Monday, June 01, 2015

Jason Henderson: "Zero parking" will cure traffic congestion

Jason Henderson is back! Since the Bay Guardian folded, I've missed his regular anti-car diatribes, which were a good source for blog posts on that policy pathology. Of course Henderson always has Streetsblog when he wants to publish, which he did the other day with How Freeway Removal and Zero Parking Can Fend Off SF’s Triple Threat:

There’s a lot to grapple with here, and not much time to make a difference. But lately a few planning ideas---zero parking, freeway removal, and upzoning for affordability---have come to my mind as ways we can quickly, practically, and deliberately address this converging madness---right here, right now...on the city’s streets there’s an onslaught of untenable motor traffic, visionless drivers imposing violence and rage on the streets, Ubers blocking bike lanes, private buses grabbing Muni stops. It’s not just hard to get around. It’s deadly.

Actually, traffic in the city is not more "deadly," since fatalities on city streets have been pretty steady since 2000 (see page 5 of the last Collisions Report). Between 2000 and 2011, traffic deaths in the city averaged 32 a year. Last year there were 28.

What we do have is more traffic congestion because of a booming economy, a growing city population, and City Hall's anti-car policy that deliberately makes the problem worse (see Matier & Ross this morning on how the city is eliminating street parking all over the city).

The only thing Henderson gets right: there's an obvious relationship between development and traffic. His solution: more housing in higher buildings with "zero" parking for all the new residents. Let them ride bikes or an under-funded Muni!

Zero parking might not create deep affordability, but it certainly will recalibrate the entire financial calculus of development, perhaps putting more new residences within reach for the middle class. Zero parking will also be in line with the city’s Vision Zero goals. Consider that under the current, albeit reformed, parking ratios, upwards of 900 parking spaces might be built within one block of the intersection of Market and Van Ness. This is based on existing development proposals — none yet approved — and, sadly, we see that few of the large-scale developers are exercising the car-free option they are allowed under Market and Octavia.

O Jason, don't be sad! Developers understand that housing is a lot easier to sell and makes more money if parking is part of the deal:

The vast majority of San Francisco home sales include at least one on-site parking space in the sale, and 80%--90% of buyers put parking on their must-have list when searching for a new home. That doesn’t mean that a home without parking cannot sell at a good price, but it does mean that on average it will take somewhat longer to sell, as well as selling at a lesser price than a comparable home with parking.

When writing about affordable housing in San Francisco, you should always put "affordable" in quotes, since in San Francisco it isn't really affordable in any meaningful sense.

When the city is pushing parking meters in the neighborhoods, it makes sense on the problems a parking shortage causes:

More parking availability means that drivers will spend less time circling in search of parking spaces. Circling reduces safety, wastes fuel, and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Less circling will reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the quality of life in San Francisco’s neighborhoods (Extended Parking Meter Study, page 26).

But in this morning's Chronicle the city sings a different song: 

“The streets aren’t getting any wider, and we are doing what we can to make them safer and reduce congestion,” said Paul Rose, spokesman for Muni. 

Reducing congestion by making it harder to park? What about the evils of "circling" listed above?

Another Big Idea from Henderson:

There’s another big idea that’s within reach. We need to take down the rest of the Central Freeway, which, like zero parking, has numerous benefits for addressing the triumvirate of crises. Removal of the freeway would free up many acres of land that can be dedicated to affordable housing, and adjacent surface parking lots could also be converted to housing. From a traffic perspective, touching the freeway down at Bryant provides more opportunities to disperse traffic than channeling it on a clogged freeway and into Hayes Valley. There are also a plethora of obvious air quality, noise, and livability benefits.

Simply untrue, though removing the Central Freeway overpass at Octavia Blvd. has indeed "dispersed" traffic throughout that area, as the city's Octavia Boulevard Operation: Six Month Report of March 2, 2006 found shortly after the new, unimproved Octavia Boulevard opened to traffic:

Current traffic volumes are close to the capacity of Octavia Boulevard that we estimated when the new design was proposed, and represent about half of the previous capacity of the elevated freeway structure. The current surface roadway can carry approximately 1,400 vehicles per direction per hour before congestion sets in. Those hourly totals are already present in both northbound and southbound Octavia Boulevard during peak commute hours...there remains a historical demand that exceeds the present capacity of this facility. This helps to explain current congestion levels and how congestion itself is helping regulate the number of people traveling on Octavia Boulevard. During peak hours, as the roadway reaches capacity some motorists continue to use alternate detour routes established during the freeway closure.

Motorists using "alternate detour routes" means that many are now giving up on Octavia and fanning out on nearby streets, creating chronic traffic congestion throughout the area for most of the day. The study found that, six months after it opened, Octavia Blvd. was already carrying 44,859 cars a day through the middle of Hayes Valley.

An updated count from The Bay Citizen in 2012 showed the traffic on Octavia Blvd. was still increasing:

The most recent traffic count by the SFMTA in 2007 showed 63,000 vehicles heading on and off the freeway there each day. That is fewer than the 90,000 that used the old Central Freeway, but the Hayes Valley neighborhood is jammed with cars much of the day.

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At 10:35 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

It must be fun to theorize and not worry about actual implementation or measuring what has actually occurred. Mr. Henderson doesn't seem really interested in measuring anything - he is guided by his perception alone.

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Interesting to note that Henderson doesn't really come to grips with the traffic issue, as if the new Octavia Blvd. has been a great success by "dispersing" the traffic that used to go over the neighborhood on the Central Freeway throughout the area, jamming up traffic in that part of town most of the day. And the traffic that hasn't been "dispersed" is on Octavia Blvd. itself, 63,000 cars a day coming through the middle of Hayes Valley.

But Henderson's fingerprints are all over the Market/Octavia area planning fiasco, since he's been on the Citizens Advisory Committee for M/O for years, along with fellow bike nut Robin Levitt. They ensured that the new housing units built in the area don't have to include parking, which is why the Bicycle Coalition supported the Market/Octavia Plan. He and the Planning Dept. are apparently doubling down on this failure and are going to expand it into the Mission district.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

How does one get on this "citizen's advisory committee", which ostensibly purports to represent the citizens of the city? Why is an anti-car guy the chair when 50% of the city commutes by private auto, and 70% own an auto? Why isn't there more motorist representation on this advisory board? I guess we motorists are more concerned about just living our lives rather than going out and trying to changes others' lives.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Just read that the CAC members are appointed by the supervisors. Umm... conflict of interest much?

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henderson is right. He just doesn't know why.

Within 10 years, the private automobile will go the way of the dodo. A 6 year old today does not know what a landline telephone or a camera is. In 20 years a 6 year old will not know what a driver's license is.

Self Driving cars that are pay per use will replace the entire US auto fleet within a decade. Using any land in city centers for parking that will never be used is pure folly - there is no need for parking space when nobody owns a car. What - you say, people like contractors need trucks to haul their tools? Then call for a truck instead of a car. And instead of taking the truck to Home Depot, call Home Depot, they will load your order onto a truck which will take it to the job site.

This is the future. Building parking is a complete waste.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"dispersing" the traffic that used to go over the neighborhood on the Central Freeway throughout the area, jamming up traffic in that part of town most of the day

Traffic is "jammed up" by human drivers. Within the decade with self driving cars, cars will be able to drive within feet of each other, safely, effectively doubling road capacity. They will be able to transmit their location to central dispatch computers which can accurately set traffic controls for optimal traffic flow. Adn unlike cars driven by "human computers" - they won't crash, double park, speed, go to slow, get distracted, or any number of other traffic delaying behaviors.

Congestion will be a thing of the past.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous SilentJimmy said...


"Adn unlike cars driven by "human computers" - they won't crash, double park, speed, go to slow, get distracted, or any number of other traffic delaying behaviors."

Right, because computers are flawless, they never have glitches, they never crash, and they never become corrupted or hacked. Oh, and software companies have a spotless record of never rushing out anything before it's ready, and hardly ever release "patches" to slap on a solution after their shoddy product hit the market full of bugs and glitches.

You're living in a fantasy world, techie. "Within the decade?" You're hilarious, truly. But hey, enjoy that fantasy while it lasts. I predict within 3 years this minor tech boom will start to slide, people will realize they can have just a good a life without a "smart" phone as they though they did when they felt the need to share as much of it as possible via social media, privacy will become "hip," and true face-to-face social interaction will be what people crave, not walking into traffic with their eyes glued to their silly, buggy, overpriced pocket computer.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Right, because computers are flawless, they never have glitches, they never crash, and they never become corrupted or hacked."

Good point. But we know that humans have a horrendous record behind the wheel. It will be trivial for autonomous cars to be orders of magnitude safer than human driven cars. Humans not only drive drunk, get distracted, etc... but humans only have 2 eyes and they are focused in one direction. A computer driven car can see in all directions simultaneously and process that information instantaneously.

You think it's impossible that within the decade that we will have self driving cars? In 1997, cellphones were at best clunky, and the world wide web was nascent technology, before the first dot com boom. 10 years later - we had the iPhone and now everyone walks around with an inexpensive supercomputer in their pocket. In 1997 if you wanted to send a picture of your child to their grandparents, you took a camera, bought some film, took a picture, hoped the photo was OK, took it to be developed, waited, and if the photo was reasonable you put it in the mail for your parents to get 3-5 days later. In 2007, you just snapped photos until one looked right, and sent it to them immediately.

Every single automaker in the world is investing massive amounts of money into autonomous cars, and they are behind Google and most likely Apple in this regard, and component makers are producing boxes for roughly $700 that rival the best supercomputers in the world and will fit behind the dashboard.

The only thing that can stop self driving cars is fear and corruption. The cops won't want the entire traffic division laid off because there are no DUIs or speeders to catch.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"true face-to-face social interaction will be what people crave"

if so, then the car's days are numbered.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That too may be wishful thinking on your part, Jimmy.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm. The Internet was well beyond nascent by 1997.

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and self driving cars have driven 1.7 million miles without causing an accident....

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Here is a fresh example on the danger of a bike lane separated by a parking lane. An an elderly driver was struck and seriously injured by a speeding hit and run cyclist while bringing the parking receipt back to her car windshield in NYC.


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