Skip to content

Posts from the "SFPark" Category

37 Comments

SFpark Releases Pilot Report, Considers Giving Revenue to Local Streets

SFpark cut car traffic by nearly 30 percent — just one of the program’s numerous benefits. Image: SFMTA

SFpark has released new comprehensive stats collected during its two-year pilot program phase, documenting the numerous benefits that it garnered by pricing parking according to demand. SFpark is being watched closely by cities around the world, since it’s the first program to thoroughly test demand-based parking pricing principles first professed by UCLA’s Donald Shoup. But the SFMTA hasn’t yet adopted one of Shoup’s key recommended strategies: Giving some of the revenue to local community benefit districts to help win support for parking meters.

An SFpark multi-space parking meter behind City Hall. Photo: SFpark

In the areas where SFpark was tested — Civic Center, the Embarcadero, Downtown, the Mission, the Fillmore, the Marina, and Fisherman’s Wharf – the SFMTA found that SFpark resulted in cheaper parking prices overall, more readily available parking, many fewer parking citations, and much less time wasted by drivers circling around, looking for open parking spots:

  • Average on-street meter rates dropped by $0.11 per hour, or 4 percent;
  • Average garage rates dropped by $0.42 per hour, or 12 percent;
  • Target occupancy of 60-80 percent was met 31 percent more often;
  • Blocks were full (i.e., no available parking) 16 percent less often;
  • Average time spent searching for parking decreased by 5 minutes, or 43 percent;
  • Meter-related citations decreased by 23 percent; and
  • Vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions from cars circling for parking, decreased by 30 percent.

SFpark has been widely lauded wherever it has replaced existing, flat-rate parking meters, but it’s a different story when it comes to expanding parking meters to new areas. Due to fierce neighborhood resistance, the agency abandoned its plans to install SFpark meters in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch, and watered down and delayed its plans in the northeast Mission. In each of these areas, street parking is mostly free and nearly saturated, with drivers circling for an average of 27 minutes during weekdays in the northeast Mission.

Sharing some meter revenue with neighborhoods could help debunk the prevailing assertion that parking meters are just a revenue ploy for Muni. But the SFMTA has never seriously considered the idea because, as then-SFMTA CEO Nat Ford put it to Streetsblog in 2010, “Our financial situation is so dire that I need to get every penny that we have.”

But the SFMTA’s current chief, Ed Reiskin, told Streetsblog yesterday that “it’s something we’re going to look at.”

Read more…

6 Comments

The Case for Evening Parking Meters, Graphed

This post supported by

In many neighborhoods, blocks are more likely to be full of parked cars — and cruising for an open space spikes — after meters shut off at 6 p.m. (1800).

Every day at 6 p.m., San Francisco’s parking meters shut down. But in many neighborhoods, motorists continue to seek parking, and without the turnover brought by meters, the streets become clogged with drivers circling around for a spot.

The big mismatch between meter hours and actual demand for curbside parking spaces in SF was demonstrated in a new study of SFpark [PDF], which found that the program has cut cruising times for parking by 50 percent in the areas where it’s in place. The study, featured yesterday in Next City and The Atlantic Cities, was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nelson/Nygaard, who used data on parking occupancy from the SFMTA to model the effect of SFpark on driver behavior.

The study re-affirms the findings of a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association last May [PDF], which showed that pricing parking according to demand is effective in reducing cruising. But as Donald Shoup, parking guru and one of the authors of last year’s study, told Streetsblog in August, the successful SFpark program goes to waste after 6 p.m. due to SF’s outdated meter hours, which were crafted in the mid-20th century when fewer businesses were open past that time.

“I hope San Francisco will ask, ‘Why is the right price at 7 p.m. on Union Square $0?,’” Shoup said. “We have the equipment, all the software, and we just put it to sleep at 6 p.m.”

As the graph above shows, the biggest spike in evening cruising is in the Inner Richmond, a non-SFpark neighborhood studied as a control sample. Cruising there peaks at about 8 p.m. In every area except downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf, the daily peak in traffic caused by cruising was after 6 p.m..

If Mayor Ed Lee wanted, he could nudge the SFMTA to simply extend meter hours to cut traffic on the streets in the evening. But rather than fixing SF’s traffic problems, Lee has been more inclined to use his influence to move the city in the opposite direction by undoing Sunday parking meters.

38 Comments

Will SFMTA’s Board Buck Mayor Lee, Keep Sunday Parking Meters?

It’s hard to believe that San Francisco officials are seriously considering repealing Sunday parking metering, and thus abandoning the entire basis of its lauded parking management program.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

But next month, the SFMTA Board of Directors could send us back to 1947 — the last time parking meter hours were changed, before they were updated last year — and undo a simple move that has both cut traffic and boosted commerce by increasing turnover. According to the SFMTA’s own report, Sunday metering has cut the time drivers take to find a parking spot in half.

Apparently, the backwards proposal is on the table because Mayor Ed Lee has made a poorly-calculated bid to win the political support of church leaders, who bristle at the idea of having their congregants pay for on-street car storage and worry about losing double parking privileges. As we recently reported, there’s no evidence to back up Mayor Lee’s claims that San Franciscans have revolted against Sunday meters, but he’s pushing the SFMTA Board for repeal anyways.

The mayor wields power over SFMTA’s board, since he appoints all of its members. Yet when the board considers the agency’s two-year budget at meetings starting tomorrow, its members can stand up to Lee’s political antics. There’s no need to make our streets more dangerous and hurt local businesses, just to try and please an influential group with an irrational policy stance.

Mayor Lee has continued to ignore the SFMTA’s report about Sunday meters, which estimates that removing them would:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays.
  • Reduce turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

The hypocrisy in all this is painfully glaring. We’ve heard the benefits of metering high-demand parking spots espoused by Mayor Lee and SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, who has said he supports the mayor’s push “to make living in San Francisco more affordable.”

Read more…

13 Comments

Shoup: SFpark Yields Promising Results, Lessons for Demand-Based Pricing

Drivers were most sensitive to changes in parking prices in the early afternoon, and were more sensitive during the week than the weekend.

Donald Shoup may be known as a guru of smart parking policy, but even he has found a few surprises in the data collected so far from SFpark.

“The biggest surprise I got was that prices went up and down, but overall, they stayed the same. The average price actually declined by 1 percent,” said Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, the bible of modern parking policy. “That surprised everybody. People thought it was just a way to jack up prices, but the city specifically said, ‘We are going to set prices according to this principle.’”

SFpark, which uses “smart meters” and ground sensors to measure parking occupancy and adjust prices accordingly, is providing valuable lessons for San Francisco and cities around the world that want to reduce the amount of time drivers spend cruising the streets for a parking space.

The growing body of data collected from the program is shedding more light on the complexities of parking demand. But overall, Shoup says, it’s providing hard evidence that raising and lowering meter prices is an effective way to keep enough parking spots available for drivers who need them — and to help ensure too many spots don’t sit empty.

Donald Shoup at the launch event for SFpark in 2011. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Keeping, say, one parking spot open on every block “will make the transportation work best — it’ll reduce cruising, speed up buses, reduce air pollution,” said Shoup. “It’s easy to explain [a goal] like that — we’re aiming at what you want to see.”

In a recent report [PDF] published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Shoup and UCLA doctoral student Gregory Pierce explain that since SFpark managers began adjusting meter prices in August of 2011, the “elasticity” of parking demand — the degree to which price changes affect parking occupancy — has varied across different locations and times of day (due to different trip purposes, they surmise), and that drivers changed their behavior most profoundly after the second price adjustment, possibly due to a spike in awareness of the program. As prices have been refined, elasticity has declined.

Prices appeared to have the lowest impacts in highly residential neighborhoods like the Mission and the Marina, while retail districts like Fisherman’s Wharf and the Fillmore saw the most drastic adjustments to new prices, according to the report.

Read more…

48 Comments

SFMTA Brings Back Parking Meter Planning to Tough Crowd in the NE Mission

Following fierce opposition that led the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to roll back its first attempt to expand car parking meters in the northeast Mission, the agency re-started a community process last night to develop a plan for managing parking demand in the area. The meeting was seen as a litmus test for the public’s openness — and the agency’s tact — which will be key to implementing parking meters and permit restrictions to reduce cruising for parking in a dense, complex neighborhood where parking problems are only expected to get worse.

Shotwell near 18th Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The area is centered around a 220-space parking lot at 17th and Folsom Streets that’s set to be closed within months and converted into a new park and affordable housing development. As it is, the SFMTA said the area is basically a vacuum of free, unregulated parking surrounded by streets with meters and permit restrictions, making it a magnet for car commuters and long-term car storage that fills parking spots to the brim during the day. A presentation explaining the data and the rationale for using parking pricing to manage demand was made by Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal at Nelson/Nygaard, a consultant firm working on the project with the SFMTA.

“Everyone knows that you can park free all day, all week — you can leave your car here and go to the airport,” Tumlin told the audience, noting that drivers in the area reportedly circle for parking for a half hour, on average. “People are coming from all over to park in your neighborhood.”

Unlike the original planning process, SFMTA officials didn’t present any proposed parking plan at the first meeting — its stated goal was simply to present the block-by-block parking data collected in recent months and field input from residents to help inform a future proposal.

This flyer was distributed at the meeting by an ENUF spokesperson.

Tumlin explained that planners aim to account for the mix of land uses in the neighborhood, including residences, retail shops, and “production, distribution, and repair” businesses — many of which, unlike retail merchants, prefer free vehicle storage over the elevated parking turnover that meters bring. “It is the most complicated mosaic of land uses that I’ve seen, really, in any place I’ve worked anywhere in the world,” he said.

That the SFMTA didn’t adequately account for that complexity was one of the major sources of complaints against the original parking meter plan, which had been presented to residents as part of a larger plan to expand the SFPark smart meter program to manage parking in and around Mission Bay, where major developments are expected to bring an influx of car commuters into the area. The SFMTA took SFPark meters out of the equation, opting for conventional meters instead, to address skepticism voiced by opponents about the efficacy of SFPark. The agency also plans to eventually re-start the planning process in the Dogpatch and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, which were also included in the original plan, “one neighborhood at a time,” said agency spokesperson Paul Rose.

Read more…

9 Comments

Signatures Grow for Petition Supporting SFPark Expansion

Update (Sept. 11, 7:53 p.m.): The pro-meter petition now has 197 signatures. ENUF’s anti-meter petition has 199.

It’s pretty easy to find people who want to perpetuate the free parking giveaway on SF streets, despite the traffic and street dysfunction that result. But it turns out that it’s also not that hard to find people who think the status quo needs to change. A new online petition launched last Wednesday has amassed 95 signatures in support of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s efforts to expand meters and introduce parking prices that cut traffic and increase turnover for local businesses.

Transit advocate Mario Tanev launched the petition last Wednesday in response to a petition opposed to parking reform launched by Mari Eliza of the Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF) on August 29, one week prior. That petition currently has 165 signatures.

In a draft press release sent to ENUF’s members today, the organization claimed the counter-petition was launched by the SFMTA. Tanev has no affiliation with the agency.

“As residents and taxpayers of San Francisco we believe that the SFMTA’s first and foremost responsibility is to improve Muni, bicycling, and walking and to make them a more desirable means of transportation,” the counter-petition reads. “As part of that, it is SFMTA’s job to decrease congestion and single-occupancy traffic on its streets. It will also benefit drivers by setting market rates on parking, improving turnover, availability, and reducing congestion due to circling for parking.”

The petition, addressed to the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA, calls on the agency to expedite four actions:

1. Installing new parking meters and extending the hours of enforcement
2. Rolling out SFPark
3. Enforcing Sunday parking meters
4. Increasing meter rates, fees, and fines as appropriate to prevent double parking and sidewalk parking

Tanev also launched a new website called sfmore.org, whose name is a play on ENUF’s website, sfenuf.org.

As Streetsblog has written, merchants and residents often come out against expanding parking meters, even though it’s been shown to benefit merchants by increasing turnover and allowing more customers to access businesses.

Read more…

47 Comments

How Handicap Placard Abuse Threatens SF’s Parking Reforms

This post supported by

If cities needed any more reason to curb handicap placard abuse, here it is. The authors of a new study out of Los Angeles point out that rampant placard abuse threatens to undermine performance parking programs like SFPark by skewing the data and the price of parking, the Atlantic Cities explains:

If a city has a pricing program for parking, like Los Angeles or San Francisco, the costs are even greater. Such programs raise the price of parking until a certain level of vacancy (often 15 percent) is present at any given moment. But disabled placards usually allow drivers to park for free for an unlimited amount of time. Many do just that: a 2009 meter survey in Los Angeles found that the 5 percent of cars with disabled placards used 17 percent of all available time. When placard abuse meets priced parking, the results are flawed space counts and artificially high rates for everyone.

The authors of the study, Michael Manville of Cornell and Jonathan Williams of Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants in Seattle, call for abolishing free parking perks for handicap placard holders because they work against the interests of the most seriously disabled and poorest members of society, who are not travelling by car. Additionally, they write, “the externalities of this clumsy subsidy threaten to undermine a transportation reform that could deliver large benefits to all citizens.”

As we reported recently, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency is in the early stages of developing a campaign to curb placard abuse, which could involve eliminating the free parking perks enshrined in state law.

Read more…

62 Comments

Aiming to Win Over Critics, SFMTA Spells Out Its Parking Policies on Paper

On Shotwell Street near 17th Street, three drivers apparently cruising for parking stopped at the sign of an opening parking spot (left). (The driver of the red car, seen through the silver car's windows, won.) This is one area where parking meters would be installed under an SFMTA plan to free up parking spaces. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s embattled efforts to put a rational price on the city’s car parking supply by expanding parking meters have led the agency to develop a document [PDF] that, for the first time, lays out its parking policies in one place. SFMTA officials, who presented a draft to the SFMTA Board’s Policy and Governance Committee today, say the document is intended to clarify the agency’s goals and make its parking management decisions more transparent.

As Streetsblog has written, when parking is free or underpriced, spaces fill up, and drivers cruise around for a spot. That means more pollution, traffic congestion, gas consumption, wear on the roads, slower transit, more danger for people walking and biking, and fewer driving customers able to park near businesses.

The SFMTA’s plans to install parking meters in the Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and northeast Mission neighborhoods ran into heavy opposition in January from the Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF), which was formed in opposition to the parking plan. Among the group’s wide-ranging complaints, it says the SFMTA performed poor outreach, and that some of the proposed locations for meters aren’t appropriate. The SFMTA delayed its metering plans to do more analysis and outreach and plans to hold community meetings later this year.

But whether ENUF’s members just don’t want to pay for parking (which they deny), or the group’s complaints are legitimate, one thing is clear: many members say they distrust the SFMTA when the agency says its goal is to properly manage its parking supply. Rather, it seems to many car-owning members, the SFMTA is simply after their money (even if the cost of free parking is externalized to the general public, and the meter expansion plans are supported by advocates like Livable City who don’t receive revenue from them). Mari Eliza, an organizer with ENUF, told the SF Chronicle this week that “people are really ready to fight back” against parking meter expansions. “The city is just going too far,” she said.

“Meters are appearing all over San Francisco,” ENUF’s website says. “Next, the meters will be on your street in front of your home.”

In response to the insistent opposition to SFPark, the SFMTA’s promising pilot program to test out demand-responsive meters which accept credit cards (and can even have lower rates than conventional meters), the agency removed SFPark from the meter expansion in those neighborhoods. By adjusting prices according to demand, SFPark’s goal is to generally keep one space open on every block. Instead, the SFMTA is developing a plan which will only include conventional parking meters.

While the new document doesn’t actually change any policies or practices, SFPark manager Jay Primus called it “a really positive step forward.”

“This mundane document, like the parking census, is actually very exciting,” said Primus. ”This helps the MTA communicate how, where, and why it uses different parking management strategies, it increases the transparency of its parking management decisions, and it explains how those decisions are consistent with the MTA’s goals.”

Read more…

54 Comments

Sunday Parking Meter Enforcement to Begin January 6

Parking meters in San Francisco will be enforced on Sundays starting January 6, 2013, confirms SF Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose.

The meters will be in effect from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. As the SF Chronicle reported today, the SFMTA will also pilot an extension of meter hours in the evening around the Giants ballpark until 10 p.m. starting next spring after SFPark meters are installed in Mission Bay.

Enforcing parking meters on Sundays is expected to reduce the number of drivers circling for parking by increasing turnover during periods of high demand. Parking meter hours in San Francisco basically haven’t changed since 1947, when most businesses weren’t open on Sundays or after 6 p.m., and demand was low.

Today, a car owner can occupy a commercial parking spot for free from Saturday at 6 p.m. until Monday morning, forcing driving customers to cruise around for another available space. Ending the once-a-week parking giveaway is expected to increase turnover for businesses and reduce the congestion, pollution, and noise commonly seen in business districts each Sunday.

Coincidentally, yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the day the country’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City.

The official go-ahead for metered parking on Sundays still requires approval of the citywide fiscal year 2012-2013 budget from the Board of Supervisors, which is expected next Tuesday. The SFMTA budget was approved by the Budget and Finance Committee in May, and initial board approval of the citywide budget is scheduled for today.

11 Comments

Andy Thornley Departs SFBC to Work at SFPark

Photo: SFBC

In a “bittersweet farewell,” the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition announced today that its policy director, Andy Thornley, has been picked for an internship at the SFMTA’s SFPark program. His transition to city government is a positive sign for the livable streets movement in San Francisco.

Thornley sent an email to colleagues today announcing that he’ll be leaving SFBC at the end of the month. “After seven remarkable and profoundly rewarding years,” he wrote, “I’ll be moving on to a new adventure. I’m taking a position on the SFMTA’s outstanding SFPark team, working with that innovative, effective, award-winning program on the business of rationalizing the way San Francisco manages parking, for the benefit of everyone.”

Thornley is known as an amiable alliance-builder and a knowledgeable, insightful guru on the bureaucracy and politics of transportation issues. While at SFBC, he also served as president of TransForm‘s Board of Directors (and still sits on it). I’ve had the pleasure of learning from him since I held an internship at the SFBC in 2009, and I’ve always found the perspective he provides to be invaluable. (We even once rode together in a mega Bike Party-esque bicycle parade through Copenhagen.) Thornley assured his colleagues that he’ll “certainly still be an active, involved member of the SFBC.”

This also won’t be the first time SFPark has picked up some advocate talent: Former Streetsblog reporter Michael Rhodes recently held an internship at the program.

We’ll be eagerly anticipating great things from Andy in his new role.

Andy after arriving at City Hall from a tandem bike ride with Supervisor Carmen Chu on Bike to Work Day last month. Photo: SFBC/Flickr