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Carmen Chu

SF Concrete Commissioner: Stop Parking on the Sidewalk!

sidewalk_parking.jpgPhotos: San Francisco Department of Sidewalk Parking

Parking a car on the sidewalk is illegal and unsightly, as many San Franciscans know too well, but it also causes a hazard for those with visual impairments, as Lighthouse for the Blind illustrated when they began their campaign to eliminate the practice in the Sunset. And while a simple white line and the threat of consistent enforcement of the law by the MTA prompted drivers to park legally on 19th Avenue, the problem has not disappeared there or in any other district.  We've seen examples of the street-cleaning, sidewalk parking ballet throughout the city on sweeping days, though the burden of moving your neighbors' five cars while they're at work has diminished since DPW cut back on their runs (leaving our streets far dirtier in the process).

Now, an enterprising resident of the Excelsior, who wishes to remain anonymous, has created a website to publicize the abuse and advocate for comprehensive enforcement. The San Francisco Department of Sidewalk Parking website went live last week with numerous photos from the neighborhood, and while Commissioner Concrete admits that he doesn't occupy an office in City Hall and doesn't have the power to issue tickets, he advises you and all your friends to help populate the website and memorize the Department of Parking and Traffic's parking hotline: 415-553-1200.

Read our interview with the commish below the break.

Matthew Roth: How did your concern with sidewalk parking develop?

Commissioner Concrete: My wife and I are new homeowners in District 11. One of the worst things about this area is seeing all the cars in a neighborhood that was designed for a much lower number of them. I am particularly mortified by how widespread and accepted sidewalk parking is. We own one car and we actually use our garage for storing it (we mostly bike), but we're absolutely the exception.

I have gone through a whole scale of emotions from intense resentment to "giving up."  I think one very clear issue is that few people realize how bad the situation had actually gotten. I mean, I am a transit / livable city nut and I had no idea at all before moving here from Downtown that a car problem of these proportions could be going on in our city. Considering this, just showing how things are and what people get away with can be eye-opening and instructive to large segments of San Franciscans and even City employees.

"I perceive sidewalk parking as an incredibly rude thing to do that I take great exception to. The sidewalk, to me, is for the people, and parking a car there is completely sacrilegious."

MR: What prompted you to create a website like this?

Commish: The site is new, but in a way I have been developing it inside my head
for a while. I guess one of the things prompting me to finally do it
was when someone on my block, who's selling their house, very recently
ripped out their front yard and concreted it over, no doubt to please some
buyer who requested sidewalk parking spots. That was one of the last
front yards on the block... though we are now in the process of installing
a front yard as large as the Planning Department will approve, in front of
our own house.

This is a collective failure: somewhere along the way we stopped being
civilized and started accepting this as the norm. I'm not a sleuth, all
pictures on the site were very easy to get and the problem is
everywhere and out in the open. The site's concept is still evolving,
but I mainly see it as an entertaining albeit shocking "from the
trenches" kind of report (a real-world look of where car culture and
growth-based ownership economies in a finite world get you), with a
sprinkling of information, analysis and tips (since I feel I have a lot
to say about the issues). I also want to feature other familiar types
of sidewalk blight such as tree removals and car alarms. It all really
depends on how the site is received and my perception of its
effectiveness in exposing the problems.

MR: Have you tried to get the MTA's parking control officers to ticket sidewalk parking?

Commish: Oh yes, of course. Infuriatingly, you can't flat-out say that the MTA doesn't ever ticket sidewalk parking. They do -- if you call them up. But in general they simply don't ticket sidewalk parking on sight. Not even during street cleaning. The meter maid comes out and tickets cars parked on the street, but NOT those parked on the sidewalk. Hellooo? In fact, what I have noticed is that this means that the DPT tacitly condones moving even MORE cars onto the sidewalk on street cleaning days, which of course is what ends up happening.

I have written to my supervisor, John Avalos, and also to Carmen Chu, since I know that she has has made noises against sidewalk parking (she was coming from the Americans with Disabilities Act angle). I received positive, but toothless replies. Chu basically told me to talk to the ADA people directly - which to me implies that she has no further interest in this issue. She closed with: "Meanwhile, DPT also enforces blocked public right of ways. You can call 311 to report those instances." To which I replied, "You and I both know that the DPT does *not* enforce the law, which is exactly why this problem exists. They really only do it when called to a specific block. So should I call them every time I see it? That's going to be a lot of calls... I wish the Board would show leadership on this issue." which pretty much sums it up.


I have repeatedly called DPT on the worst offenders, and I feel less and less "guilty" about it. For one particularly bad case, where a car just kept collecting the tickets (it was blocking the entire sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into a busy intersection), I had to employ heavier tactics. Luckily I noticed that the car's registration had expired and, after informing the SFPD and waiting for days, I eventually contacted Captain Lazar (chief of the Ingleside Station) personally with this information. He sent officers to the address the next day and the car was removed. I remembered from my reading that it is the SFPD, not the MTA, that deals with cars with expired registrations and I also knew that Capt. Lazar is a thoroughly diligent captain. But only because all these things conspired was I successful in getting this public hazard removed.

The bottom line is that without real support from City leadership and political pressure that the law be upheld, this is, and will remain, an uphill battle for individuals like me to fight. This despite the fact that whenever this issue comes up, most seem to come down in favor of enforcement, even on otherwise inane sites like SFGate. It also makes you question why this source of ticket revenue is not tapped into in a time of severe budget shortfalls and transit cuts.

MR: What about parking on the sidewalk makes you most upset?

Commish: It not only makes walking around difficult, but it gives the neighborhood a cluttered, cramped, chaotic and unkempt atmosphere; but one that is also very sterile because it leaves the sidewalk almost completely devoid of human activity or greenery. This feeling tends to dominate you and kill off any charm or good vibes the neighborhood might emanate otherwise.

There are environmental concerns about rain water runoff which, instead of seeping into the ground through front yards, flows into the sewer system and overwhelms it during storms. Street and house floods can be the result.

It obviously endangers pedestrians who have to go around the cars often into the street, and takes away space from people and dogs, children to play, etc. Wheelchair users and blind persons have it even worse.

There is also something more personal in here though: I perceive sidewalk parking as an incredibly rude thing to do that I take great exception to. The sidewalk, to me, is for the people, and parking a car there is completely sacrilegious.

Streetsblog reached out to the MTA press office for comment on the new website and the problem of parking abuse, but they didn't respond.

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