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Would Chron Find Walking and Chewing Gum “Argh” Hard, Too?

meter_cover.jpgThe biggest menace to motoring since pedestrians. Photo: Matthew Roth

Dear San Francisco Chronicle:

Your story today on SFPark is a new low, infantilizing a parking management pilot that is the envy of municipalities across the country and has the attention of cities as far-flung as Tokyo, Japan. For an agency that is getting more than enough bad publicity on things that it does poorly--and we're the first in line to harp on the negative--the MTA deserves credit for coordinating with the Port to develop the largest and most sophisticated parking management system in the world, which will allow city managers to finally measure with precision the driving and parking patterns in San Francisco so that the streets can become more efficient and less congested.

How do you cover this giant leap for parking-kind? You exaggerate a simple learning curve for a new multi-space meter as though it were a technological Berlin Wall.

"These newfangled meters take much more skill to operate than simply dropping coins into a slot," writes Rachel Gordon, who I'm hard pressed to believe took this editorial tack on her own, given that she rides transit regularly, has been covering transportation issues for awhile and isn't as bound to the windshield perspective as her editors seem to be.

Just how much more skill do these "newfangled meters" take?

Drivers have to remember the number assigned to their space and thenlog in the information on a keypad. Then they have to decide whether topay with a credit card, debit card or coins, and finally they have tofigure out how to select how much time they want.

To steal from SNL's Weekend Update: Really? Really?!?

However will the piteous parkers decide what form of payment to use and how much time they're planning to park? I guess they should just give up before they begin, not come into San Francisco at all, and spend their dollars at the mall in Walnut Creek, where parking is so much more civilized and free (what's more ridiculous is that some of the comments on the story essentially say as much).

MTA spokesperson Judson True, ever more diplomatic than me, acknowledged that this kind of coverage is unfortunate.

It's a little frustrating to have the focus be on the challengesthat are natural with any new program, but we are working hard toimprove the signage and fundamentally we know that these new meters andall new SFPark meters are going to bring better parking management toSan Francisco.  That's going to be more convenient for people andbetter for the city as a whole.

The story comes around at the end with a compensatory nod to one of the primary benefits of SFPark, namely that it provides more payment options for motorists. Not to mention the radical departure it will mark from the catch-as-catch-can parking management, enforcement, and meter maintenance that passes for street management currently. With future iterations of SFPark likely to include real-time parking information beamed to cell phones, static directional signs, and on-board navigation systems, San Francisco will see a great reduction in cruising for parking and the attendant environmental and congestion impacts of what, in some cities, is as much as 45 percent of all traffic.

So yeah, some drivers will have to take a second to figure out how to read the instructions on the meters, but if they can manage to text while driving, I have confidence this won't break the camel's back. 

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