STREET FIGHT Parking reform is one of the most radically important elements of making San Francisco a more livable and equitable city.
In this geographically constrained city, parking consumes millions of square feet of space that could be used for housing, especially affordable housing in secondary units. Curbside parking in the public right of way impedes plans to make Muni more reliable for hundreds of thousands of transit riders. Parking in new housing and commercial developments generates more car trips on our already congested and polluted streets, slowing Muni further while bullying bicyclists and menacing pedestrians.
Fundamentally, parking is a privatization of the commons, whereby driveway curb cuts and on-street parking hog the public right-of-way in the name of private car storage. The greater public good — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing public safety through bike lanes, wider sidewalks, public green spaces, and transit-first policies — is subsumed to narrow private interests. These are among the many reasons why, for over a decade, parking reform has been a key part of progressive transportation policy.
Yet lately, it has been disappointing to watch progressives, especially on the Board of Supervisors, retreat from that stance. In Potrero Hill and North Mission, a vitriolic reaction has slowed rollout of nationally acclaimed SF Park, which raises revenue for Muni and is a proven sustainable transportation tool. Yet there are murmurings that some progressive supervisors might seek an intervention and placate motorists who believe the public right-of-way is theirs.
On Polk Street, some loud merchants and residents went ballistic when the city and bicycle advocates proposed removing curbside parking to accommodate bicycles. The city, weary of Tea Party-like mobs, ran the other way, tail-between-legs. Progressive supervisors seem to have gone along with the cave-in.
Along Geary, planning for a desperately needed bus rapid transit project drags on. And on. And on. And on. The lollygagging includes bending over backward to placate some drivers who might be slightly inconvenienced by improvements for 50,000 daily bus riders.
One thing that is remarkably disturbing about this backpedaling is that, in an ostensibly progressive city by many measures (civil rights, tolerance, environmentalism), the counterattack is steeped in conservative ideology. That is, conservatives believe that government should require ample and cheap parking, whether in new housing or on the street. This conservative ideology, shared by many car drivers and merchants — and even by some self-professed progressives — is steeped in the idea people still need cars. This despite the evidence that cars are extremely destructive to our environment, socially inequitable, and only seem essential because of poor planning decisions, not human nature.
Progressive backpedaling has become more confusing with the recent debate over 8 Washington, defeated at the polls Nov. 5, and on the same day of a convoluted Board of Supervisors hearing on a proposed car-free housing development at 1050 Valencia. Both of these projects highlight the muddled inconsistency emerging among progressive supervisors.