Are Mayor Lee, SFPD, and SFMTA Serious About Ending Hazardous Parking?

Image: KRON 4

Mayor Ed Lee, along with the heads of the SFPD and SFMTA, vowed yesterday to crack down on double parking and “box blocking” as part of broader “Congestion Management Strategy to improve traffic flow and safety.”

It’s a big promise, upending SF’s history of lax enforcement towards parking violations that routinely make streets more dangerous and snarl transit. So it remains to be seen: Are city leaders really committed to a sustained crackdown on motorists who illegally disrupt streets for their personal convenience? Or will SF merely witness another short-lived gimmick that will falter once police and parking control officers return to their blind-eyed ways?

Targeted enforcement against drivers who block chronically-plagued SoMa intersections was among an array of enforcement and bureaucratic reform efforts that Lee announced. For some reason, drivers haven’t been regularly ticketed for this in decades. But now, “There will be no tolerance of blocking the box,” Lee told reporters. “Those that do will face the hefty fines already on the books.”

At the press event, held to inaugurate the SFMTA’s new Transportation Management Center, Lee also warned double parkers: SF is “a city where some actors and actresses in their vehicles, or in their delivery trucks, seem to think that double parking is helpful to themselves — yet [don’t] understand the impact.”

But double parking with impunity is “part of San Francisco’s history.” That was actually declared at a supervisors hearing last year by Lea Millitello, then the SFMTA’s director of security, investigations, and enforcement, and previously an SFPD lieutenant. Specifically, she was referring to double parking at churches on Sundays, but everyday experience shows that the exemption extends to everywhere and every day.

So it’s clear that the mayor, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr will have to do more than just flip a switch to overhaul the prevailing culture among drivers and enforcement officers, who typically just shrug at each other when a car stops cold in a bike lane, transit lane, intersection, or sidewalk.

SFMTA and SFPD will increase traffic enforcement by at least 50 percent, and target “problem areas,” the SF Chronicle reported. Reiskin said in a statement:

Smart, data-driven, targeted efforts to reduce congestion in San Francisco can make it easier and smoother for people to get around the City. These efforts will also help us make Muni more reliable, and help us reach our long-term goals – to achieve Vision Zero, and to make transit, bicycling, car share, taxi, and walking great ways to get around San Francisco.

Statements from Reiskin, Lee, and Suhr framed the effort as part of Vision Zero. “Crossing a street should never be a ‘life or death’ decision,” Suhr said, telling the Chronicle that the efforts would target both private auto drivers and delivery drivers.

The mayor has also targeted construction contractors as a major source of SF’s traffic congestion woes. A mayor’s office press release promised “better construction permitting” and double staffing in construction inspection, to ensure that developers and construction companies comply with the terms of their permits, and do not block any more lanes, bus stops, or parking spaces than they are permitted to.” The release also touted better real-time monitoring and management of traffic signals and transit at the SFMTA’s new center.

These all sound like promising steps toward reducing traffic congestion, which appears to be declining anyways. Perhaps the announcements are a sign that, after voters’ recent passage of Muni-funding Prop A and rejection of cars-first Prop L, Mayor Lee is less inclined to pander to the purported mob of drivers demanding free parking, and more willing to condemn illegal parkers — and not just the ones that block his car. Then again, a crackdown on construction contractors, who mostly occupy parking lanes, does seem mostly geared toward the same crowd.

In any case, Supervisor Scott Wiener — City Hall’s biggest advocate of double parking enforcement — seems pleased, while others say we’ve got a long way to go:

  • murphstahoe

    Get ‘er done.

    It won’t take too much time of unforgiving enforcement to change the public more towards double parking. That’s the real issue – people just don’t care if they double park. For a while it will be “they are really strict about this” but with effort it can change to “what kind of a**h**e double parks?”

  • gneiss

    For the last 4 years, just about every morning and afternoon work day I ride along on Townsend from 8th St. to 2nd Street. And there has never been a time on that route when I have not encountered at least one car, taxi, or delivery truck double parking in the bike lanes or blocking the intersections at 3rd Street and 4th Street. What is especially ironic, is that under the I-280 ramp that touches down at 5th St., there is a depot for DPT parking control vehicles. Yet I have *never* seen one of them drive the 1 block to the Caltrain station and give out tickets to the taxis and others interfering with the safe passage of pedestrians and bicyclists.

    I find it especially galling as a cyclists that so much emphasis is placed on our ‘bad behavior’ for rolling stop signs or jumping red lights, and yet these common and dangerous behaviors of double parking and blocking crosswalks is somehow enshrined as some kind of “motorist right” I simply won’t believe that anything has changed until I see DPT officers from the depot handing out tickets to the queue of taxis that routinely block the bike lane along the Caltrain station in the morning.

  • If pedestrians just walked in constant panic and fear at every intersection and crossing on all the streets of SF we wouldn’t have a safety problem.

  • Gezellig

    Even better–each and every one of those hipster bipedalist foot-goers should just get a car. Or two! Why not liberate yourself, finally stop worrying about safety and enjoy the crosswalks by car like the mayor does?

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BrgKJ7jCUAAWg7I.jpg

    Finally, Balance RESTORED!

  • Easy

    I was biking outbound on Market at 5th St tonight around 6 pm, and northbound cars managed to block both lanes of Market for a whole light cycle.

  • gb52

    We focus a lot on cars in the street, but let’s be reasonable with all of this, and let’s not forget sidewalks in the mix. I dont care if you’re parked in your driveway and are blocking a couple inches, or even a foot of the sidewalk (given a standard 6 ft sidewalk), but dont impede the flow of traffic, including pedestrians! [And by the way, it’s on the verge of blight when nearly every house along your block has a car parked in the driveway… Not to mention those who feel like parallel parking in front of their houses after paving over their front yard… DONT DO IT! It’s illegal!]

  • baklazhan

    If they’re serious about enforcing double parking, the city needs to make sure that spaces are available to use for loading and unloading.

    Where I live, it’s common that every single parking space is occupied. If I need to load a couple hundred pounds of stuff, or to deliver a package, what am I supposed to do? If there isn’t reasonable answer to this question, then no amount of enforcement will stick, because things need to be loaded. See this article: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Parking-tickets-by-the-truckload-18-S-F-2615428.php

    In some areas, it might be enough if people get the message to park across driveways over parking in the street. Both illegal, of course, but I think that parking in the street is currently seen as the less-risky option, so that’s what people do.

    Where there aren’t suitable driveways, however, the city is going to have to take action to ensure that there are available spaces. This could mean creating more white zones, or it could mean SFPark-like demand management (or installing meters where there are currently none). Right now, policy is focused on maximizing the number of long-term parking spots, and that’s something that will have to change if they want to make a difference. Disability placard reform will also help.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Agreed, loading, pick up, and delivery need to be accommodated, however, I think the attitudes around double parking are so relaxed that often when there is an accessible, out of the flow of traffic, and even legal place to park people will still sometimes double park. This is especially true of business vehicles like delivery or taxi, and with the proliferation of Lyft, Uber, etc. I’ve seen drivers picking up or dropping off passengers park in the middle of a crosswalk when they could at the very least pull ahead 10 feet to only block the road. I know it’s anecdotal, but I think these new kinds of taxis need to figure out how to instruct their drivers to pick up and drop off customers in a way that doesn’t impact our streets too much.

    Personally I think it is better for someone to block a driveway temporarily than double park, but the only time I seem to use a car to do a large drop off is when doing a donation run, and I’m always willing to walk it the distance necessary from a legal parking spot rather than block the street/driveway (but that’s just me I guess).

  • jd_x

    I’ve been saying this for a while, but there’s an easy solution: every block has 2-6 spaces per side (more or less depending on if it’s zoned commercial or not) reserved for loading. I think it’s amazing that we don’t realize this is a solution and we just take it as a given that the entirely of both sides of the streets need to be completely filled with cars (yet another externalized cost of driving). These spaces would be present even on every purely residential blocks and would be used for UPS/FedEx deliveries, cabs, and just normal private motorists. It’s unacceptable that we assume that motorists need to take up even *more* street space for double-parking.

  • I’ll believe ‘er when I sees ‘er!

    You’re absolutely right, and all we need now is this “unforgiving enforcement.”

    Anyone taking bets on this?

  • murphstahoe

    The DPT actually went out occasionally to ticket the Taxis who were in the queue for the taxi stand at Caltrain and lined up so far that they ended up blocking the bike lane.

    Ironically – this almost ended my life. I moved into the primary lane to go around a long line of taxi cabs, and a taxi driver that noticed the DPT officer writing a ticket to the taxi in the front of the line decided to make a getaway – not noticing that I was in his getaway path.

    And referencing the original article – the extended enforcement blitz on that particular location definitely had an impact. What really annoyed me about the whole thing was the open, utter disdain for the cyclists held by the cabbies lining up in the bike lane.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    I pass by the Caltrain station twice a day and it is by far the most chaotic part of my ride. The nighmare-taxi lineup is just a small taste of the insane mix of vehicles driving in every direction directly in front of the station. I can’t decide if the Megabus, the Amtrak bus, or the Jitney takes the crown of insanity here. Maybe the Mission Bay shuttles…

    In the evenening, I have to watch out for people casting themselves into traffic in a desparate attempt to catch the next train. Also: the guy picking up bike share bikes in the height of rush-hour, riding two bikes at a time across all four lanes of traffic. It is a perfect storm of anarchy!

  • jd_x

    Yep, I’ve been riding down Townsend almost daily for 7 years and can safely say that I have not *once* seen any cab, private car, or bus get a ticket even though they (especially cabs) make crazy-dangerous U-turns constantly, block the bike lane, double-park, etc. Some even have the gall to honk at cyclists for trying to go around them as they block the lanes, make U-turns, and aggressively and suddenly pull out of their queue. And in that time, I have seen several stings by SFPD on cyclists rolling the stop sign at the T-intersection with 5th St. That is a glaring example of the utter bias of SFPD against cyclist and hence their complete inability to judge what is actually creating danger on the streets. It’s so frustrating and demoralizing to see such an incredible misuse of limited assets as well as the discouragement of the form of transit the City *says* it wants to promote.

    Another thing I cannot understand is: why don’t they put the bike lane, at least on the northbound side of Townsend, on the *other* side of the parked cars between 8th and 5th? This is the perfect place to try this because there is a ridiculous amount of space yet so much danger for cyclists. And it would involve the small costs of just paint and moving some of the meters and signs.

  • murphstahoe

    Email Jane Kim and get her to do a ride along. Seriously.

  • Sprague

    Just like with “hands-free” mobile phone use while driving… it appears as if there’s no enforcement of the law so the law is widely ignored.

  • theqin

    You are asking SFMTA to create parking spaces in order to give up $1 million in parking ticket revenue from delivery vehicles? http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Parking-tickets-by-the-truckload-18-S-F-2615428.php

    SFMTA doesn’t really have any motivation to change city parking structure in order to reduce tickets, that would result in laying off employees paid to issue citations who generate revenue.

  • Sprague

    There appears to be no excuse for the lack of a parking protected bike lane along Townsend Street adjacent to the Caltrain right-of-way (on the southeast side of the street between 7th and 4th). As you point out, such a project is a low cost, simple improvement that greatly enhances safety for all (including eliminating conflict between transit riders, Muni buses, and bicyclists by getting the bus stop out of the bike lane). This ain’t a splashy project and shouldn’t require much in the way of planning, design, review, funding, etc. and the following officials can arrange for this job to be done: Jane.Kim@sfgov.org, Ed.Reiskin@sfmta.com, mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org, mtaboard@sfmta.com

  • murphstahoe

    how about also Cc: noah@sfbike.org

  • Gezellig

    Enforcement’s very important, no doubt, and will be incredibly welcome if/when it comes. However, let’s not forget the equally (if not more) important role infrastructure plays.

    When streets allow cars capacious rights-of-way whose only countermeasure is paint, too many people will obey the temptation. This is not unique to SF. Double-parking bike lanes beget….double-parking. Wherever they occur, make no mistake. Even in Amsterdam:

  • guest

    This only works if trucks USE the yellow zones–unlike the mail trucks at end of day on 23rd Street near So. Van Ness

  • baklazhan

    Quite simply, I think it would be unpopular. People would prefer to have an additional two long-term spaces and a blocked street. Especially on some residential streets, many of which have–let’s face it–far more road space than they need for the amount of traffic they get. In those cases, double parking is seen as basically harmless.

  • jd_x

    “Quite simply, I think it would be unpopular.”

    Indeed, but throw it onto the pile of just about all issues that the livability city movement is trying to push. Anything we do to try to reclaim the madness cars have created on our streets will be unpopular, so this idea is no different.

  • Dark Soul

    Dont narrow the street then.

  • SF Pedestrian

    I called parking enforcement a few weeks ago about double-parking that had turned 26th street into a one-lane road.

    The dispatcher said, “Is this related to a church? Because SFMTA policy is to not enforce parking regulations against church members.”

    I asked her who set the policy, and she said it was “Cameron Samii”. So if you need to know who’s writing the policies to explicitly favor religious activity, it’s that guy.

  • M.

    Flags, stashes of little fluoro orange flags at every intersection so walkers can wave them frantically in hopes that vehicles bearing down on them at top speeds will stop.

  • baklazhan

    They had no problem giving up $10 million in Sunday meter revenue, apparently.

  • EastBayer

    This is so right. people like to think that their values drive their actions but really their actions drive their values.

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