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The More Space SF Uses to Store Cars, the Less We’ll Have to House People

The Fifth and Mission parking garage. Can SF afford to continue devoting so much space to personal car storage? Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

What if San Francisco stopped adding car parking? The idea might sound a little odd to the average person, but when you look at where the city is heading, the really crazy scenario would be to keep on cramming more cars into our neighborhoods. Under current policies, SF is poised to build 92,000 spots for personal car storage by 2040, consuming an ungodly amount of space in our compact, 7-mile-by-7-mile city. At what point does it stop?

“If we were really serious about” curbing emissions and creating a livable city, “we would just cap it at zero right now,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” at a forum this week on San Francisco’s parking policies.

Henderson took the figure of 92,000 projected spaces from Plan Bay Area, which is supposed to start the region on a path toward smart growth, but still foresees a heavily car-dependent future in 25 years. The SF Transportation Plan, created by the SF County Transportation Authority, projects “total gridlock” within the same time frame unless the city makes serious changes to its car-centric land-use planning policies.

Although the move away from policies like minimum parking requirements, which mandate a certain number of cars per household in new buildings, is often framed as an ideological shift, Josh Switzky of the SF Planning Department says it’s simpler than that — there are physical limits to cramming cars into the city. “It’s about geometry,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to accommodate people more efficiently.”

In other words, there’s a finite amount of space in the city. Does it make any sense to squeeze thousands of additional cars into San Francisco when we’re still struggling to create enough space to house people? What are the full costs SF will absorb if it continues to build more infrastructure for cars?

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Survey Shows Polk Neighbors Want Safer Streets First, Not Parking

A new survey shows that car parking is far from the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk Street.

Updated 6:09 p.m. with comment from MPNA.

Polk Street’s dangerous conditions for people walking and biking are, by far, the biggest concern for people who live, work, and shop there — far more important than any lack of car parking, according to a new neighborhood survey.

The survey [DOCX] was conducted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in partnership with the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which hosted a neighborhood meeting last March where the parking-obsessed furor drummed up by the a group of merchants called “Save Polk Street” overwhelmed discussion of facts with fearmongering.

“Middle Polk is extremely concerned about safety – pedestrian, bicycles, etc..” said MPNA Chair Dawn Trennert. ”No doubt that would rank #1. The Save Polk Street issue about parking has a few aspects to it – but the primary one is concern over removal of parking.  Pedestrian and bicycle safety and parking are all important items for our neighborhood.”

Out of the 140 respondents to the survey conducted last fall, 48 said “the biggest challenge affecting Middle Polk” was the “unsafe environment for pedestrians and cyclists.” It was the top choice, while “not enough parking” was chosen by 16 respondents, making it the third-most selected choice. The second-biggest concern was the “presence of homelessness / loitering.”

The survey findings buttress an SFMTA survey released last March which found that 85 percent of people on Polk arrive without a car, and that those who do drive tend to spend the least on a weekly basis.

“These survey results reaffirm what so many residents, shoppers and commuters of Polk Street understand: this thriving corridor needs a transformation that places people first,” said Kristin Smith, communications director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The SFMTA must implement a robust pilot to demonstrate the benefits of safer and more inviting biking and walking conditions and ensure the Polk Street Project Improvement Project meets the real needs of Polk.”

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Mayor Lee’s Spineless Sunday Meter Reversal: Bad for Business, Bad for SF

Sunday parking meters have cut cruising times in half, according to an SFMTA report. Mayor Lee wants to undo that.

After a years-long push to implement a smart parking policy in San Francisco, leave it to Mayor Ed Lee to take us back to 1947.

The mayor wants to repeal parking metering on Sundays, undoing the slew of benefits that the policy has brought to the city in its first year. As a recent SFMTA report lays out, Sunday metering has increased turnover for businesses and reduced car traffic circling for parking in commercial areas. Previously, meter hours hadn’t been updated since 1947, when businesses generally weren’t open on Sundays.

Mayor Lee. Image: CBS 5

By pandering to drivers complaining about parking tickets, the mayor appears to be betting he’ll win support for three transportation funding measures expected to hit the ballot in November. But reinstating free parking would come at incredible cost in the form of extra car traffic, while undermining the SFMTA’s ability to implement rational transportation policy.

Lee’s absurd argument is that SF doesn’t need Sunday metering because Muni will have sufficient funding once voters approve the ballot measures. It’s an insult to the transit-riding public, and it shows how out of touch he is with the city’s transportation needs. Explaining why he didn’t stand in the way of Sunday metering when it was adopted, he told the SF Chronicle this week, “I’ve always felt uncomfortable with it, but Muni was suffering and we needed the money,” as if parking meters serve no purpose other than revenue collection.

Yet the Chamber of Commerce backed Sunday metering — and it still does, because it’s good for business, said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy. “In most commercial corridors, virtually every business is open on Sunday,” he said. Without metering, “There are neighborhoods where it’s difficult, if you have to drive to do any business, because parking is just not available from Saturday night until Monday morning.”

Sadly, it looks as though the Mayor is playing political games instead of responsibly managing the city’s transportation system,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Aside from the revenue hit to Muni, what’s disappointing about the mayor’s move is that the facts show that Sunday metering was working – parking availability and turnover increased in commercial districts, which is helpful to merchants and shoppers.”

“Improved parking availability reduces cruising for parking, which in turn reduces danger to pedestrians and cyclists, traffic congestion in neighborhoods, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The benefits were demonstrated in a December SFMTA report [PDF] on the impacts of Sunday metering in 2013:

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DPW Tallies the Vote Before Committing to More Ped Space on Potrero

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A DPW rendering of option 1 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th Streets, which has been selected after receiving the highest number of votes from the public.

The Department of Public Works has selected a design option for the two most heavily-contested blocks of Potrero Avenue following a vote by attendees of two public meetings. Of the three choices presented for the section between 22nd and 24th Streets in front of SF General Hospital, the most popular was Option 1, which will allocate street space to wider sidewalks and a center median with plantings — not a bike lane buffer or car parking, as in the two other options, according to DPW.

By November, DPW had settled on the plan for the rest of Potrero, between 17th and 25th Streets, which will include a planted center median (south of 20th Street), pedestrian bulb-outs, and green-painted buffered bike lanes. It also calls for moving the existing red-painted transit lane from the northbound side to southbound side and extending it a few blocks. No other section will get a full sidewalk widening other than the one side of the two blocks that the public voted on.

Although DPW originally proposed widening four blocks of Potrero’s eastern sidewalk, planners downsized that part of the proposal after some people agitated to retain parking and traffic lanes for cars. However, according to DPW, in the vote on options for the two blocks between 22nd and 24th, only 25 percent of attendees voted for option 3 — the one that prioritized car parking.

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said the organization “is thrilled that DPW did not choose option 3, a plan to maintain sub-par sidewalks in front of a hospital.” The improvements in option 1 “can cut the number drivers that hit pedestrians in half,” she said.

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SFMTA Abandons Parking Meter Plans in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill

The SFMTA has given up on its neighborhood-scale plans to install parking meters in the Dogpatch and Portrero Hill, while parking meter approvals in the northeast Mission move forward at a snail’s pace. After two years of tangling with the city, the defenders of dysfunctional free parking have effectively caused a huge setback for progressive transportation policy – meaning more traffic and slower transit in the future. Hooray for San Francisco.

Potrero Hill and Dogpatch will continue to be saddled with car traffic circling for free parking spots for an indefinite period of time. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Potrero Hill and Dogpatch will continue to be saddled with car traffic circling for free parking spots for an indefinite period of time. Photo: Aaron Bialick

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the Potrero View this month, “Any parking changes in the [Portero and Dogpatch] area are likely to be ‘small in scope and iterative, with the goal of addressing parking on the busiest of commercial blocks, where customers are currently having a challenging time finding parking spaces. A comprehensive approach is not likely.’”

Rose told Streetsblog that down the road, the SFMTA will try to incorporate comprehensive parking management into longer-term area plans such as its Waterfront Transportation Assessment, a guide for development and transportation planning in areas near Dogpatch and Potrero Hill. “We are taking a step back to better work with the residents and merchants in the area to implement necessary changes,” he said. “While every block will not be considered at once, we do want to implement more efficient strategies that address parking on the busiest of the commercial blocks where customers are currently having a challenging time finding spaces. We received significant feedback requesting that any parking discussions occur in the context of other major transportation and development projects in or near the area.”

As for the parking-crunched northeast Mission, the first of the three neighborhoods where the SFMTA initiated its drawn-out parking outreach, only a small fraction of the planned meters are moving through the approval process — nearly half a year behind the schedule presented at a public meeting in March [PDF]. The initial meters were delayed even further by meter opponents who protested the wrong hearing ordinance.

The baby-steps approach “should help create pockets of availability in some otherwise parked-out areas of the neighborhood, making it easier for visitors, customers, employees, and residents to find spaces,” the SFMTA said in its latest email update on the plan. “Although this approach is a significant reduction in scope from previous parking proposals, it will still help open up some key spaces around the neighborhood. The changes outlined in this approach will give the SFMTA and neighbors the opportunity to see how a few blocks of parking meters and extended [residential parking permit] work and evaluate their effectiveness over time.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said the SFMTA shouldn’t have abandoned the neighborhood-scale planning approach in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill, as it “makes a lot of sense.”

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At Car-Free Marina Path Meeting, Parking-First Boaters Balanced by Sanity

Image: DPW

Update 12/19: DPW now has an online survey you can take about removing parking on the Marina path.

Marina boat owners riled by the prospect of removing underused car parking from the Marina Boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path got a bit of a reality check at a meeting last week. Some neighbors in attendance made the case for moving the parking, and planners presented some enlightening data about the path’s use.

Unlike the first meeting, the open house format didn’t lend itself to loud rants from boat owners in defense of their entitlement to car storage on the path. In the open Q-and-A session of the previous meeting, attended by about a dozen people who mostly appeared to be boat slip lessees, one man argued that ”the bicyclists are out for whatever they can get” and that “the marinas on the east coast, where I also live, have adequate parking.” One woman asked whether or not parking was open space.

At the latest meeting, I did get into a discussion with someone who had a more reasonable defense of using the path for parking. He made the case that boat slip renters are entitled to the parking on the path as part of their contracts, and that the stretch in question, between Baker and Scott Streets, wasn’t a destination worth improving.

But the 57 parking spaces — the only ones directly on the 500-mile Bay Trail — just aren’t essential. They sit adjacent to just 91 of the 350-some-odd total slips in the Marina basin, and occupancy ranges between 40 and 68 percent, according to city counts done throughout 2011. And yet a quarter of the path is devoted to auto storage, while another quarter is deemed a “shared” driving lane, which undermines any sense of safety and comfort for people walking and biking — who comprise 98 percent of the users on this segment of the path.

The Marina path as it exists today. Photo: DPW

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The Bay Area Needs More Walkable Housing, Not Google Bus Bashing

The anger of the protestors who blockaded a Google bus in the Mission on Monday was very real and understandable. San Francisco residents, living in a highly sought-after city with a limited housing supply, are coping with a crisis of skyrocketing rents and evictions. Meanwhile, Muni riders increasingly find their stops blocked by private shuttles that appear to be whisking away the very Peninsula tech workers blamed for driving up rents.

Plenty has been written about the strife caused by SF’s housing crisis in the last few years. But as we wrote in February, pointing fingers at tech shuttles doesn’t help solve the problem — if anything, it’s a distraction from effective solutions.

The real culprits are the decades-long failures of SF and other Bay Area cities to develop efficient transit systems and the kind of walkable neighborhoods that are in ever higher demand, yet in scarce supply in the region. And deeper than that is the cultural aversion to change and the political establishment that caters to it, avoiding tough but necessary decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — the fact that private shuttles are illegally using Muni stops without paying anything for it is unjust and unsustainable, as Monday’s protestors rightly called out. But those specific problems can be addressed by devoting more curb space to transit — both public and private — the vast majority of which is currently devoted to free, subsidized personal car storage. The SFMTA’s plans to convert car parking to shuttle stops and establish a private shuttle fee system are a step in the right direction.

But what’s really hampering Muni performance is all the private car traffic that bogs down buses and the unnecessary frequency of stops. Imagine if protestors devoted this much energy and media savvy to demanding speedy implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project by City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fact is that the Bay Area can’t have the dynamic tech-based economy sought by Mayor Ed Lee and an affordable housing supply for middle-class and low-income people without building substantial amounts of walkable development.

One factor we’ve pointed out on Streetsblog is that housing development in SF and other cities is hamstrung by minimum parking requirements, meaning housing for people is mandated to come with a certain amount of housing for cars. This adds to the cost of building, owning, and renting that housing, and limits the amount of space for residences or businesses. And as research has shown repeatedly, when housing is bundled with a parking space, residents are more likely to own a car and drive, making the transit system less effective.

Unfortunately, the positions staked out by Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen on recent housing development projects coming out of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan work against the goal of affordability. Campos and Cohen have fought projects on the basis that they don’t have enough parking, causing developers to add spaces or subtract apartments, flying in the face of smart zoning policies developed over ten years. Meanwhile, parking-free housing is a growing trend in other American cities.

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Supes Hamstring SFMTA’s Ability to Expand Progressive Parking Policy

In a setback for progressive parking policy in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors voted last week to eliminate the SFMTA’s ability to install any significant amount of new parking meters under a new five-year contract to upgrade existing meters.

The $54 million contract originally covered 25,000 parking meters that accept credit cards and multiple forms of payment to replace existing meters, plus 10,000 for backup stock and some potential expansions, which would require a separate public planning process before installation. But supervisors appear to be going along with the anti-meter campaign led by Supervisor Mark Farrell, amending the contract to remove half of the additional 10,000 meters. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that only leaves room for the agency to fill “very small-scale requests” for new meters from merchants.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich called the supervisors’ stance “disappointing”:

Parking meters are essential to San Francisco’s policy of prioritizing on-street parking for local merchants and residents before drive-alone commuters. As land uses diversify across the eastern neighborhoods of the city, there will continue to be a need for new metered areas to ensure that commuter parking not displace the short-term parking that supports neighborhood-serving businesses. A cap on parking meters will limit MTA’s ability to manage on-street parking for the benefit of local merchants and their customers.

No supervisors opposed reducing the number of meters to be purchased in the contract. Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the contract amendment, said the SFMTA is expected to allocate the 5,000 additional meters like so: 1,200 to replace meters on Port property, 2,800 to replace damaged meters, and 1,000 “to be used as a maintenance flow.”

“There will be no expansion of meters,” said Avalos. “If that’s gonna happen, it’ll be another go-around from the MTA to describe how they will implement and with a lot of outreach to the public.”

Even though SFMTA officials stated in no uncertain terms that the location of any significant expansion of meters could only be initiated through a publicly-vetted planning process, supervisors unanimously approved the amendment, citing a lack of confidence in the SFMTA’s outreach process. The SFMTA Board of Directors voted last week to require more stringent outreach measures for new parking meters.

The lone vote against the contract from Supervisor Jane Kim apparently wasn’t intended as a stand for rational parking policy. Instead, Kim said she wanted the contract to include provisions that would bind the SFMTA to adhere to its allocation plan for the meters — an authority that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have, according to the City Attorney.

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SFMTA Board Wants the Option of a Full-Length Bike Lane on Polk

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As the vote on the Polk Street redesign approaches in the coming months, the SFMTA Board of Directors last week requested that planners present the board with a pilot project option for bolder bike safety improvements along the length of the project area. Currently, the SFMTA’s preferred option calls only for sharrows and rush-hour parking bans on the northbound segment of the street where merchant opposition is strongest. The southbound side of that stretch would get a conventional, unprotected bike lane.

Board member Cheryl Brinkman introduced the resolution, which doesn’t specify a bike lane design but calls for “a pilot plan option, similar to what we have on the agenda for Folsom Street today,” referring to the buffered bike lane currently being installed on that street.

“The safety record speaks loudly for the need to make changes to the street,” Brinkman said at the board meeting. “The five-year pedestrian and bike injury numbers are chilling. Polk Street residents and visitors deserve better. They deserve best practice per the NACTO urban bicycle design guidelines.”

At a June meeting, the SFMTA Board’s Policy and Governance Committee “gave staff feedback that we prefer to see the options which have the greatest safety improvements,” said Brinkman. The intent of a reversible pilot, she said, would be to provide “a measurable way to determine what the impacts will be on safety, and on business.”

“It should be of significant time, should stretch the entire length of the project area, and success or failure metrics should be data-driven,” she said.

So far, the parking-obsessed merchants on Polk have been impervious to data, as has Supervisor David Chiu, but perhaps they’ll come around when improvements are actually on the ground and the sky doesn’t fall.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. We’ll be back on Monday.

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Eyes on the Street: BART Lets Station Agents Park Inside MacArthur Station

Think the inside of a transit station is a completely inappropriate place to store automobiles? BART begs to differ.

BART is officially allowing its station agents to store their private automobiles inside MacArthur Station in Oakland. You can’t make this stuff up.

Daniel Diiullio tweeted two photos of cars parked right next to the agent booth and inside the bike parking area yesterday morning. When asked about these oddly-placed autos, BART spokesperson Luna Salaver said the agency is totally fine with it because some employee parking spaces have been removed by an adjacent housing construction project:

For this reason Station Agent parking is and will be a real problem there because of the ongoing work. As long as their designated parking spaces are obstructed and cannot be used, Station Agents will be allowed to park on the plaza (when they can safely do so). Their personal safety is the primary reason for this temporary parking situation. Because they are responsible for opening and closing the station in the wee hours of the morning, we want them to have safe access to their cars. We appreciate our customers’ understanding in this situation!

So there you have it — when reserved parking spots aren’t available, the only option is to put cars in the space for people and bikes. Problem solved.