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
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
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
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.