Turning point - Page 2

Parking is quietly becoming the year's big issue
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Indeed, this year's battle over the Municipal Transportation Authority budget — whose $128 million deficit was closed by Muni fare increases and services cuts rather than parking increases by a ratio of about 4-1, thanks to pressure from drivers and Mayor Gavin Newsom — was an early indicator of the pitfalls that exist within the politics of parking.

Using a $20 million federal traffic congestion management grant, SFMTA has spent years developing the SF Park program, approving most of the details last fall and planning to roll it out by summer's end.

"Under-regulated on-street parking results in limited parking availability, inefficient utilization of spaces, and excess vehicular circulation," begins the San Francisco On-Street Parking Management and Pricing Study Final Report, which is headed to the Board of Supervisors next month. "This program will assess the effectiveness of using pricing and complementary strategies as a way to manage demand for parking."

The program will be rolled out in eight areas, coordinating parking information in more than 6,000 street spaces and 20 city-owned parking garages, and using that information to adjust parking rates — charging more when spots are scarce and for additional hours — to try to achieve a parking occupancy rate of about 85 percent.

"An on-street parking occupancy of 85 percent has been demonstrated by parking experts ... as the benchmark for the practical capacity of on-street parking. At 85 percent occupancy, approximately one available space is expected per block, thus limiting the cruising phenomenon and generally assuring the availability of a space," the study reads.

SFMTA spokesperson Judson True called SF Park "the future of parking management, adding that "we are taking a big bite of the parking management pie with SF Park, which is the most advanced parking management system of any U.S. city."

THE TRUE COST OF CARS

It's just the latest work product from transportation planners that have spent years behind-the-scenes developing programs to deal with the city's over-reliance on the automobiles. "It's all part of a strategy of using parking as a demand management strategy," said Zabe Bent, a planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

She is working on the parking policies, as well as a proposal to charge motorists a congestion fee for driving into the downtown, which comes before the Board of Supervisors this fall (although implementation is probably at least three years away).

Bent said city officials are working on a number of fronts to shore up San Francisco's "transit-first" status and prepare for growth in what is already one of the country's most congested cities. So some of the decisions coming up are bound to be tough.

"It's a tradeoff we need to make to achieve our goals," she said, noting that the central question transportation planners are wrestling with is, "How do we achieve a more sustainable growth pattern?"

Such noble intentions can always get hung up on politics, and the ever-present question of how to pay for it during an era of fiscal crisis. So it appears the city may have to get creative with funding its new approach to parking.

Alica John-Baptiste, the assistant planning director overseeing the parking impact fee study, said that while it does appear to be a big year for new parking policies, "this conversation has been underway for a number of years.