May 1, 2012

Parking Above All

Auto parking is clearly more important than an open sidewalk.

Most of the neighborhoods surrounding West Portal were built just around the time when the automobile was first gaining popularity. People were definitely thinking about car ownership, but not everyone had one and the custom was still one vehicle per family. Many homes were not originally built with a garage (some are still without one) and most of our streets are pleasantly narrow. Fast forward to today where everyone and their kid has to have their own car – the suburban lifestyle imposed on San Francisco – and we have a serious problem of where to store all of these vehicles. The solution, after filling up your one- or two-car garage, has typically been to park along the street. The custom has become so intrenched that people now perceive of free street parking as a god-given right.

So what happens on our neighborhood's streets which are too narrow for curbside parking? People park on the sidewalk, of course! I took some photos over the weekend along Kensington Way, a street I regularly walk down to reach West Portal. Even though residents of this street have garages and many also have large carports accessible from a rear alley, many still feel privileged to take up half the sidewalk as well. I feel sorry for parents trying to weave a stroller past the maze of stored cars and couldn't even imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could navigate the space. One home on Kensington has a wheelchair lift leading to the front door, so clearly the challenges must be close-felt.

More after the break.

How much of this public right-of-way is dedicated to moving and storing private cars?

The parking habits on Kensington Way are only minor infractions when compared to what we see on other city streets. I stumbled across the now defunct blog San Francisco Department of Sidewalk Parking, which in its heyday quite effectively documented illegal sidewalk parking and tips for reporting incidents to the MTA. We see illegal parking every day. Church-goers will regularly park on the sidewalk during services – just check out St. Finn Barr Church on Hearst Ave every Sunday. And we all know sidewalk parking is common practice in the Mission District and countless other neighborhoods after 6pm. Dolores, Valencia, and Page Streets are also home to 3 or even 4 rows of parked cars on weekends. Why in the second densest city after NYC do we tolerate accommodating the storage of all of these vehicles so people can pretend they live in the suburbs?

The penalty for parking on the sidewalk, or just obstructing the sidewalk, is $105. Blocking a crosswalk is $90 and double-parking, even in front of churches on Sunday, is $80. Another little-known regulation is the rule that one is not allowed to park their vehicle in the same spot for more than 72 hours (3 days). (A full schedule of parking regulations and fines are listed here.) We can all do our part to show we do not tolerate this sort of encroachment on our sidewalks – call 415-553-1200 to report blocked sidewalks or driveways.

The majority of this car's life is spent parked here, taking up over half the sidewalk.

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