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How SF’s Residential Parking Permit Prices Favor Car Owners

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Residential parking permits in San Francisco are a steal. At just $110 a year, or about 30 cents a day, the costs come nowhere near the market value for use of prime SF real estate. The fee is especially favorable compared to the single-day permit rate, which is 40 times higher. That means people who only occasionally need to park a car in their neighborhood pay a lot more per hour than people who take up street space every day for personal car storage.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Parking permits may be a small step toward regulating the free-for-all parking situation that reigns on 90 percent of SF’s streets. But even under the current permit fee system, year-round car storage remains severely underpriced, amounting to a vast subsidy that leads car owners to fill up every inch of available curb space. More traffic, double-parking, and slower transit are the inevitable results.

The discrepancy between short-term permits and annual permits was recently noted by Michael Smithwick, who lives in the proposed RPP Area Q, expected to be approved by the SFMTA soon.

Smithwick said the price hike for short-term parking permits “unfairly discriminates against non-car-owning residents,” which is “at least half of the households in the proposed area.”

The discrepancy “is in conflict with SFMTA’s own policies to reduce car trips in favor of other sustainable transit modes,” Smithwick said, noting that non-car-owners can occasionally find permits useful when they rent a car or have visitors.

Even the lowest available rate of $8/day for a book of 20 parking permits is 27 times higher than the annual rate, and a maximum of 20 permits per year can be purchased at that rate.

“Because the market prices for parking in San Francisco are so high, free and cheap parking in the city’s 475,000 on-street spaces (which amount to a total length greater than California’s coastline) are probably the biggest subsidy the city provides for its citizens,” said UCLA professor and parking policy guru Donald Shoup. “A city’s budget should reflect its policies, and free parking on so much city land suggests a car-first policy.”

Under current law, meters are the only way the city can put a better price on curb parking. State law limits the price of residential parking permits to the cost of administering the program, preventing rates from reflecting the true market value.

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Free Parking Addicts Blast Proposed Parking Permits Near Alamo Square

Residential Parking Permit Area Q would encompass nearly 50 blocks around Alamo Square. Image: SFMTA

After months of planning, the SFMTA gave initial approval on Friday to a new Residential Parking Permit (RPP) zone known as Area Q in the Alamo Square and North of Pandhandle neighborhoods. If the zone is enacted, parking permit holders would pay a $110 annual fee (about 30 cents per day) to get an exemption from two-hour parking limits instituted during daytime hours.

Even though a majority of households in an area have to request RPP just to reach this point in the process, the hearing, held on a Friday at 10 a.m., was swarmed by loud opponents. Perhaps recognizing that the people who shout the loudest at meetings don’t necessarily speak for the neighborhood, hearing officers signed off on the new zone and sent it to the SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval.

These anonymous flyers, imitating a parking ticket, were placed on car windshields throughout the Upper Haight and may have helped draw out opposition to the so-called “parking tax.” Photo: Stan Parkford

The proposed RPP zone is currently a parking free-for-all surrounded by other RPP zones. While permits do little to effectively manage parking demand — they merely give resident car owners higher priority for on-street spots – Area Q would at least establish some order on streets where car commuters have flocked to take advantage of unregulated parking.

Gus Hernandez, president of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, said that some residents are concerned about out-of-district car owners who are attracted to the free, long-term parking in their neighborhoods. An SFMTA analysis in 2012 found that more than half the cars parked on streets in the area are registered in another zip code.

“Car owners don’t want to be stuck in this ‘doughnut hole,’ where its basically a magnet for people who choose not to, or can’t, buy a permit,” said Hernandez.

JJ Strahle, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, added, “People drive in, park their cars, and get on a bus to head downtown. Those types of situations would be alleviated if we had parking permits.”

The impetus for a new permit zone came after roughly 100 parking spaces were removed to make way for protected bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets. All of Masonic Avenue’s 167 spaces are also set to be removed later this year for a long-awaited street redesign. The SFMTA has already added 43 parking spaces on Baker, Fulton, and Scott Streets to appease local car owners, but some still feel that more has to be done to address “the parking problem.”

While Hernandez and Strahle said they have seen substantial support for the RPP zone before Friday’s hearing, most of the residents who turned out to speak were vehemently opposed.

Neighborhood resident Daniel White said RPPs only “push that [parking] problem into adjoining neighborhoods,” and that the proposal is “pitting neighbors against each other.”

Reverend Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church, who is no stranger to using incendiary rhetoric in defense of free parking, said RPPs discriminate against African Americans. Others called the SFMTA “greedy” for imposing a “parking tax,” and questioned why something that’s always been “free” is suddenly being priced.

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Are Mayor Lee, SFPD, and SFMTA Serious About Ending Hazardous Parking?

Image: KRON 4

Mayor Ed Lee, along with the heads of the SFPD and SFMTA, vowed yesterday to crack down on double parking and “box blocking” as part of broader “Congestion Management Strategy to improve traffic flow and safety.”

It’s a big promise, upending SF’s history of lax enforcement towards parking violations that routinely make streets more dangerous and snarl transit. So it remains to be seen: Are city leaders really committed to a sustained crackdown on motorists who illegally disrupt streets for their personal convenience? Or will SF merely witness another short-lived gimmick that will falter once police and parking control officers return to their blind-eyed ways?

Targeted enforcement against drivers who block chronically-plagued SoMa intersections was among an array of enforcement and bureaucratic reform efforts that Lee announced. For some reason, drivers haven’t been regularly ticketed for this in decades. But now, “There will be no tolerance of blocking the box,” Lee told reporters. “Those that do will face the hefty fines already on the books.”

At the press event, held to inaugurate the SFMTA’s new Transportation Management Center, Lee also warned double parkers: SF is “a city where some actors and actresses in their vehicles, or in their delivery trucks, seem to think that double parking is helpful to themselves — yet [don’t] understand the impact.”

But double parking with impunity is “part of San Francisco’s history.” That was actually declared at a supervisors hearing last year by Lea Millitello, then the SFMTA’s director of security, investigations, and enforcement, and previously an SFPD lieutenant. Specifically, she was referring to double parking at churches on Sundays, but everyday experience shows that the exemption extends to everywhere and every day.

So it’s clear that the mayor, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr will have to do more than just flip a switch to overhaul the prevailing culture among drivers and enforcement officers, who typically just shrug at each other when a car stops cold in a bike lane, transit lane, intersection, or sidewalk.

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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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