Parking reform for a livable city
One of the most effective ways to reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and encourage a shift to sustainable transportation modes, is through parking reform smarter pricing and management of available parking, and reducing parking subsidies and requirements. Livable City's parking reform strategy seeks to harness the power of markets and technology to further social, economic, and environmental goals.
We support pricing on-street parking to create available spaces at most times. Proper pricing reduces traffic congestion from cars cruising for parking, generates parking turnover that helps neighborhood businesses, and increases revenue from parking meters and permits. We support reinvesting some of these on-street parking revenues back into neighborhood walking, cycling, transit, streetscape, and greening projects.
Off-street parking requirements harm the environment by encouraging automobile traffic and pollution, and increase the cost of housing, goods, and services for San Francisco's residents and businesses. We are working to reduce or eliminate off-street parking requirements in the city's most congested and transit-rich neighborhoods, ensure that parking costs are "unbundled" from the cost of buying or renting housing or commercial space, and restricting excessive parking and driveways where they do harm to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit.
Putting new thinking about parking into practice
Successes to date
San Francisco first instituted parking requirements in 1955, when planners were busily trying to adapt cities to the needs of the automobile, rather than the other way around. (see A brief history of parking requirements in San Francisco)
The early 1960's saw San Francisco's "Freeway revolt", and the 1970's saw the rise of the environment movement, the opening of BART and San Francisco's first "transit first" policy, and the first "traffic calming" efforts to take back San Francisco's streets from the automobile. In the 1980's, new thinking about parking began to take hold among progressive planners. San Francisco adopted the Downtown Plan in the mid-1980's, which established strict limits on the amount of new office parking to discourage commuting by automobile.
The last decade has seen a good deal of progress in reducing parking requirements, and most of this progress has occurred in the last few years. The Mission Bay Redevelopment Plan, adopted in 1997, was the first area of the city to have no residential parking requirement. Livable City was founded in 2002, and made parking reform a centerpiece of our strategy for creating a more livable, affordable, sustainable, and vital San Francisco.
The City adopted the Rincon Hill plan in 2005, which became the first neighborhood to have no parking requirements for any use, the second neighborhood to eliminate minimum residential parking requirements, and the first to require unbunding, car share, and secure bicycle parking for new residential developments.
Livable City worked with Supervisors Peskin and Daly to pass the landmark downtown parking reform in 2006. This ordinance finally eliminated minimum parking requirements for housing in the downtown commercial (C-3) zoning districts, and set the first parking maximum below one space per unit It requires active, pedestrian-oriented uses on ground floors of buildings and limits driveway cuts and garage entrances on important pedestrian, bicycle, and transit streets in the downtown. The ordinance expanded residential unbundling to downtown, and expanded car-share and secure bicycle parking requirements citywide.
San Franciscans overwhelmingly rejected Measure H in November 2007, which would have increased the amount of office parking downtown, and imposed a uniform set of parking requirements on new buildings across the city. The defeat of Measure H upheld the city's decades-old strategy of limiting commuter parking downtown, and preserved the right of neighborhoods to craft parking solutions that fit their needs and character.
On April 15, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which extended the progressive parking policies (trading minimums for maximums, unbundling, and driveway controls) from Downtown and Rincon Hill into the Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle, and North Mission neighborhoods.
2008: a big year for parking reform
2008 saw the biggest changes to on-street parking management and off-street parking requirements since 1955, when parking requirements were first imposed citywide.
In April, the Board of Supervisors finally adopted the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which eliminated parking requirements in the neighborhoods west of the Civic Center. In December, Board of Supervisors adopted the Eastern Neighborhoods plans, which propose eliminating parking requirements in portions of South of Market, the Mission, Showplace Square, and the Central Waterfront. The draft Western SoMa plan was released mid-2008, which will recommend eliminating or reducing parking requirements in the entire Western SoMa area.
Two citywide parking reform initiatives approved in 2008 improved the way we manage parking in the city, and helped to forge a new consensus on the role parking ought to play in a more livable San Francisco the comprehensive parking reform ordinance of 2008, and MTA's SFpark program.
Comprehensive parking reform approved by the Board of Supervisors
A comprehensive parking reform ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, was adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in June. Livable City helped draft the ordinance, which builds on the success of 2006's downtown parking reform. Working closely with planners, housing developers, and urbanists, we helped craft a set of commonsense reforms which "could please both sides on parking issues" (SF Examiner). The ordinance expanded "unbunding' of parking (separating housing costs from parking costs) citywide, and allows developers to use space-efficient parking methods (valet parking, lifts, and stackers) without special permission. The ordinance also eliminated minimum parking requirements for senior housing, housing for people with disabilities, and housing dedicated to low-income residents. This provision will lower the cost of producing new housing, as project sponsors can build just the amount of parking residents need, rather than what the planning code requires. The ordinance also strengthens the city's commitment to car sharing, by requiring developers seeking excessive parking to demonstrate that car share can't address their projects parking demand.
SFpark program moves forward
In 2011, San Francisco's SFpark program started in several pilot neighborhoods around the City. The SFpark program includes many of the progressive parking reform ideas long championed by Livable City. Sensors in parking spaces on the street and in city-owned lots gather accurate information about how on-street parking is used, and how many spaces are available. The information gathered is used to adjust parking rates in response to demand, towards the goal of creating some available spaces at all times of day. Creating available spaces is a convenience to merchants and residents, and reduces traffic by eliminating cars cruising for parking spaces. The program has also installed 'smart meters' that make it easier for MTA to adjust rates up or down based on demand and to adjust time limits and hours of operation, and make it easier to pay for parking with credit cards, smart cards, and cash.
Adding new parking is costly, both in environmental and economic terms; SFpark will allow the city to much better manage existing parking for the benefit of residents and businesses.
SFpark's pilot projects build on the findings of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's On-Street Parking Management and Pricing Study. The SFCTA study looked in depth at parking issues in four San Francisco neighborhoods Cow Hollow, West Portal, Hayes Valley, and Bernal Heights. The study surveyed parking availability, parking turnover, and parking duration, and interviewed merchants and residents. Among the study's findings were that both businesses and residents were willing to pay more for parking in return for greater availability, and that while merchants in the four neighborhoods thought that 72% of their customers "drove exclusively" to the neighborhood, over 70% of their customers walked, cycled, or took transit ( SFCTA's final public presentation can be viewed here).
Neighborhood transportation plans
Livable City is working to get the Planning Department to create neighborhood transportation plans for transit-intensive neighborhooods, including Downtown and the City's Better Neighborhoods and Eastern Neighborhoods planning areas. Our advocacy led to the Planning Department finding funding for a Mission District Transportation and Streetscape Plan, and we are working with the Planning Department to refine the scope of work for a comprehensive transporatation and streetscape plan for Downtown and South of Market that will include public transit improvements, safer and well-designed streets, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and other pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, and a transportation demand management strategy.
Parking benefit districts
Livable City is working to enact a parking benefit district ordinance, like those in place in Pasadena, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and other California cities. Parking benefit districts are a surcharge on local parking meter rates, agreed to by the community, of which half go to Muni and other citywide programs, and the other half stays in the community for local pedestrian, bicycle, streetscape, and maintenance programs. Livable City supported SFCTA/Planning Department study of parking benefit districts that should be complete by the end of the year.
Parking impact fees
Livable City will work with the Planning Department to study a fee on new parking spaces in the downtown and elsewhere which mitigates the impact on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit movement created by the traffic they generate.
Livable City's parking reform proposals