Commentary: Don’t Forget About Illegal Parking on Corners

A city can paint all the hi-viz crosswalks and red curbs they want, but if motorists just park or drive on them, it doesn't matter.

A motorist taking the corner at West and MacArthur at a protected intersection partially funded by KK. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A motorist taking the corner at West and MacArthur at a protected intersection partially funded by KK. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Two recent stories highlight the need for a paradigm shift in how cities, and Oakland in particular, view and handle scofflaw parking, especially near intersections. The first is “Welcome to Safetyville” in Streetsblog USA, about Hoboken, New Jersey reducing speed limits, on top of its already impressive Vision Zero accomplishments. From Kea Wilson’s post:

The move builds on the Mile Square City’s earlier success at completely eliminating traffic deaths within its borders — a feat the community has accomplished for a stunning four years and counting, even as car crash deaths spiked nationally throughout the pandemic. And while Hoboken is certainly unique for how many people it packs into its modest footprint — it has the fourth-highest population density of any U.S. city, including neighboring NYC — Streetsblog could not find another U.S. community of comparable population or land mass that had achieved that goal.

Hoboken attributes most of its success to one simple change: daylighting to maximize visibility at intersections. By banning parking close to corners, it’s easier for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to see what’s coming and avoid a deadly crash. Usually, Hoboken adds vertical posts, curb extensions, or even bike-share stations and other obstacles to make it all but impossible to park close to the corner.

A curb extension in Hoboken. Note the position of the stop sign pole, making it nearly impossible to park on it. Still from Streetsfilm.
A curb extension in Hoboken. Still from Streetsfilm.

Oakland has been daylighting intersections too.

But more often than not, daylighting consists of a red curb and a vain hope that motorists obey the rules. The Oaklandside did a great feature about how Oakland is finally trying to solve sidewalk parking, a related problem. The story recounts how the city, amazingly, threw in the proverbial towel a few years ago and even gave permission to residents of Trestle Glen to park on the sidewalk because, ostensibly, there isn’t enough parking in that neighborhood.

A day-lighting diagram. But this doesn't work if scofflaws park in the red zone. Image SFMTA
A daylighting diagram. But this doesn’t work if scofflaws park in the red zone. Image SFMTA

But sidewalk and other forms of scofflaw parking are hardly limited to Trestle Glen. My own neighborhood, Jack London Square, has entire floors of mandated parking in every apartment building, enormous surface lots, dedicated, multi-floor parking structures, and street parking on every single block. And yet sidewalk parking is ubiquitous.

Business as usual on a sidewalk in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Business as usual Thursday/today on a sidewalk in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Sidewalk parking, egregious though it may be, isn’t even the biggest problem. Motorists continually park in the daylighted red zones at intersections, in addition to blocking crosswalks and double parking on bike lanes.  Enforcement is a joke, as illustrated below:

An Oakland cop hanging out on the bike lane, blocking the daylighting. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An Oakland cop hanging out on the bike lane, in a red zone, blocking sightlines with the crosswalk. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

To point out the obvious, Oakland can paint all the red zones it wants. It doesn’t make anyone safer if motorists still park there.

Which gets back to the success story in New Jersey. Yes, Oakland has seven times the population of Hoboken, but it also has about 30 fatal crashes every year, with a steady uptick in the number of deaths. Population and land area differences don’t begin to explain Oakland’s crash rate.

Daylighting in Hoboken at least includes verticle posts, albeit flimsy ones in this case. Image from Streetsfilm
Daylighting in Hoboken at least includes vertical posts, albeit flimsy ones in this case. Image from Streetsfilm

But maybe Oakland’s complete inability to keep daylight zones clear starts to.

To its credit, Oakland has done some great marquee projects such as Telegraph, West Street in the lead image, and on some of the most notorious intersections along San Pablo where they built some solid solutions to tighten corners and keep them clear of illegally parked cars. But more often than not, they seem to think a red curb is enough to keep intersections safe.

An upgraded, day-lighted corner on San Pablo. Oakland and other cities need to make this kind of treatment routine. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An upgraded, daylighted, and narrowed corner on San Pablo. Oakland and other cities need to make this kind of treatment routine. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Let’s hope Oakland’s novel determination to crack down on sidewalk parking is sincere. But let’s also hope they start to keep intersection sightlines clear through real daylighting, using curbs and concrete obstacles, like in the lead image and the one above. Because as a little city in New Jersey has shown, daylighting of intersections works: officials just need to realize that as long as motorists can physically park in red zones, they will.

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