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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 MTABoard@sfmta.com.

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How Google Busers Can Avoid Bus Backlash: Get a Car

Tech workers’ humdrum daily commutes in San Francisco have recently become anything but. An environmental appeal was filed (and later rejected) against the city, on the grounds that the “Google buses” are a direct cause of skyrocketing rents and housing displacement. Protestors blockading tech shuttles in bus stops have drawn a frenzy of international media attention.

Image: ABC 7

So what can a gentrifier do to get to that lucrative tech job in Silicon Valley, without having to sneak around costumed blockades and news cameras? As it turns out, there is one sly way for a commuter to use plenty of public curb space for absolutely free, while completely avoiding public scrutiny. All that this theoretical Google or Facebook worker has to do to both enjoy the city life in San Francisco, and fly under the radar of the political backlash, is drive to work. You can bet that no one will block their vehicle in protest, file a lawsuit, or seek an environmental review for the existing policies that let commuters store their private vehicles on public streets.

Sure, the big private buses make an easy target to fixate upon and blame for the city’s housing woes. Sure, many of us have sat aboard Muni buses blocked by a shuttle bus idling at its bus stop. As we’ve written, this is not a sustainable situation: Private bus operators should be charged an appropriate and legal amount for new loading zones by reallocating curb space now used for parking. That’s what the SFMTA is planning to do with its pilot regulation program. Although its scant $1-per-stop price has drawn criticism, it’s the maximum allowed under state law, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has wished aloud that they could charge more.

Targeting tech shuttles does not address the root causes of the city’s big woes, and two recent polls indicate that a majority of San Franciscans agree. The Bay Area has failed to build an efficient transit network to connect where people live and work, and failed to build enough housing to match its vigorous job growth. Minimum parking requirements ensure that cars find housing, even when people can’t, and even though most of the space along San Francisco’s curbs is reserved for storing private automobiles.

The very same complaints against commuter shuttles, as lodged by those who appealed the environmental review exemption for the SFMTA’s shuttle regulation program, can be levied against cars as well — albeit on an entirely different scale. Private cars clog the streets, block Muni, occupy public space for free, create air and noise pollution, and endanger bicyclists and pedestrians, all day, every day, throughout the entire city — and instead of filing lawsuits, we take it all for granted.

If the argument is that vehicles driven for highly-paid residents are also vehicles that drive gentrification, it’s bizarre that no one seems to care when that vehicle is a car. It’s another example of how our society has a huge blind spot: We cannot seem to see how much we’ve re-shaped our cities, and our lives, to ignore the negative effects of the automobile.

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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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Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

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Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is ”deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. ”I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

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Tonight: Final Open House on a Safer Polk Street

Left: a “Save Polk Street” flyer. Right: A parody from an anonymous satirist. Photos: Folks for Polk/Twitter

Tonight is the SFMTA and Planning Department’s final open house on the Polk Street redesign, the last chance to weigh in on the agency’s preferred design before it goes to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval. As you can see from the above flyer, the parking-obsessed “Save Polk Street” group is still fighting against safety measures in order to hang on to the small amount of car storage the SFMTA proposes to remove.

Meanwhile, an anonymous satirist posted a parody flyer countering some of the opposition nonsense. Perplexingly, the Save Polk Street flyer accuses the SFMTA of not approving pedestrian bulb-outs in the plan. As the parody flyer points out, it was none other than Save Polk Street that protested the bulb-outs and any measures that remove parking. (“Why did the bullies say ‘no’ to the bulbouts MTA supported for their God-given right to parking? … WHY? WHY? WHY?”)

A second satirical flyer. Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter

The proposed design calls for a southbound, green-painted bike lane between parked cars and moving cars on the nine-block segment of Polk between California and Union Streets. The northbound direction will only have a bike lane during the morning commute hours — the rest of the day, riders will still be forced to mix with motor vehicles. While the bike lane is in effect, curbside parking won’t be allowed (hence the top of Save Polk Street’s flyer reading, “$500 TOW AWAY!”). At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

The 11-block southbound segment between McAllister and California Streets will include a raised, protected bike lane with bike traffic signals. The northbound side of that segment will include a green, buffered bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

A city survey found that the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk was safer conditions for walking and bicycling — easily eclipsing the importance people placed on car storage on a street where 85 percent of people arrive without a car. In November, the SFMTA Board required that planners present them with a pilot project option for a full-length bike lane.

The SFMTA planners will be on hand to discuss the proposals at the open house, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the auditorium of Tenderloin Elementary School at 627 Turk Street, between Polk and Van Ness Avenue.

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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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Avalos’ Eyes on the Street: SFPD Blocks Crosswalk During Traffic Stop

Supervisor John Avalos posted the above photo on Facebook with the following explanation:

Ironic traffic stop on Mission and Ocean. Police vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection blocking the cross walk and sending the 49 bus into the next lane. We have a ways to go to coordinate our pedestrian safety effort.

Indeed. Avalos, the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, posted this on the same day he joined Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders at a press conference announcing the five-year WalkFirst plan. The same day, a Board of Supervisors committee held a hearing on Vision Zero, the city’s goal of ending traffic deaths within ten years. It’s worth noting Avalos launched the Vision Zero campaign at City Hall along with Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee.

If SFPD is going to lead in those efforts, as Chief Greg Suhr has pledged to do, the department’s officers are going to need to start with some basic awareness of how they can stop contributing to the problem.

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Appeals Board Reverses Vote to Downsize Parking-Free 1050 Valencia

The San Francsco Board of Appeals voted yesterday to reverse its decision to downsize the long-embattled condo project at 1050 Valencia Street in the Mission. The project includes no car parking and one bike parking space for each unit.

Image: Architect Stephen Antonaros via Mission Local

The vote restores the full 12 units approved by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors. The Appeals Board had voted in December to chop off one of the building’s five floors, removing three units, two of which would be subsidized affordable housing. The downsizing was intended to appease vociferous neighbors opposed to the perceived increase in noise, shadows, and competition for curbside parking spaces, since new residents wouldn’t have off-street parking. (Studies show that residents who move into a home without a dedicated parking space are less likely to own and drive cars.)

Housing development advocates successfully challenged the Board of Appeals vote on the grounds that it violated the California Housing Accountability Act. The Housing Action Coalition explains in a press release:

Under the California “Housing Accountability Act,” for a local agency to condition approval of a housing project on reducing its density to less than that allowed by law, the agency must make findings that the project would have a “specific adverse impact on public health and safety” unless the density is reduced.

HAC Executive Director Tim Colen argued to the Board of Appeals that, in fact, restricting the amount of desperately-needed housing in transit-oriented projects like 1050 Valencia is what’s harmful to public health and the economy. “Among the consequences are discrimination against low-income and minority households, lack of housing to support employment growth, imbalance in jobs and housing, reduced mobility, urban sprawl, excessive commuting, and air quality deterioration,” he said.

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