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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Palou Ave Streetscape project gets approval, on-street car storage getstighter


SFMTA and SFPW have been holding neighborhood meetings for Palou for some years now. I have gone to many of them, and there have always been conflicts between people who store their cars on the road and those who want more infrastructure for biking, walking, and transit. I’m afraid neither agency really met people - especially those who drive - where they are. Staff stood up strongly in support of cyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and newer residents while the existing community who predominantly drive mostly stood up by itself. Unfortunately, the reason that many in the community don’t believe or trust staff is that they don’t feel like they’re represented and that staff only want to listen to their modeling and needs for new users.

Angled Parking

A complaint that came to staff a few years ago was that removing angled parking at Newhall was a bad idea. Staff pushed back, but as is everyone’s right, some folks wouldn’t take no for an answer and collected 500 signatures to keep it. I’m not sure those eight angled parking stalls benefit 500 people, but good for neighbors getting so many signatures. In the end, there is really only one new location that could be converted to angled parking and that's at Palou and Dunshee. At Newhall, where angled parking exists now, the complaint was that it would be taken away to make room for a bus bulb. Fair enough. Maybe at Dunshee we could consider back-in angled parking (as it’s generally safer) to replace the angled parking lost at Newhall. All other locations on Palou have driveway curb cuts, and so angled parking probably wouldn't work (or at least wouldn’t add capacity). Near Crisp, cars are already parked perpendicular, so this area’s parking is maximized.

Multi-car households need on-street parking (but will more condos necesarrily make this worse?)

Cars parked on the sidewalk in Bayview
Yes, five (and more) car households are a reality, and while everyone deserves to have an independent way of getting around, the reality is that dense urban living doesn't lend itself well to each household having so many vehicles. Something that people may not realize however is that new condo residents would not have that many vehicles, if any at all. These new condos will have space on-site for 0.5 cars per home, which to someone who has 2-5 cars may seem ridiculous, but to those buying the condos is probably just right (otherwise they wouldn’t be buying them). This speaks volumes to the inherent lack of understanding on both sides of the people who are already here and those who are coming and how their needs should be addressed. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that a slight decrease in on-street parking capacity will change things much. New residents, even in old neighborhoods, will likely have fewer cars and be more likely to take transit than existing residents, so for those who remain and have their five vehicles, new residents should lead to more parking on its own. This all said, why aren’t we looking at underutilized off-street sites that might work as overflow parking lots. Probably because people insist on parking as close to their houses as possible, even if that means parking their five cars keep their neighbor from finding a space for their one car. People become extremely selfish when parking is involved - we’ve all heard people talk about “their parking space” in front of their house, for instance.

Improving Transit to relieve our parking woes

Improving all public modes of transportation, including transit and bike for those who can use them, should slowly lead to people reducing their reliance on cars, but it’s going to take years to notice any reduction in vehicle ownership in the Bayview. That said, for those for whom owning/driving/parking a private vehicle is the only solution, improvements to transit/bike means fewer cars on the road and more space to park your vehicle. But it’s “chicken and egg” as far as I see it - transit in Bayview is not perceived as reliable and realistically won’t be until there are more people who use it regularly and discover that it works well. In the meantime, most people won’t give up using their cars and won’t start taking transit until such time as transit is reliable. The Palou project is supposed to improve transit, but until it is shown to (or more importantly, perception about its reliability improves), car ownership rates won’t budge. Sadly, the reality is that people don’t trust SFMTA to deliver improvements.

Culture and geography leads to more cars

We all know that our culture encourages people to own car. A car not only means convenience and the freedom to go where you want when you want, but a car can also show status - a bus or bike simply can’t (though some of my biking friends would disagree on the latter). I happen to live in a one-car household and so I ride my bike most places (over 17000 miles in the last three years!). It works for me and my personality, but my husband has tried and it’s simply not for him. For him, it’s more about the convenience and freedom (and not arriving at work a little sweaty). For me, riding my bike is also about freedom (from traffic) and the convenience of always finding parking at my destination. For shorter distances, it’s generally faster on my bike, too. I don’t expect everyone to ride a bike or take transit, but for those who don’t/can’t, realize that me riding my bike means there’s one less car competing for that parking space you need.

Our geography in the Bayview (and Visitacion Valley, Portola, Excelsior, and all points far from the center of the city) leads to greater car ownership if people want to reliably get to their jobs. Hills don’t climb themselves, and the Bayview has lots of them that for most people, riding a bike is just too much. Our here, having a car is seen as necessary for a lot of reasons, and no matter how much you improve transit, it’s going to take a long time for that necessity to abate.

At the end of the day, the streetscape will be improved much as SFMTA and Public Works wants. Car owners will jostle for space but will be asked to do so with less.

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