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Posts from the Parking Meters Category


SF Chronicle Regurgitates Misinformation From the Free Parking Crowd

Does this parking lot in the Fillmore reflect a more “balanced” SF in the eyes of op-ed writer Bill Bowen? Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Chronicle printed an op-ed this weekend, written by the Republican-backed group that aims to “restore balance” on San Francisco’s streets. And by “balance,” they mean enshrining a status quo where cars, not people, get the lion’s share of the public streets, in the form of more pavement and more traffic.

Unfortunately, the Chronicle didn’t seem to have a problem reprinting the misinformation that plagues the column, which was written by right-wing author Bill Bowen. Given that the Chronicle failed to challenge, or even “balance,” Bowen’s unfounded claims and factual errors, we thought we’d clear some things up.

Transportation policy has been set by the agency’s governing board, whose members are appointed by the mayor. By law, a majority must be regular riders of Muni.

The loudest voices? The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and those who envision a “car-free” city, despite the fact that 79 percent of households have a motor vehicle and nearly half of those commuting to work do so by car.

This is a misleading and hyperbolic way to misrepresent policies aimed at giving San Franciscans better alternatives to owning cars. Another way to look at car ownership stats: 37.1 percent of households own only one car, so 58 percent of households own one or zero cars. Despite having a solid car-light majority, San Francisco already devotes most of its street space to moving and parking cars — mostly for free — and furthermore has long mandated off-street parking with every new building even while demonstrable shortages exist of many other land uses (notably housing). Meanwhile, most of those cars stand still most of the time: only 36.6 percent of San Franciscans drive alone to work, with most accomplishing their daily tasks by foot, transit, or bike.

The assertion that the SF Bicycle Coalition is responsible for the SFMTA’s shift away from car-centric policies might be flattering to the organization, but SFBC doesn’t call for a “car-free city.” Instead, they sensibly advocate safer streets, to make bicycling a safe and comfortable option for more residents and more trips.

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Many Motorheads Backing Measure to “Restore Balance” for Cars

The backers of the ballot initiative to “restore balance” on San Francisco’s streets are beginning to emerge. The “balance” they speak of would enshrine free parking and give over large parts of streets to cars.

According to the list of endorsements posted on its website, the “coalition” (which apparently dropped its “Free the Streets” title) is thus far populated by hefty amount of Republicans — yes, a few do exist in San Francisco. There are also three former supervisors, but no current elected-office holders. And, of course, the list is speckled with some of the usual opponents of parking meters and bike lanes, whose names should ring bells.

It’s hard to say yet whether any of these folks have any real political punch. The measure itself does not seem to — it wouldn’t be any more binding than the existing Transit-First Policy, adopted by supervisors in 1973 and re-affirmed by voters in 1999, when they expanded the policy to include pedestrians and bicyclists.

So unless the “coalition” gets some serious money and political players behind it — which is possible — this may be nothing more an out-of-touch, last-gasp attempt to hold on to a bygone era. (Not that a resolution is really needed for City Hall to keep parking free). The Republican crafters of this initiative at least seem aware of their agenda’s growing irrelevance. They couch it in vague language about “ensuring our streets are safe, well maintained, and efficient to use for everybody.”

Since the vast majority of San Francisco’s street space was devoted primarily to moving and storing private automobiles, all for free, over most of the 20th century, most San Franciscans can probably see that more “efficient to use” streets won’t involve more of the same approach. (Notably, the cover photo on the initiative’s website even features a streetcar on Market Street — pretty much the opposite of the actual car-clogged vision these folks are pushing).

Here’s the list of proponents taken from the website, with some footnotes I added in brackets:

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Avalos “Disgruntled” Over Paying for His City Hall Parking Perk [Updated]

Update: Avalos said on Twitter that his email was meant as a joke.

Supervisor John Avalos sent out an email today complaining about the $173 he pays monthly for a reserved parking spot in front of City Hall. That’s even though he pays less than half the $395 going price for a reserved parking spot at the Civic Center garage. The $173 fee is apparently set to offset the cost of lost revenue from the meter occupied by a reserved spot.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Responding to a notice sent by City Hall’s building services manager to the Board of Supervisors about the annual parking fee agreement, Avalos said the fee “is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise,” since parking used to be a free perk for supes. Avalos’ email was sent to all supervisors, their staff, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Dear Government Overlords:

The City Hall parking fee for elected officials is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise. For years the policy was a parking space for elected officials as part of holding office. What’s next? Will we be paying rent for our offices at City Hall?

I don’t drive every day, but often I don’t have much of a choice as I have to be in multiple places, often mixing work with driving my kids around, over the course of the day. When I go on errands with my car, I pay for parking meters and garages and even pay for tickets and towing when I mess up, so I am not getting special privileges beyond what comes with holding elective office and being very busy with my family and service to the city.

Disgruntled Supervisor

It would be disappointing to hear Avalos divulge such a retrograde stance about his personal parking spot, particularly since he’s one of the only elected officials in recent years to have supported Sunday parking meters. In 2009, he also supported installing parking meters in Golden Gate Park, and as he noted in his email, Avalos is known for sometimes walking, biking, and taking Muni to work. He even campaigned for mayor on a strongly pro-bike platform, has pushed for better Muni service for low-income riders, and wrote the ordinance requiring secure bike parking in downtown office buildings.

On the other hand, Avalos also introduced the SFMTA meter contract amendment that hamstrung the agency’s ability to install new meters over the next five years.


Census: SF Has Enough Street Parking Spaces To Fill CA’s Coastline

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SF is stuffed with car storage. This image shows only public parking spaces. Image: SFMTA

Clarification: California’s coastline (840 miles) is shorter than the end-to-end length of SF’s on-street parking spaces alone (900 miles). This post originally compared it to the length of SF’s total public parking supply (1,451 miles long), which is actually longer than the United States’ west coast from Mexico to Canada (1,360 miles).

Here’s a point of fact for those naysayers who insist that SF absolutely needs every single one of its car parking spaces, and can’t spare any for safer or more efficient streets: San Francisco has 441,950 publicly-accessible car parking spaces. Of that, the 275,450 on-street parking spaces alone are enough to parallel-park a line of cars 60 miles longer than California’s entire 840-mile coastline, as the SFMTA pointed out to the SF Examiner today. That’s enough parking to fill parking lots that would cover the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and Lake Merced.

The figures come from SFMTA’s newly-updated parking census. The census is a manual count conducted to refine the agency’s 2010 estimate, which was based on a random sample of 30 percent of city streets. Parking spaces are most heavily concentrated in dense downtown areas, with 35,000 parking spots per square mile in areas like downtown, Civic Center, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. On the lower end, most neighborhoods have about 10,000.

None of the counts included private parking spaces in residential garages, which are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

“…With almost 10,000 vehicles registered per square mile, San Francisco today has one of the densest concentrations of cars on the planet, more than any peer city in the United States,” wrote SF State University Geography Professor Jason Henderson in an SF Bay Guardian column this month.

The vast majority of curb space in San Francisco is devoted to 275,450 spaces for car storage. Each of those takes up roughly 140 square feet of real estate, 17 to 20 feet long and about 7 feet wide, according to the census. Ninety percent of those spaces are unmetered, and free to use at all times of day.

“A source of San Francisco’s parking problem is you have some of the most valuable land on Earth, and it’s free, and people complain there’s not enough,” Donald Shoup, UCLA professor and guru of modern parking policy, told the Examiner. “I think San Francisco has to figure out a smarter way to manage parking, other than just making it free to everybody.”

Shoup called the reversal of Sunday parking metering to appease church leaders “another step backwards, telling the Examiner that “I believe in the separation of church and parking.”

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SFTRU, Livable City Want CEQA Review of Sunday Parking Meter Repeal

Updated 4:16 p.m. with comment from Supervisor John Avalos.

Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union have filed an appeal claiming that the SFMTA’s vote to repeal Sunday parking meters requires California Environmental Quality Act environmental review.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Given that the policy change is expected to double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays, among other impacts, SFTRU’s Mario Tanev says the policy shouldn’t be changed without an environmental impact report. SFTRU also submitted a petition with more than 200 signatures in support of Sunday meters.

“Sunday meters were instituted after a wide outreach, yet are being discontinued based on the whim of one person in City Hall,” Tanev said in a statement referring to Mayor Ed Lee.

The appeal, first reported by the Bay Guardian, claims:

The enforcement of parking meters on Sunday in San Francisco has been doing exactly what it was designed to: reduce traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase parking availability (including in commercial areas), and increase revenues for the City and County of San Francisco (City). Yet SFMTA is proposing without any meaningful analysis to stop enforcing this policy even though it provides benefits to the City and local neighborhood communities. By taking away these benefits, the Decision also increases automobile traffic in direct contradiction to the City’s Transit-First Policy, and, notably, on Sundays, a day when pedestrians and families spend significant time outdoors walking and traversing the streets to enjoy City events.

SFMTA specifically failed to analyze and consider the traffic and environmental impacts of its Decision as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA is designed to inform decision-makers and the public about potential, significant environmental effects of the Decision. Here, the public and decision-makers were not fully informed as to the impacts of the Decision – in fact they were given almost no information at all – and the purpose of CEQA was thwarted.

The appeal argues that although CEQA doesn’t require environmental review for fee hikes, such as expanding parking meters to Sundays, the act of removing fees (or Sunday meters) doesn’t fit within an exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing.

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“MonkeyParking” — A Testament to the Absurdity of Free Car Storage

A new app called “MonkeyParking” being tested in San Francisco has made the rounds in local media this week for its bizarre driver-to-driver payment system. Here’s how it works: A driver leaves her car in a valuable parking spot and tells other app-using drivers that she is willing to move it for a price of up to $20.

Whether the app will have any effect or even pass muster with the law is almost beside the point. “MonkeyParking” is a great illustration of how free or underpriced curb parking in SF is completely absurd. If the city isn’t willing to put a rational price on a limited resource in high demand, profiteering drivers can and will step in to take advantage. Talk about the high cost of free parking.

It’s no wonder drivers are willing to create their own ad hoc market to allocate the limited supply of curb parking. As Streetsblog has written extensively, underpriced parking is bad for everyone, including the drivers who end up wasting time and fuel circling around for a spot because none are available.

“MonkeyParking” isn’t a fix for the problem — it’s a way for people of means to try and circumvent it or cash in on it. One man predicted to KCBS, “You’ll end up with space squatters.” Unlike a city program like SFpark, “MonkeyParking” doesn’t create systemic change because it doesn’t affect a large enough chunk of the parking supply. And none of the revenue goes to the city to improve transportation options.

Others have found different ways to make money off San Francisco’s free on-street parking, including a van owner who rented out his vehicle on AirBnB, effectively turning it into a subsidized hotel.

MonkeyParking’s legality is dubious. Clearly, you can’t reserve the legal right to a parking spot from the previous occupant, but can you fork over $20 nonetheless? A spokesperson for the City Attorney told SFGate it’s being looked into. “So far, all we’ve determined for sure is that it’s extremely weird.”

The app, though, is actually a rational response to the weird and irrational world of parking policy, where Mayor Ed Lee pushes the SFMTA Board to repeal Sunday parking meters, and then people complain about how they can’t find a spot.


Free Parking Forever: Motorhead Group Wants to “Restore Balance” in SF

Won’t somebody think of the cars? Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

The vast majority of San Francisco’s street space is devoted primarily to moving and storing cars, and most of that curbside parking for private automobiles is given away for free. Most of the city’s street infrastructure is not paid for by fees related to driving, so it is disproportionately bankrolled by those who don’t drive, through general taxes. By any objective measure, the state of affairs on San Francisco’s streets is heavily tilted toward cars and designed to incur minimal personal cost to drivers.

At least, that goes for those of us here in the reality-based community. Then there’s the alternate reality espoused by one group, calling itself the “Free the Streets Coalition,” who believe the city’s streets are too unfriendly to cars. The “coalition” of undisclosed size has filed a ballot initiative with the city seeking to “restore transportation balance in San Francisco.” Chief among the group’s proposals is permanently enshrining existing free parking hours, prohibiting new parking meters except by petition, and encouraging the creation of new parking garages.

The group has only released the names of three organizers — Jason Clark, who ran on the Republican ticket for State Assembly in 2012; Claire Zvanski, the former president of the Health Service System Board; and David Looman, a political consultant.

These folks don’t see the SFMTA Board’s recent reversion of Sunday parking metering at the behest of Mayor Ed Lee as a sign of how motorist entitlement already holds sway at City Hall. Instead, they see the fact that the policy was instituted in the first place as a sign that motorists are a persecuted group. The status quo of free parking giveaways cannot be impinged upon — not even a bit.

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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”:

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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


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.