Friday, November 05, 2010

No matter what you call it, it's a quota

City leaders always deny that parking control workers---we used to call them "meter maids," but many of them are now guys---have quotas for the number of parking tickets they issue. Today's story in the Examiner puts the lie to the denial---again. (An Examiner story back in January also showed that it was a lie.)

Parking control officers have handed out fewer citations during the past few months---$7.5 million less than expected, to be precise. Officials with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking enforcement and the Muni system, said they will try to catch up on the citation-giving so the department---which has raised fares and altered transit service recently to save money---will not end the year with a deficit.

Whether you call issuing more parking tickets "catching up," a "recovery plan," or "meeting projections," motorists in SF are justified in calling it nothing but "a quota":

[Chief Operating Officer]Haley said the agency, which has a total budget of $775 million, will be putting together a recovery plan to see if it can still meet its projections for the year, which would require more tickets to be issued during the next several months than planned.
In fiscal year 2008/2009, the city collected $170,767,615 from parking tickets, parking meters, parking lots, and parking permits.

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Taking space from cars

I wrote the article below for Warren Hinckle's election edition of The Argonaut. The links have been added for the blog version:

The Board of Supervisors will put measures on the ballot allowing city voters to vote on public power, withdrawing US troops from Iraq, forcing the mayor to take part in the “question time” dog-and-pony show before the supervisors, and allowing non-citizens to vote in school board elections. But they will never allow the public to vote on the Bicycle Plan that is redesigning our streets for the city’s bike people, taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy city streets to make bike lanes.

Why? Because our city government has given the Bicycle Coalition the status of a city agency, and its anti-car agenda is now official city policy---cycling is even written into the definition of “transit first” in the City Charter!---for the MTA, the Planning Commission, and the Planning Department. Five years ago the Bicycle Coalition’s Andy Thornley announced his organization’s number one priority: "We've done all the easy things so far. Now we need to take space from cars." This is now city policy.

Not only is taking space from cars city policy, but so is soaking everyone who drives in the city, as Mayor Newsom announced a couple of years ago: “Make it harder to drive and make it costlier.” The city now collects more than $150 million every year from city drivers from parking tickets, parking meters, residential parking permits, and its many parking garages and parking lots.

There’s even a new city agency, Pavement to Parks, whose operating assumption is that city streets should be used for something other than motor vehicle traffic---or death monsters,” as the bike people call them.

Five years ago the city tried to rush the 500-page Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review, even though the most important environmental law in the state, the California Environmental Quality Act, clearly required that it be done. Those of us who warned the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors that what they were doing was obviously illegal were dismissed contemptuously. Whether the people of San Francisco like it or not, the city’s leadership is determined, Terminator-like, to implement the Bicycle Coalition’s anti-car agenda on the streets of the city.

There is no evidence for the assumption underlying the bicycle fantasy---that a lot more people would ride bikes in the city if more bike lanes were created. Government documents tell us who now uses city streets: according to the DMV, there are 461,797 motor vehicles registered in San Francisco; the MTA’s Transportation Fact Sheet tells us how SF residents get to work: 38.4% drive alone; 8.4% carpool; 31.9% take public transportation; 1.8% take taxis, ride motorcycles or "other”; 2.7% walk to work; 7.5% work at home; and 2.7% ride bikes to work, which is up only .6% from 2.1% in 2000.

Tourism is the city’s largest industry. According to the Visitors Bureau, last year we had 15.4 million visitors, who spent $7.8 billion in the city, which resulted in $426 million in revenue for the city. There are no reliable numbers on exactly how many of these folks drove to the city, but it’s safe to assume that most of them either drove their own cars or rented cars at local airports. Several years ago the Visitors Bureau surveyed city hotel guests and found that 25.8% rented a car in San Francisco, which puts more than a million rental cars on our streets every year driven by hotel guests alone (4.5 million people stayed in city hotels last year).

Why would the city’s policy-makers deliberately make traffic worse for residents, tourists, emergency vehicles, and Muni on behalf of an often obnoxious political interest group? The answer lies in the muddle of fashionable, pseudo-sophisticated planning dogma embraced by all right-thinking progressives in San Francisco, including the Board of Supervisors.

The assumption is that San Francisco, one of the most densely populated cities in the country, must encourage even more population density along its primary traffic corridors, including residential highrises for many of the new residents. Think the Market and Van Ness area is already a little breezy because of the wind tunnel effect from existing highrises? Hold onto your hat, because at least four 40-story highrises are on the drawing board for that area under the Planning Department’s Market and Octavia Plan that rezones thousands of properties in the heart of the city---eliminating setbacks and backyards, loosening density standards, limiting parking, and raising building height limits as incentives for developers to encourage the construction of 6,000 new housing units for 10,000 new residents in the area.

This plan will not provide more money for an already maxed-out Muni to handle the population growth, even as it limits the amount of new parking developers can provide for the new housing units, which is why the Bicycle Coalition supports it. The same is true for the 450-unit housing development UC is planning nearby for the old Extension property on lower Haight Street---real estate development is so much more profitable than providing night classes for working people---that will bring 1,000 more new residents into the area, again with limited parking allowed for the new units and no money for our chronically strapped Muni system. (Not to mention that this development will trash a state and national landmark.)

After city voters chose to tear down the Central Freeway overpass, the city proudly unveiled a new Octavia Boulevard in 2005. Only a few months later, Octavia was carrying more than 45,000 cars a day through the heart of Hayes Valley, a neighborhood now gridlocked most of the day with traffic going to and from the freeway on Fell and Oak Streets. The city plans to add to the area’s traffic woes by turning Hayes Street, now a one-way street between Van Ness and Gough, into a two-way street.

The unfortunate Hayes Valley neighborhood isn’t the only part of the city targeted for traffic gridlock through anti-car planning, if that’s the right word for how the city manages our traffic. The environmental review of the Bicycle Plan that the court inevitably ordered the city to do says exactly what we predicted more than five years ago: taking away street parking (more than 2,000 spaces) and traffic lanes (more than 50) on busy city streets to make bike lanes will have “significant impacts” on a number of Muni lines and traffic in general on, for example, Cesar Chavez, Masonic Ave., Second Street, and Fifth Street.

Hence, we can only conclude that City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition care more about a minority of cyclists than they do about everyone else, including Muni, which has 700,000 passenger “boardings” on a typical weekday. Let them ride bikes!

Adding insult to injury, city taxpayers gave the Bicycle Coalition $300,000 to do “public outreach” for the Bicycle Plan and give it $50,000 every year to stage its annual Bike to Work Day. Like those TV ads for the Marines, city taxpayers are paying the Bicycle Coalition to propagandize them about bicycles!

And then there’s Critical Mass, the monthly orgy of self-indulgence by the city’s bike people that makes it difficult for working people to get home by jamming up traffic during the evening commute on the last Friday of every month. City taxpayers pay for that, too, with $10,000 for a SFPD escort to prevent violence during the traffic-snarling demonstration.

City voters will never get a chance to vote directly on any of these issues, but they can at least vote against candidates for the Board of Supervisors who slavishly follow the Bicycle Coalition’s anti-car line: Eric Smith in District 10, Debra Walker in District 6, and Rafael Mandelman in District 8. While you are at it, vote against the Bicycle Coalition’s Bert Hill, who is running against James Fang for the BART Board of Directors.

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