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Help Map the Sidewalk Parking Plague on San Francisco’s Streets

Update: It seems there's no way to edit the map directly via the link because Google's Maps Engine Lite, which is still in beta, may have some issues to be worked out. So to add your marker to the map, you can either email me at and I'll add it for you, or you can add it yourself (if you have a Google account) by first clicking here, then here. The map should open with some editing tools at the top. Click the marker icon labeled "Add marker," next to the hand icon, and place your sighting.

SFist started a crowdsourced map of sidewalk biking last week, calling it "a real problem in this city, annoying probably dozens of people a day." No argument there -- I've been known to call out offenders myself, though fortunately, injuries like the one on Market Street this month (which seemingly prompted SFist to launch the map) seem to be pretty rare.

While we're at it, though, let's build a map of the far more rampant offense endangering people on San Francisco's walkways -- sidewalk parking. The problem is most widespread in neighborhoods like mine, the Inner Sunset, where many drivers seem to interpret the ubiquitous curb ramps, garages, and "setbacks" in front of houses as an invitation. I've started the map off by adding two car-blocked sidewalks I spotted just while making my way home yesterday.

Even though the vast majority of the city's street space (plus garages and parking lots) is carved out primarily for automobile movement and storage, many drivers just can't seem to help but leave their property on the small portion of space reserved for walking, resting, and social activity. It often creates dangers for seniors, people who are visually impaired or using wheelchairs, and those using strollers, since a barricaded sidewalk means people are forced to enter the roadway or step on a sloped curb ramp to get around.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Yet despite popular misconceptions -- even among parking enforcement officers, as I've heard -- it's almost always illegal to park on any part of a sidewalk, driveway, or setback (the area in front of a building not deemed to be the sidewalk). Sidewalk parking is explicitly prohibited in the California Vehicle Code, and the San Francisco Planning Code (Article 1.2, sec 136) states that "in no case shall parking be allowed in [required] setbacks." Aside from the hazard, unsightliness, and general degradation it brings to the pedestrian environment, there's good reason parking shouldn't be allowed even behind the "property line" -- it amounts to an illegal increase in the number of off-street parking spaces allowed under zoning controls.

In some neighborhoods, car owners have been known to use threats of violence to intimidate enforcement officers from citing sidewalk parking offenders. When it comes to the folks they're forcing to squeeze around their personal property, however, these drivers can enjoy the privilege of not having to actually show their face and own up to their rude behavior.

If you spot sidewalk parking, you can report it to SFMTA parking enforcement by calling (415) 553-1200, then dialing 1 for English, and 6 for the department which includes sidewalk parking. And don't forget to add your sightings to the map. I have a feeling, unfortunately, that it won't be long before it looks something like this:

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