Commentary

Commentary – Michael Murphy

Balancing parking needs

by Michael Murphy

 

Anyone who has raised a family in the Richmond District – or invited friends from the

Peninsula for dinner – may be perplexed to find that there are those who think the

availability of parking is not a problem. In fact, less is better they might say!

 

But, consider that plans for the center bus lane on Geary Boulevard would eliminate a

stunning 60 parking spaces between Park Presidio Boulevard and 34th Avenue, and the

recently enacted HomeSF ordinance will require only one parking space for every four

dwelling units. Some urban advocates would go even further, like Livable Cities, which

proposes: “In new residential development, developers should not be required

to provide parking.”

 

However far removed from the experience of many Richmond residents, these views

may find some support in empirical evidence. Youth are less enamored with cars these

days and only 70 percent of young Americans bothered to get driver’s licenses in 2010,

down from 87 percent in 1983.

 

Bicycling has burgeoned with the aid of bike lanes and biking stalls. As well, some

Americans of all ages have been attracted by the convenience and economy of

shared-vehicle services, like Zipcar, and car-on-demand services such as Lyft and Uber.

 

The urban planner, Allison Arieff, asks: “If autonomous vehicles … are truly imminent,

why are we building millions of square feet of supposedly soon going-to-be-obsolete

parking spaces?”

 

But there may be countervailing trends that will tend to increase the demand for parking

in our neighborhood. I will mention one: the possible proliferation of accessory dwelling

units (ADUs).

 

In Portland, Oregon, 10.9 percent of all housing permits in 2015 were for construction of

ADUs, that is, small, independent dwellings adjacent to single- family homes.

The number of permits had increased more than threefold in the previous

six years.

 

Perhaps inspired by the Portland example, the California legislature passed a law in 2016

that mandates more flexible zoning restrictions and build-by-right permitting

procedures for ADUs. The Planning Commis – sion has not yet seriously faced the

challenge of the state law, but a spike in ADU construction may still be expected

at some point; and since no additional parking is required for an ADU, it will result in a

burden on street parking.

 

The future need for parking is indeed uncertain, but it seems safe to assume that families

will continue to need a car for the many short trips that are part of life in the Richmond –

getting heavier groceries, taking kids to sports practice and visiting grandma. And

residents who must use a car to commute to work, including teachers and painters, or

those who rely on their car for a livelihood, such as salesmen or hired drivers, will

probably remain as dependent on parking as ever.

 

One suspects that the optimistic vision of a declining need for parking is driven as much

by idealism as by facts. I admit that I share this idealism. I admire

pedestrian-friendly cities, like Kyoto, Berlin and Copenhagen.

But these cities thrive because they possess the infrastructure, both in transportation and

housing patterns, that free residents from a close dependence on cars. Without this

infrastructure, reducing parking availability risks making the city less livable for

families and many others.

 

Taking the moral high ground, some housing advocates argue that it is more important

to provide housing for people than spaces for cars. It is perhaps a facile argument, but it

does point to a serious moral conundrum.

 

Reducing off-street parking requirements can be a very effective tool in stimulating

desperately-needed new housing, but it threatens to make the City less livable for a

broad swath of the population, especially families.

 

The HomeSF ordinance goes to some length to require units suitable for families, but the

drastic reduction of parking requirements will operate at cross purposes to this goal.

 

If the City adopts policies that raise the specter of a parking crunch, it seems reasonable

to insist that it look into ways to soften adverse impacts. I suggest that diagonal parking

deserves careful consideration. A parallel parking space is typically 18 feet

in length; a diagonal space is no more than 12 feet, allowing a 50 percent increase in

parking spaces per block. There are many places in the Richmond where diagonal

parking appears feasible. It may offer enough additional parking to offset the impact

of new housing for the immediate future.

 

Michael Murphy is a local author.

 

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