The parking war

The era of free parking in San Francisco may be over -- but the MTA has some bitter pills to swallow, too

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EDITORIAL When you talk about changing parking rules in San Francisco, you're setting off the political equivalent of shooting war. Nobody wants more parking tickets, nobody wants more expensive parking meters, nobody wants to pay for parking that's been free for years — and the Municipal Transportation Agency has, by most accounts, done a pretty poor job of selling its new parking management program.

That's too bad, because the MTA proposals aren't all bad. In fact, the agency is doing exactly the right thing by looking at a long-term citywide plan for altering the way people pay for and use on-street parking. If the bureaucrats at a city department that isn't used to San Francisco's often slow community-oriented planning process can shift their outreach efforts into a different gear, there's no reason they can't come up with a plan that most neighborhood residents and small businesses will support.

The MTA's SFPark program uses high-tech meters that accept credit cards and change prices at different points of the day to maximize turnover on the streets. That's actually good for local businesses — the less time people spend circling the block looking for a parking space, the more likely they are to stop and shop. Limiting the number of cars cruising for a space improves traffic flow. And parking for an hour or two at a meter is still much cheaper than parking in a garage.

But when the MTA announced that it was expanding SFPark into the Northeast Mission, Dogpatch, Potrero Hill and Mission Bay, the neighborhoods rebelled. Some of that was just anger over the prospect of meters being installed on streets that don't have them. Some of it comes from the changing land use in areas that are increasingly both residential and commercial. Some of it comes from the intense development pressure in those areas.

But a lot of it was a legitimate response to a perception that the MTA was trying to ram the changes through without making a serious effort to work with the community. It's not surprising — the MTA has been somewhat isolated from the politics of land use and planning in the city. So the staff isn't used to the fact that San Francisco is a process-oriented place where a wide range of constituent groups want input before anything happens where they live or work.

The neighborhoods need to understand reality, too: The era of free parking in San Francisco is coming to an end. That's a good thing — the city as a matter of policy should discourage the use of cars, and charging drivers for parking (and using that money to improve Muni) is an obvious solution. And the proposals aren't that onerous: Paying 25 cents an hour for all-day parking where you work is hardly a terrible financing burden. (And let's face it — the neighborhood parking stickers are way, way too cheap.)

But much of the southeast is badly served by transit and there are vehicle-intensive production, distribution and repair uses, and MTA needs to understand that. The agency has wisely delayed the program -- and after its shown it can work with the neighborhoods, this sort of bold initiative will be possible.

Comments

Our North Mission motorist neighbors agree that the era of free parking is over.

Variable priced meters mean that $.25 is the starting price. It can rise to $2/hr and the meters can run up to 24/7.

Planning has gone to lengths to protect PDR, production, distribution and repair. In one instance, a motorcycle repair shop had its motorcycle parking metered. For a repair and resale business that keeps inventory and customer bikes on the work floor at night and then moves them onto the streets during the day to have space to work, street parking is not a luxury, it is built into the business model. The put the "R" in PDR.

The SFPark variable pricing program is designed to raise prices so that there is always 15% of parking spaces available. This means that a pricing barrier to parking is erected in order to remove another barrier, lack of parking availability. In an increasingly affluent city, price points are less of a barrier than the time saved by driving over taking transit. Time sensitivity trumps price sensitivity. It is current city policy to decrease parking supply in new developments. Yet increasing availability is tantamount to increasing supply.

Increased parking supply via increased availability is a vehicle trip generator. Auto trip generators are known to generate congestion as well which snarls transit. Muni is currently one of the slowest major transit agencies. Steps are being taken to reduce service by eliminating bus stops to make the system run faster. This places a burden on transit dependent populations like seniors and the disabled. Yet Muni is poised to make those sacrifices by vulnerable populations a wash.

In addition, former Supervisor Dufty was in the house on Monday to represent Caltrain's concerns that the MTA did not coordinate with the toy train service when it put SFPark meters along Townsend. Many commuters to points south would get around the first/last mile problem of crappy Muni service to CalTrain by driving and parking at 4th and King and taking transit on the long haul. Pricing parking to the cost of the Caltrain ticket probably induces mode shift away from transit.

The MTA is implementing SF Park as a pilot project to avoid an EIR. The MTA has taken no baseline data with which to evaluate the pilot. There is a fair argument that SFPark variable priced parking to ensure availability might snarl Muni. The MTA needs to take a pause here and conduct an EIR so that it does no harm to transit. Muni is already Planning's infinite sink. The last thing that Muni needs is for the MTA to pile on that.

Market pricing of parking is a good idea. But it is not just or equitable for this to happen first in a moderate income mixed ethnicity neighborhood that has traditionally not been organized, we haven't have neighborhood associations here. MTA's tone deafness is changing that, our community is finally organizing. This would never be suggested for a highly organized white neighborhood with real congestion and very low parking availability like Noe Valley. Market pricing for availability is not a good idea, at least not until it is proven to not induce mode shift from transit to autos and in so doing, not snarl transit.

Just because market pricing is a good idea does not make staff's plan a good idea because it conflicts with other established policy goals.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 7:15 am

I live in NEMIZ and I've agreed to nothing of the sort.

Did you even attend the meeting?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 10:25 am

At three meetings I've attended 1/23, 1/29 and 1/30, neighbors who drive and park all agree that the era of free parking is over.

You are entitled to your minority opinion.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 10:52 am

MUNI is a disgrace unless you commute along a well-served rail line during main commute hours. Using MUNI to combine several trips in different neighborhoods can increase the time needed by 300%. Alas, having a car in SF is quite helpful-- perhaps necessary to people who value their time or need to travel outside a single neighborhood.

Furthermore, regional transit is quite lacking, especially between SF and the North Bay, generally following a model for day commuters rather than all-around practicality. BART may serve some major neighborhoods, but what happens when someone's ultimate destination is another couple of miles past the park-n-ride?

Transit in the SF Bay Area is far too undeveloped to use the "transit first" ideal as an excuse to turn public space into a paid privilege.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 9:16 am

What is it about all of you who fail to understand simple urban economics?

The city is waking up to the fact that it's really compact (7 mi by 7 mi, remember?) and housing development is finally picking up to meet demand, somewhat. So where do you get the idea that we should still behave like we're in St. Louis or Detroit or something and have vast acres of free parking available?

Transit in the SE could be better, for sure. But the city doesn't owe you a direct bus line to wherever you want to go. You can get a lot of places by walking and riding a bike. If you're disabled, there are still paratransit shuttles and taxis, right?

So, pray tell, why do you think the city owes you a free parking space? And what's wrong with garages?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 11:20 am

It's mind boggling the entitlement that some feel they have to torment the world with their opinions.

The status quo is often that way for a reason, change just to serve the entitlement issues of people who were good at agreeing with college professors is no way to run a city.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 11:34 am

The suggestion is that parking meters will help fund muni. If the community sees little benefit in return, why should they be forced to have meters? It takes the same amount of time to get from San Bruno to Embarcadero than to get to Embarcadero from Potrero.

Personally I moved to Potrero because it was reasonably close to the city without most of the hassles. I know my neighbors, and they generally have similar preferences. To me, this isnt a numbers thing - introducing parking meters in the laid back residential neighborhood destroys the friendliness and ease of living. If the city is proposing to destroy the neighborhood that you've grown to love, wouldn't you be upset?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

"Paying 25 cents an hour for all-day parking where you work is hardly a terrible financing burden."

This is a dishonest statement for many reasons. First, they are putting the meters in front of our homes and work. Not just our work.

Second, It is called variable pricing for a reason. The rates are changed every 30 days to six weeks and can go up to $6.00/hr. or $18.00/hr. for "special events." Charging residents $10-$50 per day to park in front of their homes encourages them to drive as much as possible to avoid those parking fees, and would absolutely be a significant burden charging hundreds of dollars a month in areas that are not high income neighborhoods. In my case I would drive to work in the mission instead of parking in front of my house and taking Muni as I currently do to avoid the fees. The incentives are backwards.

In Dogpatch and many other areas where meters are proposed, there is no parking problem. I've lived all over the city and I moved here in large part because parking is not a problem and my wife requires a car for her work. These meters are a solution looking for a problem.

Everyone gets that "the era of free parking is over," but we want to be treated like everyone else. If we can't get parking permits like everyone else then it is a matter of equity. Right now, "the era of free parking is over for these three neighborhoods" is a much more accurate statement. If they are going to blanket the entire city with these things and revoke everyone else's permits then okay. But to single out neighborhoods that don't need or want parking meters and where parking is not a problem doesn't make sense. I'd pay for a more expensive residential permit, but slugging a meter in front of my house plus the inevitable tickets if I don't make perfectly timed payments every day is crazy.

There are plenty of crowded retail areas in San Francisco where these meters make sense. But meters in uncrowded residential or mixed use PDR neighborhoods is terrible policy. Let us have residential permits like everyone else.

Posted by Dogpatcher on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 9:23 am

Let's face it -- a home with a driveway and garage is out of reach for many San Franciscans, so many residents rely on on-street parking. And a lot us who use on-street parking also take transit, walk, or bike to work (a benefit of mixed-use developments). So the MTA -- as well as the Bay Guardian -- need to acknowledge that these meters don't just effect folks driving to work or doing business. If we put meters where residents park, you're making it more attractive for people to drive to work.

Posted by Papa Potrero on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 9:30 am

You seem to be unable to understand supply-demand curves. The result of people having metered parking in front of their homes would follow a curve, not a step function; we wouldn't have every single car owner deciding to drive to work. Some people would decide to store their cars in a secure garage. Others might decide to stop owning a car and use carshare. Others would pay the meter and move their cars periodically. Go to New York and see how all this works.

The MTA is, like other city agencies, looking at its bottom line and addressing what has been a ridiculous giveaway at our collective expense. It's really starting to piss me off how all of your strident screaming and yelling like spoiled children can have any effect on this process at all. How do you think it's fair to the rest of us, who pay for car storage in one way or another?

Posted by 94103er on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 11:32 am

I didn't see any suggestion that car behavior would follow a step function, and it is not clear at all why you feel it is necessary to force people to pay for parking as an act of fairness. The incentive to charge for parking is to use the supply-demand curve you suggest to promote supply of spots when there is high demand. If there is ample supply, and little demand (as the case in Potrero for example), it seems silly to deal with the installation and maintenance costs of a meter when parking permits currently suffice.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

A full accounting would take stock of the fact that residents pay property taxes and that we are shareholders in the municipal corporation of San Francisco. We owns the joint.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard an attorney state at a land use commission hearing years ago that in a charter city/county like San Francisco, the property line extends from the lot line to the centerline of the street, but that, as usual, the public right of way over private property ran from the centerline to the lot line. So technically the parking space is private property attached to the owner(s) of the lot.

If this is indeed true, the it creates the strange situation were the public stakes a right of way claim on private property and then leases the private property back to individuals instead of keeping the public right of way as commons. In the commons of old, people would get to use the commons so long as they did no harm and shared it. This can be viewed in one sense as an enclosure.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

"Paying 25 cents an hour for all-day parking where you work is hardly a terrible financing burden."

This is a dishonest statement for many reasons. First, they are putting the meters in front of our homes and work. Not just our work.

Second, It is called variable pricing for a reason. The rates are changed every 30 days to six weeks and can go up to $6.00/hr. or $18.00/hr. for "special events." Charging residents $10-$50 per day to park in front of their homes encourages them to drive as much as possible to avoid those parking fees, and would absolutely be a significant burden charging hundreds of dollars a month in areas that are not high income neighborhoods. In my case I would drive to work in the mission instead of parking in front of my house and taking Muni as I currently do to avoid the fees. The incentives are backwards.

In Dogpatch and many other areas where meters are proposed, there is no parking problem. I've lived all over the city and I moved here in large part because parking is not a problem and my wife requires a car for her work. These meters are a solution looking for a problem.

Everyone gets that "the era of free parking is over," but we want to be treated like everyone else. If we can't get parking permits like everyone else then it is a matter of equity. Right now, "the era of free parking is over for these three neighborhoods" is a much more accurate statement. If they are going to blanket the entire city with these things and revoke everyone else's permits then okay. But to single out neighborhoods that don't need or want parking meters and where parking is not a problem doesn't make sense. I'd pay for a more expensive residential permit, but slugging a meter in front of my house plus the inevitable tickets if I don't make perfectly timed payments every day is crazy.

There are plenty of crowded retail areas in San Francisco where these meters make sense. But meters in uncrowded residential or mixed use PDR neighborhoods is terrible policy. Let us have residential permits like everyone else.

Posted by Dogpatcher on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 9:34 am

The suggestion to do an EIR to install parking meters is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as the notion of doing an EIR to install bike racks. CEQA is killing us. One can't even blow your nose without doing an EIR these days. Stop the madness. You don't need to invoke CEQA to do a policy or impact analysis. The overuse and abuse of CEQA as a negotiating and activist tool is going to be the death of CEQA and has turned many ardent environmentalists into opponents of CEQA. Good job.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 10:04 am

How do you know what impact a change will have, if you don't ask the question?

But maybe if the residents had been consulted first, not last, this mess could have been avoided.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 10:26 am

Transit delay is an environmental impact under CEQA. The proposal to install parking meters is not what might cause transit delay. Variable pricing of maters to achieve a level of availability is what might generate a net increase in auto trips, might induce mode shift from transit to autos and those new trips might delay transit. CEQA commands that projects that might delay transit be reviewed environmentally.

MUNI as infinite sink for negative drlay consequences of projects is what is killing us. CEQA is killing developers if crimping profits is considered deadly and that is a good thing.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

When there are no meters, parking does not cost money, but it costs time because you have to hunt for it. This system favors the poor (who have a lower value of time, i.e. they have more time and less money) at the expense of the rich (who have less time and more money). You don't need money to park, you just need luck or time, and anyone can get lucky.

So Marcos is right that introducing meters where parking used to be free benefits the wealthy at the expense of the less wealthy. When meters are installed, it will predominantly be the poor who switch onto Muni, or carpool, or ride their bikes, not the rich.

But Marcos is wrong to say that meters will "increase parking supply via increased availability (which) is a vehicle trip generator." The parking supply would not increase, so the number of cars would not increase. For every new driver attracted by the convenience of available parking, there would be one current driver repulsed by the price. That is how a market works. So while this program would not increase or decrease the total number of cars, it would reduce the circling of those cars hunting for parking, which benefits everyone.

And Marcos is wrong that "this would never be suggested for a highly organized white neighborhood with real congestion and very low parking availability like Noe Valley." I agree Noe Valley would be a great candidate. But SFPark is currently implemented in the Marina and Pacific Heights, in addition to the Mission and Fisherman's Wharf. This program is not directed only at working class neighborhoods.

The issue is that it's the end of free parking. Change if painful. But SFMTA is actually taking a proactive role to provide something for the north Mission that other neighborhoods with residential permit stickers like Pac Heights and Noe Valley (and especially SOMA) do not: parking availability. I can't wait for rational parking policy to come to my street.

And if you believe that charging for parking breeds gentrification, just remember that the rich already win at the expense of the poor when it comes to parking. The rich don't spend their time hunting for parking, they pay for a reserved space.

Fortunately in SF both rich and poor have other good (but far from great) alternatives to driving. These are modes we want to encourage. So let's charge for parking, cut down on circling, and put the money toward making the streets safer and more efficient for everyone.

Posted by Greg R, another Mission motorist on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 10:16 am

"But Marcos is wrong to say that meters will "increase parking supply via increased availability (which) is a vehicle trip generator." The parking supply would not increase, so the number of cars would not increase. For every new driver attracted by the convenience of available parking, there would be one current driver repulsed by the price. That is how a market works. So while this program would not increase or decrease the total number of cars, it would reduce the circling of those cars hunting for parking, which benefits everyone."

Are you one of those who is steeped in the dominant ideology of perfect markets and other such mystical beliefs? You have no idea how the market will play out where increasingly affluent San Franciscans value their time over money, the transit system suffers from chronic disinvestment and the cost of tradeoff might be 2x but is still measured in single dollar bills.

After the events of the past five years, how can you seriously argue the merits of the self correcting market?

"And Marcos is wrong that "this would never be suggested for a highly organized white neighborhood with real congestion and very low parking availability like Noe Valley." I agree Noe Valley would be a great candidate. But SFPark is currently implemented in the Marina and Pacific Heights, in addition to the Mission and Fisherman's Wharf. This program is not directed only at working class neighborhoods."

This is not correct. SFPark is implemented along NCDs in other neighborhoods, not in residential neighborhoods as is proposed on Potrero and the North Mission.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

In the first place, MTA's problems are not caused by a poor selling job, they are caused by poor ideas of how to increase their revenue and poor spending priorities.

In the second place, changing meter rates based on parking space usage didn't have the effect the planners expected. There was no impact on space usage or turnover.

In the third place, there is no free parking now. People with cars pay for the parking spaces and roads each year with reistration fees and gas taxes. (I do think registration fees should be increased back to pre-Schwartzenegger levels. They are too low.) The only people not paying for the roads are bike riders and pedestrians.

The best way to get people out of their cars and onto Muni is to improve Muni performance. Perhaps if MTA had spent the money on improving Muni instead of new parking meters and associated hardware and software they could have done that by now.

There is hope in that a new MTA chief has been appointed and we have a new mayor. Let's hope that Reiskin and Lee are up to the job.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

It is true that San Francisco is slowly getting rid of free parking...BUT UNLESS THE CITY ALSO PROVIDES FAIR ALTERNATIVES TO CARS, people will simply pay the fines for parking tickets or for paid parking until it digs a larger and larger hole into their budgets.

There is no 'magic' to getting rid of cars. You buy one to commute. You pay whatever it takes to maintain that car. Some ivory tower theory by city "planners" will not change anything.

Planners MUST provide viable alternatives to parking a car...namely PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION THAT WORKS.

Posted by Roland Salvato on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

progressive world view is.

They want neighborhood control of things, they claim that government should be responsive to the citizens... all the other cliches and buzz words spun out about people power.

But when the citizens don't go along with their plans, it's fait accompli and anyone who doesn't agree needs to understand that the city, and it's progressive apologists need your money and the era of free parking is over. Like it or not we are giving you change for the sake of change and we know how to spend your money better than you do.

On this subject the Guardianaughts resemble right wingers like Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and their free trade rants, not agreeing is tantamount being against inevitability. Not agreeing with a Bay Guardian progressive is like choosing to live in the dark ages.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

A mere 25 cents.. is actually $500 a year.
($2 or more a day, with variable rates on meters, is $10 a week, times 50 weeks).

Also, SFMTA has been poaching parking spots away, here, out by the park, in a neighborhood that was already packed with cars, and tight on parking, with No comercial businesses.
Why? Likely to increase their parking ticket revenue, at the people's expense.

Example: the new crosswalk at 16th Ave on Fulton.
Cost: 14 parking spaces.
WTF!
And note: It's WAY more dangerous now, for 2 reasons:
1) The "S" Curve. Eastbound speeders, (Fulton is the fastest road in the district), have to swerve right, then left, to navigate the new crosswalk. Somebody is going to Fail to swerve left someday. And will Total the unlucky last car parking on Fulton, after the "S" curve. (in my 30 years out in the Avenues, my car has been Totaled 3 times, just parking on Fulton! Now, with the "S" curve, it's Russian Roulette, open season.)
2) Eastbound, in a rainstorm at night, I almost was hit by the car beside me as I performed the "S" curve maneuver, (and they didn't), because street markings are not visible in those conditions. Nobody can see these new street markings in a rainstorm at night, nor do they expect them!

Proper solution: Mount a blinking radar "Your Speed Is- " sign, on the Eastbound side, at 16th Ave. Remove the "S" curve markings, and Restore our Needed 14 spaces of parking. Simple. And probably cheaper!

Not happy with SFMTA.

(Disclosure: Yes, I own a car. It's a Prius.
In my profession, it is impossible to work without one.)

And No, I'm not drinking the 'eliminate the car' Kool-aid.
I need one.

Posted by Guest @94118 on Feb. 02, 2012 @ 4:57 am

"The city as a matter of policy should discourage the use of cars, and charging drivers for parking (and using that money to improve Muni) is an obvious solution"

Not when this "obvious solution" goes against the will of the residents and business owners. The decision of whether to install parking meters in the northeast mission should not be made by the unelected bureaucrats of the SFMTA, developers keen to turn the northeast mission into high rise apartment buildings, or the "progressive" left who are eager to impose extra taxes upon working people in the name of getting cars off the road.

The decision of whether to install parking meters in the northeast mission should be made by the residents and business owners of this area alone. This is our neighborhood. We live here. We work here. It's as simple as that.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

I havent seen a comment about the absurdity of putting metered parking right around a Caltrain stop on 22nd/Penn which enables many city dwellers to commute to the S Bay cost effectively.

Second, has anyone done an expose on exactly where all the parking fees go in the MTA and city budgets? I would like to know that tickets I inevitably get in this fair city go to good use rather than just propping up some civil servants salary. Even better, wouldnt it be great if funds went to fixing the sad state of pavement in the city. I am from the east coast where there is real winter and I've never seen such terrible potholes.

Posted by Powers on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

"I would like to know that tickets I inevitably get in this fair city go to good use rather than just propping up some civil servants salary. Even better, wouldnt it be great if funds went to fixing the sad state of pavement in the city. I am from the east coast where there is real winter and I've never seen such terrible potholes."

Think you've answered your own question. Our civil "servants" are serving themselves - City be damned...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

It is now cheaper for me to drive each day to work than it is to park in front of my condo all day, walk to Caltrain and commute to work in Palo Alto.

Demand parking rates! Hah! $2/hr on Terry Francois Blvd at 6pm. Two parked cars and 100s of empty spaces.

Thank you MTA! You guys are geniuses!

Posted by Mission Bay Resident on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 10:42 am

While theoretically I agree that the city is wasting valuable real estate on free parking and I'm a long time bicyclist with no love for automobiles, I am also a mobile dweller.

I can't afford the rent in this city. I have to live out of my 1978 Dodge Tradesman 300 van if I am to remain in this city and be accesible for my teen-age daughter as she navigates her last year of High School.

In the fuss over adding meters in Dogpatch I haven't seen any mention of the devastating impact the loss of free parking would have on the several hundred folks living out of their vehicles in Dogpatch, North Mission and Mission Bay.

Of course I'm aware that many of my neighbors probably wish mobile dwellers would just go away. And that installing meters would help accomplish this.

But condo dwellers should keep in mind that they themselves could well be only an outsourcing or downsizing away from living in their vehicle, this time next year.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

I think nobody in any city or state would welcome changes to parking rules that would result in higher expenditure. Where I come from, parking fees in the city areas are really expensive and sometimes it makes it more appealing to take a cab to my destination instead of driving.

Posted by Lakisha Bayard on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

Although, yeah, cabs should be freed up like in NYC so that we can get them anywhere.

But we need more parking, not less.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 22, 2012 @ 6:21 pm