The SFMTA web page that provides guidance on "how to park legally" currently tells drivers that "you may park in your own driveway as long as no portion of your vehicle extends over the sidewalk." The text is accompanied by a photo of someone walking a bike past cars parked in "driveways," but with their rear ends extending well into what appears to be the sidewalk.
After I inquired with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose about the legality of those instructions, he said that the agency will change it. "The page is unclear and may lead one to think that it is OK to park anywhere as long as you are not blocking the sidewalk," he said. "We are working on changing it now." The SFMTA hasn't provided the new language yet.
SF's rampant sidewalk parking problem seems to stem partially from a widespread belief among drivers that they're allowed to park in their "driveway." There's no telling whether drivers are genuinely confused about parking laws or by the definition of a sidewalk -- or whether drivers blatantly disregard the law, and their neighbors' need for safe and dignified passage by foot, stroller, and wheelchair. But either way, the SFMTA's instructions on the matter need to be clear.
I pointed out to Rose that the SFMTA's instructions appear to conflict with the SF Planning Code, which prohibits parking in setbacks, and the fact that all off-street parking spots must be permitted in zoning.
Livable City Director Tom Radulovich confirmed: "The Planning Code prohibits parking in front yards, side yards, or rear yards, so SFMTA is advising San Franciscans to break the law – and risk getting cited by the Planning Department," he said.
It's a little troubling that the SFMTA would have illegal and ambiguous instructions posted on its most easily-accessible resource for parking information. Of course, changing it just barely scratches the surface of what's needed to clean up SF's car-littered sidewalks. Ultimately, it would mean an upheaval in deep-seated misconceptions among drivers and parking control officers of what constitutes a legal parking spot, and a greater respect for the pedestrian realm. And given that many San Franciscans own cars solely because they can rely on free, illegal parking, bringing parking enforcement in line with actual laws would probably result in a lot of cars going up for sale.
We'll post an update when the SFMTA website is changed.