Lack of parking is a leading gripe for San Franciscans, who live in a heavily commuted city with more than half as many registered vehicles as residents.
The Mission District is no exception, and the opening of such large-capacity venues in the neighborhood as Preservation Hall West and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema means that the tedious routine of circling the block looking for an open parking spot is here to stay.
The conversion of a parking lot at 17th and Folsom Streets into a park highlights the need to balance adequate parking in the Mission with the desire for meaningful community space.
The transformation of the 220-space parking lot will begin in the summer of 2013. The lot will be split: half will be used for a 32,000-square-foot park and the other half is slated for housing at a future date.
Parking is an important issue for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but it must also consider the city’s transit-first policy, adopted in 1973, which encourages walking, biking and public transportation over the use of personal vehicles.
“Like all neighborhoods in San Francisco, there is a finite amount of parking [in the Mission], which makes managing demand for that finite supply all the more important,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “Parking occupancies in the area are some of the highest in the city.” Rose acknowledged the parking concerns that many neighbors and businesses expressed when plans for the park at 17th and Folsom were announced.
To help manage parking in the area, the city is considering adding new meters and expanding residential parking permit areas, Rose said.
“The proposal for exactly where these tools are used on which blocks is being revisited this year,” Rose said. “The SFMTA is collecting additional data and will work with neighbors on the detailed block-level analysis for where different parking management tools are appropriate.”
The SFMTA is currently collecting data on a parking management proposal for the area.
Converting a parking lot into a park is a step in the right direction and in line with the city’s transit-first policy, according to Connie Chan, director of public affairs for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.
“Our city family believes in public transit first and to be environmentally aware for a greener environment. We work with other agencies to encourage this,” Chan said.
Creating a new park in the Mission will help alleviate the neighborhood’s need for additional recreational and green space, Chan said.
“This project is unique to the Mission neighborhood. We understand the lack of green space in the Mission neighborhood. We have more kids growing up in the Mission now, so the idea of turning the parking lot to a park, with a community garden, is driven by community needs. We are more than happy to accommodate that.”
Plans to use 8 percent of the new park for a community garden were announced in July by John Dennis, an architect for the project. The parks department manages 36 community gardens in the city, with waits of up to two years for an individual plot.
“We look at this park as a healthy, sustainable need for the community. We consider this part of the neighborhood,” said Oscar Grande, a community organizer for People Organizing to Defend Environmental and Economic Rights.
Grande, who has been working with the city and the community to make the park at 17th and Folsom a reality, believes it will fill a greater need in the community than a parking lot. “A majority of the people in the neighborhood have low incomes and tend to drive less. You have a lot of family that don’t drive cars. We feel that those families and residents should benefit from a park,” he said.
But parking remains an important issue for Phillip Lesser, vice president for governmental affairs for the Mission Merchants Association.
Lesser has conducted his own survey of off-street parking in the Mission, using SFMTA numbers and personal observations. With the increased demand for parking generated by new venues in the neighborhood and the loss of parking spaces to developments like the 17th and Folsom park, the Mission is in the negative, Lesser said.
“By 2013, people looking for curbside parking in the Mission will be wistfully longing for the mere inconveniences of 2012,” he said.
A document released by the SFMTA in December of 2011 shows an estimated 2,593 parking spaces within a quarter-mile of the proposed park. That number, which includes free, paid, permit and customer-only parking spots, balloons to an estimated 10,700 spots within half a mile of the park.
The document also contains the results of a 167-person survey of drivers leaving the parking lot at 17th and Folsom streets in the summer of 2010.
Of the respondents:
• 47 percent lived in San Francisco
• 47 percent used the parking lot every weekday; 22 percent used it one to four times per month
• 54 percent would take the bus or train if they could not drive
• 27 percent would not come to the plan area if they could not drive
• 45 percent stayed one to four hours; 41 percent stayed eight hours or longer
In 2010 San Francisco became the first city in the nation to conduct an extensive citywide parking census of its parking supply. According to the census, San Francisco has over 280,000 metered and unmetered on-street parking spaces available and approximately 160,000 off-street spaces, including free, paid, customer-only and permitted parking spaces.