Sidewalk parking: Not seen = not cited 

The enforcers of San Francisco’s parking laws, ranks stretched thin over about 950 miles of city streets, do not proactively enforce sidewalk parking codes, even though the problem appears to permeate neighborhoods citywide.

From the Sunset to the Mission, motorists apparently are at their wits’ end with The City’s shortage of legal parking and often solve the problem of where to stash their vehicles by parking on the sidewalk.

Unless a neighbor calls to complain, it’s unlikely the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic will cite violators.

"The reason that we request that people contact us is, if we don’t see it, we don’t cite it," agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch said. "We’ve got a finite number of parking control officers."

Those civilian enforcers who issue tickets under the authority of the DPT are not instructed to hunt down sidewalk parking infractions, Lynch said, because, "We don’t have enough resources to go out looking for it."

Lynch said the agency is looking into the creation of a seven-member enforcement team to do targeted sidewalk parking enforcement, but at this time, resources are too tight to spare. The department currently employs about 220 parking control officers.

In response to questions posed at a November 2006 town-hall meeting with Nathaniel Ford, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees the DPT, Ford indicated that "the enforcement division is forced to limit their enforcement of sidewalk violations to complaints."

He outlined a "no-tolerance policy," by which "vehicles parked parallel to the curb, with all four wheels on the sidewalk, or parked in such a manner that there is not adequate space available for wheelchair and baby stroller access," would be cited.

However, the California vehicle code states that a car parked "on any portion of a sidewalk," is in violation, unless it was parked there to avoid collisions or at the direction of an officer.

Sunset district resident Nathaniel Stookey said Wednesday that the problem of cars parked perpendicular across sidewalks in front of garages is rampant in the neighborhood.

"I first became aware of it because I’m a parent of small children, so I often ended up pushing strollers around cars and sometimes into the street to avoid them," he said. But Stookey said he usually refrains from calling the enforcement agency to report violators. "It doesn’t feel very neighborly to squeal on your neighbors," he said.

"Another reason I don’t call in is I don’t think The City has a clearly articulated policy regarding sidewalk parking, and a lot of people, particularly residents, don’t actually know what the rules are, where the sidewalk ends," Stookey said.

Lynch said The City considers any illegally parked cars in violation, but that department officers are assigned to higher-priority beats such as parking meters, commuter lanes and street cleaning.

"It’s not that they’re told ‘don’t cite anybody,’" she said. "If there’s a problem on your street, draw our attention to it. Let us know."

To report a sidewalk parking offense, call DPT at (415) 553-1200.

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