Editor's Notes

The city's transportation policy is failing -- as the city itself gets richer


There's a January report from the San Francisco Controller's Office that says the city's transportation policy is failing.

It doesn't say that in so many words — that might have gotten some media attention — but the implication is clear.

The report is on the taxicab industry, always a fascinating topic, and it's filled with charts and graphs discussing how much money the cab companies make and how little the drivers make. But in the middle of all of that is a remarkable paragraph that says:

"The resident population in San Francisco appears to be increasing. Since 2000, the Department of Finance reports it has grown by 4.7 percent, or by approximately 0.6 percent per year. Although the Census Bureau believes San Francisco lost population from 2000 to 2005, it too has reported population increase since 2005. Muni trips have slightly declined over the same period — a cumulative negative change of 2.5 percent — while vehicle registrations in San Francisco have increased by 1.5 percent. This suggests that residents may be substituting away from mass transit and into private and personal transport modes."

That reads like, well, a Controller's Office report, but here's the translation: More San Franciscans are driving cars. Fewer are taking Muni. It's not exactly shocking news to anyone who pays attention to traffic patterns in town, but it's a serious indictment of city policy.

The statistics show a couple of things. One is that the city is, indeed, getting richer — generally speaking, wealthier people are more likely to use private cars. Another is that Muni hasn't been performing: all of the national and local data show there's a direct correlation between on-time transit service and ridership (and of course there's a direct, or rather inverse, correlation between the number of people riding Muni and the number of cars on the streets.)

But what it says to me is that city hall doesn't really consider the car glut a top priority.

There is no official city goal to reduce the number of cars in town or the number of car miles traveled or the number of vehicles on the streets. The city Planning Department continues to base its land-use decisions on projections of increased car traffic (which has to be accommodated with more garages). Nobody's calling for a five-year plan to turn the trend around.

It's going to be a big year for transit policy: the city's Transit Effectiveness Study comes out in February, and the report on congestion management should be done in June. Perhaps the supervisors can use that information to create goals, timelines, and programs that will reduce — instead of accommodate — cars on the streets.

I'm part of the problem, and I know it: I drive a car, and I drive it too often. I do it because it's difficult to get my kids to and from school on a bus.

That's one of the tricky parts of this equation (school buses in a city where everyone has choice and kids from any neighborhood can go to any school), but I have to say, the parking lot at McKinley Elementary School is packed every single morning with people driving schoolkids. You'd think the city could work with the San Francisco Unified School District — maybe organize car pools. Maybe the mayor's $130,000 per year global warming coordinator could get involved.

We could start with a citywide survey: Why do you drive? Where? What would get you out of your car? Aim for 5 percent per year. It'd be better than what we're doing now.

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