Want More Parking in SF? Be Careful What You Wish For

Why shouldn’t SF build a parking garage next to the Painted Ladies? Image: Tony Wessling/The Upright Biker

The backers of Prop L think San Francisco can “restore balance” to its transportation system by, for example, building more parking garages.

So what would SF’s neighborhoods look like, if only they dedicated more real estate to hulking monoliths of automobile storage? Tony Wessling used his photoshop skills to simulate that reality, and posted the “frightening yet amusing” renderings on his blog, The Upright Biker.

The thinking entrenched among the pro-parking garage set apparently goes like this: Just replace some of SF’s prime real estate with more concrete fortresses, and SF’s parking problems will go away. SF doesn’t need that space now being used for housing, businesses, or any of those other more productive uses that actually make cities worth living in — so just replace those with parking garages.

Frighteningly indeed, some potentially influential, car-obsessed people in SF have espoused this idea, such as a recent Small Business Commission president. The Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed Prop L.

Never mind that building a parking garage in SF is currently estimated to cost $22,096 per space [PDF]. Never mind that existing parking garages are heavily underutilized — occupancy at public garages peaks at about 70 percent on average, for about one hour on weekdays [PDF]. (Imagine if more than 30 percent of the city’s apartments were empty.) Never mind that San Francisco has a severe housing shortage, and that building parking both increases the cost of housing and prevents more from being built. And never mind that parking garages only induce more driving and create gridlock on the streets below.

No one has conveyed the idea quite as well as Allan Jacobs, the former director of the SF Planning Department and professor emeritus of city planning at UC Berkeley. We have to pull his quote once again:

No great city has ever been known for its abundant supply of parking.

See Wessling’s visualizations of how would parking garages would fit right in in the Castro and North Beach after the jump.

The Castro Theater need not lack for convenient parking. Image: Tony Wessling/The Upright Biker
New garages might open up some space along North Beach’s quaint streets, but they might be so quaint afterwards. Image: Tony Wessling/The Upright Biker
  • jonobate

    This is great. I’m going to put these up in my neighborhood once we get closer to election time.

  • Gezellig

    LOVE these! This is brilliant visual messaging.

  • Let me guess: taxpayers would get stuck with the bulk of the tab. Mayor Lee doesn’t want to “nickel and dime” drivers. He just wants taxpayers to pay through the nose to provide parking, whether they use it or not.

    *Each on-street spot costs taxpayers $400 annually to maintain. Source:

  • Kevin

    I real life example of “restoring balance” is Downtown Oakland. Parking garages everywhere and wide streets don’t make it a place I want to spent time.

  • yermom72

    Having people park in area garages instead of on the street is actually a very good idea. It’s really the “restoring balance” people who should be careful what they wish for!

    And the garages would not have to be ugly, mid-to late 20th century monstrosities. There’s a book on this:


  • Chris

    What about a compromise? If they built parking garages, then they would have to remove street parking and put in cycle tracks. A hundred parking spaces in the garage equals to a hundred parking spaces removed from the streets.

  • sebra leaves

    We can start by reinstating the minimum 1 car per unit rule for new properties. It was changed from a minimum to a maximum requirement a couple of years ago and has resulted in a lot of new market rate housing being built with insufficient off-street parking. The voters may also want to chime in on the “sharing economy” privatizing public property. The courts are looking at that now.

  • Dean

    I’ve lived in a city (Minneapolis) that is jammed with parking garages and let me tell you: it’s ugly.

  • donsf2003

    This ad campaign against this prop is so sleazy. I disagree with the prop but wish it passes because this is so sleazy.

  • donsf2003

    Who cares if it is a lie right?

  • adamspacemann

    “Insufficient” is not really an objective term. If your goal is to have everyone reliant on driving around and not interesting in providing space for alternatives then, yes, perhaps <1 car per unit is insufficient. If, instead, you are trying to challenge the dogma that cars are the only thing we should ever rely upon for getting around, and seeking to reduce the amount of entitlements that drivers get, then it's a perfectly sufficient amount.

  • Chris McMahon

    Dang. Why not make this like Los Angeles?

  • Prinzrob

    The images posted above are not part of any ad campaign, they were just hastily photoshopped together by an individual (and frequent Streetsblog commenter) who opposes Measure L. You already know this, as you participated in the Streetsblog comment thread a couple days ago where they were posted originally.

    Beyond that, how is it sleazy to provide a visual representation of what an actual parking garage would look like in different contexts around the city, in response to a measure that specifically asks for more parking garages in the city? Is it okay to demand more parking garages but not okay to show photos of parking garages because people might accidentally realize what they are asking for?

    I think it is sleazy for the Measure L campaign to show a Muni train on the front page of their website, when enshrining on-street car parking, wasting funds on hugely expensive garages, while also reducing meter and ticket revenues as the measure requests would all have a significant negative impact on Muni service.

  • Gezellig

    The problem with that, though, is that assumes there’s lots of space around the city to build lots of new expensive parking garages–in addition, whatever space those take up is space that can’t be used for housing/commericial/etc. needs.

    The more car-centric infrastructure you build, the more it creates its own demand. In fact, the mid-century push to require garages in homes and other forms of off-street parking also was based off the assumption that the N number of street-parked cars was static and as soon as you put them inside a garage those spaces would be open on the street again.

    Turns out, that only made driving/parking all the more attractive an option, encouraging yet more people to do it in yet more instances, so it suddenly became Nx2 or 3 or whatever and voilà still not enough parking. Just like widening freeways in a city is never enough to satiate demand, neither is adding endless more parking.

  • Gezellig

    See Prinzrob’s comment above.

  • SteveDombek

    Agreed, and I’d just add that there IS a point where adding more parking satiates demand. It’s the point where the city is no longer worth visiting because it’s been turned into a giant parking lot.

  • San Franciscans 4 more parking

    Your posts are hilarious. This parking-obsessed-driver routine really shows how stupid and shortsighted people could be if they didn’t give a single thought to anything but their car.

    Nobody in real life could make an argument there is insufficient off-street parking when garages are only 70% full at peak. What would be sufficient? 50% of spaces empty? 70%? 90%?

  • MissionMom

    Can we get some images of a garage in Noe – say at the proposed town square, or where the Radio shack & current at-grade lot are – and the Mission on 24th Street – say at 24th Street BART where the McDonalds is, or where Galleria De La Raza is?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    So true. There’s a one-story parking structure at Webster and 13th that just acts like a black hole sucking the energy out of the neighborhood. Not to mention the full block of surface parking adjacent to the absurd full block spiral cold war parking garage at 13th and Jackson, or the five-story parking pedestal beneath caltrans regional offices on Grand, or the cathedral that’s more parking garage than anything else.

    Part of Oakland’s problem in this regard is public “servants” have been effectively promised ready parking as part of their compensation. But anyone who needs an example of “balance” can come to Oakland to admire or surfeit of wide, deserted boulevards and empty parking spaces.

  • sebra leaves

    It is not up to you or I, or an unelected body of appointed administrators, to decide what the policies and goals should be. The voters will decide and their wishes should be honored.

  • adamspacemann

    Right, and voters in SF have decided on a transit first policy. But more to your point, we also never voted on whether or not we should have a car-centric culture, it was an idea imposed by planners in the 1950s and 60s and continues to be carried out today. We inherited the world as it stands so we tend to think that this is just the natural way it came about. But it was the result of manipulation by people who at the time considered it the “right” way to go. Nowadays, that way no longer works and we are all having this argument about what the “right” thing to do is. To some, like you and the proponents of this measure, we need to continue with the status quo and make sure to shore up the dominance of cars in our society. Others, mainly the people who write and read this site, like to imagine that there could be a different way in the future. We’ll all decide together, I guess.

  • Gezellig

    Yes. This. Only addition I’d make is it’s certainly not just mainly those who write and read this site who recognize there’s a better toolbox cities could be using besides the All Cars All The Time one.


    Anyone who’s enjoyed the amazing street life at the square at Hayes Valley (post-freeway) or the Embarcadero (post-freeway) or even just the conversion of a parking space to a parklet outside a coffee place recognizes that maybe, just maybe, this whole 125% Cars All The Time m.o. hasn’t been the best idea all the time.

    Also, it’s funny how just like with other movements, once the group enjoying the most privilege and dominance in the status quo starts noticing even minimal encroachments they are quick to label it as “imbalance” or discrimination. Oh, no, we’re going from 125% All Cars All The Time to only 110% All Cars All The Time! Restore balance!

    What’s even funnier is that by implementing better bike/transit/walking infrastructure you take more cars off the road in the first place meaning for the die-hard motorist and/or someone who really does need to drive it’s fewer cars to road-rage with in the first place! Imagine rush hour if all those bikes were cars–it’d be insanity.


    Yet the car traffic along that road mostly flows freely even at rush hour in a major city. From a driver’s point of view this kind of infrastructure *helps* them in that they have less competition! (and it keeps bikes out of the way).

  • Gezellig
  • Gezellig

    Not to mention the sleazy factor of their first bullet point in their ‘About’ section:

    “Parking meters shouldn’t operate on any City holiday, Sundays, or between the hours of 6:00 pm and 9:00 am.”


    Uhhh….Sunday metering was already rescinded and it had nothing to do with L. Purposeful obfuscation here.

  • Alicia

    What lie are you referring to?

  • @disqus_2xADSo7Zq7:disqus that is _so_ sleazy of you to show that Photoshopped image of what SF would look like if we allowed double-decker freeways to be built right in front of our most important civic buildings! How could you stoop so low as to suggest that’s really the way it would be if cars-first became City policy!


  • coolbabybookworm

    How can you dictate to developers how much parking to build, but then say it’s not up to you or I to decide the policies? Building less parking allows for more affordable development and more units per development. Would you rather house cars or people? Should voters be able to dictate how much private parking is built?

  • Alex

    Wait, you disagree with the measure but hope it passes out of spite because you don’t like someone’s efforts against it? That’s just bizarre and a terrible way to establish policy in a city.

  • Alex

    When you mandate parking, you are basically pushing private costs onto the market without demand. It becomes more expensive to build housing which drives up the cost of housing, not something that SF needs. And when you mandate parking be provided, you also induce more car ownership which just creates more traffic, something else that SF does not need. There is and endless supply of reading that explains all these issues on this site. I recommend reading up on it all. You’ll quickly see what a bad deal mandating parking is for cities.

  • Gezellig

    I know! It really required an overactive imagination on my part to Photoshop in a double-decker freeway in front of the Ferry Bldg of all places!

  • ChrisLoos

    I was thinking the same thing. Then again, I’d be afraid that people that saw the pictures would just think “yes! I’d love to have more parking in my neighborhood!” So many people here simply don’t care about good urbanism. Its all about making their commute and errand-running easier. Suburban mindsets in the densest metropolis in the country.

  • Moo Dang

    republican plan? Republicans have been extinct in sf for a couple of decades.

  • Prinzrob

    Well, it looks like the folks in charge of the pro-Measure L website showed some decency and replaced the photo of a Muni train on their front page with an image of backed up traffic. This seems totally appropriate to me, likely for totally different reasons than they intended.

    The Muni train graphic still appears on several other pages on their site, though. This is inappropriate and misleading, as the proposal as written offers no specific benefits to Muni riders.

    I wouldn’t vote for but would at least respect the opinions of the Measure L backers if they just played it straight and stopped messing around with so much obfuscation and omission. The data and figures cited on their “Facts & Myths” page are so obviously cherry-picked to favor their argument while carefully ignoring inconvenient details, I have a hard time believing that anyone in favor of the campaign either fully understands the issues or doesn’t have an ulterior motive for supporting it.

  • murphstahoe

    There were a non-trivial set of people upset that the town square would disappear and reduce parking. At least one neighborhood elder preferred a parking garage built there.

    I never did hear if in the end there will be no parking fronting the square.

  • Andy Chow

    Photoshopping can be quite deceiving. The anti-HSR folks made this: http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2009_09_01_archive.html but cities that have similar grade separations (San Carlos, Belmont, San Bruno) actually look better than the photoshop. The artist already made a conclusion that target is bad so he or she made them to look as ugly as possible to drive that point.

    In San Francisco, a lot of multi-level garages have street-side retail, and some even have residences or offices above. Even San Jose has street-level retail for their newer garages downtown: http://goo.gl/maps/jVY2q

    Not that I support the proposition, but you can’t assume that voters won’t think that parking garages can’t ever be designed in a more tasteful way that they can accept in the community.

  • yermom72

    But parking garages would not have the same effect as home garages and on-street parking. To use them would require walking as well as driving, for instance. Instead of driving from point to point to point, you would drive from neighborhood to neighborhood — in the end making the “convenience” of driving about the same as that of riding transit or biking.

  • @Chris – Supposedly that was what the underground parking in Golden Gate Park would achieve. Just another in the long list of lies surrounding that project.

  • @yermom72 – A parking garage was built in Mission Bay just a few years ago. One member of the citizen’s advisory committee (supposedly an oversight body) was driven to tears by its beauty, and of course the Chron‘s architecture critic gushed about it. How can it be that you have overlooked this little slice of heaven on Earth, right here in our own city?

  • yermom72

    Meh… I would count all of “Mission Bay” as a collection of monstrosities, just calling out for a visit from Godzilla.

  • Alicia

    Nonsense. Based on the 2012 election results, it’s nearly 40% GOP.

  • Moo Dang

    What a silly way to make that determination. republicans make up 8.6% of the registered voters in SF. Compared to 55.6% registered democrat. If you think the GOP has any pull in SF…

  • coolbabybookworm

    re-read, Moo Dang referred to SF not CA. This proposition is only for SF anyway.


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