTA staff is presenting a proposal that is straight from the mayor’s office,” said transit advocate Mario Tanev, who called the proposal a “complete betrayal of transit-first, SF businesses, shoppers and common sense.”

“This will set a really bad precedent. SFMTA and progressive transportation policy will be severely damaged by this reversal. It will feed into the narrative that parking meters are somehow a failure that nobody wants.”

Even though the push against paying for Sunday parking appears to be coming from church leaders, Mayor Lee claims it will win voter support for three transportation funding measures proposed for November’s ballot. Yet it’s not clear that will win over many votes, given strong support behind Sunday meters: The Chamber of Commerce, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and even former Mayor Willie Brown all declared their support in two Chronicle op-eds published last week.

Brown’s support is especially surprising, considering that his views on transportation policy are usually more car-centric. Then again, Sunday meters benefit drivers by making it easier to find a spot, and even Brown recognizes the pro-business side of it.

“Free parking on Sundays is a throwback to 40 years ago when stores were closed that day,” Brown wrote in his column Saturday. “Now it is ‘open for business’ seven days a week, and stores can’t afford to have cars camped outside for hours when there are potential customers circling.”

The SFMTA Board meeting starts tomorrow at 2 p.m. at City Hall, room 400. If you can’t make it to speak during public comment, you can email the board at MTABoard@sfmta.com.

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The Case for Evening Parking Meters, Graphed

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In many neighborhoods, blocks are more likely to be full of parked cars — and cruising for an open space spikes — after meters shut off at 6 p.m. (1800).

Every day at 6 p.m., San Francisco’s parking meters shut down. But in many neighborhoods, motorists continue to seek parking, and without the turnover brought by meters, the streets become clogged with drivers circling around for a spot.

The big mismatch between meter hours and actual demand for curbside parking spaces in SF was demonstrated in a new study of SFpark [PDF], which found that the program has cut cruising times for parking by 50 percent in the areas where it’s in place. The study, featured yesterday in Next City and The Atlantic Cities, was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nelson/Nygaard, who used data on parking occupancy from the SFMTA to model the effect of SFpark on driver behavior.

The study re-affirms the findings of a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association last May [PDF], which showed that pricing parking according to demand is effective in reducing cruising. But as Donald Shoup, parking guru and one of the authors of last year’s study, told Streetsblog in August, the successful SFpark program goes to waste after 6 p.m. due to SF’s outdated meter hours, which were crafted in the mid-20th century when fewer businesses were open past that time.

“I hope San Francisco will ask, ‘Why is the right price at 7 p.m. on Union Square $0?,’” Shoup said. “We have the equipment, all the software, and we just put it to sleep at 6 p.m.”

As the graph above shows, the biggest spike in evening cruising is in the Inner Richmond, a non-SFpark neighborhood studied as a control sample. Cruising there peaks at about 8 p.m. In every area except downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf, the daily peak in traffic caused by cruising was after 6 p.m..

If Mayor Ed Lee wanted, he could nudge the SFMTA to simply extend meter hours to cut traffic on the streets in the evening. But rather than fixing SF’s traffic problems, Lee has been more inclined to use his influence to move the city in the opposite direction by undoing Sunday parking meters.

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Reiskin: Let’s Keep Sunday Parking Meters, But Not Enforce Them

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said today that he thinks the agency should keep Sunday parking meters but back off on actually enforcing them.

At an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting, Reiskin said he recommends “that we significantly re-deploy our resources away from Sunday meter enforcement. We have a lot more higher-pressing needs, particularly during the week during the evening rush, for example, in terms of traffic enforcement.”

“I think that leaves us the most flexibility while directly answering the mayor’s call of addressing the concern about Sunday parking, and particularly the high rate of citations that would be issued,” said Reiskin, who said the other options on the table would be to only enforce four-hour time limits or to end Sunday metering altogether. “Given the strength of the mayor’s resolve, and the concerns we’ve heard from the community, that pursuing one of these options would be a good-faith gesture while preserving the transportation benefit that we were seeking by instating the meters.”

Sunday metering has cut in half the time it takes to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays and boosted turnover for merchants by at least 20 percent. Would it still work if motorists know that no one is minding the store? Meters-with-no-enforcement might salvage some benefits, but it would still be a frustrating setback, all based on the mayor’s unfounded claims of “non-stop” complaints about Sunday metering, which don’t seem to be coming from anyone but church leaders.

Sunday parking meter citations have been slowly declining as drivers get used to the policy. The citation rate is still higher than normal — but not by that much. According to a recent SFMTA report [PDF], the rate of citations as a proportion of meter revenue on Sundays was at 35 percent in December, down from the peak of 48 percent in February. For all seven days of the week, the rate was 24 percent in December — though it varies, running as high as 34 percent last March.

Reiskin acknowledged the benefits that Sunday metering has brought, but as a mayoral appointee he isn’t expected to stray far from Lee’s irrational, pandering push for free parking. “Our analysis of the program in the first year showed that it achieved the goal,” he said. “It did increase parking availability, so we’re happy with that, but share the mayor’s concern that a very high number of people are getting parking citations, whether it’s because it’s a new program, or the signage wasn’t good enough, or for whatever reason, people were so used to there not being enforcement on Sundays.”

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, who has said he supports the mayor’s push to repeal Sunday parking metering, didn’t comment on the issue at the meeting. Cheryl Brinkman, the board’s vice chair, noted that the SFMTA is working on upgrading parking meters to accept credit cards, and suggested that the SFMTA simply “add better signage, re-deploy enforcement to days and areas that it’s really needed, then take another look at that.”

“If we can’t get that citation rate down to something that looks like the other days of the week, then maybe we need to re-visit that,” she said.

Sunday meters brought in $6 million last year for Muni, walking, and biking improvements. If the city does eliminate Sunday meters, it would have to be approved by the SFMTA Board as part of its budget, but laying off on enforcement could be done without their vote.

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Will SFMTA’s Board Buck Mayor Lee, Keep Sunday Parking Meters?

It’s hard to believe that San Francisco officials are seriously considering repealing Sunday parking metering, and thus abandoning the entire basis of its lauded parking management program.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

But next month, the SFMTA Board of Directors could send us back to 1947 — the last time parking meter hours were changed, before they were updated last year — and undo a simple move that has both cut traffic and boosted commerce by increasing turnover. According to the SFMTA’s own report, Sunday metering has cut the time drivers take to find a parking spot in half.

Apparently, the backwards proposal is on the table because Mayor Ed Lee has made a poorly-calculated bid to win the political support of church leaders, who bristle at the idea of having their congregants pay for on-street car storage and worry about losing double parking privileges. As we recently reported, there’s no evidence to back up Mayor Lee’s claims that San Franciscans have revolted against Sunday meters, but he’s pushing the SFMTA Board for repeal anyways.

The mayor wields power over SFMTA’s board, since he appoints all of its members. Yet when the board considers the agency’s two-year budget at meetings starting tomorrow, its members can stand up to Lee’s political antics. There’s no need to make our streets more dangerous and hurt local businesses, just to try and please an influential group with an irrational policy stance.

Mayor Lee has continued to ignore the SFMTA’s report about Sunday meters, which estimates that removing them would:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays.
  • Reduce turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

The hypocrisy in all this is painfully glaring. We’ve heard the benefits of metering high-demand parking spots espoused by Mayor Lee and SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, who has said he supports the mayor’s push “to make living in San Francisco more affordable.”

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Contrary to Ed Lee, Records Show No Popular Revolt Against Sunday Meters

A public records request for all emails to the mayor’s office regarding Sunday parking meters revealed very few complaints.

Contrary to Mayor Ed Lee’s assertions that the public has revolted against Sunday parking meters, records indicate that hardly anyone has complained to City Hall about the policy via email or 311 calls.

Mayor Lee, seen here preaching the gospel of smart parking management at an SFPark press conference in 2011, claims there’s widespread opposition to Sunday meters. Where is it? Photo: Mayor’s Press Office/Flickr

When Lee announced his push to undo Sunday parking meters, disregarding the increased turnover and reduced traffic that metering has brought to commercial streets, he claimed that the public has complained ever since the policy was implemented.

“It hasn’t stopped, it hasn’t ended since the day the city and Muni imposed it,” Lee told Bay City News in January. “People are still not used to it.” At his State of the City address later that month, Lee claimed: “Nobody likes it. Not parents. Not our neighborhood small businesses. Not me.”

Is this public outrage real? If Lee were really facing an endless barrage of criticism, there would be some record of it. We’d expect to find, for instance, a litany of emails decrying Sunday meters addressed to the mayor. But a public records request to the mayor’s office for all emails about metered Sunday parking turned up just 54 emails protesting or supporting the policy — most of them in January 2013, the first month the meters went into effect, followed by a handful in the next two months.

The records, furnished to Streetsblog by Ed Rosenblatt, a hardware store merchant who supports Sunday meters and filed the request, indicate that no one emailed the mayor’s office about Sunday meters between March, 2013, and this January, when Lee announced his push to repeal them. What’s more, of the January emails, 17 were in support of keeping the parking meters, and only seven were against it. The policy is also supported by many merchants and the Chamber of Commerce since it allows more driving customers to use the limited supply of parking.

The purported Sunday meter revolt was also not evident in calls and emails to 311. According to the SFMTA’s December report [PDF] on Sunday meters, 311 received just 41 calls and emails about the policy, with 23 of those in support of meters.

Of course, calls and emails aren’t the only ways to complain to City Hall. But if there’s really a popular revolt driving Lee’s sudden push to undo smart policy, you would expect to find some trace of it in the easiest ways to lodge a complaint with the city. And there is no such trace.

There is one influential group, however, that has continued to fiercely fight Sunday parking meters — church leaders. In fact, within a day of the mayor’s announcement that he wanted to reverse Sunday metering, the SF Interfaith Council sent out an email to its members praising Lee, saying that his new position “reflects thoughtful appreciation for the broad, adverse impact of this policy.”

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Rock Star or Comedian? Donald Shoup Takes His Parking Show to Berkeley

“Parking is the single biggest land use in any city,” said UCLA Professor Donald Shoup to a packed house in Berkeley last night, “and it’s almost completely unmanaged.” At the same time, “zoning requires a space for every car but ignores the homeless. In our cities, free parking is more important than affordable housing.”

Professor Donald Shoup, the stand-up comic of parking.

Shoup entertained the crowd of public officials, developers, students, and community members with his signature witty observations on the irrational ways cities plan and price parking.

“Parking is free for us only in our role as motorist–not in our roles as taxpayer, employer, commuter, shopper, renter, as a homeowner. The cost of parking does not cease to exist just because the motorist doesn’t pay for it,” he told the rapt audience. They had all come to hear the “parking rock star” talk about parking.

Given his polished delivery of dry one-liners skewering American parking policy that kept the audience chuckling throughout the talk, it’s more accurate to call him the standup comic of parking. But it’s his simple, rational, and yet radical-to-many approach to the storage of cars that has earned him a growing fan base of “Shoupistas” throughout the state and the nation.

The event was sponsored by Transform, an Oakland-based advocacy group working for rational land use and transportation planning in California. Transform has taken Shoup’s work to heart, using the principles he proposes as a basis for their Green Trip program that seeks to convince cities to allow housing developers to replace overbuilt, expensive parking with alternatives like car share, bike parking, and transit passes.

Shoup had a great time poking fun at pretty much everyone, including himself. He compared himself to a cat, sniffing and marking the tires of parked cars, while most transportation planners he likened to dogs, “running after and trying to bite at cars as they drive down the road.”

“I thought I could find something useful if I studied what cars do for 95% percent of the time, which is park,” he said.

He made fun of planners. “No planner can claim to have any training in parking policy,” he said. “Planners are winging it.”

The American Planners Association’s “Parking Standards” book lists parking requirements for land uses that look sensible at first glance—until you look at the connection to people, he said. As he spoke, a list of minimum parking requirements appeared on the screen behind him. Barbershop: two spots per barber.

“There seems to be some gender disparity,” he said [Beauty Shop: three parking spots per beautician]. “Even in religions institutions [Convent: ten parking spots per nun. Church: three parking spots per clergyman], and when you don’t have people, you have to base it on something” [Swimming pool: one parking spot per 25,000 gallons].

In many cities the size of a building is dwarfed by the size of its required parking lot. Minimum parking requirements “look scientific,” said Shoup, “but they’re not—it’s just pseudo science.”

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Mayor’s “State of the City” Offers Tepid Support for Vision Zero

The mayor’s “State of the City” speech last Friday was a major opportunity for Ed Lee to call for the changes needed to sharply reduce traffic deaths in San Francisco. Lee did endorse the Vision Zero goal, though it wasn’t exactly a full-throated call to action. He also re-affirmed his desire to repeal metered parking on Sundays, ignoring the benefits reported by the SFMTA.

Image: Mayor's Office

Image: Mayor’s Office

The idea that San Francisco should aim to eliminate traffic fatalities has recently picked up momentum from many different quarters in city government. Vision Zero resolutions proposed by the Board of Supervisors and the SFMTA Board of Directors appear to have broad support, and the SFPD backed the goal last week with policy reforms that should improve police response to crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. At a meeting immediately following a rally at City Hall yesterday, the SFMTA Board directed its staff to draft a Vision Zero resolution, as proposed by vice chair Cheryl Brinkman, who noted that ”we play a major role in ensuring that pedestrians can safely walk the streets of San Francisco.”

“People shouldn’t be killed or seriously hurt just trying to get around our city,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, who praised the “leadership from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.”

The mayor’s address on traffic violence, while touching on several aspects of street safety, lacked the sense of urgency and moral commitment that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio conveyed in a Vision Zero announcement earlier this month. Here’s what Lee had to say:

And let me say a few words about another public safety challenge on our City’s streets that last year grew at an alarming rate, and that’s the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists.

This week I announced a renewed strategy to keep people safe, including stepped up enforcement, especially against reckless drivers, better training for commercial drivers and those who drive the most, our “Be Nice, Look Twice” public education campaign, and improvements in places like Polk Street and South Van Ness, where we most urgently need improvements.

It’s another reason the transportation measures I discussed earlier are so important, so we can dramatically expand our segregated bike lanes and pedestrian bulb-outs.

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Mayor Lee’s Spineless Sunday Meter Reversal: Bad for Business, Bad for SF

Sunday parking meters have cut cruising times in half, according to an SFMTA report. Mayor Lee wants to undo that.

After a years-long push to implement a smart parking policy in San Francisco, leave it to Mayor Ed Lee to take us back to 1947.

The mayor wants to repeal parking metering on Sundays, undoing the slew of benefits that the policy has brought to the city in its first year. As a recent SFMTA report lays out, Sunday metering has increased turnover for businesses and reduced car traffic circling for parking in commercial areas. Previously, meter hours hadn’t been updated since 1947, when businesses generally weren’t open on Sundays.

Mayor Lee. Image: CBS 5

By pandering to drivers complaining about parking tickets, the mayor appears to be betting he’ll win support for three transportation funding measures expected to hit the ballot in November. But reinstating free parking would come at incredible cost in the form of extra car traffic, while undermining the SFMTA’s ability to implement rational transportation policy.

Lee’s absurd argument is that SF doesn’t need Sunday metering because Muni will have sufficient funding once voters approve the ballot measures. It’s an insult to the transit-riding public, and it shows how out of touch he is with the city’s transportation needs. Explaining why he didn’t stand in the way of Sunday metering when it was adopted, he told the SF Chronicle this week, “I’ve always felt uncomfortable with it, but Muni was suffering and we needed the money,” as if parking meters serve no purpose other than revenue collection.

Yet the Chamber of Commerce backed Sunday metering — and it still does, because it’s good for business, said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy. “In most commercial corridors, virtually every business is open on Sunday,” he said. Without metering, “There are neighborhoods where it’s difficult, if you have to drive to do any business, because parking is just not available from Saturday night until Monday morning.”

Sadly, it looks as though the Mayor is playing political games instead of responsibly managing the city’s transportation system,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Aside from the revenue hit to Muni, what’s disappointing about the mayor’s move is that the facts show that Sunday metering was working – parking availability and turnover increased in commercial districts, which is helpful to merchants and shoppers.”

“Improved parking availability reduces cruising for parking, which in turn reduces danger to pedestrians and cyclists, traffic congestion in neighborhoods, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The benefits were demonstrated in a December SFMTA report [PDF] on the impacts of Sunday metering in 2013:

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SFMTA Abandons Parking Meter Plans in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill

The SFMTA has given up on its neighborhood-scale plans to install parking meters in the Dogpatch and Portrero Hill, while parking meter approvals in the northeast Mission move forward at a snail’s pace. After two years of tangling with the city, the defenders of dysfunctional free parking have effectively caused a huge setback for progressive transportation policy – meaning more traffic and slower transit in the future. Hooray for San Francisco.

Potrero Hill and Dogpatch will continue to be saddled with car traffic circling for free parking spots for an indefinite period of time. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Potrero Hill and Dogpatch will continue to be saddled with car traffic circling for free parking spots for an indefinite period of time. Photo: Aaron Bialick

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the Potrero View this month, “Any parking changes in the [Portero and Dogpatch] area are likely to be ‘small in scope and iterative, with the goal of addressing parking on the busiest of commercial blocks, where customers are currently having a challenging time finding parking spaces. A comprehensive approach is not likely.’”

Rose told Streetsblog that down the road, the SFMTA will try to incorporate comprehensive parking management into longer-term area plans such as its Waterfront Transportation Assessment, a guide for development and transportation planning in areas near Dogpatch and Potrero Hill. “We are taking a step back to better work with the residents and merchants in the area to implement necessary changes,” he said. “While every block will not be considered at once, we do want to implement more efficient strategies that address parking on the busiest of the commercial blocks where customers are currently having a challenging time finding spaces. We received significant feedback requesting that any parking discussions occur in the context of other major transportation and development projects in or near the area.”

As for the parking-crunched northeast Mission, the first of the three neighborhoods where the SFMTA initiated its drawn-out parking outreach, only a small fraction of the planned meters are moving through the approval process — nearly half a year behind the schedule presented at a public meeting in March [PDF]. The initial meters were delayed even further by meter opponents who protested the wrong hearing ordinance.

The baby-steps approach “should help create pockets of availability in some otherwise parked-out areas of the neighborhood, making it easier for visitors, customers, employees, and residents to find spaces,” the SFMTA said in its latest email update on the plan. “Although this approach is a significant reduction in scope from previous parking proposals, it will still help open up some key spaces around the neighborhood. The changes outlined in this approach will give the SFMTA and neighbors the opportunity to see how a few blocks of parking meters and extended [residential parking permit] work and evaluate their effectiveness over time.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said the SFMTA shouldn’t have abandoned the neighborhood-scale planning approach in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill, as it “makes a lot of sense.”

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