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Fisherman’s Wharf Parking-Free Street Revamp Boosts Sales, Will Expand

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

Two years after the city gave Fisherman’s Wharf a people-friendly redesign on two blocks of Jefferson Street, business is booming. Despite merchants’ fears that removing all car parking on the blocks would hurt their sales, they now say it had the opposite effect.

The second phase of the project, which will bring a similar treatment to three blocks of Jefferson from Jones Street east to Powell Street, is taking a step forward. D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen and other city officials announced today that $1.7 million has been allocated for design and engineering for the expansion. The rest of the funds for the second phase, totaling $13 million, haven’t been identified, but it could be constructed as early as 2017.

Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman's Wharf CBD

Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman’s Wharf CBD

In June 2013, the two blocks of Jefferson between Hyde and Jones Streets were made safer and calmer with wider sidewalks, textured pavement to calm motor traffic, and the removal of curbside car parking. One-way traffic was also converted to two-way.

Since then, sales on the street have risen. The Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District surveyed 18 of the 33 businesses on those blocks, and they reported month-over-month gross sales increases between 10 to 21 percent on average:

From July through November 2013, these 18 businesses generated an additional $1.5 million dollars in gross sales from the previous year. This added approximately $140,000 more in sales tax for the city during this 5 month period.

“People are staying longer and spending more money,” said Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD. “Drivers are a little more cautious, I would say.”

Removing car parking to widen sidewalks provided more room for crowds and made storefronts more visible, said Campbell. “You look down the street, and you don’t have a string of cars that are part of the landscape. The businesses become the landscape.”

“A lot of the merchants came back to me and said, you know what, I thought losing the parking was going to be a problem, but I feel like people can actually see my windows now, and they’re engaging with us more.”

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TSP Rebooted: Bureaucratic Revamp Could Boost Transit and Livable Streets

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Photo: Sergio Ruiz via SF Planning

Photo: Sergio Ruiz via SF Planning

San Francisco agencies have re-introduced the Transportation Sustainability Program, a bureaucratic overhaul that could dramatically expedite improvements for walking, biking, and transit, while discouraging car parking in new developments.

In developing the program, SF planners are also nearing completion of the nation’s first major study showing that dedicated car parking encourages driving.

The TSP is three-pronged: It would overhaul SF’s development fee system to fund sustainable transportation upgrades, set mandated targets for developers to reduce driving caused by their projects, and replace the automobile-centric metric known as Level of Service (LOS), which would make environmental reviews both faster and more “meaningful,” planners say.

“If you’re moving people out of cars, you need to have the infrastructure for them to do things otherwise,” said Sarah Jones, the SF Planning Department’s director of environmental planning. “Each of these components can operate on its own, but we are working on them in an integrated way, because each of them really enhances the other.”

Originally expected to be adopted in 2013, the program has been fine-tuned since it was put on hold in late 2012 primarily for two reasons. At that time, the Board of Supervisors rejected a new fee system after a misinformation campaign, and the California legislature since passed a bill calling for the replacement of LOS as the state’s transportation metric.

The SFMTA, the Planning Department, and the SF County Transportation Authority are preparing to launch public outreach on the TSP within the coming months and institute the program in stages by the end of the year, said Jones.

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Phil Matier’s Shameless Bid to Drum Up Resentment About Parking

Phil Matier is apparently perturbed at the “rapid” pace at which SF plans to re-purpose less than 0.5 percent of its curbside parking spaces.

In keeping with his habitual windshield perspective, Matier used both his SF Chronicle column and air time on KCBS radio today to spin a narrative about motorists getting “a giant middle finger” because a sliver of curb space is being used for bike lanes, transit lanes, wider sidewalks, and parklets instead of car storage.

Phil Matier. Photo: KCBS

The outlook for motorists is dire, according to the lede of today’s Chronicle column, which Matier writes with Andrew Ross:

From the Financial District to the Fillmore, parking spaces along San Francisco’s streets are vanishing at unprecedented numbers — and for those who drive, the situation is only going to get worse.

Okay then, let’s do the math. The 1,600 parking spaces “scheduled for removal” make up an exceedingly small share — less than 0.5 percent — of the 280,000 on-street parking spaces that occupy the vast majority of the city’s curb space.

The areas poised to get safer streets and better transit — or “the hardest hit parts” of the city, as Matier said on KCBS this morning — are South of Market, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Financial District. “Last year, 180 spaces were taken out of service in the downtown area alone,” went today’s column.

Census data shows that the downtown and Civic Center area has as many as 35,000 publicly-accessible parking spaces per square mile — the highest density in the city. Matier and Ross also neglected to mention that none of these figures include SF’s uncounted private parking spaces, estimated to be as many as 800,000.

On KCBS radio this morning, Matier told the hosts they only had to look out their window to see a recently daylighted intersection — where parking spaces were removed near street corners to make people more visible when they enter the crosswalk.

Leave it to Matier to make this simple safety measure sound more like a kidnapping:

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How Freeway Removal and Zero Parking Can Fend Off SF’s Triple Threat

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Upzoning in the eastern portion of the Market and Octavia Plan area without allowing any parking has great promise to bring more affordable housing to the center of San Francisco. Photo: Jason Henderson

There is an urgent triumvirate of crises looming over San Franciscans. With median rents now exceeding $4,200, hyper-gentrification is tearing lives apart. Except for those surviving on rent control, the city is no longer welcoming to teachers, artists, and the entire middle class. Things are looking difficult in the East Bay, as speculators and realtors spread their tentacles of greed around every BART station.

Meanwhile, on the city’s streets there’s an onslaught of untenable motor traffic, visionless drivers imposing violence and rage on the streets, Ubers blocking bike lanes, private buses grabbing Muni stops. It’s not just hard to get around. It’s deadly.

And in the back of every decent thinking person’s mind there’s the specter of climate change. What kind of Mad Max world comes with a 4° increase in global mean temperatures? How can we stabilize at 2°? Will the Bay Area be viable as Sierra snowpack dries up and the seas rise? What can we do here? Now?

Many people feel despondent at what is unfolding. In San Francisco, a proposed moratorium on new market rate development in the Mission has gained traction and will be vetted at the Board of Supervisors. In Oakland, a city hall meeting was bum rushed and shut down by activists.

Sustainable transportation activists push a Vision Zero agenda to tame traffic but the mayor defends parking over human lives. And affordability and the traffic mess are tangled up in a planning quagmire, with the impotent Plan Bay Area the only coherent climate strategy in town.

There’s a lot to grapple with here, and not much time to make a difference. But lately a few planning ideas — zero parking, freeway removal, and upzoning for affordability — have come to my mind as ways we can quickly, practically, and deliberately address this converging madness — right here, right now.

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Another Day, Another Driver Blocking Muni’s Busiest Metro Line

N-Judah riders can’t get any relief from idiots who leave their automobiles in the way of Muni’s busiest line.

The entire length of the metro line was shut down for at least 40 minutes Thursday, starting at about 2 p.m., after the driver of an extra-wide pick-up with a raised chassis parked at the curb on Carl Street. The vehicle was so big it obstructed the train’s path, clearly marked by a white stripe.

The SFMTA’s Twitter account reported that the line was blocked at 2 p.m., and that it was cleared by 2:38 p.m.

This time, there were no superhuman feats from N-Judah riders to clear a path — the truck was eventually towed.

Until the streets on the N’s route get improvements like separated transit lanes and car restrictions, riders can continue to expect routine shutdowns caused by clueless motorists. The list of recent causes: Parking a vehicle that’s too wide, attempting to drive into a visibly-marked train tunnel, an angry passenger throwing out the vehicle’s keys, and the most common one — double-parking on the tracks, as exhibited below on Ninth Avenue:

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Menlo Park’s Plan to Ruin Downtown With Parking Garages

Menlo Park's popular Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Menlo Park’s Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Building new parking garages in downtown Menlo Park will cost tens of millions of dollars while clogging streets with more traffic. But that’s what municipal leaders are seriously considering in an attempt to boost business, apparently oblivious to modern parking policies that have paid off for other Peninsula cities.

Last month, the Menlo Park City Council voiced support for building a new five-level parking garage on top of one of the city’s surface parking lots, called “parking plazas.” The project is estimated to cost between $29,000 and $43,000 per parking space — adding up to several million dollars. The council is also considering extending time limits for downtown parking spaces, having concluded that the current time limits on free parking discourage shoppers from visiting businesses on Santa Cruz Avenue.

Menlo Park maintains 1,595 free parking spaces in its downtown core (the area bounded by El Camino Real, University Drive, Oak Grove Avenue, and Menlo Avenue). The current time limits, set in 2011, are 15 minutes, one hour, or two hours, depending on location. In some spaces, drivers can exceed the two-hour limit by paying $1 per hour after it expires. Also available are $10 daily permits and $592 annual permits.

The council proposed doubling the time limits on the 15-minute and one-hour spaces and extending the two-hour spaces to a three hour limit, with the intention of giving customers arriving by car more time to spend at Santa Cruz Avenue businesses.

“We have the foot traffic, and then we take a stick and chase [customers] away as soon as they finish lunch,” said Mayor Catherine Carlton of the current time limits.

“I just want to make it as easy as possible for families and our seniors to patronize our local business and our restaurants downtown,” said Council Member Ray Mueller, who described the current time limits as outdated, based on parking data collected in 2009 during an economic recession.

But what’s really outdated is the idea that giving away more free parking will be good for downtown. Time limits are a blunt and ineffective means to ration access to parking. For years, UCLA professor Donald Shoup, the nation’s leading expert on parking policy, has counseled cities to instead manage parking by pricing it properly, so that some spaces are always available.

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All Meters Now SFpark-Ready — More Demand-Based Parking Pricing to Come

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Image: KPIX

The SFMTA recently upgraded all of SF’s 29,000 parking meters to “smart meters” that are enabled for demand-based price changes throughout the day, a la SFpark. Now, the SFMTA plans to expand its smart pricing program that has curbed car traffic to more existing meters.

“SFpark showed that demand-based pricing can improve parking availability without increasing double parking, congestion, or parking citations,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “Our next challenge is to figure out the right mix of pricing and real-time information to make SFpark work in every neighborhood in the city. We’ll be working with stakeholders to find a win-win that creates less frustration, smarter travel choices, and fewer citations for every neighborhood.”

Under SFpark, the SFMTA has used “demand-responsive” pricing at about a quarter of the city’s meters since 2011. During a two-year pilot phase, the federally-funded program proved that by adjusting prices to demand, enough parking spaces could be made available to eliminate the need to circle for a spot.

Once the SFpark pilot phase ended, the in-ground sensors used to measure parking occupancy were shut down. But the SFMTA can still measure occupancy using the smart meters, albeit with slightly less accuracy, since they transmit payment data.

By all measures, SFpark successfully proved Professor Donald Shoup’s theory. At the meters included in the program, cruising for a spot was cut was cut by 30 percent, and meter-related parking tickets cut by 23 percent, according to the SFMTA’s report. Average on-street meter rates dropped by 4 percent, and double parking dropped 22 percent (compared to 5 percent in control areas).

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Supervisors Pass Breed’s Bill to Loosen Some Parking Mandates

A new bill will make it easier for some homeowners to convert their garages to other uses. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously passed an ordinance removing some of SF’s 1950s-era parking mandates.

The “Parking Flexibility Ordinance,” drafted by Supervisors President London Breed and Livable City, will make it easier for building owners and developers to avoid building car parking when it would impinge on the street environment for walking, bicycling, and transit. It would also count parking spaces against density limits, unless they’re built underground.

The ordinance adds to the city’s efforts in recent years to relax strict parking minimums. Among the host of reasons to do away with parking minimums: They generate motor vehicle traffic and make it more costly to build housing.

“Do we really want to prioritize parking over jobs and housing?” Breed aide Conor Johnston said at a recent Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing, explaining that the planning code amendments would “not limit anyone’s ability to construct parking if they choose, they simply give people more options.”

The ordinance was passed unanimously, without discussion, by both the full Board of Supervisors and the committee.

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CPMC Van Ness Construction Was Delayed to Save Church Parking on Easter

The CPMC construction site, currently a gaping hole for the hospital’s parking garage, as seen today on a live camera feed. Image: CPMC

Church leaders successfully persuaded California Pacific Medical Center to delay a weekend traffic closure on Van Ness Avenue so a temporary ban on street parking would not coincide with Easter weekend.

One block of Van Ness, between Post and Geary Streets, will be closed to car traffic this weekend so crews can construct a pedestrian tunnel connecting CPMC’s hospital with its medical office building, under construction at Van Ness and Geary Street.

The detour, one in a series of lane closures on Van Ness, was originally supposed to happen last weekend. Now that it’s been postponed, the two full traffic closures will coincide with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and parade, which runs north on Polk Street, then west on Post Street.

To accommodate the extra traffic on the detour route, street parking will be banned for the weekend on Gough and Franklin Streets, which run parallel to Van Ness.

Leaders at several nearby churches were irked when they discovered that those parking restrictions would take place on Easter weekend. Three weeks before the planned Easter closure, a religious community leader contacted the SFMTA and threatened a public “message of condemnation” of the agency if it wasn’t moved, according to emails obtained through a public records request [PDF].

“If this street closure is allowed to occur it will force the SFIC and its constituent congregations and judicatories to respond to the City and the SFMTA with a unified message of condemnation,” SF Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas wrote in a March 11 email to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “I am appealing to you to intercede before this matter becomes irreversible.”

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Mayor Lee’s Doctor Prescribes “Balanced Diet” for San Francisco Streets

A rendering of the plan for Second Street. Image: DPW

Mayor Ed Lee has appointed his personal physician, Dr. Barbara Peñalosa, as San Francisco’s first Transportation Administrator.

In her new role, Peñalosa will have an unprecedented amount of authority over SF’s streets. As her first order of business, she has vowed to put city streets on a “balanced diet” by devoting at least 50 percent of street space to walking, biking, and transit by 2020.

Lee said he created the position for an expert to take “balanced” stances on politically challenging issues such as removing car parking to implement life-saving measures.

“Barbara has always been there to advise me on transportation policy, as have all my doctors,” Lee said in a statement. “They’re the experts. They have so many issues to balance, and I just want to make sure I embrace a very strong balancing process.”

Peñalosa’s appointment “reflects our commitment to Vision Zero,” Lee added. “Barbara will ensure that our investments in pedestrian and bicycle safety are balanced with the convenience of other road users. I have absolute faith that she can balance our city’s streets into balance, just like she balanced my diet.”

Peñalosa’s first priority as SF’s transportation czar, she said, is to re-purpose street space to “provide safe, affordable, and efficient options for San Franciscans” to get around in a city where streets are “overwhelmingly dominated by private automobiles.”

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