Parking breaks

Supervisors and angry citizens fail to deter the SFMTA from managing on-street parking


This was the moment these indignant motorists had been waiting for. The elected supervisors were finally going to get the unelected bureaucrats at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to back off of plans to manage street parking and install new parking meters in their Western SoMa, northeast Mission, Potrero Hill, and Dogpatch neighborhoods.

Anger and frustration over the parking program has been building for more than a year (see "Pay to park," 1/24/12), and when Sup. Mark Farrell called a May 2 hearing before the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee, SFMTA's critics put out the call and dozens showed up to voice their displeasure.

Farrell opened the hearing with a clear statement about where he stands on the issue: "I am very much against expanding parking meters into our residential neighborhoods." He also expressed opposition to the SFMTA's extension of meter hours to evenings and Sundays and said that would be the subject of another upcoming hearing.

"I think we're frankly on the wrong track," said Sup. Malia Cohen, who isn't on the committee but showed up just to voice the frustrations of her District 10 constituents and to help grill SFMTA head Ed Reiskin. She repeated the populist criticisms of the SFMTA, calling its goals "unattainable" and its critics "reasonable," and accusing the agency of not having a comprehensive parking management plan.

"I look forward to you saying, 'I quit, you win, no more parking meters,'" Cohen said to Reiskin, throwing red meat to the seething crowd, which erupted into loud, raucous, sustained applause and shouts of appreciation at the comment.

Those comments frame a defining problem in San Francisco: The city can't get to its sustainability and climate-change goals without reducing car use (see "Zero-sum future, p. 12) -- but even mild attempts to reduce parking create populist furor.

When Reiskin took the podium to deliver his presentation, he struck an even, diplomatic tone, saying that he understands people's concerns about the issue. "Parking is a challenging, sensitive, and difficult issue. Parking matters to people," he said.

But then he went on to explain that voters and previous supervisors charged the SFMTA with managing the city's entire transportation system — Muni, cars, bikes, cabs, pedestrians, and parking — in accordance with the city's Transit-First policy, which calls for active promotion of alternatives to private automobile use in this dense and growing city.

Then he responded directly to Cohen's challenge: "I would have to respectfully decline the suggestion that we don't manage parking. We have an obligation under the Charter to do so."


Reiskin rejects the frequent accusation that SFMTA is anti-car — and the suggestion that the agency should focus on improving Muni before it can realistically expect people to rely less on private automobiles. The reality, he said, is that the city can't make Muni or bicycling more attractive without regulating automobiles in general and parking in particular.

He said drivers who circle the blocks looking for parking spots constitute 20-30 percent of traffic in this highly congested city, and they are the worst sorts of drivers to have on the roads. They clog traffic by stopping frequently or double-parking, they drive in bike lanes, they do dangerous U-turns, and they are often inattentive and distracted, presenting a danger to pedestrians and cyclists.

The agency's SF Park program tries to alleviate some of that problem by using market-based pricing at meters and garages to promote turnover in high-demand areas and to ensure the availability of parking spots.