To Boost Shopping in Chinatown, SF Brings Back Ban on Car Parking

Photo: ## Chan/Flickr##

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, removing car parking is great for business.

Last year’s week-long trial removal of parking on five blocks of Stockton Street was so popular, in fact, that Mayor Ed Lee announced today that the program would return for another two-week run. The parking removal will make more room for vendors and the influx of shoppers during the Lunar New Year shopping season. “This is a great opportunity for the local businesses and their customers in the heart of Chinatown to enjoy the celebratory Chinese New Year season,” Lee said in a statement.

Like last year, the city will erect barriers along what are normally parking lanes to designate the space for vendors and pedestrians during business hours. While occupying much of the curbside space with merchandise displays doesn’t necessarily do much to accommodate the pedestrian overflow from the sidewalks, merchants and community leaders say re-purposing some space from automobiles in the densest neighborhood west of the Mississippi is good for business.

“Sidewalk shopping is a long Chinese tradition to welcome the New Year,” said Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, in a statement. “This initiative is a win for the community.”

The program’s success makes sense, since transit and walking, not driving, account for most travel to and within Chinatown, and the neighborhood has the city’s lowest rate of car ownership. Along with customer intercept surveys and successful pedestrianization projects, the temporary parking ban on Stockton counters the misconception among merchants that in urban neighborhoods, reclaiming space devoted to cars will hurt business.

“This is a great example of how reclaiming streets for people can boost the local economy,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “We hope the city will continue to expand this excellent program to give folks more space for walking in Chinatown. So many cities in other countries have a much more vibrant street life than San Francisco — Chinatown is the perfect place to start, to show how we can breathe more life into San Francisco’s streets.”

The program will run from this Saturday, January 26, until February 9.

  • mikesonn

    Bring back the 8-shuttle for the week as well. Then, when we once again prove this works, we should institute both the shuttle and parking ban 365.

  • Sebraleaves

    Great way to cut off the neighborhood from the rest of the city on Sundays, unless they increasing Sunday Muni services to Chinatown.

  • In the 2011 San Francisco Neighborhood Profiles (based mostly on 2009 data) Chinatown stood out among San Francisco’s amazingly diverse neighborhoods in a variety of ways which is not unexpected.  The poverty of Chinatown, however, did surprise me.

    1–Chinatown is the poorest of all San Francisco neighborhoods.  It has the lowest median household income and the lowest median family income of any neighborhood in the city.  (Lower than Bayview, Civic Center, and Visitacion Valley) It also had the highest unemployment rate (15%).
    2–81% of all households in Chinatown have no car.  Chinatown is tied with the Civic Center for lowest cars per capita–.11.
    3–the average rent in Chinatown in 2009 was $478, lower by far than any other neighborhood in the city. Rents were 27% of available household income, just slightly above the San Francisco average of 26%. However median home value in Chinatown was slightly above the San Francisco median home value average. 
    4–94% of all housing units are rentals in Chinatown. 83% of renters have no car. 48% of homeowners have no car.
    5–Chinatown has the highest percentage of population in poverty–31%–of any San Francisco neighborhood.
    6–41% of people in Chinatown walk to work. It is second only to the Financial District (50%) in pedestrian commute. 31% take transit to work. Less than 20% drive to work. There is unfortunately no modal data on other trips (such as shopping.)
    7–Chinatown has the lowest education levels in the city–70% have a high school education or less.
    8–There is a high rate of elderly (over 70 years of age) in Chinatown–26%. (Citywide this number is 10.4%.)  84% of Chinatown is Asian.

    So given the demographics, most of the street space in Chinatown should be dedicated to pedestrians or transit. Car storage on the street, an amenity that only a small wealthy cadre can take advantage of, should be of lowest importance and not just during the new year celebration. In addition, with its congestion, Chinatown is the last place we should encourage tourists to drive by providing them with parking. Luckily Chinatown is just a short walk from the lion’s share of San Francisco hotels. Making Chinatown more pedestrian-friendly actually encourages tourism and store sales from tourism. It’s a pity this program only focuses on Stockton. I’m not sure why any cars are allowed on Grant Street except those passing through briefly on cross streets. 

  • The parking was removed temporarily for more merchant space, not really meant for wider sidewalk. In Asia, food market merchants typically occupy sidewalk/aisle spaces (legally or illegally) and only leave just enough space to make people walk slowly. (see: )

    So if the outcome isn’t going to be having merchants occupy that space everyday of the year, they might not support removal of parking.

  • I think the concern for the Chinatown businesses is that they want to stay relevant in the overall Chinese/Asian community. The statistics that you cited indicates that Chinatown is occupied mostly by the poor, the old, people who don’t have much English skills, and people with questionable immigration status. Middle and upper class Chinese Americans are already abandoning Chinatown and establish mini-Chinatowns in the Sunset and Richmond. Suburban Asian strip malls and supermarkets can be found in Cupertino and Milpitas.

    I don’t think Chinatown wants to become only a tourist attraction for non-Asians.

  • Jim

    If you’re suggesting that temporarily removing parking will cut off the neighborhood, then you probably do not visit Chinatown very often. There is already a lack of curbside parking because of the rampant disabled placard abuse in Chinatown.  Also, there are two public parking garages (with a free shuttle on Sundays) and numerous private ones in Chinatown.  Parking, though not free, is fairly abundant and accessible for Chinatown visitors.

  • Portsmouth Square Garage–$3/hour, two hours free parking with a merchant validation. A three minute walk to most of Chinatown.

    Muni or BART to Montgomery station. 14 minute walk to Chinatown.

    1 California direct to Chinatown.  Runs every 8 minutes on Sundays.

    5 Fulton to Market, 13 minute walk to Chinatown.  Also runs every 8 minutes on Sundays.

    Or Chinatown is less than a 30 minute bike ride from anywhere east of 10th ave or north of Cesar Chavez.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Why are we being defrauded of $2 billion for the Central Subway again?

    Oh, that’s right: because parking and private cars can’t ever be removed from Stockton.

  • It seems to me the horse is already out of the barn on Grant Street. Just about every shopfront on that street is already dedicated to tourists. As to the rest of Chinatown, surely the 15,000 or so people who live there are more important than the several dozen rich Asians that might drive in each week from other places.  After all, as you so rightly indicate, these middle and upper class Asians have shops and supermarkets much closer to them in other parts of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Why would they drive to Chinatown at all? And if they do, why can’t they park in the Portsmouth Garage?

    Indeed, why should so much space be reserved for the cars of a few dozen non-neighborhood people, forcing the thousands of people who actually do shop and do their daily business on these streets to be so crammed on narrow sidewalks there is hardly room for movement?  Why should 15,000 people, even if they are poor, old, don’t have much English skills and may have questionable immigration status, not have adequate space to walk, their primary method of transportation, a form of exercise that keeps them vital and healthy, and indeed the most appropriate method of transportation in such a densely populated area? Why is relevance to the overall Chinese/Asian community (relevance that is waning, as you say, largely due to the success of Chinese/Asian communities elsewhere and is likely a force unstoppable even by infinite free parking in Chinatown) more important than these people’s daily quality of life? 

  • Andy – please ride BART from Daly City to Powell on a weekend morning. There are plenty of Asian non-chinatown residents getting to Chinatown quite fine without a car – thousands of them.

  • The tone is still pure Richard but have to agree with you 100%

  • Of course there are plenty of people from outside of Chinatown traveling to Chinatown by transit. The 8X is full everyday from the Bayview/Portola area.

    I have no issue with Chinatown being a community that is affordable to live for the poor. In fact Chinatown is a better low income community than others. A lot of low income communities have a public health problem because people who live there have no access to fresh and healthy foods (but have plenty of access to unhealthy fast food). Chinatown and Stockton Street in particular is a fresh food market.

    On the other hand Asians are very growth oriented. People who own properties along Stockton might not want to keep Stockton as a fresh food market, but rather some new developments that would attract higher financial returns. I think that’s the reason why they prefer Central Subway over transit only Stockton Street.

    Unlike New Urbanism, where activities should be street oriented, most new community developments in Asia are indoor oriented (even featuring high quality transit service). So I am not surprised if folks in Chinatown don’t share the New Urbanists’ vision.

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-616986286:disqus  That’s one of the most bizarre comments I’ve ever read. Please, do regale us with more fascinating insights into the minds of the orientals.

  • Guest

    The handful of parking spaces along Stockton really dont serve the community. They tend to create increased congestion with people trying to park. You wont even notice the difference in people shopping. What fraction of the people who drive to Chinatown (already such a small percentage) park on Stockton?  Maybe you have 0.5% of all trips to Chinatown utilizing parking on Stockton.  

  • Guest

    Imagine what could happen if cars were banned or at least limited along Stockton.  Can we even imagine car free streets anymore?  Things used to move smoothly.  Try bus only?

  • Anonymous

    I agree with expanding the sidewalk to make more room for pedestrians, but I fiercely oppose sidewalk shopping, truck-shopping and the likes, and if having parking is the way to have these 3rd World things (like shopping from an unorganized vendor on a curbside) eliminated, so let’s have all parking we can have.

  • Anonymous

    A subway has more capacity and is faster than any at-grade solution. You can have an overground rail solution which accelerates as fast as to as high speeds over ground, even if all cars are banned, unless you completely fence of streets or build them elevated. And speed is everything. 

  • mikesonn

    @andrelot:disqus In *theory* but not in practice when it comes to the Central Subway.

  • vcs

    Nobody tries to park in Chinatown, because all the spaces are occupied. 

  • Obviously the mayor and merchants hate the people who live there so much, they’re doing everything they can to cut them off.

  • Anonymous

    @andrelot:disqus That’s true if the entire line is a subway, but a transit line only has the capacity of it’s tightest bottleneck. There is a rather nasty bottleneck at 4th & King which will result in riders waiting at Union Square for trains stuck in Giants traffic. For this reason a surface extension would have performed just as well for much less money.

  • If you’re about evidence, there’s plenty of evidence that the U.S. poorer regions are already increasingly what you call “3rd world.” But if you’re more about fierce opposition and have the premise that chaos is bad, please consider how a bustling streetscape is positive in various ways: more alive than suburban-style control and predictablity. And there’s strong evidence that well-meaning chaos and the opportunities it brings decreases meth use, suicide, driving, and all sorts of other suburban ills.

  • Anonymous

    @JoelPomerantz:disqus Life is something you do with your life while working, going somewhere like a concert, national park. vacation; meeting friends for dinner or whatever. Wandering aimlessly on streets (and not in a park, or a beach or something like that) is a waste of time. I’m all for segregated bike paths, wide sidewalks and also freeway/tunnels not on the immediately vicinity of houses. Each type of traffic, where warranted, should have its exclusive facilities (from high-speed trains to pedestrians). 
    And since streets are public spaces, they should be as clean, neat, tidy and standardized as possible, because what pleases a person displeases someone else, thus better to have streets empty of clutter like vendors, street artists etc. Thus more people can walk there peacefully, people will have have for strollers with babies, bicycles will have their own space without worrying about pedestrian or vehicle intrusion, cars (not on residential areas of course) will have freeways free of anything else but other road vehicles and so on.Using meth or suicide are mental problems that affect people regardless of where they live. There are druggies, mentally deranged people and stoned in all types of neighborhood.

  • mikesonn

    “Wondering aimlessly on the streets is a waste of time”

    I feel bad for you, it is one of my favorite past times, especially in SF – the streets are theatre here. Not to mention the natural and architectural beauty.

  • Anonymous

    The idea that the streets of the city — which represent by far the greatest portion of public space — should be rapid and segregated and used exclusively for transportation (in contrast to, oh, all of human history); the idea that only certain designated streets (in parks or beaches) are acceptable for recreational walking and all the others are not–they remind me of the utopian visionaries like Le Corbusier who had Big Ideas about how people should live, and who weren’t willing to let any actual people with their messy needs and desires interfere with the grand plans.

    “what pleases a person displeases someone else” — indeed — “thus better to have streets empty of clutter like vendors, street artists etc.” — “so it’s better to do only what pleases me”?

    You’d make more room for people to walk by eliminating the reasons they walk there. It’s not an improvement. You’re welcome to your opinions, but I find them bizarre.

  • Rbihan

    andrelot ,
    First of all to call a 5000 year old culture such as China’s “Third World” is racest, ignorant and not very nice.  Perhaps your unaware that much of the food being sold along those sidewalks is some of the healthiest,and most in-cultured in the Modern world.  If you really prefer the sanitized aisles of Safeway and Walgreen than why live here ? 

  • Anonymous

    @e4855721246e88f92237bdc32012233d:disqus What is “third world-ish” is the way it is sold, not its diet contents. And as for some food being “cultured” or not, I couldn’t honestly care less. If it makes a street messy with trash, smell or obstruction to the primary use of streets, it is worth getting rid off. Nothing against Chinese food being sold on indoor restaurants, especially those more upscale. All against food being sold on streets, and that includes All-American hot dogs as well for that matter. 

  • Anonymous

    Just because it is Asian food doesn’t mean it should be sold in a street (or curbside to be exact) like it were Asia as well. Last time I checked, California was part of US of A, hence regulations should apply there. I hate when people are willing to give a pass on disrespecting ordinances just for some (bogus) ethnic-flavor argument.

    Regulations concerning the use of the sidewalk for vendor activities should be completely blind to any ethnic demographic makeup of the area. If a stakehouse can’t put a grill on the sidewalk and block pedestrians, if a McDonalds can’t put a board or a inflatable dummy on its door, neither should any ethnic store be given a pass of that.

    I don’t care if in, say, Hong Kong vendors hijack the sidewalk and overwhelm the pedestrians forcing them to literally stare at their merchandise. SF is not HK. 

  • Gneiss

    Andrelot – so farmers markets are “third world” as well then? The only difference I see is that they aren’t on the street.  Just admit that you think our city streets aren’t for human beings who actually live there – just machines filled with visiting suburbanites.

  • Carter

     Yeah, apart from being inconvenient, it is also dangerous. And do you know if there is a bell – edmonton city centre in sf chinatown?

  • Why don’t they simple build a parking plaza near market? It will be frustrating for people when they will have to park their cars away from this place.


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