Friday, January 26, 2007

Anti-car policy means big bucks for the city

The City of San Francisco has an anti-car policy---disguised officially as a "transit first" policy---that's the flip side of the pro-bike policy in the Bicycle Plan. But the city isn't motivated just by a politically correct ideology: Parking lots and parking tickets are a major source of revenue for the city. According to the San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet, put out by the Municipal Transportation Agency, the city made $71,579,286 from their parking garages and attended parking lots in FY 2002-2005. During that same year, the city made $84,884,659 from issuing 2,050,334 parking tickets. Regardless of what comes out of the current scandal about underachieving parking meters, according to the Fact Sheet the city made $24,148,426 off its 23,028 parking meters for a total of $180,612,371 in FY 2004-2005.

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9 Comments:

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't confuse pro-city with anti-car.

Legislation to regulate car use is often necessary to preserve the integrity of the city.

Cities too often have deteriorated in direct proportion to concessions made for automobiles; planning based on moving cars around rather than people.

Some of what you call 'ant-car' legislation will be necessary. Planners know that the appetite of cars is effectively limitless.

So as a city we must decide what level of use we're comfortable with and set policy accordingly. If we decide we want twice the number of cars in the city, we can set policy for that; if we decide we want half the number, we can set policy for that, too.

Sensible people will always walk, take transit, or (dare I say?) use a bike, etc.

But we do need to recognize the needs of folks who don't, or can't, make that choice.

I personally think the number of cars on the street now is close to the ideal, perhaps slightly fewer would be perfect. But if we were to plan for more, we would have to find more road, more parking, etc, etc, which would mean taking space from something else (housing, parks, vacant buildings, who knows?).

I belive it's safe to say that we've given over enough of our city to the automobile, so let's find some room for other things. If this means increasing fees for parking, so be it. If it means reorganizing some of the streets, so be it.

The health of the city as a whole is what's at stake here.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, of course city "Planners" and policymakers would claim that they only have the good of the city as a whole in mind when they continue to punish motorists. The Bicycle Plan's many apologists in city government no doubt say the same thing. Ultimately, city voters will decide how far the city should be going with its anti-car policies. Interestingly, city voters rejected a new tax on parking last November---Prop. E---and they did it decisively: 151,628 to 73,922.

As my post suggests, the problem is that the city has an actual incentive to carry the anti-car thing too far, since drivers are a huge source of revenue for the city via both parking and parking tickets.

And then there's the fact that this milking of drivers for money dovetails nicely with the ideology I call BikeThink, the utterly fanciful notion that bicycles can/should/will ever be a major transportation "mode" in San Francisco.

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's not really surprising that the prop E vote went that way. Increased costs are usually a pretty hard sell, even when there's a lot you can do with the offsets. I don't think folks generally percieved it as any kind of city improvement, but just an even bigger pain in the butt. Plus there was a pretty huge anti-E campaign that seemed fairly well-funded and had what I think was a substantial impact.

The car is our sacred cow, any proposed legislation that looks like a threat to these steel bovines is bound to be unpopular. There have been cases, very few and far between (and profoundly ironic), where the unpopular thing was the very thing necessary to preserve the social order. The desegregation of the American South is one such example.

I see the bike plan as a different monster entirely; folks tend to percieve it as a city improvement and one that's not going to force them to shoulder any additional direct costs.

I wouldn't characterize bike plan as hopeless idealism either. Already bicycling is a major form of transportation in the city; it's not something we're waiting for to magically appear once we throw in more bike lanes.

Perhaps only time will tell in terms of the popularity or unpopularity of the bike plan.

Certainly there are far, far more cars on the road compared to bikes, but the rate of increase of bike use seems to be much higher than the rate of increase of car use. Of course, that is just one man's observation.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"The car is our sacred cow..."

You have it backwards: The sacred cow for our ruling elite in SF politics is the bicycle. It's almost entirely a symbolic cow, however, since not many people really ride much. It's more of a political/recreational accessory than a serious means of transportation. Hence, the bike is a lot like the crucifix in Christianity: a symbolic presence for so many erstwhile Christians but not of serious import to the rest of us.

Comparing the bicycle movement in SF to the Civil Rights movement is ludicrous, trivializing a great moment in American history. And it encourages the bike people---who already have crybaby tendencies---to see themselves as victims.

"I see the bike plan as a different monster entirely; folks tend to percieve it as a city improvement and one that's not going to force them to shoulder any additional direct costs."

Exactly. But it's people's perceptions I'm trying to change. The only reason they see the Bicycle Plan as an "improvement" is they don't really understand what it contains. Making the city do an EIR on the Plan will probably change those perceptions, once certain neighborhoods understand that the Plan involves taking away their street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes for 1% of the city's population.

"Already bicycling is a major form of transportation in the city; it's not something we're waiting for to magically appear once we throw in more bike lanes."

I disagree. Even the Bicycle Plan itself cites the 2000 Census figure that 1.9% of SF commuters use bikes. And since 2000 we've had the dotcom bust and 9/11, which led to an actual decline in city population for several years. In any event, the SFCTA estimates that only 1% of the city's people commute by bike. Do those numbers represent "a major form of transportation"? Not compared to cars and buses.

"...the rate of increase of bike use seems to be much higher than the rate of increase of car use. Of course, that is just one man's observation."

Yes, but you have a pro-bike bias, and there's no hard evidence for your observation. My impression is that bike use is down since I moved back to SF in 1995. My other impression: Bike use is more of an accessory for a political lifestyle among a segment of the young. Riding a bike in the city is seen as PC and cool. Most people have too much sense to ride a bike in the city.

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you acknowledge there's a bicycle movement, yet insist that the number bicyclists is not increasing...

The bicycle cannot be the sacred cow; it doesn't hold a position of social prominence like the car does. If anything, it's a profane cow.

I wasn't trying to make a direct comparison with any civil rights struggle-- I was merely pointing out that sometimes the unpopular is necessary.

What do you mean 'their street parking'? It's public space.

1.9% of SF commuters is still 14,000 people. Remember that. Plus lots of people use bikes to get to transit, which will show up in stats as only a transit trip, the bike being commonly overlooked.

Whether a bike is a lifestyle or political symbol doesn't change the fact that it's on the road. Hipsters are residents, too. So are the environmentalists, the lefty's, and so on who might go by bike to make a statement. The automobile is a lifestyle symbol, too, but we have no problem legislating for it, do we?

Just because bicyclists are in the monority does not mean we should overlook them. City planning is not a winner-take-all prospect.

The hard evidence for my observation is the countless bicycles I see on the city streets every day.

It's true that most people have too much sense to ride in SF, but it's equally true that many others don't have enough sense to do so.

Bicycling is not for everyone, but there's a significant minority that it serves very well. If we made a little more of a commitment to them and encouraged bicycle safety measures we'd help to balance out the tranportation picture in this city.

 
At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transportation is not a struggle of rights? Here's what one luminary on civil rights had to say about it:


"Urban transit systems in most American cities are a genuine civil rights issue."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 
At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Busk said...

Who cares if the city makes money off cars? They hog our streets, pollute the air, create major safety issues, etc... etc... If that money can be used to pay for city services, I'd rather it come from the cars than elsewhere. Whether or not the money is used efficiently is, of course, another issue!

 
At 1:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"So you acknowledge there's a bicycle movement, yet insist that the number bicyclists is not increasing..."

Of course it's a movement, but it's more of a political/cultural/style movement than a serious means of transportation for a lot of people. The bike is merely an accessory to a political statement.

"The bicycle cannot be the sacred cow; it doesn't hold a position of social prominence like the car does."

Just the opposite is the case in SF: The bicycle is widely brandished as a political/style statement though not widely used. Cars are routinely denigrated but are still the means of transportation for most people.

"I wasn't trying to make a direct comparison with any civil rights struggle-- I was merely pointing out that sometimes the unpopular is necessary."

But bikes are very popular in SF; they just aren't a serious means of transportation for many people.

"What do you mean 'their street parking'? It's public space."

Yes, of course it's public space. But it's public space directly in front of a number of small businesses that was removed to make bike lanes.

"1.9% of SF commuters is still 14,000 people. Remember that."

As I argued earlier, I think even that number overstates the number of commuting cyclists. The SFCTA figure of 1% is probably closer to the truth.

"Just because bicyclists are in the minority does not mean we should overlook them. City planning is not a winner-take-all prospect."

But what the city is trying to do with the Bicycle Plan is install a minority-take-all system, since they want to redesign city streets to accommodate a tiny minority of city residents.

"The hard evidence for my observation is the countless bicycles I see on the city streets every day."

Your observation isn't "hard evidence." It's anecdotal evidence. My observation is the opposite. We really do need some reliable hard data on this, but none seems available.

"Bicycling is not for everyone, but there's a significant minority that it serves very well. If we made a little more of a commitment to them and encouraged bicycle safety measures we'd help to balance out the tranportation picture in this city."

Yes, I agree it's all about balance. I am all for making the streets as safe as possible for everyone, but it's bad public policy to redesign city streets on behalf of a small minority---and to do it without doing any traffic or environmental studies. Do you agree that it's a good idea to do traffic studies before removing traffic lanes to make bike lanes?

 
At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bike lanes ARE traffic lanes.

 

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