The vehicles circling around the blocks in search of parking also cause congestion and add unnecessary vehicle miles and pollutants to the air. In 2011, San Francisco launched an innovative pilot parking program, SFpark, that added sensors to metered spaces in several commercial corridors. The multifaceted program allowed The City to launch a real-time data feed for open parking spaces, as well as adjust the price at meters according to supply and demand.
The real-time information from the sensors ended Monday, as the pilot project came to a close. Now the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — tasked with overseeing ground transportation in The City, including parking and Muni — is working on analyzing data from the yearslong project, evaluating the role the sensors play in SFpark and assessing the next step for the program.
The analysis for the parking sensors likely depends on myriad factors, but one that should weigh heavily in the debate is the future of transit in San Francisco. The City currently has 825,000 residents, and that is not including the workers who commute here for their jobs. As pointed out in The San Francisco Examiner’s ongoing series, The City is expected to hit 1 million residents by 2032, and that does not include the 759,500 people the Association of Bay Area Governments projects will work here by 2040.
Having more people living and working in a city that cannot expand its overall footprint means an increased stress on the transportation system, including public transit, roads and walkways. Only a multipronged approach to fixing the system will work to move more people around The City in an efficient manner, and this should include a parking system that does more than plunk down meters in highly trafficked areas, studying the use over the years and making infrequent adjustments.
The parking meters, and their use, need to be seen in the larger context of how they influence other means of transportation, especially when real-time data is available. If a person can see before driving to an area that the demand for parking spaces is exceeding the availability, then that person has the option of other transportation, including carpooling, public transit or parking in an area near his or her destination and walking. People who are given the proper information have the tools at their disposal to make smarter transportation choices, which should add up to more efficient transportation for everyone.
Parking meter information is far more useful than just finding spots in commercial corridors. It is also a key tool in The City’s transit-first policy, and the real-time sensors should be included in SFpark to help make all transportation options more efficient in San Francisco.