Parking structures take up valuable space that could be used for needed housing in The City. (Courtesy photo)

Eliminating minimum parking requirements makes San Francisco more livable

There are 275,000 parking spaces on San Francisco’s city streets. If you lined those up end to end, you could parallel park from Union Square all the way to the Canadian border. And that’s not even counting the hundreds of thousands of spaces in parking garages and driveways across The City. All of this parking might sound great if you’re hunting for a spot to leave your car, but the reality is that by choosing to dedicate so much of our precious urban land to parked cars, we’re stifling our vibrant neighborhoods, exacerbating our housing affordability crisis and degrading the safety and liveability of our neighborhoods and streets.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took an important step to ensure more sustainable, people-oriented development by approving Supervisor Jane Kim’s legislation to eliminate minimum parking requirements for all kinds of development. With this vote, San Francisco is set to become the first large city in the nation to strip its city planning code of decades-old rules that require developers to build a certain number of parking spaces for every building and dwelling, a critical step forward to ensure the liveability, walkability,and vibrant character that San Franciscans love.

Parking minimums encourage private car ownership and dependency — they prioritize shelter for cars over shelter for people, take up valuable space, drive up the costs of housing and exacerbate The City’s housing affordability crisis. A single parking space can add up to $50,000 to the cost of a building in some parts of The City, costs that are directly passed along to buyers and tenants. Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the costs of building new housing and enables cities to use their precious land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.

In addition to raising the cost of housing, parking minimums simply encourage more driving. In some cities, up to a third of downtown traffic is caused by drivers circling for parking. As one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in California, personal vehicles also account for the vast majority of urban air pollution, not only harming our environment at a macro-level, but the health of San Franciscans as well.

So how do we solve this? A lot of it comes down to design. Every parking space we create encourages more driving since it makes it that much more convenient and easy to choose driving over other options. People are rational — they’ll choose the most convenient option that’s in front of them. By eliminating minimum parking requirements, we enable developers to replace parking spots with more housing units or public spaces, enabling denser, more vibrant neighborhoods where more sustainable transportation options are the most attractive way to get around.

We’re not arguing that it’s time to do away with parking. We’re advocating for choice and more options. San Franciscans shouldn’t be forced to pay for and subsidize car storage and private vehicle use; rather, they should have the freedom to rely on more efficient alternatives like transit, cycling, walking and shared rideshare trips.

At Uber, we share San Francisco’s goals of moving more people in fewer, more efficient vehicles, and reducing dependency on personal vehicles altogether. We’re committed to doing our part by building these options right in our app – whether that’s shared Uber Pool rides, Jump bikes, carshare, and very soon, public transit mobile ticketing.

Of course, smarter parking policies only get us part of the way there. We also need to ensure that The City has sustainable funding sources for transportation infrastructure, which is why we’re joining Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin and countless others to support a ballot measure that will levy a small fee on rideshare trips in San Francisco to provide $30 million a year for transportation improvements in The City.

By doing away with minimum parking requirements and investing in our transportation system, we can reclaim our cities for people rather than cars. We can build more housing, bike lanes, public parks and wider, greener sidewalks. And we can take steps to make alternatives to driving more attractive and viable. We applaud the efforts of Supervisor Kim and the entire Board of Supervisors to push for a more sustainable, vibrant and liveable future for San Francisco, and for setting the bar for other cities around the globe to follow suit.

Allison Wylie works on transportation and mobility public policy for Uber.

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