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SF Voters Reject Cars-First Prop L — Will City Hall Finally Take the Hint?

According to Folks for Polk, merchants took at least 10 of their “Yes on L” posters down “after the facts were made clear.” Photo: Folks for Polk

Proposition L was nixed by San Francisco voters yesterday. With nearly all of the votes counted, 62 percent rejected Sean Parker’s measure to keep SF in the 20th century by prioritizing free parking and encouraging driving.

Leaders at City Hall, and the agencies that shape SF’s streets, should read the writing on the wall: San Franciscans want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind them, and it’s time to stop letting a vocal minority of curmudgeons hamper efforts to make streets safer and Muni more reliable.

“The voters gave a pretty resounding ‘yes,’ we do want these things built,” said Peter Lauterborn, who managed the “No on L” campaign. “I hope that the city leadership takes that to heart.”

“Hopefully, for projects that we’ve set out to do — Vision Zero, the [Transit Effectiveness Project] implementation, establishing the bike network — the SFMTA will be bolder than they have been in the past,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved two transportation funding measures, Propositions A and B. That’s a sign that San Franciscans have a strong appetite for better transportation options, and that they’re willing to bank on city agencies like the SFMTA to deliver them.

The success of Prop A, a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation, was not surprising given the political boost it got from City Hall and specifically Mayor Ed Lee. Lee helped to raise over $1,100,000 for the Prop A campaign, despite no organized opposition.

Meanwhile, the more controversial Prop B garnered a surprising 61 percent of the vote, even though no campaign committee was organized nor was money raised to promote it. “The campaign was gathering an impressive list of endorsements,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the measure.

“The voters showed that they really do care about smart transportation policy and investment,” said Wiener. “City Hall needs to match our own budget priorities with what the voters want.”

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Ballot Language for Cars-First Prop L is Misleadingly Vague

The ballot’s description of Prop L leaves much specificity to be desired.

Voters returning from the polls today have pointed out the painfully vague ballot language used to describe Proposition L, the advisory measure to enshrine free parking and more driving as high priority in city policy.

All voters see on the ballot is the question, “Shall it be City policy to change parking and transportation priorities?”

Change parking and transportation priorities… to what? The ballot doesn’t say.

It’s concerning that, even for a measure which had made its priorities clear, the ballot doesn’t make any effort to list those priorities. Sure, the ballot language is supposed to be concise, but in this case it seems like some might vote for Prop L without realizing what it entails.

We’ll see the results in a matter of hours.

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Study Quantifies How Unbalanced SF’s Car-Centric Streets Are

SF’s streets are mostly devoted to cars, but a new report confirms that general taxpayers pick up most for the tab for drivers. Photo: Cesar Chavez Street by Aaron Bialick

Any doubts that most of San Francisco’s public space is consumed by private automobiles, whether moving or stored, could probably be put to rest with a quick glance at the city’s car-dominated streets. But a new study pulls together some eye-opening numbers about just how unbalanced SF’s priorities have been in allocating street space, prioritizing cars over people, and in charging drivers little relative to the costs they incur.

Here are some of the highlights from the San Francisco Modal Equity Study [PDF], published by the Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities Research and Policy Institute:

  • Parking lanes in San Francisco constitute 15 percent of the paved roadway area, equal to real estate valued between $8 and $35 billion.
  • Street parking in San Francisco totals 902 miles in length, six times longer than the 143 miles of bike lanes.
  • 75 percent of all bike lane miles were built since 2000.
  • Bicycling constitutes four percent of trips, but only 1.4 percent of roadway space is dedicated to bicycle lanes.
  • There are 36 lane miles of dedicated transit lanes, but 211 lanes miles of freeway lanes.
  • General tax revenues, not user fees, pay 75 percent of roadway maintenance costs in San Francisco.
  • The federal gas tax, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is at its lowest point since 1983, when the Reagan administration doubled it.

The parking count figures came from an SFMTA census report published in May, which showed that SF’s 275,450 on-street parking spaces are enough to parallel-park a line of cars 60 miles longer than California’s entire 840-mile coastline. Ninety percent of those spaces are free at all times. In total, SF has 441,950 publicly-accessible car parking spaces. Private parking spaces, like those in residential garages, haven’t been counted at all.

The report provides some perspective for those who say “restoring transportation balance” in SF means giving even greater priority to cars, enshrining free parking, and building even more parking garages. That backwards view has spawned Proposition L, which will go before voters in tomorrow’s election.

This new report has some useful stats to counter misconceptions commonly thrown around in discussions about streets. You’ve heard this before: Bicyclists don’t pay enough for the construction of bike lanes, right? In reality, most of the costs of our streets — bike lanes, parking lanes, traffic lanes, and all — are covered by the general public, and to a greater extent than in prior decades. Yet people who use the streets but don’t drive impose lower costs, which saves the public money.

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Who’s Not Against Cars-First Prop L? Supes Tang, Farrell, Yee, and Mayor Lee

Supervisors Tang, Farrell, Yee, and Mayor Lee have not opposed Prop L, a Republican-crafted measure to enshrine cars-first policies. Photos: Aaron Bialick

With only a few days left until the election, four elected officials have yet to take a stance on Proposition L, the Republican-crafted measure that misleadingly urges San Francisco to “restore transportation balance” by giving priority to private automobiles and free parking.

Supervisors Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, Norman Yee, and Mayor Ed Lee apparently see no need to come out against the measure, which has been renounced by the other eight supervisors and almost all of SF’s political establishment, including their own SF Democratic County Central Committee.

We reached out to each of their offices to explain their position three days ago, and not surprisingly heard no response from Farrell or Lee.

Supervisor Farrell launched a campaign against parking meters, which led to the supervisors voting to hamstring the SFMTA’s ability to expand them. Yet even his most vocal ally in that battle, Supervisor Malia Cohen, came out against Prop L after her district’s Potrero Hill Democratic Club became the first neighborhood group to do so.

As for Mayor Lee? Well, he’s done more than anyone at City Hall to keep driving cheap, even if that means streets are more dangerous and congested. Lee reversed Sunday parking meters, even though they reduced traffic, and dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Then, he vowed to punish the supervisor majority who put replaced it on the ballot with Prop B, Supervisor Scott Wiener’s alternative transit funding measure.

The only public statement Lee has given about Prop L was this cryptic dismissal, in an interview with the SF Chronicle editorial board: “I’m not worried about it.”

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Sorry, Sean Parker: Fighting Safe Streets With Prop L Won’t Help the Poor

We may never know why Sean Parker decided to pour tens of thousands of dollars into Proposition L, a measure crafted and funded by Republicans who want to enshrine 20th-century car-centric policies in San Francisco. With his contribution, Parker decided to amplify this “primal scream from motorists,” as the Bay Guardian put it.

Sean Parker. Photo: Sean Parker/Twitter

On Tuesday, the measure will go to voters, who will either approve an advisory measure that contradicts SF’s 41-year-old Transit-First Policy, or send a signal that they want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind us.

If Parker’s recent interview with Fortune Magazine is to be believed, his donation to Prop L was motivated by the sorely misguided belief that it will help less affluent San Franciscans:

It’s hard to figure out Parker’s own politics. His own priority is inequality. His political team – yes, he has a political team – flagged the referendum, called Proposition L, because it struck them as a hidden tax on the poor…

“I have a long-standing frustration that the only people who are significantly disadvantaged by onerous DMV regulations and parking tickets are the working poor,” Parker says.

“However,” as Fortune’s Shalene Gupta explains, ”Parker’s enthusiasm is wildly out of sync with San Francisco’s politics.”

He’s also out of sync with the growing body of research that indicates the working poor in San Francisco are more likely to walk and ride Muni than own cars.

A “Yes on L” flyer.

Fifty-three percent of Muni riders identify as low-income, according to a recent SFMTA survey [PDF]. And while there’s limited data available on the income of car owners, a congestion pricing study by the SF County Transportation Authority found that 95 percent of drivers to, from, and within the downtown area during the morning rush are from households making more than $50,000 annually.

Meanwhile, free and underpriced parking causes drivers to circle around for spots, creating traffic that slows down Muni and its mainly low-income ridership.

“It’s manipulative to say this policy supports low-income workers,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told Fortune.

Not that Prop L’s proponents care about truth or accuracy. They misleadingly tout a false statistic (erroneously reported by SFMTA, and since corrected) that 79 percent of SF households own cars, seemingly arguing for majority rule. The actual number [PDF] is 69 percent, and 41 percent own only one car, giving SF a solid car-light majority.

Most San Franciscans use multiple forms of transportation, and by making it easier to get around without a car, policies that improve transit, biking, and walking also make it easier for San Franciscans to shed the enormous costs of owning, maintaining, insuring, and fueling a motor vehicle. This can drastically lower household costs for working families, but Prop L’s proponents attack efforts to make non-driving choices more attractive.

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Eyes on the Street: New On-Street Car-Share Parking Spots in Action

A pair of new Zipcar spots at 20th Avenue and Irving Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The first in a new wave of on-street car-share parking spaces are on the ground, kicking off the eventual roll-out of 900 spots planned by the SFMTA.

I spotted the pair of Zipcar spots above on 20th Avenue at Irving Street in the Sunset on Saturday, and they were apparently already being used. The first time I passed by, the spots were both empty, but later one car had been returned.

As more locations like these make car-share more convenient and visible, car ownership is expected to decline: each car-share vehicle replaces nine to 13 privately-owned autos, on average. It’s a statistic we’ve continually reported, and it means these spots will make more parking available — but that’s still often ignored by those who call these space conversions “privatization.”

SF has already had a dozen on-street car-share spots in place for a couple of years ago as part of an SFMTA pilot, but now the real proliferation has begun. If you spot others, feel free to share photos in the comments.

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Tuesday: Support Needed for a Car-Free Bike/Ped Path on the Marina

Photo: SFDPW

One year after community planning meetings began, plans finally appear to be moving forward for removing the 51 parking spaces in the middle of a walking and biking path along the Marina — the only stretch of the 500-mile Bay Trail with cars on it. But Marina boat owners aren’t giving up, and car-free path supporters need to turn out to a community meeting next Tuesday to ensure progress on this no-brainer plan.

Some of the boat owners arguing to keep the often-empty parking spaces have apparently used their connections to delay the project for several months — the city’s final proposal for the path was originally due in March. If the plan is approved this fall, the parking spaces would be removed next spring, according to a September 30 presentation [PDF].

In a letter to SF Recreation and Parks [PDF], the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Janice Li pointed out that a permit issued to the city by the Bay Conservation Development Commission requires that the plan pursue “a design of a Bay Trail segment that provides a high quality bicycle, pedestrian, and general visitor experience.”

“The only way to properly meet the Bay Trail standards and provide that experience is by creating a car-free path,” wrote Li.

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New CA Database Shows How Much Parking Costs and How Little It’s Used

TransForm’s GreenTrips Parking Database provides an unprecedented level of data on the costs of building parking — and how much it’s used — in multifamily housing developments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zoning laws in California usually require new developments to come with a minimum number of parking spaces. Housing, restaurants, stores, movie theaters — everything requires some number of parking spaces, theoretically based on the best available data.

Each of these empty underground parking spaces typically costs about $80,000. Image: Pixabay.com

Usually that data is whatever is listed in the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s (ITE) Parking Generation Manual. Since that manual has long been the only source of data on parking usage in the country, planners rely on it to help them figure out how many parking spaces a project should include.

But there are serious limitations with the ITE data, as is noted in the manual itself. As Professor Donald Shoup, UCLA’s “parking guru,” explained in a paper [PDF]: Providing too much parking encourages driving, thus contributing to congestion, and discourages walking and bicycling (unless you love walking across hot expanses of pavement to your store).

Plus, building parking is expensive.

A new tool, the GreenTRIP Parking Database, can help by providing better data on actual parking usage at multifamily housing units. This is only one of the many land use categories about which planners seek data, but it is a key one.

The database, created by TransForm, an Oakland-based advocacy group that focuses on better land use and transportation policies, tracks more than just parking usage. Data is available about the number of parking spaces per unit, how much of that parking sits empty, what percentage of the building is affordable housing, whether residents pay for parking separately from their rent, what level of transit service is available nearby, whether residents are offered transit passes or carshare membership, what if any parking management exists on surrounding streets, and other data relevant to parking usage.

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Eyes on the Street: Drivers Blatantly Park in the Oak Street Bike Lane

If the tow trucks stowed in the Fell Street bike lane weren’t enough a blatantly dangerous abuse of space for people on bikes, the situation on its Oak Street counterpart can be even more egregious. Patrick Traughber recently tweeted the above photo of five vehicles parked in Oak’s curbside, buffered bike lane, squeezing bike commuters alongside passing motor traffic in the door zone.

These drivers don’t even get to try the Ted and Al’s Towing excuse, i.e., limited space to store their trucks while they’re queued to pull into the garage.

Of course, we’re still awaiting a row of partial, protective planted islands that will separate the Fell and Oak bike lanes from motor traffic, which would send a stronger signal that the lanes are not to be parked in. The SFMTA is currently building bulb-outs and rain gardens in the area, also partially blocking the bike lanes in the process, as another part of the project. Maybe that’s a sign that the islands will be built in this decade.

The SFMTA initially installed temporary plastic posts to separate the Fell bike lane, but they were removed with a re-paving and never replaced. The Oak bike lane never got them at all.

Traugher’s suggestion for a short-term, seemingly no-brainer measure? “The curb needs to be painted red.” Some more enforcement from SFMTA and SFPD might also work, too.

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The (Not-So) Odd Reasons Why SFPD Parks Cars All Around Park Station

This path outside SFPD’s Park Station is blocked by an SUV — for an unusual reason. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A few years ago, SFPD’s Park Station in Golden Gate Park started storing police trucks and vans on a short section of pathway adjacent to the station’s fence. I first noticed this while biking on Kezar Drive several years ago, and since then I’ve never seen the path without a police vehicle and/or barricade in the way. The section is at a fork between a pedestrian-only path and a shared ped/bike path, so people can still walk around the barricade to take the fork.

The explanation for the SUV storage, however, was unusual — stay with me and we’ll get to it below.

Around the same time, I also noticed stencils on the clear part of the bike/ped path, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to watch out for drivers entering and exiting the station — putting the onus on the vulnerable users going straight through, rather than the trained police officers making a turn. This absurdity wasn’t too surprising, given former Park Station Captain Greg Corrales’ reputed low regard for people on bikes. He was known, for instance, to order his limited enforcement staff to conduct stings of bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle. The “watch out” stencils on the path have mostly worn off by now.

But there’s another, more blatantly egregious use of park land nearby. Private automobiles, apparently owned by police officers, have long been parked on a patch of dirt (would-be grass), next to the footpath outside the station. Police cruisers also routinely drive down the path to get to the Stanyan and Waller Street intersection — circumventing the closure of Waller Street to all other motor vehicles years ago, when it was disconnected from Kezar inside the park.

Officers’ private cars are stored on park land. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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