Monday, October 19, 2009

Parking as an environmental impact

The bike people are gleeful about the MTA's newly-released "Extended Meter Hours Study," because anything that makes it more difficult and expensive for people to drive in the city meets with their approval.

Not surprisingly, the SF Bicycle Coalition likes this anti-car "vision":

Executive Director Ford has called for SFMTA to lead a dramatic shift in transportation modes in the next 20 years, cutting auto usage in half (from the current 60 to 30 percent), boosting transit use from 20 to 30 percent, and doubling trips made by walking and cycling (from 20 to 40 percent). The SFMTA Board of Directors must act to support this vision and one of the best ways to support this is to discourage casual auto use and increase the cost of private auto storage in the public realm, as recommended by staff.

Executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition Leah Shahum's vision of traffic on city streets is one of gridlock: "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you'd let your six-year-old ride[a bike] on them."

"Auto storage in the public realm" means "parking" to the rest of us. How do you "discourage casual auto use"? By making it as expensive and inconvenient as possible to drive in SF.

The Draft Environmental Report on the Bicycle Plan insists that San Francisco, unlike the rest of the state, is so special it doesn't have to worry about the environmental effects of removing more than 2,000 street parking spaces by implementing the Bicycle Plan on city streets:

In San Francisco, parking deficits are considered to be social effects, rather than impacts on the physical environment as defined by CEQA. Under CEQA, a project’s social effects need not betreated as significant impacts on the environment. Environmental documents should, however, address the secondary physical impacts that could be triggered by a social impact. (CEQA Guidelines Section 15131(a).) The social inconvenience of parking deficits, such as having to hunt for scarce parking spaces, is not an environmental impact, but there may be secondary physical environmental impacts, such as increased traffic congestion at intersections, air quality impacts, safety impacts, or noise impacts caused by congestion (page V.A. 3-500).

Okay, whether you call them primary or secondary, the effects of taking away all that street parking are going to be studied, right? Wrong! The DEIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us why not:

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. Any such resulting shifts to transit service in particular, would be in keeping with the City’s “Transit First” policy. The City’s Transit First Policy, established in the City’s Charter Section 16.102 provides that “parking policies for areas well served by public transit shall be designed to encourage travel by public transportation and alternative transportation.” The transportation analysis accounts for potential secondary effects, such as cars circling and looking for a parking space in areas of limited parking supply, by assuming that all drivers would attempt to find parking at or near the project site and then seek parking farther away if convenient parking is unavailable (V.A. 3-500, V.A.3-501).

That is, drivers will just have to keep looking for a parking space as close to being "convenient" as possible. If they can't find a place to park, tough shit. But what about the effects of all that driving around looking for parking due to a shortage of parking?

Moreover, the secondary effects of drivers searching for parking is[sic] typically offset by a reduction in vehicle trips due to others who are aware of constrained parking conditions in a given area. Hence, any secondary environmental impacts which may result from a shortfall in parking in the vicinity of the proposed project would be minor. Therefore, there would be no significant parking impacts with implementation of Project 5-10 Option 2.

The result of removing all that parking will be the ultimate benign environmental effect---drivers will simply give up trying to park in that area or "shift to other modes" of transportation due to "constrained parking conditions," which means that there will be no negative environmental impacts from removing parking anywhere in the city, even though the Bicycle Plan will eliminate more than 2000 parking spaces from city streets!

This is the same type of thinking---San Francisco is so special!---that got the city in trouble with the Bicycle Plan in the first place, since the law it violated is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a state law that even our oh so special city has to follow.

There's CEQA case law that contradicts the city's position on parking as an environmental impact: Friends of “B” Street v. City of Hayward (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d (Loss of on-street parking “indicated that a finding of significant environmental effect was mandatory”); Sacramento Old City Assn. v. City Council of Sacramento (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d (“Traffic and parking have the potential…of causing serious environmental problems.”); San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th (Parking deficits were significant impact requiring mitigation.)

And even MTA's new meter study contradicts the city's approach to parking and the environment in the Bicycle Plan EIR:

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 (page 27, Extended Meter Hours Study).

That is, lack of parking is not an environmental impact when the city is pushing the anti-car Bicycle Plan, but it is an impact when it wants to extend parking meter hours on city streets. This is like the so-called safety emergency at the Market/Octavia intersection: the intersection is unsafe when the city is arguing on behalf of cyclists, but it's safe when the city is sued by a cyclist injured in an accident.

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At 1:42 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Why is the SFBC taking a position. The primary beneficiary of the meter changes would be MUNI! The SFBC is about bikes uber alles, as we all know, why do they care about MUNI?

The next beneficiary would be businesses - in a land of limited parking, parking turnover is the only way to get more business. If you look at the places where extensions are proposed, they are all tight areas with limited parking and no room for parking expansion. Why does the SFBC think it should meddle in increasing business traffic!

Next to benefit would be drivers who would be able (at a price) to get spots in busy areas with shops and dining. Why is the SFBC doing something pro-car!

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The SFBC doesn't really care about Muni---the only real alternative to driving in the city for most of us---but they have to maintain some kind of pretense of doing so. The first quotation in the post is from the SFBC's press release lauding the MTA's "vision" of a radical reduction of cars in the city. Nor is the SFBC the least bit concerned about small businesses in the city. They like the meter extension proposal only because they think it will make it more difficult and expensive to drive in San Francisco.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger missiondweller said...

Reducing auto usage is laughable given how poorly Muni currently operates. On many bus lines Muni cannot reasonably meet the current demand (ridership). When I imagine a reduction of auto usage from 60 to 30%, I can only imagine hordes of people waiting for an overwhelmed Muni bus system.

Without a world class underground metro line, it a pipe dream to imagine people will give up their cars and embrace the often very unpleasant Muni bus ride complete with recent stabbings and discovered dead bodies.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

How does it make it more difficult to drive in SF?

At 11:06 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Missiondweller - note that the revenue from the Parking Meters is supposed to go to MUNI. In theory MUNI would then use this money in part to solve the problems you worry about. You seem to claim that unless we got the money to build a comprehensive subway system, we should just stop throwing good money after bad.

Perhaps your vision is that we just disband MUNI - with the need to fund MUNI gone we could remove the parking meters altogether and cease issuance of parking tickets. Additionally, we could revise the Bicycle Plan EIR to note that the bike plan does not provide a "significant, unavoidable impact" to MUNI because MUNI no longer exists.

If you followed the commentary from Rob's hated progs at the MTA meeting, the primary statement was that the MUNI riders already took it in the shorts with a fare increase, the rest of the budget should be balanced by increased parking revenue. Then you have the "Poor working class" who state they cannot afford to pay more at meters. Apparently MUNI is only serving the wealthy, elite, illuminati, while the poor working class people all drive their Porsches.

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Akron Pete said...

To be honest, I think this metering idea would make it EASIER to drive around SF. Intelligent parking - especially if they can get it together to tell you where there is open parking like they do in Europe means people spend less time circling the block looking for parking. It also makes for more turnover and therefore more open spaces. This makes driving less of a headache, not more.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These comments may be duplicate as I was cut off online

Transportation in the City is being held hostage by the Bicycle Coalition as shown by the far reaching Bike Plan. The vast majority of San Franciscans do not ride or own bikes. Instead we rely on public transportation, walking or automobiles. This is especially true of minorities, seniors and persons with disability.

While a strong case can be made for bikes and walking as alternatives to cars, it will never replace the necessity of public transportation/cars. How do you put a wheel chair on a bike? So why are we wasting time and money on an ambitious bike plan which serves a few, while the rest of us have to endure the nightmare of crime and jostling on overcrowded buses as our way of helping the environment.

As an aside the members of the Citizens' Advisory Committee to the Bike Plan look suspiciously non-representational of the population of San Francisco. They are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. We should check to see if any of them are non-bikers, working class, minorities and others who rely on public transportation.

M. Hom

p.s. Thanks for your efforts. Do you know if the EIR covered the American for Disability Act?

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Prof. Donald Shoup gave a very interesting 30 minute interview to KCBS on the meter study. It's thoroughly relevant, and can be found here:

The biggest takeaway I got from it was what Akron Pete said: increasing meter rates and hours where necessary (which SF's study has very carefully determined) will make it easier to drive in San Francisco because drivers will know that there will be parking available when they get where they're going. In addition, extending the meter hours would reduce incentive to use your car around 6pm, in the middle of rush hour, to find a spot that's free for the evening. This, too, reduces congestion. Looking for parking accounts for millions of road miles per year, and something like 30% of traffic during peak times in congested areas. (I listened to the piece last night, so I don't remember exact figures, but it was significant.)

Really, Rob, if the point of your post was "yet another reason why I don't like the SFBC," that's fine. But there's no need to discount this study based on SFBC's endorsement. Everyone would benefit from extending meter hours and rates where necessary, even if the merchants don't yet understand that.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Oh yes, you and the anti-car bike people need to educate the ignorant "merchants," since they don't understand what their own interests are.


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