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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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Eyes on the Street: Idiots Continue to Park in the Oak Street Bike Lane

Looks like some tickets are in order.

Even with planted protective barriers alongside the Oak Street bike lane, some drivers haven’t got the message and continue to park or stop in it. It’s not clear if the violations are happening less often, and it’s still early in the learning curve, but the hope had been that the planters would send a stronger message to drivers to stay out.

The design leaves large gaps in the physical protection around curb cuts and the approaches to intersections, where turning drivers merge into the bike lane. There are no plans to expand the protective islands.

For now, San Franciscans have to rely on the SFMTA and SFPD to provide consistent enforcement against violators. That’s another work in progress.

Photo: Al Sharff

Photo: Al Sharff

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Supervisor Breed Calls for Removing Some of SF’s Parking Mandates

Supervisor London Breed has proposed a “Parking Flexibility Ordinance” that would make it easier for building owners and developers not to build 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.

Supervisor London Breed. Photo: Supervisor Breed’s Office

The ordinance [PDF] was approved by the Planning Commission last week and is expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks.

SF’s 1950s-era parking mandates increase the cost of building housing and limit the space available for apartments, storefronts, and other uses. Minimum parking requirements encourage car ownership, make buildings more susceptible to earthquake damage, cut up SF’s sidewalks with driveways (which also reduce street parking and encourage sidewalk parking), and diminish the pedestrian realm with blank garage doors.

The proposal would amend the planning code so that “builders, businesses, and homeowners can have more say in where and if they put parking on their property,” Conor Johnston, an aide for Breed, told the Planning Commission Thursday.

Breed’s proposal would waive parking mandates in certain situations, including when parking spaces require drivers to cross a curbside bike lane, transit-only lane, or a sidewalk that’s at least 25 feet wide. The additional flexibility will allow existing parking spots to be converted to other uses and let developers forego building new ones.

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Daly City Votes to Continue Subsidizing Residential Parking Permits

Willits Street two blocks south of the Daly City BART Station. Only residents are allowed to park vehicles in the street on weekday mornings, and each residence may receive up to three free permits. Photo: Google Maps

Daly City’s City Council shot down a proposal last month to charge $40 a year for residential parking permits near the city’s BART station. The permits, which give resident car owners privileged access to on-street parking, are currently free.

The proposed fee, which amounts to 11 cents per day, elicited raucous opposition from public commenters at the council meeting. The fee would have applied only to a household’s third and fourth parking permits, leaving the first two permits free. The maximum number of permits each household could receive would be capped at four vehicles, up from the current three.

“The proposed fee would encourage driveway and off-street parking; reduce traffic congestion; create a safer pedestrian environment in the affected neighborhoods; recover the costs for processing parking permits and a small portion of the cost for parking permits enforcement,” wrote Daly City Director of Finance and Administrative Services Lawrence Chiu.

The argument to stop subsidizing parking quite so much didn’t get very far. City Council Member Judith Christensen called the proposal “outrageous.”

“That would be 1,039 people who will be paying $40 for something that for 20 years was free,” she noted, pointing to the city’s data on how many households are now parking a third or fourth vehicle in the street.

“I’m absolutely opposed to the raising of parking permit fees… we should disapprove any fee whatsoever,” said Council Member David Canepa.

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New Bike Lanes in Sunnyvale Could Be Just the Beginning for El Camino Real

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The first bike lanes installed on El Camino Real, in Sunnyvale, are six feet wide and run unprotected next to 14-foot wide traffic lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

To build a bike network, you’ve gotta start somewhere, and on El Camino Real, it started in Sunnyvale last month. The first bike lanes on El Camino Real are six feet wide, striped along the curb with no protection from traffic, running half a mile from Sunnyvale Avenue to Fair Oaks Avenue/Remington Drive, near the city’s downtown.

While it may not be all-ages bike infrastructure, the new bike lanes still set an important precedent for the 43-mile-long street-level highway connecting San Francisco and San Jose. James Manitakos, former chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, has called the project “a good first step.”

Now several other towns on the Peninsula are considering safer, better bike infrastructure — including protected lanes — for key segments of El Camino.

Sunnyvale chose to replace car parking with bike lanes on this section of El Camino Real only after commissioning a study [PDF] to ensure that the parking was barely used, so as to not inconvenience drivers. This despite the city’s 2008 Policy for Allocation of Street Space [PDF], which states that “safe accommodation for all transport modes takes priority over non-transport uses,” and that parking “shall not be considered a transport use.”

According to the city’s study, only one of the roughly 134 parking spaces on El Camino’s curbs were used at peak hours on average, and city staff counted 3,337 spaces in the seven parking lots along the street.

Other sections of El Camino Real along the Peninsula could get bike lanes soon, though cities approve them on a piecemeal basis. Mountain View, to the north, approved six-foot wide buffered bike lanes on its 1.2-mile stretch from Calderon/Phyllis Avenue to the border with Sunnyvale at Knickerbocker Drive. That project was approved with the adoption of Mountain View’s El Camino Real Precise Plan in November.

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