Turning point

Parking is quietly becoming the year's big issue
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San Francisco has been a "transit-first" city since 1973, when the Board of Supervisors first adopted the policy of officially promoting public transit, pedestrians, and bicycles over the automobile. But the label has really been in name only — until this year.

Through an unusual confluence of policy initiatives that have been moving forward for several years, San Francisco is finally about to have a serious discussion about the automobile and its impacts. And parking policies are being used as the main tool to reduce traffic congestion, better set development impact fees, increase city revenue, and promote alternatives to the automobile.

"Our parking requirements need to be revised to support this [transit-first] policy by limiting parking supply — the single greatest incentive to drive — where transit and other modes are viable alternatives," reads the city's Better Neighborhoods Plan.

While the very notion of deliberately limiting parking will likely be met with howls of protest by many drivers — indeed, urban planners already acknowledge that it's probably not politically feasible to make drivers pay for their full impacts — they also say it's the only way to decrease the over-dependence on the automobile.

"Without limiting parking, people will choose an auto-oriented lifestyle and continue to drive. Traffic will continue to worsen, and we will never shift the balance in favor of ways of getting around that are more effective in moving people," the plan continues.

Yet the push isn't as dire for drivers as its stark language suggests, thanks to some innovative initiatives that could ironically make it even easier to park in some areas than it is now, in the process easing traffic congestion by eliminating the number of cars circling the block looking for parking spaces, which studies show can often account for up to one-third of the cars on the road.

DEMAND-BASED PARKING PRICES

The SF Park program is scheduled to begin later this summer in eight pilot areas, providing real-time parking data to give drivers better information on where to find spots and controlling demand with a market-based pricing system that raises rates when spots are scarce, encouraging turnover and freeing up spaces.

It is just one of many current initiatives. The city is looking at extending meter hours to nights and Sundays and adding parking meters in Golden Gate Park (those are simply revenue measures aimed at city budget deficits). Another study is examining the nexus between parking and developer impacts that could be used to charge new fees for construction. There's also a comprehensive study of on-street parking policies that will be going before the Board of Supervisors (sitting as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority) next month after nearly five years in the works.

Yet creating more progressive parking policies requires political will, which will surely be tested in the coming months.

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