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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