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Posts from the "Parking" Category

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Personal Garages Become Cafes in the Castro, Thanks to Smarter Zoning

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This used to be a garage. Photo: Tom Radulovich

Three new cafes and restaurants in the Castro have been created in spaces formerly used as personal parking garages. Driveways and dark garage doors on 18th Street have been replaced with storefronts and inviting patios filled with people.

A few years ago, this would’ve been illegal.

Reveille Coffee Company and Beso, a tapas restaurant, were able to move in and convert these garages this year, thanks to changes in the SF Planning Code’s zoning laws in 2011 proposed by Livable City and former Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. The provision to allow garages to be converted into shops, housing, and service spaces in “Neighborhood Commercial” zoning districts was part of a package of parking-related reforms.

In addition to the first two garage-to-business conversions on 18th, a third is currently under construction nearby.

“These new businesses are helping make a more walkable (and sittable), vital, and convivial 18th Street,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. He pointed out that the curb space in front, formerly reserved to ensure private garage access, have also become public street parking spaces.

The idea seems to be spreading: Radulovich said the Ocean Avenue Merchants this week endorsed allowing conversions of garages to storefronts in their district, which is zoned as “Residential.”

Radulovich said the 2011 ordinance “also allows the addition of a single [residential] unit to an existing residential building without a new off-street parking space, so long as that unit meets the other requirements of the code, including density limits.”

The entrance to Beso. Photo: Tom Radulovich

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Car-Free Households Are Booming in San Francisco

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Image: Michael Rhodes

San Francisco is quickly adding residents, but very few cars.

Between 2000 and 2012, the city has seen a net increase of 11,139 households, and 88 percent of them have been car-free. That’s according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Michael Rhodes, a transportation planner at Nelson\Nygaard and a former Streetsblog reporter. One net result of this shift is that the proportion of San Francisco households who own zero cars increased from 28.6 percent in 2000 to 31.4 percent in 2012, the fifth-highest rate among large American cities.

The stats show that the city’s average car ownership rate is declining, even as the population is growing. The data don’t distinguish where specific households are foregoing cars, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of all the new condo buildings going up are car-free. But the broader effect is reverberating throughout the city, whether car-free residents are moving in where car-owning residents previously lived, or residents are selling their cars.

This finding flies in the face of complaints from NIMBYs who protest new housing developments that forego parking, based on a faulty assumption that new residents will own cars anyway and take up precious, free street parking. That’s one of the arguments heard from proponents of the cars-first Proposition L, who complain that “the City has eliminated the time-honored practice of creating one parking space for every new unit.”

“A lot of people who are moving here are choosing it because it’s a place you can get around without a car,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “People will self-select. If convenience for an automobile is their criterion, there’s a lot of places in the city and elsewhere” to live.

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DCCC Joins Quickly Growing Opposition to Cars-First Prop L

Prop L was slammed by the SF Democratic County Central Committee last night, via an almost-unanimous vote against endorsing the measure to “restore transportation balance” for motorists. The DCCC’s endorsements hold a lot of sway, and its resounding “no” vote on the measure was a key litmus test to see whether the Republican-backed measure would garner any sympathy from SF’s political establishment.

The SF Transit Riders Union’s Peter Straus testifies against Prop L at the DCCC. Photo: Thea Selby/SFTRU

All but one of the DCCC’s 32 members, which include six supervisors and a full roster of veteran SF office holders, voted against or abstained from endorsing the proposition. The only “yes” vote came from Carole Migden, formerly a senator, assemblywoman, and city supervisor. Current office holders who voted against it include Supervisors Malia Cohen, David Campos, Eric Mar, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and David Chiu, as well as Senator Mark Leno. Supervisor London Breed also opposes it.

Cohen and Campos, who have criticized parking meter expansions and developments without parking, hadn’t made their positions on Prop L known until now. The only supervisors who have yet to weigh in are Katy Tang, Norman Yee, and Mark Farrell.

Mayor Ed Lee hasn’t spoken up on Prop L either, although it’s funded by one of his major campaign backers, tech billionaire Sean Parker.

The DCCC joins a quickly growing roster (listed below) of endorsements from influential people and organizations in SF. The DCCC also endorsed Prop A, the $500 million transportation bond measure, and Prop B, Supervisor Wiener’s measure to tie funding for Muni and safer streets to population growth.

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Prop L Proponent Makes False Accusations Against SFBC, SFMTA About Polk

Chris Bowman, a Republican proponent of the Prop L “Restore Transportation Balance” ballot measure, aimed false accusations at the SF Bicycle Coalition and pro-bike SFMTA officials in a panel discussion this week.

Chris Bowman, right, with Supervisor Scott Wiener at a panel discussion this week. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Bowman and Supervisor Scott Wiener were featured at the forum, organized by the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, to discuss Prop L. The proposition claims to promote motorists’ interests, calling to enshrine free parking and build more garages. Prop L is funded by tech billionaire and Mayor Ed Lee backer Sean Parker and the SF Republican Party.

Even though nobody else at the meeting brought up the SFBC in discussing Prop L’s implications, Bowman devoted much of his speaking time to attacking bike lanes, and making false claims about the SFBC and SFMTA Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman.

Bowman said that the SFBC urged a boycott of certain Polk Street merchants who had opposed removing car parking for protected bike lanes: ”The Bicycle Coalition, to add insult to injury, got the transcripts from [an SFMTA Board] hearing and put on their website, ‘these people testified, these are their businesses, boycott them because they’re anti-bike’… That is hardball politics and that does not create a respectful dialogue. That never should have been tolerated by anyone.”

In fact, the SFBC did the opposite — the organization has “actively encouraged our members, and the broader bike community, to frequent Polk Street businesses — and show support for biking to local businesses on popular bike routes,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. ”Those claims are absolutely untrue.”

As to where such misconceptions could come from, Shahum noted that the SFBC did hear from individual members, who had urged the organization to launch a boycott through social media posts on Facebook. She said she suspected that those spreading the lie could have misconstrued such messages, although they were written by individuals who don’t speak for the SFBC.

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Want More Parking in SF? Be Careful What You Wish For

Why shouldn’t SF build a parking garage next to the Painted Ladies? Image: Tony Wessling/The Upright Biker

The backers of Prop L think San Francisco can “restore balance” to its transportation system by, for example, building more parking garages.

So what would SF’s neighborhoods look like, if only they dedicated more real estate to hulking monoliths of automobile storage? Tony Wessling used his photoshop skills to simulate that reality, and posted the “frightening yet amusing” renderings on his blog, The Upright Biker.

The thinking entrenched among the pro-parking garage set apparently goes like this: Just replace some of SF’s prime real estate with more concrete fortresses, and SF’s parking problems will go away. SF doesn’t need that space now being used for housing, businesses, or any of those other more productive uses that actually make cities worth living in — so just replace those with parking garages.

Frighteningly indeed, some potentially influential, car-obsessed people in SF have espoused this idea, such as a recent Small Business Commission president. The Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed Prop L.

Never mind that building a parking garage in SF is currently estimated to cost $22,096 per space [PDF]. Never mind that existing parking garages are heavily underutilized — occupancy at public garages peaks at about 70 percent on average, for about one hour on weekdays [PDF]. (Imagine if more than 30 percent of the city’s apartments were empty.) Never mind that San Francisco has a severe housing shortage, and that building parking both increases the cost of housing and prevents more from being built. And never mind that parking garages only induce more driving and create gridlock on the streets below.

No one has conveyed the idea quite as well as Allan Jacobs, the former director of the SF Planning Department and professor emeritus of city planning at UC Berkeley. We have to pull his quote once again:

No great city has ever been known for its abundant supply of parking.

See Wessling’s visualizations of how would parking garages would fit right in in the Castro and North Beach after the jump.

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New “No On L” Campaign Combats Cars-First “Restore Balance” Measure

A campaign has been launched opposing the cars-first ballot measure that claims to “restore transportation balance,” which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition L. Prop L was crafted by the SF Republican Party, and is bankrolled by $49,000 from Sean Parker, a tech billionaire and Mayor Ed Lee supporter.

Image via Facebook

The slogan of the opposition campaign is “No on Gridlock, No on L,” and its website calls the measure “a radical effort to reverse our environmental and transportation policies and to send San Francisco backwards.” The campaign is being managed by Peter Lauterborn, an aide to Supervisor Eric Mar, though Mar’s office isn’t officially affiliated with it.

Lauterborn said endorsements are still being gathered, but that it’s already backed by Supervisors Mar, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and David Chiu. No currently elected officials have come out in support of Prop L.

Since it was launched Monday, the opposition campaign’s Facebook page has gained 214 “likes” as of press time. (The “Restore Balance” page has gained 84 since April.) Lauterborn and the SF Transit Riders Union made their first presentation to a neighborhood group last night, resulting in the Potrero Hill Democratic Club voting against Prop L.

“It’s growing quickly,” said Lauterborn, an SF native who studied history with a focus in urban studies at SF State University. “I think most San Franciscans understand that while parking and traffic are frustrating concerns, that this isn’t going to help any of that. This is really putting us back to a 1950s mindset of transportation planning.”

The non-binding Prop L calls for enshrining outdated policies, like free parking, and promotes the construction of new parking garages. The proponents attack the city’s Transit First Policy, and call for “balance” as if the vast majority of San Francisco’s public space isn’t already given away to drivers to move and store private automobiles.

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SF Will Never Build the Ed Lee Parking Meter Monument

In some parallel universe, San Francisco may replace the Alma Spreckels monument with Mayor Ed Lee on a parking meter. But not in this world. Credit: Aaron Naparstek and Carly Clark

Ed Lee isn’t the first San Francisco mayor to go to bat for free parking. But maybe he’ll be the first to realize that this is no way to leave a lasting legacy — the city will never build a monument to his crusade against parking meters.

The beautiful renderings in this post, depicting a Mayor Lee statue on top of a giant parking meter where the Alma Spreckels’ monument now stands in the middle of Union Square, were created by Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek and visualization wizard Carly Clark.

The idea came to Naparstek as he delved into the current state of sustainable transportation policy in San Francisco, preparing for his keynote speech at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards earlier this month. After watching New York implement breakthrough after breakthrough under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Naparstek concluded that Mayor Lee’s lack of leadership is one of SF’s great obstacles to creating reliable transit, safe bikeways, safer streets for walking, and attractive places to gather.

By the time he left office, Bloomberg could point to bold measures like the pedestrianization of Times Square and the multi-modal redesign of First and Second Avenues in Manhattan. Ed Lee, meanwhile, can say that he kept parking free on Sundays and threatened elected officials who tried to increase funding for transit and safer streets.

“No 21st century big-city mayor will ever be honored or memorialized for being the guy who preserved cheap, abundant, on-street parking,” said Naparstek. “There is no mayoral legacy to be had.”

Credit: Aaron Naparstek and Carly Clark

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Don’t Hate the Parking App Profiteers, Hate the Free Parking Game

Haystack, the latest app allowing drivers to sell access to a parking space, blazed across the Internet this month after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh threatened to ban it. Valleywag called it a “scourge.” The Awl compared it to profiteering off access to clean water. The haters have it wrong though: The apps aren’t screwing over the public — local governments are.

Following on the heels of MonkeyParkingHaystack is a recent Baltimore-based entry that borrows heavily from car service Uber for its look and feel. If you’re new to the grey market of sell-your-parking-spot apps, take a look at the promotional video. The premise is simple: A driver about to leave a parking spot can use the software to sell the space to another app-using driver cruising for parking. Haystack also has a “make me move” feature where users offer to move their vehicles for the right price, even if they hadn’t planned on going anywhere.

The video itself is a bit much. Over cheery music, a smiling young woman about to drive around Baltimore says things like, “Together, we did our part to make our neighborhood a little greener.”

Go ahead and vomit at the smugness of the marketing campaign. But putting a price on curbside parking isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that these apps are a poor substitute for real public policy that manages the curbside parking supply for the public good.

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Watch Muni Explain the Need to Crack Down on Parking Scofflaws — In 1988

When it comes to effectively enforcing parking regulations to make San Francisco’s streets work more efficiently, SF hasn’t changed much since 1988.

A parking control officer marking a tire to enforce time limits in 1988. Image via Youtube

That’s when Muni planner Jerry Robbins created the above video, explaining why it’s so important to keep drivers from parking in transit-only lanes or blocking intersections, and to make sure delivery drivers aren’t hogging loading zones all day. Today, Robbins is the interim director of SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, and he said he still shows the video to the planning staff he oversees.

“When I look at the video, I think of how similar things are today,” said Robbins. “The cars look different, but everything else looks pretty much the same. I think the lesson of the video is still valid.”

Robbins said the video was created at a time when city planners were considering some of the transit-boosting upgrades to street infrastructure that are now being implemented today, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project — new transit-only lanes, transit-priority signals, and bus bulbs. Last year, the SFMTA began painting transit-only lanes red on downtown streets to help keep drivers out of them, without the need to issue tickets.

But it wasn’t until recently that the city focused on making those kinds of improvements. In 1988, Robbins said the now-defunct Department of Parking and Traffic made some changes to more effectively enforce against parking violations, primarily by increasing parking ticket fines.

“It wasn’t to preclude anything, but just to treat enforcement as one of the things in the toolbox that should be considered with all the other new regulations,” he said. ”Enforcement alone can be a big game changer.”

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Thanks to Sup. Farrell, It’s Finally Legal to Store Bikes in Your Garage

In a trailblazing move that advances sustainable transportation policy in San Francisco, Supervisor Mark Farrell successfully changed an outdated and mostly unknown law that prohibited San Franciscans from using their residential garages to store anything besides automobiles.

Sup. Farrell changed a largely unknown law he said he felt “was discriminatory against bicyclists.” Image: SFGovTV

That’s right — until now, an archaic law in the city’s Housing Code required that garages be used solely for car storage. Of course, this law has never been known to have a noticeable impact on storage habits — or known of much at all, for that matter. But Farrell heard from attorney Gary Rabkin, who said a landlord was “giving grief” to a friend about storing her bike in her garage, apparently citing the Housing Code.

“We all know we use our personal garages for much more than just parking our cars, if we even have one,” Farrell said at a recent committee hearing. “I know I have more strollers and bouncy houses than I can seem to care about in my own garage.”

Rabkin “felt it was discriminatory against bicyclists, and didn’t make sense in a city that’s trying to encourage alternative forms of transportation,” Farrell said with a grin. ”Obviously, I agreed, and acted by introducing this law.”

The SF Chronicle first reported on Farrell’s endeavor in January, which is part of his larger campaign to “abolish ridiculous laws.” The effort appears driven less by Farrell’s passion to reform transportation policy and re-purpose car space for more efficient uses, and more by a general desire to bring city codes up to date. This forgotten law happened to be brought to his attention.

There are certainly other outdated parking policies, with far greater impact, that Farrell and other leaders at City Hall could get on board with. Take, for instance, the elimination of parking minimums citywide, so that unwanted and unused garages and don’t get built in the first place — freeing up space to house people, instead of bouncy houses. Or take parking metering on Sundays and evenings, which would drastically reduce the amount of time drivers circle around to find a parking spot on the street.

Unfortunately, on the parking meter front, Farrell has instead been at the cutting edge of keeping San Francisco in the mid-20th century.