SF completes its first parking spot census 

A citywide parking census, which San Francisco officials say may be the first of its kind, has found that roughly 90 percent of The City's on-street parking spaces are nonmetered. - MIKE HENDRICKSON/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Hendrickson/special to the s.f. examiner
  • A citywide parking census, which San Francisco officials say may be the first of its kind, has found that roughly 90 percent of The City's on-street parking spaces are nonmetered.

San Francisco today is the first city in the world, to its knowledge at least, to release a census on perhaps the most paramount issue in the minds of motorists on the diversity of The City's streets -- parking.

The complete citywide parking census, conducted as part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's SFpark app pilot project, found that The City has 441,950 publicly available parking spaces, of which 166,500 are in garages or lots and 275,450 are on the street.

Of the on-street supply, 248,700 spots are nonmetered and 26,750 spaces are metered, roughly a 90 percent to 10 percent ratio. For some perspective, if the parking spaces were put end to end, their length would total nearly 900 miles, exceeding California's 840-mile coastline.

The data collected for every parking spot in The City -- through aerial photography and interns on the streets with clipboards -- builds on the SFMTA's first census in 2010 that estimated the total number of spaces on a random sample of 30 percent of blocks citywide. It is being used to inform the agency's SFpark app, a pilot project launched in summer 2011 to help drivers find parking spots.

The census, SFpark Manager Jay Primus said, "is a foundation for continuing to improve how we manage parking and ultimately making it easier to park."

An SFpark evaluation, due next month, will detail how overall parking demand in The City increased and how the app succeeded in helping the public find parking spaces, Primus said.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, called the SFpark app "the best in the world" in terms of using technology to manage parking and commended the parking census effort, but was struck by the 9-to-1 ratio of nonmetered to metered parking in The City.

"A source of San Francisco's parking problem is you have some of the most valuable land on Earth and it's free, and people complain there's not enough," he said. "I think San Francisco has to figure out a smarter way to manage parking other than just making it free to everybody."

The elimination of Sunday parking meter enforcement, approved by the SFMTA board last month, was "another step backwards," in Shoup's opinion, given the overwhelming majority of nonmetered spots.

"One of the arguments in favor of [Sunday meter elimination] was very flawed, that people have to pay to pray on Sunday," Shoup said. "I believe in the separation of church and parking."

The census itself was a welcome addition to SFpark information, which is publicly available to third-party companies looking to build parking apps, said David LaBua, founder and CEO of VoicePark, an app that gives turn-by-turn voice guidance to drivers.

He said San Francisco should install parking sensors at every spot that was now accounted for in the census.

"We'd be the first in the world," LaBua said. "And make a remarkable dent in preventing emissions of greenhouse gases and congestion."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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