San Francisco officials warn to keep eyes on road, not new parking app 

In the parking battleground that is San Francisco, there is now an iPhone application designed to relay real-time info about the availability and rates of parking spaces in congested areas.

But the officials who debuted this solution Thursday as part of the new SFpark program were forced to concede that their app will encourage people to use a phone while driving.

The app displays the availability and rates of smart parking meters via a color-coded system: red for “low,” light blue for “medium,” and dark blue for “high.” Availability and rates are also available at designated SFpark parking garages. The program covers 7,000 of The City’s 28,800 metered spaces and 12,250 in San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency-run parking garages.

“You’ll know, real-time, what you will be paying for parking and you can make informed choices,” SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said.

But isn’t it worrisome that motorists will now have another reason to drive distractedly?  

“Obviously, we’re concerned about that,” said Ford, who noted that a “Warning” screen pops up whenever the application is opened. The same warning also pops up whenever a phone exceeds 10 mph. But the application still works, so passengers — or drivers — can use it while moving.

Ford urged motorists to consult the app before getting into their cars.

“Parking availability doesn’t change that quickly during the course of an hour,” he said.

Grizzled veterans of The City’s parking wars might argue otherwise.

There is certainly little debate about the dangers of driving while distracted.

“Drivers who use handheld devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves,” the California Highway Patrol said in a recent statement. In the past two years, the CHP has issued 6,636 citations in The City for talking or texting behind the wheel.

Despite the potential downside, The City hopes to minimize congestion while helping drivers avoid hunting for parking.

“When you’re driving around looking for a parking space and you’re double parking and running around, trying to see whether or not something will open ... you’re dumb,” said Mayor Ed Lee, who also attended the unveiling. “You’re increasing the carbon emissions, you’re blocking traffic, you’re doing all the dumb things ... we’ve all been there.”

And while the project is seemingly aimed at drivers, its impact should trickle down to public transit. Less congestion means smoother traffic flow for cars and buses alike, Ford said.

The $20 million pilot project, which was primarily funded federally, thus far encompasses eight areas known for high congestion. The agency will evaluate the project next year and consider expanding it citywide.  

Although only available for iPhones today, the app’s expected to soon spread to other smartphones, Ford said.

“We’re going to get them all,” he said.


Trial run sends testers down the wrong road

Since the dawn of the automobile, drivers everywhere have been bedeviled by the same annoying question: Where do I park my car?

But with the introduction of a new application designed to enable iPhone users to easily locate parking, a new question emerges. How accurate is the app?

The answer: Not very accurate. At least, not yet. 

Just an hour and a half after the mayor and transit officials unveiled their app, a colleague and I hunted for open parking spaces in SoMa — armed only with an iPhone and the freshly downloaded SFpark app.

Anxious to score, we went straight for areas with “high” parking availability. On Mission street between Third and New Montgomery Streets, the app predicted seven to 10 available street parking spaces between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at $3.50 an hour. Unfortuantely, SFPD had posted temporary “No Stopping” signs on the entire block from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 6 p.m. Thursday.

Undeterred, we spotted another dark blue section on the map, this time on Jessie and Second streets, where two to three spots were said to be open.

Wrong again. All the spots were taken.

And so, like all fickle app testers, we struck out twice and gave up. In fairness, though, it should be noted that the app did point us to the Moscone Center Garage, where 414 of 752 spaces were allegedly available.

Officials say the app is accurate nine out of 10 times. “This is the first day,” noted SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “This is something we’re going to continue to work with.”

And given that it’s only day one, some slack is probably justified. 

Perhaps Mayor Ed Lee said it best: “We are going to make a few mistakes, I’m sure.” 


Where to park 

Places you can find open spots by phone

  • Civic Center
  • Fillmore
  • Financial District
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Hayes Valley
  • Marina
  • Mission
  • SoMa

Total SFpark garages: 15

Source: SFMTA

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