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How to Create 100,000 Parking Spots in San Francisco (bennstancil.com)
23 points by bmmayer1 on Sept 18, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

You are operating under a false assumption. The SF government and many of its citizens (see other comments) don't want more parking. Almost every policy change in at least the past 15 years has resulted in fewer parking spots not more.

We have also instituted policies to reduce housing (rent control), increase homelessness (city welfare programs & non-profits), reduce employment (anti-tech, heavy taxes, fees & regulations), increase cost and reduce quality of government services (lax management, union friendly contracts), increase corruption (single party rule), increase crime (lax prosecution, sanctuary), drive out families and middle class (high costs, poor schools)... I could go on all day.

I know this seems strange but you just don't understand. We are just much smarter, more sophisticated and more caring than you!

Sorry for the cynical, snide rant but sometime this city gets to me. It seems like a conspiracy to set SF up to fail but it is a conspiracy led by the people of SF. This is a great city but it could be so much better.

This kind of asinine rant is so completely worthless. If you hate SF so much, go somewhere else. Or better yet, work to improve it! "The SF Government" that makes all these policies that you loathe so much is made up of concerned citizens, much like yourself.

* Almost every policy change in at least the past 15 years has resulted in fewer parking spots not more.

That's an intentional choice to make more walkable neighborhoods. It's worked as SF is seen as one of the most walkable cities in the country.[1] This lowers healthcare costs, increases fitness, drives more business to local stores, etc.

* We have also instituted policies to reduce housing (rent control)

Rent Control was enacted in 1979 and doesn't cover any building constructed after that date [2]. That's not exactly something we've done in the past 15 years..

* [We have also instituted policies to] increase homelessness (city welfare programs & non-profits)

Do you honestly believe that providing care for the homeless leads to more homelessness? That's a very ugly view of humanity.

* [We have also instituted policies to] reduce employment (anti-tech, heavy taxes, fees & regulations)

SF just eliminated it's payroll tax [3], has tax-free zones for companies who move to underdeveloped parts of the city [4], and some SF supes are on Github [6] with new laws that further reduce fees and streamline ops (especially surrounding SF's Open Data initiative [5]). The number of tech jobs has dramatically increased in the city limits and the unemployment rate is almost below 5%. Our 'employment-reducing' policies don't seem to be working very well.

* [We have also instituted policies to] increase corruption (single party rule)

Stupid democracy, always giving people the representation they want.

* [We have also instituted policies to] increase crime (lax prosecution, sanctuary)

The data disagrees [7].. SF's violent crime rate is better than most large cities (including Ft. Worth, NYC, Louisville, Phoenix, Nashville, Houston, Boston... ), most of the violent crime is constrained to a few neighborhoods and the property crime is generally petty theft.

* [We have also instituted policies to] drive out families and middle class (high costs, poor schools)

The high costs are due to the strong job market combined with a housing shortage. The housing shortage was exacerbated by the credit freeze in the wake of the GFC. There was a 5 year time period when almost 0 new units were constructed. Between now and 2015, 8,000 new units will be constructed, that's more than the previous 15 years combined.[8] Does that sound like a city afraid of growth?

The schools get a bad rap, they actually perform fairly well on the state's API rankings [9]. There are some obvious problems, especially in the Mission and Bay View areas, but close to 80% of schools in SF are improving YoY.

Bemoaning snarky, inaccurate caricatures of laws and policies is about the laziest form of civic engagement possible. You live here, so why not work to make things better.

[1] - http://www.walkscore.com/cities-and-neighborhoods/ [2] - http://www.sftu.org/rentcontrol.html [3] - http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/223032/tax+authorities/... [4] - http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tax-break-draws-firms-... [5] - https://data.sfgov.org/ [6] - https://github.com/SupervisorMarkFarrell/San-Francisco-Open-... [7] - http://www.fathersmanifesto.net/murdersanfrancisco19992011.P... [8] - http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2013/0...

Yes it was a rant but your response is wrong on almost every point (thanks for conceding that SF is anti-car).

Here are a few links to help open those eyes. I wish I had the time to relate all my personal experiences with each of these problems. Maybe we could grab a beer someday to discuss how to fix this but the first step is admitting there is a problem.

Overview - http://www.sfweekly.com/2009-12-16/news/the-worst-run-big-ci...

Rent control - https://www.baycitizen.org/columns/elizabeth-lesly-stevens/s...

Homeless - http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Nevius-How-helping-the...

Anti-tech - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5928382

Corruption - http://www.citireport.com/2012/04/inside-the-willie-l-brown-...

Crime - http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/S-F-family-s-murderer-ki...

Anti-family - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/families-flee-san-f...

A little humor - http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-reasons-san-francisco-worst-aw...


Personally, I would rather see 100,000 parking spots removed from the city. I have this secret fantasy that if I were a multi-multi millionaire, I'd slowly and quietly buy up all the private parking in city over time and then one day shut all of them down, turning them into city parks and urban gardens or converting them to residential and commercial spaces. Hopefully then this city would grow up (both literally and figuratively).

Why would you actually want to increase the availability of parking spaces in San Fran? Increasing parking spaces will make driving easier, and when driving becomes easier then more people start driving, and when more people start driving you get ridiculous congestion. Make driving harder and you will have more people using alternative forms of transportation and less congestion.

Unfortunately, the ones who would remove parking spaces are the same ones that would need to build alternative forms of transportation (I'm talking about government). It's extremely limiting to not own a car (or have access to a car, e.g. through car share programs or rentals), even in San Francisco, unless you really just don't ever leave the city (and I mean even remotely leave the boundaries of the city).

According to Google Maps, a 14 minute drive from Powell Station to Oyster Point Park, just south of the city, is a 1 hour 11 minute bus ride, including 1.4 miles (28 minutes) of walking. A 5x difference.

Powell Station to Beach Park in Foster City is a 29 minute drive, or a 1 hour 39 minute Caltrain and bus trip (this time with minimal walking). A 3.4x difference.

Sure, these public transit trips are technically doable if you're not carrying anything or with anyone that precludes walking, but it's hard for me to imagine it being much worse than that for short trips in a densely populated area like the Bay Area.

I live in the city, don't own a car, and it sucks. Those two routes aren't pathological cases I searched for to make my point. They're just two recent places I wanted to go on weekends. I despise car culture too, but I also despise spending 20+% of my weekend waking hours on public transit if I actually want to go somewhere. It's either that or spend at least $40 a day on a Zipcar (which carries many of the same problems of car ownership, namely traffic and parking), or only go places serviced directly by MUNI or BART.

Exactly. Granted I don't live in SF, but I feel like this is a simple case of supply & demand. There is so much demand that a 33% increase in supply won't solve anything. Cars will fill those spots, the streets will be worse, and you'll be right back to square one. On top of that 33% increase, perhaps you throw some serious investment into parking garages and you might make a dent in the parking problem, but then suddenly traffic would make things just insane (I imagine).

I just went back to visit S.F. yesterday after being away for a few years. It took 30 minutes to get through the Bay Bridge toll plaza, at 11am. For a brand-new bridge you'd like they'd use some sophisticated traffic simulations to help them develop a smoother way to get cars onto the bridge.

When we got to the Exploratorium on Embarcadero, I found several open street parking spaces in a row. I spent a few minutes looking all over to check for no parking signs or something to tell me I couldn't park there. I literally couldn't believe that there would be 6 open parking spaces in a row in S.F.

As I was there I was thinking... what in S.F. just banned cars all together? Instead, you could have tons of rental motorcycles and lots of trolley-type cars all over. S.F. just does not have space for hundreds of thousands of cars

While banning cars altogether might work fine in a city that has extensive and efficient public transportation, San Francisco's Muni is an unmitigated disaster, so getting rid of alternative modes of transport would make living here a nightmare.

It takes over an hour to go 3 or 4 miles on the trains. On a good day.

On a bad day, your train breaks down due to poor maintenance or otherwise randomly stops in the tunnel, with no explanation from the staff, for anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour. Bad days happen dismayingly often.

And this is not even mentioning the duct tape based repairs, not infrequent incidence of aggressive passengers, and the thick layer of filth on the vehicles.

Source: Having lived in other cities with good public transport, I thought it'd be great to not have a car when I moved to SF. Now I take Muni every day, unfortunately. I wish I could drive a car to work and back.

See also http://www.sfweekly.com/2012-06-13/news/muni-sfmta-buses-pub...

Clearly the current infrastructure is utterly insufficient to handle a complete ban on private cars on roads. There would have to be a completely new system of transportation created, even it's it a system of licensed transportation such as buses, light rail, rental vehicles, etc.

Each person in the city takes up 16ft of space on the road, plus distances between cars for safety.

Another option might be that during rush hours, certain intersections are closed to traffic, allowing main roads leading out of the city to always have green lights in the right direction of travel. The constant changing of red to green with people blocking intersections is a major component of the gridlock.

Cheaper, easier parking -> more demand for driving -> more traffic -> hard to find parking again. Plus the additional traffic.

A better solution would be to encourage the use of non-automobile transport through increased public transit investment (more service). That would free up plenty of parking for those who still choose to (or must) drive. Or to encourage ride or car-sharing, thus maximizing the effectiveness of existing parking (more people served per parked car). Also, raising the price of parking on-street would make more parking available, both by discouraging some existing parking and making off-street lots more profitable for operators.

Alternative theory: Easier parking -> less driving around looking of parking spots -> less traffic.

I rarely drive in SF but when I do I often find that when I go to find a parking space there a many other people also driving around looking for parking spaces. I wonder what percentage of driving in SF is spent looking for parking.

SFMTA estimates that 30% of SF traffic is people circling while looking for a parking spot.


Yeah but hat assumes that the vehicle population won't expand to take advantage of the new capacity. Like many people, when I lived in SF* I didn't want a car because it was more hassle than benefit, notwithstanding the invisible tax of lost time from slow/inefficient public transit. I agree that it's very very slow; getting from SF to Stanford University, for example, is a 3 hours journey each way.

* I live in North Oakland now, and I can get to downtown SF in about 30 minutes, including the walk to the BART station and having to wait a few minutes for the train. At worst (just missed a train, at the weekend, 20 minute wait for the next one) it takes 45 minutes, wheres getting downtown from 30th Avenue and Taraval in SF took a minumum of 54 minutes and typically more than an hour.

Title should read, in a yet-to-be-built-city-like-sf. But as someone classically trained as an urban planner, I appreciate the model for maximizing street parking.

I'm curious how you might solve the current problem?

What if there was a way to let people rent their driveways automatically for specific time periods during the day? Could even have some way for them to leave a set of keys with the driveway owner so they could move it in a pinch or something....

Self driving cars.

Your car drops you off in front of your driveway, and goes park itself wherever there is a spot, in a 5-minute driving distance from your house.

Need to leave the house? Press a button on your smartphone to notify your car 5 min ahead of time to come pick you up.

(Laws to allow driverless cars would need to be written and voted. Right now, driverless car laws require the presence of a human in the driver seat.)

At least the laws are mainly ready for driverless cars. Requiring a human as a failsafe is a reasonable short-term compromise - I am 100% for letting computers drive but there are bound to be a few bugs that will emerge in the first 5-10 years, just like algorithmic trading can lead to unwanted cascade effects. Enough people have a driving license that I don't think the 'human driver' requirement will be a major barrier to adoption. The main disadvantage will be on late nights, since people who are unfit to drive due to alcohol/drug consumption won't be able to use the driverless cars to get home.

Upvote for the idea of creating an app+service for letting homeowners sell the street space in front of their house for parking. However, the main reason that wouldn't work is because the majority of actually valuable areas have buildings with several tenants. Trying to find a time which is convenient to all drivers in a building to rent the driveway and which is still worth it for them after splitting the profits would probably make this idea fruitless.

(Without any real evidence) I think this usually happens intentionally in new construction. It's actually to the homeowner's advantage to place their driveway such that cars can't park next to it:

In SF, having a driveway with a bit of unusable space on one side gives you an extra parking space -- on the street. Blocking your own driveway there is legal. Even if you have room for your car(s) in a garage, I'd imagine an extra space is frequently useful in a city with such limited parking.

A bit of dead space also provides a buffer to turn into and out of the driveway that might sometimes be necessary (your turning radius isn't zero and some streets are narrow).

(Background: I lived in SF for 12 years but never owned a car or driveway there.)

It's a feature, not a bug, not having a parking spot in front of your house.

Self driving cars are going to have a huge impact on parking. Imagine being dropped off at home or work or the store then the car just going away to a garage somewhere perhaps far away but coming back at the touch of your smart phone.

Parking spots, including garages, will become much less valuable. There will be many other impacts much harder to foresee.

Agreed. Chicago got a lot of criticism for privatising its public parking system, but given the ti will take 30-40 years for the private firm to break even on its investment and the contract runs for a full 70 years, I suspect the city will ultimately be seen to have made out like a bandit.

One impact of your suggestion will be increased congestion as these automated cars use the road twice - once to drop and once to return to parking.

That would be worst-case - if the car went all the way back to where it came from. We could easily be more efficient - garages at a moderate distance with much high density (no need of human access) and routing could be optimized to avoid congestion both on the road and parked.

But the big win would be with car sharing.

Between 5 and 10% of all traffic is currently people looking for parking in many cities. If the driverless cars function like taxis and pick up another fare, instead of parking immediately, they stand to reduce congestion overall.

SFMTA, our terribly run public transit conglomerate, says "Circling for parking accounts for approximately 30 percent of San Francisco’s congestion". While I am skeptical of the source (this was to justify an expensive new parking meter system and higher rates) it does seem possible. I'd love to see scientific research.


From pjlegato's comment below.

It is a strange premise that all unused space in i city should be made available to store unused cars.

My first thought - are the driveways in front of garages in San Fran? If so, then it's impossible, you can't realistically move your garage a couple of feet to the left and everything be hunky dory. Though maybe the OP mentioned that and I missed it.

"Though maybe the OP mentioned that and I missed it."

He did, right after the diagram:

"Unfortunately, rearranging all the driveways in San Francisco probably isn’t feasible…"

It's briefly touched from the article that doing this is probably not feasible, but something to keep in mind when new building get started.

This is what I had trouble with grasping as well.

If we are going to consider crazy ideas, here is one. On the side of the street that has the fewest parking spaces, get rid of on-street parking. On the remaining side, change from parallel parking to perpendicular parking. Two perpendicular spots should fit in the same curb space that held one parallel spot, so we break even or gain even if we not gain some new spaces between driveways that were too close together to allow parallel parking.

The space for traffic lanes would be a little smaller, and actually maneuvering in and out of parking spaces would be a pain in the ass from at least one lane.

The loss of some space for lanes could be addressed by angle parking instead of parallel parking. If the angle is not too steep (say, 30 degrees or less), it would not unduly interfere with people using their driveways even if both sides of the driveway were occupied by parked cards.

Both the lane width problem and the maneuvering problem could be addressed if the street was changed to a one-way street.

(Hmmm...converting a street to one-way and reducing the number of lanes by one could give enough space to do angle parking on BOTH sides. That would give a big parking gain).

You've basically described the commercial portion of Clement Street in SF. It's a nightmare, honestly.

Backing up into traffic is difficult and dangerous because sight lines do not extend far enough to make reasonable estimates of adequate space. Pedestrians show up in unexpected places. Double parkers and commercial deliveries block two vehicles instead of one.

Clement St is worth it for the great bookstore and Thai food though.

I generally agree with people who want more infrastructure to reduce car traffic in SF.

However, if you're forced to drive and park in SF, what's extra frustrating about the wasteful driveway situation is that a good percentage of the garages are not even being used for cars. Many have been converted into bedrooms or storage. I wish there someway to identify such conversions and allow parking in their driveways.

People complain this will increase the number of cars... maybe if all 100,000 theoretical parking spots opened up today. But assuming this plan goes into effect, it would require a very long time before they could even get to a significant number of new parking spaces.

But these wasted spaces the author talks about are areas where a car should be able to park nicely without hitting anyone. But because of a driveway/bad planning the car either has to be small enough or have a driver that is really good at parallel parking to fit into it. So even his suggestion is enacted, it wouldn't actually increase the number of parking spots, it would just make some of the current difficult ones easier to slide into. My apartment complex has two garages with driveways about 2 cars apart. Every morning when I walk out I either see one very large truck there or two cars that are nearly touching.

All that wasted time by the driver to make sure he was outside of the driveway and not hitting the car in front/behind him, or the extra time the car that could have parked behind the large truck. That time adds up for everyone.

a) I'm not that sure SF wants or needs more parking. It's not a city for cars and doesn't really want to be.

b) Parking is a problem mainly in dense urbanized areas like commercial districts. In residential areas like the Sunset or Richmond district, there's already plenty of parking, and that's where the bulk of the gains from this suggestion would be realized - which is no help if you're trying to park in the Mission or Upper Haight.

c) Good luck finding the money to pay for altering the front yards of many houses; even assuming automatic agreement from the residents, they have no particular reason to spend the money to implement this scheme so the city would have to pick up the cost.

I think the best solution tot he problem of parking in SF is more smartcars (as there are many 1 and 2 person households that just need a runaround vehicle), more zipcars, more rideshares, and eventually driverless cars. SF can be a hard city to get around at times and bicycles or public transit are impractical for many purposes, but the root of the parking problem is too many idle vehicles.

The number of curb cuts for private driveways in San Francisco is absurd. In most cases a private driveway results in one parking spot for the resident and one less parking spot on the street, for a net gain of 0 parking spots. It privatizes what would be a public spot. Curb cuts also make it more dangerous to walk and bike, as you never know when a car will come out.

In my fantasy world, curb cuts would be taxed. Many of the private home garages could be converted back into housing as it was before (and without raising the precious height of a building!) and increase the capacity of the city.

However, as others have noted San Francisco does not need more parking. It needs fewer cars. San Francisco actually has more cars per capita than any other city in america (source: Street Fight http://www.amazon.com/Street-Fight-Politics-Mobility-Francis...). Parking should cost money to discourage cars, improve efficiency, and generate revenue.

Howabout Airbnb for driveways -- an app that lets people rent their driveway for parking when they know they don't need to get in or out?

This was posted a couple weeks ago from the founder of a failed parking startup in Boston: http://chrishoog.com/from-beginning-to-end-the-story-of-a-fa...

tl;dr - The demand for this far outstrips the supply of people willing to rent their spots to strangers for a few bucks.

HelloParking tried and folded, while ParkCirca is still going (http://www.parkcirca.com/) but has sparse listings. Tough space, apparently, or perhaps just still nascent due to lack of consumer mindshare.

It wouldn't scale without a significant amount of synergies.

And... so what. That's like adding a lane to a congested freeway. The latent demand will just fill them all in and nothing will change.

what I just read: "just move several hundred thousand tons of concrete and make people rearrange the architecture of their houses. no biggie"

If programmers built houses they'd be modular and you'd be able to roll the garage from one side to the other as requirements changed, right?

Hey, it'd only quadruple the construction price, but it would be so awesome.

If programmers built houses, every 20th time you tried to walk up the stairs, they would fall down for no apparent reason.

Seriously, I know if hackers built houses they'd have a lot more "features," but given how often my IDE crashes, I'd rather an architect design my home...

Then, they'd reset the stairs exactly like they were before and tell you to just keep using them for a while, and let them know if it happens again.

The number of small spaces between driveways means more motorcycle and scooter parking in a place that they are safe from being backed over by oblivious drivers. Parking a two-wheeled vehicle in a long stretch of uninterrupted street parking is an invitation to destruction - mine was hit twice in 3 weeks on 14th street.

Residents are allowed to park in front of their driveways. The spaces identified in the blog post are already in use.

Neat thought experiment but poor title.

The author even comes out and says that there is no way this could happen as you can't really up and move every existing driveway.

One could also arrange to have 100,000 cars in SF stolen.

Or sold, which can be incentivized in various (legal, unexciting) ways.

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