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All Meters Now SFpark-Ready — More Demand-Based Parking Pricing to Come

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Image: KPIX

The SFMTA recently upgraded all of SF’s 29,000 parking meters to “smart meters” that are enabled for demand-based price changes throughout the day, a la SFpark. Now, the SFMTA plans to expand its smart pricing program that has curbed car traffic to more existing meters.

“SFpark showed that demand-based pricing can improve parking availability without increasing double parking, congestion, or parking citations,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “Our next challenge is to figure out the right mix of pricing and real-time information to make SFpark work in every neighborhood in the city. We’ll be working with stakeholders to find a win-win that creates less frustration, smarter travel choices, and fewer citations for every neighborhood.”

Under SFpark, the SFMTA has used “demand-responsive” pricing at about a quarter of the city’s meters since 2011. During a two-year pilot phase, the federally-funded program proved that by adjusting prices to demand, enough parking spaces could be made available to eliminate the need to circle for a spot.

Once the SFpark pilot phase ended, the in-ground sensors used to measure parking occupancy were shut down. But the SFMTA can still measure occupancy using the smart meters, albeit with slightly less accuracy, since they transmit payment data.

By all measures, SFpark successfully proved Professor Donald Shoup’s theory. At the meters included in the program, cruising for a spot was cut was cut by 30 percent, and meter-related parking tickets cut by 23 percent, according to the SFMTA’s report. Average on-street meter rates dropped by 4 percent, and double parking dropped 22 percent (compared to 5 percent in control areas).

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Supervisors Pass Breed’s Bill to Loosen Some Parking Mandates

A new bill will make it easier for some homeowners to convert their garages to other uses. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously passed an ordinance removing some of SF’s 1950s-era parking mandates.

The “Parking Flexibility Ordinance,” drafted by Supervisors President London Breed and Livable City, will make it easier for building owners and developers to avoid building car parking when it would impinge on the street environment for walking, bicycling, and transit. It would also count parking spaces against density limits, unless they’re built underground.

The ordinance adds to the city’s efforts in recent years to relax strict parking minimums. Among the host of reasons to do away with parking minimums: They generate motor vehicle traffic and make it more costly to build housing.

“Do we really want to prioritize parking over jobs and housing?” Breed aide Conor Johnston said at a recent Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing, explaining that the planning code amendments would “not limit anyone’s ability to construct parking if they choose, they simply give people more options.”

The ordinance was passed unanimously, without discussion, by both the full Board of Supervisors and the committee.


CPMC Van Ness Construction Was Delayed to Save Church Parking on Easter

The CPMC construction site, currently a gaping hole for the hospital’s parking garage, as seen today on a live camera feed. Image: CPMC

Church leaders successfully persuaded California Pacific Medical Center to delay a weekend traffic closure on Van Ness Avenue so a temporary ban on street parking would not coincide with Easter weekend.

One block of Van Ness, between Post and Geary Streets, will be closed to car traffic this weekend so crews can construct a pedestrian tunnel connecting CPMC’s hospital with its medical office building, under construction at Van Ness and Geary Street.

The detour, one in a series of lane closures on Van Ness, was originally supposed to happen last weekend. Now that it’s been postponed, the two full traffic closures will coincide with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and parade, which runs north on Polk Street, then west on Post Street.

To accommodate the extra traffic on the detour route, street parking will be banned for the weekend on Gough and Franklin Streets, which run parallel to Van Ness.

Leaders at several nearby churches were irked when they discovered that those parking restrictions would take place on Easter weekend. Three weeks before the planned Easter closure, a religious community leader contacted the SFMTA and threatened a public “message of condemnation” of the agency if it wasn’t moved, according to emails obtained through a public records request [PDF].

“If this street closure is allowed to occur it will force the SFIC and its constituent congregations and judicatories to respond to the City and the SFMTA with a unified message of condemnation,” SF Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas wrote in a March 11 email to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “I am appealing to you to intercede before this matter becomes irreversible.”

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Mayor Lee’s Doctor Prescribes “Balanced Diet” for San Francisco Streets

A rendering of the plan for Second Street. Image: DPW

Mayor Ed Lee has appointed his personal physician, Dr. Barbara Peñalosa, as San Francisco’s first Transportation Administrator.

In her new role, Peñalosa will have an unprecedented amount of authority over SF’s streets. As her first order of business, she has vowed to put city streets on a “balanced diet” by devoting at least 50 percent of street space to walking, biking, and transit by 2020.

Lee said he created the position for an expert to take “balanced” stances on politically challenging issues such as removing car parking to implement life-saving measures.

“Barbara has always been there to advise me on transportation policy, as have all my doctors,” Lee said in a statement. “They’re the experts. They have so many issues to balance, and I just want to make sure I embrace a very strong balancing process.”

Peñalosa’s appointment “reflects our commitment to Vision Zero,” Lee added. “Barbara will ensure that our investments in pedestrian and bicycle safety are balanced with the convenience of other road users. I have absolute faith that she can balance our city’s streets into balance, just like she balanced my diet.”

Peñalosa’s first priority as SF’s transportation czar, she said, is to re-purpose street space to “provide safe, affordable, and efficient options for San Franciscans” to get around in a city where streets are “overwhelmingly dominated by private automobiles.”

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

Looks like some tickets are in order.

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

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

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

Photo: Al Sharff

Photo: Al Sharff


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

Supervisor London Breed has proposed a “Parking Flexibility Ordinance” that would make it easier for building owners and developers not to build car parking when it would impinge on the street environment for walking, bicycling, and transit. It would also count parking spaces against density limits, unless they’re built underground.

Supervisor London Breed. Photo: Supervisor Breed’s Office

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

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

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

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

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Daly City Votes to Continue Subsidizing Residential Parking Permits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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