City explores Parking Benefit Districts 

San Francisco officials are studying a program that would encourage neighborhoods to put in new parking meters and raise existing meter rates in exchange for local street improvements such as bike lanes, cleaning up sidewalks, landscaping and curb ramps.

The idea to create Parking Benefit Districts in San Francisco is one of several suggestions within a study of The City’s on-street parking and pricing, currently being conducted by the San Francisco Transportation Authority. The $75,000 investigation is funded through a local transportation sales tax program approved by voters in 2003.

At a forum Friday about the study for members of the nonprofit San Francisco Policy and Urban Research Association, Lisa Young, a senior transportation planner for the Transportation Authority, said on-street parking availability in San Francisco is low in many neighborhoods, and parking frustrations are on the rise with increasingly limited parking options.

"We really can’t build anymore on-street parking, so we have to look at how we can best manage what we have now," Young said.

In commercial areas, one way to ease frustrations over parking and best utilize the limited parking spaces is to push daylong drivers, such as employees, to park off street in facilities through higher meter rates, leaving on-street parking for short-term parkers, Young said.

As part of the study, a citywide survey of nearly 3,000 San Francisco residents who were reached by mail revealed that there was a willingness to pay more if the price jump would increase availability, said Tilly Chang, deputy planning director for the Transportation Authority.

Additionally, there was strong support for using local parking revenues to fund neighborhood improvements, Chang said.

That’s the concept behind Parking Benefit Districts, Chang said, a neighborhood funding initiative that’s currently being used in such cities as San Diego, Redwood City and Pasadena.

Transportation officials are researching what sort of legislative changes San Francisco would have to make to enable Parking Benefit Districts in The City; a charter amendment might be necessary, she said.

The redevelopment of Treasure Island includes a plan for a Parking Benefit District, according to Michael Cohen of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Many neighborhood community groups have also expressed interest in the concept in areas including Hayes Valley, Bernal Heights/San Jose Guerrero, South Park and Cow Hollow/Marina, Chang said.

"It would only happen for people who wanted to opt into it," Chang said.

Gillian Gillett, an activist for her Guerrero Street neighborhood, said surveys of local merchants in her area show support for a Parking Benefit District.

"When asked, ‘Would you want a meter in front of your shop if a percentage of this meter money goes back into the neighborhood to clean up the sidewalks?’ … the answer is yes," Gillett said.

All revenue from parking meters goes to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. MTA spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said the agency has taken no position on sharing meter revenue through Parking Benefit Districts, adding, "We look forward to reviewing the recommendations once the study has been completed."

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Bonnie Eslinger

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