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Major changes for SF parking, driving speed on the way

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Cars are seen backed up on Eddy Street near San Francisco’s Union Square on Wednesday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Hold onto your steering wheels, drivers.

Two of the top concerns for San Francisco drivers — parking and congestion on streets — may soon be addressed in big ways by a suite of new proposals from The City.

Residential parking may become easier at the expense of visitor parking, for instance, and some streets will be made less appealing to drivers escaping busy thoroughfares. Collectively, the efforts could shift driving patterns across San Francisco.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is proposing a stricter cap on residential parking permits issued in The City, from four permits to a household to perhaps only two, or maybe limited to one permit per driver.

The cap might make it possible for more parking to be found on San Francisco streets in neighborhoods where visitors cars park in “high rates” and displace residents’ cars.

“I don’t think anyone envisions this as being a silver bullet,” said Hank Willson, parking policy manager at the SFMTA. “But it certainly has the potential to help.”

The permit cap and other restrictions are part of a new pilot being proposed for a section of north Bernal Heights and in the Dogpatch.

Sarah Buecher, a San Francisco resident who attended a recent SFMTA open house, told the San Francisco Examiner she relies on her car to commute to Brisbane. The SFMTA has instituted recent policies to dissuade people from driving in The City, she said.

“I think that’s true in some cases,” she said, “but then there are people like me who — I have no way to get to my job without a car.”

In Bernal Heights, one pilot project area, nearly half of all homes have no off-street parking, according to the SFMTA.

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The Dogpatch has different needs, as visitors to merchant areas take up parking needed by residents. A pilot program may see two-hour parking in the Dogpatch become metered.

The problem is only getting worse. In some neighborhoods, existing rules have prompted the SFMTA to issue far more residential parking permits than there are available parking spaces.

Chinatown, Russian Hill, North Beach, parts of the Castro, Pacific Heights and other dense neighborhoods see residents with 122 to 138 percent permits issued more than parking spaces exist, SFMTA data shows.

“I think it’s fairly unique,” Willson said of the density of permits. “We have the highest density of cars per square mile of any city in the country.”

The most comparable city parking-density wise to San Francisco may be Toronto, he said, where residential parking permits are capped to the number of parking spaces available.

The residential parking permit pilot may go before the SFMTA Board of Directors by summer, Willson said.

Meanwhile, the SFMTA is also testing the waters on a new proposal it calls “Neighborways,” a term for projects meant to address the growing trend of high-traffic spillover from busy thoroughfares into residential neighborhoods.

In other words, a Neighborway is meant to be kryptonite to cut-through traffic in sleepy neighborhoods, where The City wants to promote walking and bicycling.

The first Neighborway proposal is slated for Page Street, between Webster and Market streets, where spillover traffic from a major thoroughfare, Oak Street, has turned a tiny neighborhood street into a mini freeway.

That’s especially problematic for nearby John Muir Elementary school, SFMTA officials said, where Page Street sees daily traffic of 5,500 vehicles — whereas ideal traffic for that street is 1,500 vehicles.

Ray Zablotny, who lives near Page Street, attended an SFMTA open house for Neighborways on March 15. He told the Examiner there’s “just a madness of people making turns,” and hoped the project could help.

“It feels like we’re at a boiling point for traffic in The City,” said Casey Hildreth, project manager of the Neighborway. “Page [Street] is a poster child for that.”

The Neighborway consists of a suite of engineering changes, from raised crosswalks to “traffic diversions,” in an effort to reduce the number of cars on Page Street and slow them down.

Not everyone was a fan. One member of the public wrote on a poster board meant for public feedback, “NO — [this proposal] shifts the problem to Haight, Laguna, Buchanan, and Webster … likely to make the Haight-Laguna section more dangerous.”

If it’s successful, Neighborways could replicate throughout The City.

“There’s a certain maximum amount of traffic” that can fit in The City, Hildreth said. “We’re well above that. We’re double that.”

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