San Francisco Launches Ambitious Parking Reform Program

2276908926_03b9c31df5.jpgSan Francisco is lunging out of the parking dark ages. Backed by the mayor and city council, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is launching "SFpark," a comprehensive, curbside parking reform project encompassing ten city neighborhoods.

Starting in September, the $23 million SFpark program will use an array of new policies and technologies to raise meter prices during peak periods, so as to make parking more easily available, thereby reducing rush hour driving, cruising for spaces and double parking. SFpark will include 6,435 curbside spots. This is a quarter of San Francisco’s curbside parking, and is roughly comparable to the 6,500 metered curbside spots in Manhattan south of 60th Street. The project also includes variable pricing for the 11,677 off-street spots managed by the city.

According to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom,"The idea is to give people more choice, more convenience and to reduce congestion."

SFPark is a portion of San Francisco’s Urban Partnership congestion pricing proposal to the USDOT. Though it will generate substantial revenue, the feds will pay $18 million of the start-up costs. SFpark is the parking component of an overall congestion reduction plan which also includes peak hour tolling near the Golden Gate Bridge, along with bus and other transit improvements. 

The underlying premise of SFpark is that the city wants to reduce driving, and will not attempt to do so by building more parking. Nor does the city want to suffer from parking shortages, manifested as double parking and congestion caused by cruising for spots. Instead, SFpark will raise meter prices so that demand is reduced to equal the existing parking supply. During peak periods, meters will be priced high enough to ensure some parking is always available. During off-peak times, meter prices will go down, so that most spots are used. The idea is that if you really have to drive, you shouldn’t have to cruise around or risk a ticket. Along with an easier time finding parking during peaks, and lower prices when and where there is lower demand, other carrots for motorists include easing time limits during periods of low demand, enabling payment by cell phone, and delivering text messages to drivers when their meters are running out.

Historically, big city parking policies have been based on a mixture of political pandering, myths and half-truths. (New Yorkers can thank their City Council for the traffic congestion caused by eliminating Sunday metering, keeping meters artificially cheap, and limiting when meters are on and where they are located.) Curbside parking in San Francisco is notoriously scarce and a big
political issue. But unlike New York City, SFpark shows that San
Francisco actually has the political will to do something about the

SFpark is a big experiment. Extensive data will be collected to form accurate conclusions regarding policies and technologies. Different neighborhoods will be used to test different measures, while some will be "control areas" where parking rates and rules will remain the same. At the conclusion of a one-year trial period, San Francisco will assess what worked and what didn’t. Aspects that worked, which project designers are confident will include some forms of variable pricing, will be kept and applied across the city. The results will be closely watched elsewhere, since no other large U.S. city is doing anything remotely as ambitious or intelligent.

Politically, it will be fascinating to see how one of the most progressive cities in the country addresses the real and imaginary issues raised by making motorists pay a more realistic price for the public space they use.

Photo: albeeeezy/Flickr

  • Batty

    “(New Yorkers can thank their City Council for the traffic congestion caused by eliminating Sunday metering,”

    I’m not sure where the hatred towards free parking on Sundays comes from. Sundays are my favorite day of the week to bike ride around the city, traffic is light though there are usually many more pedestrians out that do unpredictable things (walk against lights en-mass, etc…). There are quite a few businesses closed and if my parents (who have trouble walking for blocks and blocks) are coming in it’s easy to all drive somewhere without looking hard for spots.

    Traffic picks up at night of course when everyone who drives out of the city for the weekend come back – but that has nothing to do with free parking.

    For the record I’m absolutely for raising rates and congestion pricing types of solutions but I never had a problem with free Sundays – what am I missing?

  • drose

    Quietly, Bloomberg issued a one-year report card on PlanNYC a few weeks ago.

    Among the other nuggest buried within its pages (intentionally, perhaps?) was a note that MuniMeters are going to be placed on most blocks below 60th St. by June, and their use will be expanded throughout most of Manhattan by the end of this year where spots are already metered.

    This should add to the number of spots available, as well as offer the city the option to try the SF test in NYC.

  • drose

    I meant nuggets.

  • drose, where do I get that report card?

  • drose

    It’s on the PlanNYC website, listed as The Progress. I think this is the right URL:

  • I live in San Francisco, and the city and its mayor habitually speak out of at least two sides of the mouth at once. This program looks promising, but in the meantime, sidewalk parking is rampant and unenforced and drivers who mow down pedestrians in crosswalks rarely get cited. The mayor is an utter opportunist who loves to shout how green he is, but he quickly backed off from raising parking fines because some drivers squawked, in contrast to the indifference he showed when transit riders protested fare hikes and service cuts two years ago.

  • Joe D.

    I’m not sure why parking deserves more money and attention than cleaning up the disgusting Tenderloin neighborhood. Maybe our Mayor should use the millions of meter dollars to reduce crime and drug sales there. “Massage” parlors, drug/prostitution dens masquerading as gentlemen clubs, and your drug of choice available at any corner… but I suppose parking meters and paper grocery bags are his priorities.

  • Dave

    Interesting to note that San Francisco has permit parking and is still moving forward with raising meter rates. Good for them; in New York we have nothing but traffic, pollution and asthma and pathetic politicians.

    No CP, a loss of $354 million, freeloaders parking throughout the city, and city tax dollars going to maintain bridges used by drivers. Although the are no toll roads in CA, there are no free bridges either.

    BTW the problem with free parking on Sunday is that it allows people to park for free from Saturday at 7pm (maybe 10pm) until Monday morning. This encourages people to drive into the city and doesn’t give the turnover at the meters that merchants would like.

    We need RPP, tolls on all bridges as a form of CP, a rationalization of toll prices, and the reinstitution of Sunday meters. What do we get? Some idiot City Council person in the Bronx wanting Sadik-Kahn fired over a left-turn signal. Pathetic.

  • Thanks for crediting my photo, great article.

  • After that, both in San Francisco solve the problem of car parking


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