A plan to eliminate parking on five blocks of 17th Street this fall to make way for a bike lane has delighted cyclists at the same time it has frustrated the businesses, car dwellers and employees who compete daily for limited on-street free parking.
But already the hunt for parking is sending some drivers right where urban planners want them to go: to public transportation.
Take Kimby Faires, for example. She was so fed up with hunting for parking and getting tickets that last month she did what she had never done in more than 20 years of living in the city: She began commuting by Muni from from her Parkside home to her office in the northeast Mission.
“I had to work getting tickets into my monthly budget,” said the receptionist at Horizons, a nonprofit on Potrero Avenue and 17th Street. “It’s not worth the stress.”
On weekdays, parking near 17th Street east of Folsom is already fierce. There’s not much of it to begin with, and in February Muni’s free employee parking lot switched to paid parking. Nowadays, Muni drivers have joined the competition among local businesses and people living in their cars.
It hasn’t made for happy businesses.
“[Customers] call us to say that they are circling the building,” said Nolen Brown, an employee at ASN National Store, a tile company. “You don’t want to lose a customer because of parking.”
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will eliminate parking on both sides of 17th Street, from Harrison Street to Potrero Avenue, in favor of installing bike lanes.
To offset the lost parking, the city will convert parallel parking on nearby streets to perpendicular parking, resulting in a zero net parking lost, according to the SFMTA.
The bicycle coalition welcomes the move because it provides a safe route from Potrero Hill to the Mission. Many employees of businesses in the area have adapted to the difficulty of parking, but are concerned that eliminating parking near their shops might discourage customers.
For bicyclists, however, “this is a very critical connection between the Mission and Potrero,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “17th Street is already already popular among the increasing number of cyclists.”
On a recent weekday, Mission Loc@l counted 72 parked cars along the stretch where parking would be eliminated. Some of the new perpendicular spots would be immediately adjacent to 17th Street, while other spaces are two and three blocks away.
Shahum said the coalition worked closely with the SFMTA to notify customers. The outcome this time around was less acrimonious than earlier this year, when the SFMTA proposed eliminating some 200 parking spaces on 17th to Church Street. In reaction, businesses rebelled and successfully quashed the proposal.
But the SFMTA decided to go ahead with eliminating parking on 17th Street between Harrison and Potrero Avenue. In that stretch, the street is too narrow to have parking and bike lines, said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose.
After the first proposal was quashed, the SFMTA decided to start charging its drivers to park at the Muni yard at 17th and Bryant. An agency employee estimated that as many as 50 drivers who formerly used the lot have now started parking on the street.
Still, the bike lanes have supporters. Jeff Chen, the owner of Vista Point Studio on 17th and Florida streets, said he likes the bike lanes. It was the people who sleep in their cars that made him stop driving to work, almost four years ago.
“I just gave up,” he said. “They take all the parking spots that customers started coming on the weekend.”
There might be some relief for businesses like Chen’s. The SFMTA will set new parking restrictions near 17th Street and Treat Avenue in November that ban parking in the area from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
And new signs will go up that read “No Habitation in Vehicles.”
Faires, who takes Muni nowadays, said that transit has shaved some 15 minutes from her commute.
“It adds spice in my life,” she said. “Two dollars vs. $65, plus free entertainment.”