Proposition means gridlock for SF Streets: Vote NO on L in San Francisco

Joël Ramos Headshot

Updated 11/5/2014: This ballot measure FAILED with 62% of the vote. Read a round-up of all 2014 election results here.

Ever try to park in a bustling San Francisco neighborhood where scarce on-street parking isn’t managed with meters, or after metering hours? If so, you’ve probably had a tough time finding a parking space – and you’ve seen first-hand why the city needs to better manage its limited and very valuable supply of public parking with good policy and smart tools. Recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) took a solid first step with new parking policies that will help make our streets safer for everyone.

That’s why we were dismayed to see Proposition L on this November’s ballot, which would reverse the recent policy changes and lead to ever-worsening gridlock on San Francisco’s streets.

Proposition L calls for the SFMTA to freeze current parking rates for at least 5 years, redirect parking revenues (presently mandated by City Charter to support transit) to building and operating new neighborhood parking garages, and to engineer streets to “achieve smoother flowing traffic…” Based on comments made by proponents of Prop L, it’s clear that “smoother flowing traffic” means making streets faster for cars, presumably by rejecting public transportation improvements, pedestrian safety enhancements, bikeway upgrades, or other complete streets projects that would convert car space to these more efficient, healthier, and more sustainable modes.

Though Prop L is a nonbinding policy statement that would not modify the City Charter to change any specific law, it completely contradicts the City’s current commitment to “Transit First” and would steer our transportation decisions in the wrong direction.  There’s no doubt that if Prop L passes it will be touted as clear opposition to newly proposed bike lanes and pedestrian safety fixes on SF streets and improved public parking management policies within the SFMTA. This would be bad for San Francisco, making parking harder to find and our streets more dangerous for everyone.

With San Francisco’s population growing and an increasing number of cars and people on our streets, the SFMTA needs to use the limited amount of available street space in the most efficient and equitable way possible. TransForm believes that one of the best ways to do this is to make transit and bicycling more attractive to more people. When people take transit, walk, or bike, streets become less congested and more parking is available for people who drive (reducing the need to circle a block looking for a parking space). In contrast, pumping more cars onto our crowded streets will only make it harder for people who need to drive, including contractors, families, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Over the past few years, San Francisco has finally started to make real progress in smarter, more equitable use of limited street space in the city. New transit lanes and bike lanes have already dramatically increased the number of people getting around on bikes and transit by making it safer and more welcoming for them to do so. This has helped to increase mobility options and facilitate a healthier, more sustainable city. Prop L would shift these efforts into reverse.

There has been an understandable backlash as plans for protected bicycle lanes (e.g. on Polk Street, Masonic Avenue, etc.) and high-quality transit-ways (e.g. bus rapid transit on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue) have required the removal of curbside parking.  But without these improvements, even those who are angry about the loss of public space for private cars will suffer down the road. If Prop L passes, streets will continue to get more clogged and more dangerous as car traffic increases with population growth.

The SFMTA has also made great strides in the innovative, customer-oriented SFpark pilot program, improving parking availability through demand-based pricing (elementary economics, really), and showing that many more people can use a given amount of parking spaces if those spaces are better managed. Progressive parking management techniques like those demonstrated by SFpark create more frequent parking turnover, helping to deliver more customers and visitors to shops, restaurants and neighborhood services. Helping people find parking faster also reduces air pollution and hazards from distracted motorists circling on the hunt for parking.

While this has required some higher-valued parking spaces to see an increase in hourly rates, it has also resulted in lowering the cost of under-utilized, over-priced metered parking spaces. The result: parking is more available and affordable for people who would like to leave their cars parked for longer periods of time (like workers), and available and convenient for people who only need a space for a relatively shorter period of time (like customers). This reduces circling and makes streets safer, which is a good thing for San Francisco.

We assume that proponents of Prop L have good intentions, and admittedly some of the more recent changes to parking policies within San Francisco have been quite a departure from the (broken) status quo that led to the saturation of parked cars along San Francisco streets. However, instead of making parking truly easier or traffic flow better for everyone, Prop L can only lead to increased traffic congestion (via more circling and competition for poorly managed parking). Prop L would lead to more dangerous streets as people get increasingly more frustrated in looking for the increasingly more rare spot that is both free and available. And it helps no one to starve Muni of financial resources or dedicated right of way. After all, if you’re a driver, it’s not Muni that’s slowing you down, it’s all the other drivers. If we want San Francisco streets to really be safer and to flow more smoothly, we need better management of our limited public parking, not less.

With the interest of creating safer streets and making parking easier to find for people who need it most, TransForm urges you to vote NO on Proposition L.

To learn more about the value of state-of-the-art parking policies, visit the SFpark program website.  For more information about the NO on Prop L position or other San Francisco ballot measures, please visit the NO on L website, or contact Joel Ramos.

This is one in a series of voter recommendations that will be part of TransForm’s 2014 Election Guide.


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