Re-envision Residential Curb Space

SF Board of Supervisors, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and SFMTA Board of Directors

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There were 29 traffic deaths in SF in 2020. SFMTA has a $68 million deficit, on track to grow to $168 million next year. The climate crisis is real.

The city will never solve these problems as long as it continues to use public space to subsidize cars. SF charges only $13 per month for residential parking – or nothing at all, in areas without permit requirements. Meanwhile, a driveway in the Outer Richmond goes for $180 per month on Craigslist. If the city charged that much for residential street parking, it would bring in over $400 million a year.

Car ownership skews wealthy and white. In effect, the city is short-changing transit, which is used more by people of color, to offer a $2,000 per car annual subsidy to drivers. Is this what we stand for in San Francisco?

What if we stopped giving away public land for one-tenth to one-thirtieth its market value? Perhaps more folks might decide that a car is not worth it and opt for a Zipcar, Muni pass, motorcycle, or bicycle. We could use permit revenues to expand bus service, or to support other local priorities. And if we moved beyond costs to acknowledge the value of curb space, maybe we would even allow other uses–hyper-local playgrounds, secure bicycle parking, pop-up small businesses, or even tiny houses for students and seniors.

Sign this petition to support Urban Environmentalists' six-point plan to re-envision residential street parking by charging equitable prices and reallocating some of this precious public land to uses that better serve society:

  1. Put specious legal arguments to rest
  2. Enforce existing parking laws
  3. Extend permit zones to all residential areas
  4. Expand pay-or-permit parking
  5. Experiment with equitable pricing for street parking
  6. Think beyond cars

Read the petition below for more details on each point!

To: SF Board of Supervisors, SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and SFMTA Board of Directors
From: [Your Name]

There were 29 traffic deaths in SF in 2020. SFMTA has a $68 million deficit, on track to grow to $168 million next year. The climate crisis is real.

The city will never solve these problems as long as it continues to use public space to subsidize cars. SF charges only $13 per month for residential parking – or nothing at all, in areas without permit requirements. Meanwhile, a driveway in the Outer Richmond goes for $180 per month on Craigslist. If the city charged that much for residential street parking, it would bring in over $400 million a year.

Car ownership skews wealthy and white. In effect, the city is short-changing transit, which is used more by people of color, to offer a $2,000 per car​ annual subsidy to drivers. Is this what we stand for in San Francisco?

Beyond charging equitable prices and taking into account the negative externalities of residential street parking, I ask you to re-envision the way we use our residential curb space. It is valuable public land and could be put to better use. What if some parking spaces were turned into hyper-local playgrounds, secure bicycle parking, pop-up small businesses, or even tiny houses for students and seniors?

Here are six concrete steps I urge you to take:

1. Lay the legal bogeyman to rest
For years the city has argued that due to Propositions 218 and 26, it would take a ballot initiative to charge more for residential parking permits. As UC Davis Law Professors Chris Elmendorf and Darien Shanske explain in a recent op-ed, that’s simply incorrect (https://www.spur.org/news/2020-12-18/how-solve-transit-budget-crunch-price-private-use-public-streets). I therefore call on City Attorney Dennis Herrera to issue revised guidance that frees SFMTA to consider price increases.

2. Enforce existing parking laws
Two-hour parking limits are rarely enforced. Rampant sidewalk parking blocks pedestrian and ADA access. The city needs to set the tone that parking is a privilege with constraints, not an unbounded right. SF should photograph the license plate of every car violating parking rules and mail the owner a ticket.

3. Expand permit zones to all residential areas
Only 44 percent of San Francisco households are in permit zones. Yet no matter where you live, automobiles come with externalities: asthma, greenhouse gases, crashes, and congestion that slows transit. Let’s expand permit zones to all neighborhoods, while also creating special permits for those who live in their cars.

4. Expand “Pay or Permit” parking
Residential permit zones typically allow free, two-hour parking for visitors. But on blocks with new Pay or Permit regulations, there’s no free parking. Visitors pay at centralized meters, or via phone/app. In return, they can park for as long as they like. This is a win-win program - for visitors staying over two hours, for the SFMTA budget, and for residents who will have an easier time finding parking. And while it doesn’t impact residential permits, it’s a step towards acknowledging the value of curb space. We should expand (and enforce) Pay or Permit zones, eliminating two-hour free parking.

5. Experiment with equitable pricing for street parking
There are many options, ranging from uniform-price auctions to “variable rate” models. And of course, equity includes considering the needs of low-income, elderly, and disabled drivers, as well as of contractors, nearby small businesses, and those who live in their car. UCLA professor and parking expert Donald Shoup recommends establishing small “parking benefit districts”; each one can experiment with different policies, and revenues can be funneled back into hyper-local neighborhood projects.

6. Think beyond cars
To achieve a more just, livable, and safe society, we ultimately need to move beyond car-centric thinking. There is enough street parking in San Francisco to cover Golden Gate Park. Once we have more equitably priced street parking, some of this precious public space should be reallocated to non-car uses like playgrounds, parklets, and small businesses. Either administrative or market-based mechanisms could be used.

For sources and links to further reading, see https://sf.streetsblog.org/2021/01/21/commentary-parking-can-solve-sfmtas-financial-woes/.