Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Downtown parking and land use priorities

Every day on my way from the BART train station to my office at in a highrise building South of Market in downtown San Francisco (the most densely populated neighborhoood in the USA west of the Mississippi), I pass a 50-story residential condominium tower — and included parking garage — under construction next to the Transbay Terminal.

In the November 1999 election, San Francisco voters enacted a “Transit First Policy” as an amendment to the City and County Charter (Section 16.102). [Addendum, 3 February 2006: I’ve since learned that the 1999 initiative was only the most recent amendment to a policy first added to the city “Master Plan” in 1973.] All City and County departments are required to implement polices prioritizing public transit, bicycle, and foot transportation over private motor vehicles.

In spite of this policy, San Francisco zoning regulations still require that certain minimum numbers of parking spaces for private motor vehicles be provided in all new residential construction — even downtown — in preference to any other possible use of that scarce space (such as, for example, more housing units without parking).

The Transportation for a Livable City organization has begun a campaign to change this. Today I testified before the Board of Supervisors’ (city council) Land Use Committee on proposed zoning legislation to replace minimum required numbers of parking spaces with maximum allowable numbers of parking spaces in the densest parts of downtown. Here’s what I said in my 2 minutes:

My name is Edward Hasbrouck, and I’ve stretched my lunch hour to make 3 points in support of this proposed legislation:

First, the present rules requiring a minimum amount of parking, in preference to other uses of space, are clearly contrary to the “Transit First” clause of the City Charter, which requires that other means of transport be given preference over private cars.

As such, I see this as a much belated, partial step towards implementation of the “Transit First” policy in zoning.

Second, I hope that the next step for this committee will be to look at the priorities for public space on our streets.

Why is it that you can rent space on the street to park a car, but you can’t rent that space for the same price for any other use — so that pushcart vendors, for example, have to compete with pedestrians for space on narrow sidewalks, rather than competing with car parking for street space?

Third, and perhaps most important, opponents of this measure have proposed, in the guise of an “environmental impact assessment”, what would really be an “economic impact assessment”. But they have ignored one of the most important economic impacts of this measure.

I write travel books for an international readership, and I spend a lot of time thinking about why this city is America’s, and one of the world’s, favorite places to visit. A key factor is the experience of being on our streets and sidewalks.

Tourism is our largest industry, and having it be enjoyable to walk down the sidewalk has huge, if hard to measure, economic value to our city.

I moved to San Francisco 20 years ago, and I’ve lived here [when I’m not travelling] ever since, for many of the same reasons people from around the world save up to spend a few days here.

I urge you to protect our city’s value and attractiveness, for residents and visitors alike, by approving this bill and moving forward to incorporate “Transit First” policy in zoning and land use rules throughout the city.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 21:23 ( 9:23 PM)
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