Thursday, May 02, 2013

City parking policies and the disabled

If you care about parking, come to this public hearing today with the Supervisors, City Hall, Board of Supervisors Chambers, room 250. Help us fill the Hall at 2:30PM.

Subject: Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee recommendations

Dear members of the Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee (the “Parking Committee”),

In considering San Francisco’s policies about disabled accessible parking and whether they should be changed, it’s essential to consider that people with major mobility disabilities rely heavily on automobiles. (Many recipients of this e-mail have received an e-mail I’ve written about this; I’d be happy to distribute it on request.) It’s also critical to consider the parking policies, conditions and circumstances in San Francisco, including:

· San Francisco has fewer blue zones than legally required.

· San Francisco has very few blue zones in residential areas.

· MTA is reducing the number of on-street parking spaces throughout the city by, among other things, eliminating parking spaces and replacing them with bike lanes. The bike lane project on Fell and Oak Streets is but one example. Others include Masonic Avenue, 2nd Street and the plan to eliminate parking along a large commercial area on Polk Street. (This past Monday there was a meeting about Polk Street; I didn’t attend but heard from someone who did that there were “400+ merchants with pitchforks” trying to save their livelihoods from MTA.)

· Eliminating parking spaces and replacing them with bike lanes eliminates more parking spaces than acknowledged by MTA, because residents can no longer park in the curb lane across their driveways as they have done for decades.

· Parking spaces that are, in effect, disabled van accessible although not designated as such are being removed. For example, all of the street parking spaces that are being eliminated as part of the Oak Street bike lane project are on the South side of Oak and are effectively accessible; those that remain are on the North side and are not accessible because a side ramp or lift would have to be redeployed into travel lanes. This discriminates against people with mobility disabilities. The JFK Drive cycle track is another example: by moving the parking lane away from the curb, the number of effectively accessible spaces was drastically reduced.

· Changing parallel parking to angled or perpendicular also eliminates spaces that previously were effectively accessible for wheelchair users and other people with mobility limitations.

· Vehicles commonly used by wheelchair users, such as minivans and full-size vans, are larger than the average vehicle and don’t fit in small parking spaces; this means that, for this reason among others, the number of parking spaces potentially available to wheelchair users is smaller than for people who don’t use wheelchairs.

· MTA is installing parking meters in spaces that previously were unrestricted or in some cases were in neighborhood permit zones. This is going on not only in commercial neighborhoods, but residential. (See Meter Madness  for details.) On February 21 I attended a meeting at USF about MTA’s plan to install meters in the neighborhood around USF, not far from where I live. A roomful of irate, distrustful neighbors were nearly unanimous in their outrage at the plan and their disdain for MTA. (One indicator of how much distrust people had for MTA is that the neutral facilitator was interrupted only a minute into his introduction by someone who objected to the requirement that questions be written instead of spoken by the questioner, on the basis that taking only written questions allows the facilitator to edit or omit them. The room burst into applause at this comment.) 

Last night there was a meeting in the Northeast Mission about MTA’s plan to install meters throughout the area. I heard from someone who attended that opposition was strong and nearly unanimous, with over 100 residents, workers, artists and business owners attending. MTA was criticized for, among other things, not reaching out to Latino residents, workers and business owners.

· Parking spaces are being removed in order to install Muni and bus bulbouts that, in some cases, are unnecessary. For example, around four spaces on Carl were eliminated near the Northeast corner of Cole/Carl to create a larger boarding area for the outbound N Judah, even though few passengers board the outbound train at that stop. (Many passengers exit at that stop; they walk away and don’t wait there.)

· Parking spaces are being eliminated by parklets. (I favor parklets, within reason, but they are one cause of the reduction in parking spaces and their impact is relevant.)

· Parking spaces are being eliminated by bike parking racks on the street. (Last Saturday night I was at Fillmore Street and saw a row of bike parking racks that was entirely empty, even on a busy Saturday night when Fillmore was filled with people.)

· Bike parking racks on the sidewalk block access to parking spaces for wheelchair users and others with mobility limitations, thereby reducing the number of effectively accessible spaces.

· Since the beginning of 2013, parkers have been required to pay parking meters on Sundays.

· In some areas, parking meters now operate at night.

· The cost of parking at metered spaces is quite expensive in some areas, and it keeps going up.

· The high-tech parking meters make it technically easy for MTA and its contractor to continue raising prices and increasing payment hours, and to do so insidiously and without notice.

· Serco, the contractor that operates the parking meters, has financial and other interests that are different from those of San Francisco residents, businesses, employees and visitors. (Interestingly, Serco also operates private prisons (not in San Francisco), among its other businesses.)

· One of Serco’s key employees in San Francisco, Andy Thornley, was a senior executive of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and is a longtime anti-car advocate. He helped the MTA staffer make her presentation at the February 21 meeting at USF described above.

· The fines for ordinary parking tickets in San Francisco are high and continue to increase. They are among the highest in the nation, if not the highest.

· The cost of being towed is extraordinarily high. Around two years ago my wife mistakenly parked in a tow-away zone for less than 10 minutes; the cost of this honest mistake was over $390 for towing, plus a ticket of around $75.

· MTA’s parking control officers and citation hearing officers are harsh in their practices, literal, mean-spirited and technical instead of looking at the entire circumstances and considering the reasons for the rules. (I can cite a recent personal example and a recurring example from a merchant in my neighborhood.)

MTA and the Planning Department claim that loss of on-street parking has no environmental impact. In their environmental documents for bike lane projects that include parking loss, they base this false claim on unsubstantiated, unquantified assertions such as: “In the experience of San Francisco transportation planners, however, the absence of a ready supply of parking spaces, combined with available alternatives to auto travel (e.g. transit service, taxis, bicycles or travel by foot) and a relatively dense pattern of urban development, induces many drivers to seek and find alternative parking facilities, shift to other modes of travel, or change their overall travel habits.” (I will provide more detail about this issue on request.)

Several of the alternatives cited by MTA and the Planning Department are unavailable to many people with mobility disabilities. Most people with major ability disabilities are unable to bicycle. Many are limited in how far they can travel by foot or by wheelchair. Only a small fraction of taxis are accessible. And transit service in San Francisco has many limitations and barriers, in general and for disability access in particular; in many respects the situation is getting worse, not better.

San Francisco’s campaign against cars is harming many San Franciscans, visitors, businesses and employees, and is having a disparate impact on those of us with mobility disabilities. It threatens the safety, transportation options, mobility, independence and equality of opportunity of those with major mobility disabilities, many of whom are seniors. The campaign against cars will have terrible demographic consequences that conflict with the principle often stated by elected officials, civic leaders and San Franciscans of all stripes, of encouraging and supporting a resident population that is diverse in, among other characteristics, age, disability status, family status, income and occupation. These consequences and implications are being ignored by MTA and many San Francisco officials and policymakers.

The Parking Committee has been looking at accessible parking policies of other cities. There is value in this, but please bear in mind the differences among the conditions in San Francisco and those cities. Consider the factors and circumstances described above. Some cities don’t have a campaign against cars, or at least not one as aggressive, insidious and all-encompassing as San Francisco’s. Consider the differences in the public transportation systems of San Francisco and the other cities. And some San Francisco city officials and employees pride themselves on going beyond legal requirements in access and implementing best practices even if not legally required. Certainly San Francisco can learn from other cities, but it must be careful not to emulate cities that have generally poor access.

The Parking Committee is looking at policies about disabled parking at metered spaces. Many disabled people are physically unable to feed the meter, many don’t have smart phones (and shouldn’t be required to have one in order to be able to park at a meter), and many are limited in how far they can go and how long it takes them to get from meter to destination and back again in order to feed the meter.

Placard abuse harms disabled and able-bodied people. It reduces city coffers. It must be punished and reduced. But just what constitutes placard abuse isn’t as simple as it may appear. Sometimes a disabled person is accompanied by an able-bodied person in one direction but not both. For example, a disabled person and her able-bodied spouse or friend may park at night in a blue zone or metered space near her home. In the morning the able-bodied person may return to the car alone while the disabled person remains at home, takes a stroll in the neighborhood, or takes public transportation somewhere else. If a parking control officer sees the able-bodied one returning to a car parked in blue zone or metered space with a placard, the officer may wrongfully assume placard abuse. 

The reverse situation also happens. An able-bodied friend or family member of a disabled person may drive somewhere alone, park at a blue zone or meter, and display the disabled person’s placard. The able-bodied person may exit her car alone, meet the disabled person and the two of them leave together, sometimes much later. This, too, is a legitimate use of disabled parking placard even though it may not appear to be. There are other permutations of these situations.

An area that I believe is ripe for reform is the renewal of placards. Placards are sent out automatically. I have had one since I moved to San Francisco in 1982, and after I submitted a doctor’s note to get my first placard, the renewals have come in the mail automatically every two years. I could have moved away or died (or my medical condition could have been cured!) many years ago and the renewal placards would probably still keep coming. The Parking Committee should explore requiring a new certification every couple of years to renew a placard. Also, I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to get a placard initially and who is permitted to make the certification; these issues also should be examined.

In sum, policies about disabled parking should not be considered in a vacuum: they must take into account San Francisco’s campaign against cars, including the diminishing number of on-street parking spaces and their increasing cost, essential elements of the equation that are all under the direct control of MTA.

Thank you for considering this e-mail. Please distribute it to all members of the Parking Committee.

Howard Chabner

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At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real issue is placard abuse. Want to stop that, have to charge for placards. Harsh reality.


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