SFCTA Completes Exhaustive Parking Study, Supervisors Delay Action

RPP_zones_4.jpgResidential Parking Permit (RPP) zones. Courtesy: TA

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA) presented the results of the comprehensive parking study it started in 2006 to the Board of Supervisors today, fleshing out many of the parking management principles espoused by parking guru Donald Shoup in his High Cost of Free Parking and recommending a plethora of solutions for managing the curb more strategically (presentation PDF).

Throughout the study, the TA clearly embraced Shoup’s market principles for pricing the curb in accord with demand for space so that parking, particularly in commercial districts and spillover neighborhoods, is best utilized to serve the city’s competing interests for the scarce resource.

The study is enormous and at the end of the presentation by the TA, the Board decided to extend its review for one month, as requested by Board President David Chiu. Chiu was concerned that the study didn’t properly address issues for "the low-income neighborhoods, Mission, Chinatown, Tenderloin, where low-income folks who have cars don’t have access to garages. I think that if you go forward with some of the recommendations here it could create really adverse conditions that I don’t think were thoroughly vetted in their study."

"I do think at the end of it we’ll probably end up approving the study," he added, though he said he wants to bring the stakeholders he assumes would be effected together to air their grievances.

The study estimated there are more than 600,000 parking spaces in San Francisco, of which 320,000 are on-street and only 24,000 are regulated with parking meters. Residential parking permits (RPPs), as evidenced by the map above, have been added throughout the city in an ad-hoc fashion and in many areas are not synthesized with metered parking.


The study recommends charging more for RPPs and adjusting them to better integrate with metered parking spaces. From the study:

The current RPP program provides benefits to a select group of parkers—those who store their car(s) on-street during weekday mid-days—and does not set an appropriate price level that recognizes the value and scarcity of on-street spaces. The price of a residential permit should be increased, and this action should be carried out in conjunction with restructured regulations that provide permit holders with a tangible benefit (e.g., extending hours of regulation, limiting overall permit supply, etc.).

Given the long time-frame of the study, parking management solutions
like SFPark have come online and will test many of the recommendations in real-time, such as replacing individual meters with multi-space meters, improving variable payment options, adding directional signage with real-time parking data, and improving enforcement efficiencies.

One of the more politically interesting recommendations
from the study is the Parking Benefit District (PBD), a Shoupian
principle that would direct a portion of new revenues generated from
increasing parking regulation fees to transportation objectives in the
local district, such as improved sidewalks, transit enhancements,
bicycle parking, etc.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who initially bristled at the PBD proposal, which could add meters to residential streets around
commercial districts to deal with overflow from the commercial
destinations, seemed to concede the point if the metering decisions
were left to neighborhoods where the districts would be established.

Giving control of parking pricing back to local neighborhoods, however,
appears to contradict Proposition A’s intent to depoliticize parking by
taking control of traffic decisions from the Board of Supervisors and
giving it to the MTA.

"The voters have made clear that parking-related revenue goes to the MTA and our transit system," said MTA Spokesperson Judson True, referring to Proposition A. "That makes complete sense because transit has to be an attractive alternative to driving for smarter parking management strategies to work."

Parking Benefit Districts In Detail

From the study: "As discussed throughout this report, pricing is the most efficacious means of managing on-street parking when occupancy routinely exceeds practical capacity. A (PBD) program could be made available to neighborhoods facing parking challenges, regardless of whether the neighborhood is currently covered by an RPP."

A PBD program would incorporate the following components:

  • Allow neighborhoods to opt-in. Neighborhoods could elect (through an adopted administrative process) to create a PBD. If the neighborhood is currently covered by a [residential parking permit] RPP, the PBD would replace the RPP (or applicable portion thereof).
  • Employ price-based regulation and associated elements. Variable pricing is necessary to effectively manage on-street parking in high-demand neighborhoods. New technology would be deployed to allow for variable pricing, user information, and enhanced enforcement. The hours during which parking is priced would be evaluated and modified as necessary. Conventional strategies, such as provision of loading zones, would be reevaluated and adjusted appropriately.
  • Expand metering to areas with peak parking demands in excess of 85 percent. All blocks with practical capacity issues warrant price-based management. Expansion of metering into areas traditionally designated as “residential” could potentially be paired with an exemption for preferential permit holders (priced at higher than current rates, as discussed above) at all or some times of day.
  • Provide parking privileges to preferential permit holders at an appropriate price point. Residents of the neighborhood would be permitted to purchase monthly permits for on-street parking on residential streets in the neighborhood. Permits should be priced at a high enough level to appropriately value on-street space and reduce demand for on-street parking (by encouraging off-street parking, reduced vehicle ownership, etc.).
  • Invest a portion of net new revenues within the neighborhood and involve the community in prioritizing expenditures. This is the central element of PBDs. By pairing the PBD concept with price-based regulation there is even greater opportunity for neighborhoods to reap the benefits of pricing—through improved parking reductions and a reduction in traffic volumes, as well as through funding available to invest in local transportation projects.
  • Recognize the limits of fully addressing peak demand in residential areas. In many neighborhoods, demand for overnight on-street parking is especially high. Overnight parking demand is likely to be managed to some extent by higher preferential permit fees, but even a price-based PBD program must recognize the limits of using price during very late hours when enforcement is more of a challenge. It is important to note that on-street occupancies in excess of 85 percent may be more tolerable during the late-night periods, when traffic volumes are light, and businesses and other.
  • marcos

    The “free market” is not free so long as participants come to the table of vastly different means. San Francisco’s income curve is U shaped, with a depressed middle and concentrations at the extremes. If new parking revenues are going to be generated from a new program, then the communities involved should be consulted in determining the details, especially as relates to equity.

    We’ve got a chicken and an egg problem here, where we need a reliable and affordable transit system to provide a viable alternative to driving and parking. But we’ve got foxes guarding the Muni hen house, raising fares, cutting service, cutting lines, cutting stops and draining resources with work orders, so our Muni chickens never seem to hatch to lay their own golden eggs of sustainability. The best we can do is golden chicken eggs, geese are out of our pay grade.

    Why would anyone agree to throw more money at the MTA given that we’d just done that and Newsom has absconded with those resources to fund his pet projects and the Board of Supervisors failed to stand up to that?


  • Paul

    Muni has never been given all the money prop A allotted for it. The mayor and the sups have always siphoned off money. I remember when we voted to take away the power of ruling Muni from the sups, where has that gone? We don’t have a chicken or egg problem with Muni. We have an egg that our politicians have never let hatch. It’s always smoke and mirrors with city hall when it comes to Muni. I also doubt this parking study will go anywhere as well. City hall doesn’t have enough back bone and there only looking to the next election. But what do we expect from politicians.

  • DS

    The latest installment in a decade-long series of brilliant reports from our star transportation authority, destined like those before it to sit on the shelf for LACK OF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP. Even our most progressive, car-free supervisor has knee-jerk hostility to anything that attempts to improve the parking chaos of this city! I for one would HAPPILY pay to park on my own street–rather than circle for 30 minutes.

    Unlike NYC, we have no transportation leadership in this town. The closest thing we have is Maestro Moscovich, but unfortunately he spends his political capital fighting for expanded freeways in national parks.

  • marcos

    The political problem facing Muni now is that Prop E ’99 ( see ballot arguments at http://cybre.net/pub/prope.pdf ) promised to both depoliticize Muni and protect its funding by putting firewalls between the Board of Supervisors and MTA’s governance and funding.

    Now that the MTA is revealed as a creature of room 200, Prop E did not deliver political independence.

    Now that Newsom has siphoned off Prop A ’07 dollars (and twice as much again) off on spurious extradepartmental work orders, it is revealed that the set asides are raidable for political purposes.

    I don’t see how we get out of this other than to remove the Mayor and Board of Supervisors from influence by electing an eleven member MTA Board. Avalos’ proposal is interesting, but I can’t imagine a single citywide elected MTA director working out well over time.


  • Chris Bradshaw

    Kudos for moving towards accepting the basic principles of Donald Shoup. The devolving of parking administration to the neighbourhood level and the sharing of revenues is a brilliant idea. Yes, this will mean residential parking on the street will cost more. That is fair in the new world where carowners pay their own way.

    What it ignores is the downside of OFF-street parking. Even though this is provided at private expenses — by the individual for himself in residential areas or by property owners for visitors in non-residential areas — it still has public ramifications: 1) the access to these spaces require a loss of street parking spaces, which the city — now to market-price them — should be compensated for; 2) the point on the sidewalk where the vehicles intersect with foot traffic on the sidewalk is not controlled, and is also sloped to ironically allows the motor vehicles to travel faster at this dangerous point, and distorting the walking surface; 3) street parking takes less space than off-street parking and thus less of the impermeable tarmac is required; and 4) off-street parking is less safe, since there are other motor-vehicles on either side, whereas street parking (parallel) provides a pedestrian “sanctuary” on one side of the car, usually the passenger side, where children, the elderly, and pregnant women passengers alight.

    In his book, Shoup also makes the point that much of the off-street parking is mandated by planning laws, which subscribes to what I call ‘OPOCO,’ the one-person, one-car orientation, and makes housing more expensive, especially for just the people who tend not to have cars because of cost. It also causes sprawl and it becomes a massive private subsidy for driving, as the parking costs are buried in prices and are a downward pressure on salaries when provided as an employee ‘perk’ (at least CA has pioneered with ‘cash outs,’ another Shoup idea).

    The ideal solution is to move to a city-wide shared-car regime, in which the population of cars in each area of the city is so much smaller than all are parked on the street, and there is no longer off-street parking, offering a chance for the Parking Benefits Districts to guide a process of re-allocating the lands now used for parking to green spaces (especially front lawns) and increased housing or non-residential uses, or whatever makes the area more “complete.”

    Chris Bradshaw
    Ottawa, Canada


SF Supes Embrace Parking Benefit Districts and Market Street Safety Zones

Photo: Thomas Hawk The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in their role as commissioners of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA), voted unanimously to approve the TA’s enormous on-street parking management study and authorized revisions to pilot Market Street pedestrian and bicycle safety zones. The TA’s on-street parking study had been delayed for two […]

Supes Delay Action on Motion to Reject MTA Budget

Supervisor Avalos on parking enforcement: "The more I think about how we need to do what’s best for the environment and what’s best for riders my position has changed." The Board of Supervisors will try again on an MTA budget, voting 7-4 this afternoon to delay a motion to reject it. Instead, they’ll hold a […]

MTA Releases Parking Meter Study that Proposes Extending Hours

Photo: Bryan Goebel MTA Chief Nat Ford, at a reporters’ round table today, released the long-anticipated parking study conducted by his agency to measure the traffic impacts of increasing parking meter hours on weekday evenings and on Sundays [Summary PDF] [Full Study PDF]. The study recommends that the agency extend parking meter hours in specific […]

Today’s Headlines

Supervisor Avalos Calls on Supes to Take Steps to Appoint New Mayor (SF Gate) Supes Pass Car Share Parking Plan in Unanimous Vote (SF Examiner) And Board Also Passed Supervisor Mirkarimi’s Parking Operators Legislation (SF Exam) AC Transit, Drivers Union Reach Tentative Agreement (BCN via SF Exam) Dumbarton Rail Bridge “Back on Track, But Still […]