What "Transportation Balance" is about
In 1999, San Francisco voters approved Proposition E, which enabled the consolidation of the bus/light rail agency that we all call Muni with the Department of Parking and Traffic. This created the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, with a charge for city to implement policies to put "Transit First."
Since then, transportation policy has been set by the agency's governing board, whose members are appointed by the mayor. By law, a majority must be regular riders of Muni.
The loudest voices? The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and those who envision a "car-free" city, despite the fact that 79 percent of households have a motor vehicle and nearly half of those commuting to work do so by car.
The failed effort to dissuade people from using cars falls into two categories:
Don't build it and they won't come: With San Francisco growing by 10,000 residents per year, the strategy is to force people out of cars by making parking impossible. Where construction codes once required a developer to provide at least one parking space per apartment, new apartment building often offer far fewer. Thousands of parking spaces have been eliminated as new buildings rise on empty lots. Bicycle lanes now take an increased portion of the streets. No new public parking lots have been built in nearly 20 years. New proposals would dedicate 1,000 existing parking spaces to ride-share vehicles and "parklets."
Make car ownership so expensive that most residents will give up the convenience: Rates for city-owned parking garages, parking meters, residential parking permits and parking tickets have all had double-digit increases. There was a move---which will be temporarily suspended---to begin Sunday parking meter enforcement. "Peak-demand period" meter rates were introduced. The transit agency has called for tripling the vehicle license fee charged by the state by adding a city surcharge in order to raise another $100 million per year from motorists. Fees on cars exceed user fares as a source of funding for the public transit system. Some of this cost for motorists is just the normal behavior of an inefficient agency; some of it is social engineering.
We may have reached a tipping point. A $500 million bond measure to purchase new transit vehicles and re-engineer the streets to be more bus- and bicycle-friendly---with less parking and fewer lanes for cars---is proposed for the November ballot.
At the moment, Mayor Ed Lee does not support the VLF surcharge. Both it and Sunday parking meters will be back.
There is, however, a coalition of neighborhood activists, small businesses, first responders, disabled advocates, parents, churchgoers and just plain folks emerging under the banner of Restore Transportation Balance with a set of policy prescriptions:
--Limit hours for parking meters.
--Freeze parking rates.
--Require neighborhood agreement for meter expansion.
--Use a portion of any new revenues to build parking garages where neighborhoods want them.
--Direct that any re-engineering of traffic flows should aim to achieve safer, smoother flowing streets.
--Enforce traffic laws for all modes of transportation, including bicycles.
--Provide representation for all modes of transportation on the Municipal Transportation Agency Board.
Past efforts to reform the agency or establish performance standards for public transit have fizzled. Yet there is hope. The majority of San Francisco households have cars, despite the 15-year campaign against them, and value their convenience, safety and freedom. These residents constitute a solid political base. Join us.
Bill Bowen is a member of the Restore Balance 14 Steering Team. For more information, go to www.restorebalance14.org.